Mexico gunrunning to be probed

WASHINGTON — A congressional review of U.S. law enforcement efforts to halt gun trafficking into Mexico was ordered Thursday by a House panel overseeing a $1.4 billion Bush administration plan to fight international narcotics cartels. The review of U.S. law enforcement efforts to stop gun running along the 2,000-mile border, particularly in high-traffic corridors of Laredo; Nogales, Ariz.; and San Diego, Calif., was ordered by the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.

The panel heard testimony from U.S. law enforcement officials that 6,700 licensed gun dealers are located along the Southwest border, with only 100 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special agents to investigate gunrunning cases.

About 90 percent of the firearms recovered in Mexico originated in the United States, said William Hoover, ATF assistant director of field operations. He added that the most common firearms being smuggled are assault rifles and pistols.

“As long as the narco-traffickers are armed with guns from the United States, the brutal violence of the drug gangs will continue unabated,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the subcommittee chairman.

Engel said the United States needs to do more to stanch the flow of weapons and reduce the demand for drugs as part of its responsibility under a $1.4 billion assistance package for Mexico.

President Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderón proposed the aid package last year. Congress still is reviewing the request, including a $550 million down payment for helicopters, surveillance equipment and training.

Congress is expected to consider the funding in a supplemental spending bill this year.

“Helping Mexico is in our best interest,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo.

Cuellar said the Mexican government is making headway in its battle against international narcotics cartels but needs assistance from the United States.

Escalating violence in Mexican cities along the Southwest border is a direct result of the growing influence of the cartels trying to control shipping routes into the United States.

“On the border, I can see that,” said Cuellar, who met with Calderón last month in Mexico City to review measures implemented by the Mexican police and military.

The U.S. assistance package to Mexico, called the Merida Initiative for the Mexican city where the deal was hammered out, has been criticized by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Engel has criticized the Bush administration for its “rocky start” in Congress, saying lawmakers weren’t consulted or briefed on the package before it was announced.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said the aid package focuses on a strategy of law enforcement and doesn’t contain development funds that would better help Mexico fight against the cartels’ influence in border cities.

Lawmakers from Southwest border states, though, say the aid package would help Mexican authorities quell violence that threatens legitimate trade and citizens from both countries.

I don’t think the framers of the US Constitution had private possession of assault weapons in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment.