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U.S. Targets Gun Runners

"The violent crime we are witnessing on the U.S.- Mexico border is a microcosm of the gun violence plaguing much of America – from urban neighborhoods to heartland communities," said Kenneth Melson, Acting Director of the U.S. Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF. "Narcotics trafficking fuels firearms-related violent crime across our country, not just the Southwest border," he said.

The United States has intensified its work with the Government of Mexico to stem the flow of firearms from the U.S. into Mexico and reduce violence on both sides of the border. To focus its efforts, ATF initiated Project Gunrunner. First developed in 2005, the project was launched nationwide in 2008.

Using intelligence gleaned from firearms trace data and other sources Project Gunrunner identifies gun traffickers on both sides of the border. ATF is also looking to partner with Mexico using the latest ballistic technology, known as Integrated Ballistic Identification System.

The results, thus far, have been promising. Project Gunrunner has referred for prosecution over 795 cases involving more than 12,000 firearms and over 16,000 defendants. In addition, in 2008 ATF trained more than 750 law enforcement officers from various Mexican federal and state agencies on firearms identification, firearms trafficking, firearms tracing, explosives identification, and bomb blast investigation.

The key to combating firearms trafficking is tracing firearms recovered in crimes. Accordingly, ATF has expanded its efforts to encourage Mexico to trace more guns through eTrace, a Web-based tracing system. ATF intends to deploy a Spanish version of eTrace later this year.

In fiscal year 2008, Mexico submitted more than 7,500 trace requests for firearms recovered in crimes in Mexico, most of which were traced to sources in Texas, California, and Arizona. "We applaud our partners in Mexico for stepping up their efforts to trace more firearms," said Acting Director Melson.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is also concentrating training and firearms industry awareness efforts on the Southwest border. The "Don't Lie for the Other Guy" campaign educates licensed firearms dealers about illegal "straw" purchases -- purchases made by authorized buyers for the benefit of unauthorized buyers -- a crime in the United States, and helps dealers recognize and deny such sales. ATF also conducted over 1,700 compliance inspections in fiscal year 2007, of those authorized to deal in firearms along the border.

"Violence on the Border is concentrated and financed by powerful drug trafficking organizations with a penchant for making blood money and shattering lives by using guns illegally," said Acting Director Melson. In cooperation with its partner Mexico, the U.S. is determined to stem the illegal gun traffic