Women gunrunners supply Mexico cartels

Posted: Updated:

To keep their arsenals well stocked drug cartels in Mexico recruit people from the U.S. to buy and smuggle their weapons across the border, among their top picks: women.

Many of these women make "straw purchases." They're acting as an agent for someone who is ineligible or does not want a gun traced back, explains Harold Shirley, an El Paso gun dealer. Shirley values his right to bear arms and bristles at anything that might lead to tighter gun control laws.

Over the years, he's lectured many women about the risks they're taking. The women pass background checks and are entitled to own the guns. They break the law when they buy on behalf of someone else. Gun enthusiasts are worried this will lead to a reviving the assault weapons ban which expired in 2004.

Shirley asks the buyers "Do you understand what you are getting yourself into here?" Sometimes they will back off but more often than not they are afraid of the person who's put them up to the purchase and will attempt to go through with it." Some women may feel pressured into making the purchases. For others it's about money. Drug cartels exploit those who need quick cash. I can imagine recruiters profiling young, single mothers.

ATF's Elias Bazan sees it all the time at gun shows. "Those are weapons we term as assault weapons and they are some of the weapons coming into the picture as purchased by women," is how the Special Agent in Charge in McAllen puts it. The pipeline stretches from major cities like Houston through south Texas to the border.

Women are not just the straw purchasers -- some are also smugglers. During a routine traffic stop in Victoria, Texas last fall, a Sheriff's deputy noticed the driver was acting nervous. He had her open the trunk of her SUV, inside there were 20 AR15 assault rifles, 200 rounds of 50 caliber ammunition and several bulletproof vests.

The woman's passenger was her 9 year old son. They were headed to the border. Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor told me he has no doubt the guns were going to Mexico. ATF cannot discuss details of the incident because it is part of an investigation.

Some women have graduated beyond straw purchaser to smuggler. It's not clear what role 20 year old Anahi Beltran Cabrera played in the cartel's operation. But she was arrested by federal police in Mexico with a "mega machine gun." The U.S. made Browning weapon fires up to 800 rounds of 50 caliber ammunition a minute an can pierce steel a mile away.

Federal Authorities in Mexico seized the weapons near the border town Nogales. Anahi is in custody facing weapons charges. See the raw video.girl with big gun.wmv

After guns, ammo is the big money maker for smugglers. And a shortage in the U.S. is sure to drive up prices and entice more women to try their hands at the old border gunrunning trade.