Connect to share and comment
Mexican drug cartels are loading up on bullets in the U.S.
Mexican and U.S. authorities peg U.S. retailers as the source of more than 3 million rounds of ammunition seized in Mexico over just the past 24 months, which is considered a small percentage of an unknown total.
While authorities in both countries have tried to curtail the smuggling of U.S. firearms to Mexico for some time, they've only recently turned their attention to American ammunition.
“If they don’t have bullets they can’t use the guns,” said J. Dewey Webb, the Houston-based leader of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “It’s just as important and it’s just as illegal. If we could reduce the traffickers to throwing rocks at each other, I think we’ve achieved our goal.”
There can be no doubt that American retailers are profiting handsomely from Mexico’s drug war.
Authorities believe one of the nation’s busiest ammunition-smuggling corridors runs through South Texas because of a proliferation of stores in densely populated regions close to the Mexican border. That pipeline, they say, runs south through McAllen, Harlingen and Brownsville. The connecting Mexican state of Tamaulipas is listed as one of the top five Mexican states for illegal ammunition seizures, according to Mexico’s attorney general’s office.
The market for certain kinds of ammo is so robust that big chains and smaller independent stores all along the Texas border report being unable to keep up with demand for .50 caliber sniper rifle rounds, which can sell for $4 each, and 5.7 “cop killer” bullets that can penetrate police body armor.
Employees of Texas-based retailer Academy Sports and Outdoors have plenty of stories about men piling shopping carts high with the $74-cases of 7.62 caliber rounds that only fit AK-47 assault rifles, as well as clearing shelves of .9 mm rounds and other ammunition that fit other kinds of assault-style rifles popular with cartel gunmen.
“I had a guy come in the other day and clear me out of .223s,” Francisco Rodriguez, who works in the guns and ammunition section of a store in McAllen, Texas, said, referring to ammunition that fits many kinds of assault-type rifles, as well as regular hunting rifles. But unlike a typical hunter, he said, this customer “paid $5,000 cash, and then he went to one of our other stores and cleaned that out, too. I didn’t ask what he was going to do with it. He probably was going to take it to Mexico.”
Mountains of ammunition types so popular at Academy stores in Texas keep turning up across the Rio Grande in drug cartel weapons depots. One bust of a cartel weapons stash house in Reynosa, Mexico last October netted half a million assorted rounds.
South Texas retailers don’t like to contemplate the prospect that they might be profiting from Mexico’s tragedy. Instead, many of those interviewed prefer to believe that target-shooting hobbyists are the ones primarily buying out their stocks.
Austin Ortiz, manager of the firearms section in a newly opened Academy Sports and Outdoors store in McAllen, Texas, offered a typical anecdote. He said the 7.62 and .223 calibers that fit AK-47s and Colt AR-15 military assault-style rifles are among his best-sellers. Often, customers pay in cash.
“There are a lot of gun ranges around here,” Ortiz tried to explain, at first. Asked if he thought smugglers were also buying, he offered this: “I’m pretty sure there are people out there who will take it over and sell it at a profit.”
Yet there’s no store policy or law requiring Ortiz to record or limit sales to anyone. Academy declined to respond to a GlobalPost request for an interview.