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Dallas is a major firearms trafficking hub for Mexican cartels. Mexico wants U.S. to do more to stop the ‘Iron Pipeline.’

By Kevin Krause
Dallas Morning News, July 31, 2023

One in an occasional series on firearms trafficking

For years, Mexican authorities implored the U.S. to stop the steady flow of guns from Texas and other states as violence raged along the border and their country’s murder rate soared. But the “Iron Pipeline,” as it’s called by law enforcement, did not slow.

Texas is the leading source of guns for Mexican cartels, U.S. officials report. High-powered pistols and rifles flow south across the border at the same time illegal drugs like fentanyl head north — using the same smuggling routes.

Only relatively recently, however, as Mexican drug cartels churned out more deadly fentanyl for export, did the U.S. take serious steps to combat the flow of the estimated 200,000 firearms trafficked to Mexico each year.

Mexican cartels wouldn’t be as successful sending loads of drugs like fentanyl into Texas and the rest of the nation without the Texas-bought guns that boost their arsenal, experts and officials say. But U.S. authorities have largely been unable to disrupt major firearms trafficking operations.

Gun control and gun violence groups say after decades they are beginning to see signs that could change. The fentanyl overdose crisis, along with an unprecedented Mexican government lawsuit filed in 2021 against the U.S. gun industry, catapulted the “Iron Pipeline” problem into White House policy briefings, law enforcement strategy sessions and public debate about gun violence.

The Senate last summer finally appointed President Joe Biden’s pick to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives after the agency went seven years without a director. Congress passed a firearms trafficking law for the first time last summer. And agents have stepped up gun seizures in Texas and other Southwest border states.

“The U.S. has the largest drug market in the world with growing demand,” Francisco de la Torre, the Mexican consul general in Dallas, told The Dallas Morning News recently. “Stopping cartels means stopping arming them.”

Texas was the top U.S. source for guns used in a crime and recovered in Mexico from 2017 to 2021, responsible for 43% of firearm traces, according to an ATF report released earlier this year. And North Texas has become a thriving market for the high-powered assault rifles and other guns traffickers provide to Mexican drug cartels to maintain their terror grip and distribute drugs, officials say.

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