December 14, 2010

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Mexican cartels are taking advantage of U.S. gun laws to buy thousands of weapons that are being used in an escalating drug war that has claimed more than 31,000 lives since late 2006, experts and law enforcement officials tell NBC News.

U.S. firearms agents estimate that around 80 percent of the weapons used by Mexican drug traffickers come from the United States, where cartel leaders are hiring Americans with clean records to make the purchases for them. In the past four years, Mexican authorities say they have seized 90,000 weapons from their nation’s drug war.

“The cartels need their tools of the trade, which are the weapons, and they are coming to the U.S. to get those weapons,” William McMahon of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told NBC News.

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Authorities say the straw buyers are paid up to $200 per weapon and cite a recent case in Oklahoma City, where a former state narcotics agent pleaded guilty in such a gunrunning scheme.

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