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.30-cal machine gun, 20k rounds intercepted by Nogales border officers
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.30-cal machine gun, 20k rounds intercepted by Nogales border officers

  • The Browning .30-caliber machine gun found by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers on Saturday in Nogales.
    CBPThe Browning .30-caliber machine gun found by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers on Saturday in Nogales.
  • The Browning .30-caliber machine gun found by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers on Saturday in Nogales.
    CBPThe Browning .30-caliber machine gun found by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers on Saturday in Nogales.

A Browning .30-caliber machine gun, along with more than 20,000 rounds of ammunition, was seized at a Nogales border crossing Saturday, officials said.

Around 7 a.m. Saturday morning, a U.S. citizen attempted to drive through the Mariposa border crossing in a 2006 Honda Ridgeline, but was stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers who found the machine gun packed into a padded case along with its tripod, said Hugo Nunez, a CBP spokesman. The officers also found dozens of ammunition boxes, including 20,000 rounds of .40-caliber ammunition, and 20 rounds of .223mm rounds, he said. Along with the machine gun, officers also found a Sig-Sauer P229 pistol, and an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

The Browning .30-caliber machine gun is a rarity among weapons seized by CBP. The weapon, originally designed in 1919 and capable of spewing out 400-600 rounds per minute, was widely-used in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Along with its role as a support weapon, the machine gun was also used for aircraft and boats.

In previous seizures, CBP officers have intercepted AR-15 and AK-47-patterned rifles, as well as .50-caliber sniper rifles, all arms that are regularly used by cartel members to engage in running battles with Mexican military and police over the years.

Michael Humphries, the director of the Nogales port, praised his officers for the seizure, writing on Twitter: "Thanks officers for keeping these powerful weapons from reaching dangerous criminal organizations."

This latest seizure comes as CBP officers have managed to intercept nearly 50,000 rounds over the last month, as well additional weapons.

On May 22, CBP officers at Mariposa found 8,000 rounds of 7.62x39mm rifle rounds in a Ford Explorer driven by a legal permanent resident, along with a Beretta M9A3 9MM semi-automatic pistol, a spokesman said. The rounds were stashed throughout the car, hidden inside the doors, quarters panels, seats and center hump.

On Friday, Humpries praised his officers for discovering 41,000 rounds of ammunition in a separate seizure after they found dozens of boxes of ammunition in a vehicle.

Each driver was handed over to officials with Homeland Security Investigations, a part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Smugglers regularly attempt to slip guns and ammunition into Mexico through U.S. ports as what's been increasing termed the "iron river." Fueled by cash from gun trafficking, firearms are picked up through "straw purchases" at gun stores in Arizona, as well as gun shows and even online, and then smuggled across the border. Last year, federal officials estimated that over 70 percent of documented murders in Mexico were committed with firearms, most of which were purchased in the U.S., including Arizona.

Last year,  Homeland Security officials launched Operation Without a Trace and Operation Southbound, part of a larger effort to staunch the supply of guns and ammunition into Mexico. Along with HSI and CBP, the efforts include the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to target the networks that buy and smuggle firearms and ammunition into Mexico from U.S. suppliers.

ICE said earlier this year, officials launched at least 353 investigations that led to 227 arrests, the seizure of 542 firearms and nearly 500,000 rounds of ammunition, along with $16.5 million in illegally-obtained cash.

Mexico sues over 'ant operation'

Last year, the Mexican government filed a lawsuit against seven U.S. gun manufacturers, and a Boston-area wholesaler, arguing that the companies are responsible for a "deadly flood" of weapons that invariably "wreak havoc in Mexican society."

In the lawsuit, filed in Boston in August 2021, the government said around 70 to 90 percent of the guns recovered at crime scenes in Mexico were trafficked from the U.S., and were made by Smith & Wesson, Beretta, Century Arms, Colt, Glock, and Ruger. They also singled out Barrett, because the company's .50-caliber sniper rifle is a "weapon of war prized by the drug cartels."

The lawsuit also blamed Interstate Arms — a Boston-area wholesaler — for the problem, arguing that the company "expressly markets itself as selling 'military-style' arms." These marketing techniques "are "disproportionately likely to motivate and attract dangerous individuals who harbor militaristic ambitions or want to attack large numbers of people," the lawsuit read. "It is the perfect message for drug cartels and other criminals who want to do battle with the military and police in Mexico."

"These weapons are intimately linked to the violence that Mexico is living through today," said Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard during a press conference announcing the suit.

"For decades, the government and its citizens have been victimized by a deadly flood of military-style and other particularly lethal guns that flows from the U.S. across the border, into criminal hands in Mexico," the lawsuit reads. "This flood is not a natural phenomenon or an inevitable consequence of the gun business or of U.S. gun laws. It is the foreseeable result of the Defendants’ deliberate actions and business practices."

Weapons made by the companies ended up in Mexico through "operación hormiga," or an "ant operation," the lawsuit argued. People purchase small numbers of firearms through straw purchases in gun stores—including stores in Tucson and Phoenix—and smuggle the weapons into Mexico.

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atf, cbp, gun smuggling, hsi, hugo nunez, nogales

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