ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Division chief tells El Paso audience that cartels are using stash houses in the area.
Robert Champion, who heads the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives field division that includes West Texas and Oklahoma, told an El Paso audience Wednesday that there’s a big change in the way guns are being transported into Mexico these days, the El Paso Times reported.
Champion and other BATF officials, along with the National Shooting Sports Foundation, addressed firearms retailers at the Marriott Hotel in El Paso as part of a program to prevent sales of guns to “straw buyers,” a program titled “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy,” the Times said.
Champion said gun traffic into Mexico has changed in recent years from a one-man, one-gun transfer operation to a “sophisticated” group activity, involving storing weapons in stash houses before moving them across the border, the paper reported.
Two stash houses have been found in the El Paso area in the past four months, one in east El Paso and the other near Fabens, Texas, Champion said.
His agency took AK-47s and other weapons from the houses, Champion said.
“These guns were straight out of the boxes,” he said. “These were brand-new guns.”
Until recently, stash houses were rare for El Paso, said Champion, who said the demand for firearms in Mexico has dramatically increased since the Sinaloa cartel and the Gulf cartel went to war in 2004-2005 over control of drug trafficking in the Laredo corridor, the Times said.
Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Tela Mange also told the group that the number of gun licenses had increased in Texas over the past six months — from 338,231 active license holders in June 2009 to 402,841 in January, the paper reported.