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Recent San Diego Gun Smuggling Arrest Illustrates Well-Worn Route

Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms officials say they see a pattern of gun smuggling from Nevada, through California and across the border at San Ysidro and Otay Mesa south to Mexico.

Sean Hoben is the chief Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent in San Diego. Hoben says smugglers buy guns in states with weaker guns laws and transport them through San Diego. Hoben says the guns end up in the hands of Mexican criminals.

Earlier this week, a man who allegedly smuggled guns along that route was arrested at the San Ysidro border crossing. It's one of three recent cases where arms from Las Vegas gun shops ended up for sale in Tijuana.

Francisco Ulloa faces an open indictment in Nevada that says he worked with two other men, Jonnatan and William Weiss, to buy at least 27 guns in Nevada. The indictment says Ulloa got a Nevada drivers license by falsely claiming he lived in the state and used the license to purchase guns from Las Vegas shops. The arms he allegedly bought and helped transport to Mexico are the kind Mexican drug cartels use, including civilian replicas of military rifles and a 50 caliber sniper rifle that can shoot more than a mile and pierce most armor.

One of Ulloa’s alleged co-conspirators, Jonnatan Weiss, resided in Tijuana and Chula Vista, according to Nevada Court statements. Both Jonnatan and William pleaded guilty to gun smuggling last year.

Nevada and Arizona’s gun laws are less restrictive compared to California’s. There’s no waiting period. “You can go in, buy guns and walk out the door. You can buy weapons that would be considered assault weapons here in California. You can also buy more than one handgun at a time, whereas here in California, you can only buy one new handgun a month,” Hoben says.

A case last year linked guns left at the scene of a bloody 2008 shootout in Tijuana to Las Vegas gun shops.

These trails between Las Vegas gun shops and criminals in Mexico underline one of Mexico’s chief complaints in the war on drugs: that arms flow from the U.S. southbound into the hands of criminals in Mexico.

U.S. government officials have pledged to dam the flow. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has assigned more agents to the Southwest border, stepped up gun tracing in collaboration with Mexico and opened an office in California’s Imperial County. U.S. federal officials have also increased searches of vehicles headed Southbound into Mexico. It is not clear how many guns have been seized.

Hoben says he has a vault full of guns taken off San Diego streets. He says some were destined for Mexico, but with some it’s impossible to know where they were going. Regardless, he says his main goal is to stop illegal firearms sales. “That’s where it starts. Then they could end up in Mexico, where they can harm everyday citizens just trying to make a living, but they get caught up in some sort of cartel drug war. Also, for Mexican law enforcement’s safety, too.”

Mexican law enforcement officials complain that criminals have more sophisticated weapons than police, because criminals buy guns in the U.S.

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