Friday, February 27, 2009

Gun dealer faces charges of arming Mexican drug cartel

Eight Mexican agents died last spring after moving in on a safe house full of drug dealers. The agents were not prepared for the fire power that greeted them. An assault rifle police recovered was traced back across the border to a Phoenix gun store called X-Caliber Guns. Its owner, George Iknadosian, goes on trial this week on charges he sold hundreds of weapons to smugglers, knowing they would be sent to a drug cartel in Mexico.

Guns help fuel ongoing cartel warfare in which more than 6,000 Mexicans died in 2008. Drug gangs seek out guns in the United States because gun-control laws are far tougher in Mexico. Mexican civilians must get approval from the military to buy guns and cannot own large-caliber rifles or high-powered pistols, which are considered military weapons.

Gun laws in the United States allow the sale of multiple military-style rifles to American citizens without reporting the sales to the government. There are more than 6,600 licensed dealers in the U.S. along the Mexican border, many operating out of their houses.

Smugglers routinely enlist Americans with clean criminal records to buy two or three rifles at a time, often from different shops, then transport them across the border in cars and trucks. Mexican authorities say they seized 20,000 weapons from drug gangs in 2008, most of them bought in the United States.

U.S. officials estimate 90 percent of the weapons recovered in Mexico come from dealers north of the border. Iknadosian is accused of being one of those dealers. Officials say in two years, he sold more than 700 weapons of the kind currently sought by drug dealers in Mexico. At least 600 of those weapons, they say, were smuggled to Mexico.

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