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US guns arm Mexico's drug wars

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Still, US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales acknowledged in June, at a meeting of his counterparts in Mexico and Central America, that the US could do more to stem the deadly flow of illegal guns across the border.

"That is something being discussed at the highest levels, particularly given that the Calderón administration has demonstrated to be very bold" against drug traffickers, says Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, director of the Mexico Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington research organization.

A death toll of 1,400 this year

The stakes for Mexico are high – and getting higher. At least 1,400 people here have been killed in drug-related violence since January, and the tally has been rising for three years running. The arrests of high-level leaders of the Tijuana, Gulf, and Juarez cartels, during former President Vicente Fox's term, have led to a power struggle as organizations splintered and are now jostling for control of lucrative trade routes into the US.

Government officials can get a reading on the street situation from the kinds of guns being used and confiscated. In the 1980s, they saw mostly handguns, drug traffickers' weapon of choice. Now narcotraffickers are arming themselves, literally, for war.

Grenades have been hurled into newspaper offices and local police stations. Guns like the one that killed Garza y Garza in Monterrey are increasingly being turned on police, judges, and journalists. The notorious May shootout that killed nearly two dozen in the town of Cananea, 35 miles south of the border with Arizona, had a clear-cut connection with cross-border weapons smuggling: Of the 23 guns that were recovered, about three-quarters were found to have been purchased in Texas and the rest in Arizona and California, say US authorities.

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