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Rescue Mexico from US guns

Lax gun laws and enforcement in the US only feed the 'iron river' of weapons across the border.

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It's not only poverty propelling Mexicans into the US. Rising gun violence by drug gangs, and lately a military surge against them, have driven many to cross the border. And where do these drug cartels get their arsenal of weapons? El Norte, of course.

Lax gun laws and lax enforcement in the United States have made it easy for Mexican gunrunners to buy and transport everything from AK-47s to Stinger antiaircraft missiles, which then allows the cartels to use these high-powered weapons against rival gangs or against a military attack. More than 90 percent of the thousands of guns confiscated yearly in Mexico have been traced to US origin.

A two-part Monitor series on the problem looks at what US and Mexican officials are doing to curtail this "iron river" of weapons, but also what still needs to be done.

Most alarming is the increasing flow of combat-style rifles into Mexico, often just a few at a time hidden in the trunk of a car. That trend is partly a result of Congress allowing the US ban on assault weapons to lapse in 2004. But also worrisome is an increase in Mexican gang agents at US gun shows who brazenly pay citizens to buy weapons for them. The US does not have enough federal officials to catch such acts, while many states have loose rules about sales at gun shows.

An undercover investigation by Garen Wintemute, a University of California professor, found such illegal "straw purchases" are common at gun shows. He used hidden recording devices at 28 shows in five states during 2005 and 2006 to detect 24 illegal sales. Often, such sales happened in plain sight of law-enforcement officers. He found one Phoenix vendor with a sale sign in Spanish, offering various assault rifles.

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