Democratic senators seek more weapon restrictions

Three U.S. lawmakers are calling for stricter gun laws in the wake of their report saying Mexican drug gangs are getting their firepower from the United States.

The report, prepared for the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, says 70 percent of the guns recovered at crime scenes in Mexico and traced by authorities came from the U.S.

The chair of the caucus, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, is calling on Congress to act on the findings and stop powerful Mexican drug traffickers from having what she calls unfettered access to military-style weapons from the United States.

Two other senators who helped prepare the report have joined Ms. Feinstein in calling for tougher gun laws. They are Charles Schumer of New York and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. All are Democrats.

The report recommends lawmakers close a loophole that allows private gun dealers to sell weapons at gun shows without conducting a background check on buyers. It also calls for lawmakers to reinstate a ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004 and says the U.S. must do a better job of enforcing an existing ban on imports of military-style weapons.

The report based its findings on information from the U.S. agency in charge of monitoring and tracking the use of firearms. Mexico has been increasingly critical of U.S. efforts to stop guns from crossing the border.

Still there are contradictions in the report. One section said that according to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives, from Jan. 1, 2010, to Oct. 5, 2010, 5,329 weapons seized in Mexico were traced using computerized eTrace System. During the same period, the Mexican defense ministry reported approximately 16,000
weapons recovered throughout Mexico, it said, adding that currently, only the Mexican attorney general’s office has access to eTrace. Expanded eTrace access is needed for the Mexican Federal Police, the report said.

The report also gave as an example of the type of arsenal being stockpiled by Mexican criminal groups, an April 30, report by Mexican federal police that they found numerous weapons behind the mirrors of a home gym in Ciudad Juárez including three anti-aircraft guns, dozens of grenades, a grenade launcher, AK-47s, several makes of machine guns and more than 26,000 ammunition cartridges. The bulk of these weapons are not easily available in the United States.

Last month Salvadorian military officers were detained on the allegation that they were about to ship hand grenades to México drug gangs.

The United States also has had trouble with Chinese manufacturers. In one undercover operation, representatives of Chinese firms offered to sell U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives agents hand-held rocket launchers and other anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. the salesmen thought the purchasers were Californian street gangs, said the bureau at the time.

Ms. Feinstein’s staff also reported that they were offered a .50-caliber Browning machine gun at a local gun show. They did not report how they reacted to that offer or if they reported it to authorities. U.S. sales of machine guns are heavily restricted unless they are disabled war souvenirs.

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