Rogelio Barajas got off his flight from central Mexico to O’Hare with empty luggage that smelled of gunpowder.
It smelled that way because Barajas had returned from one of his regular journeys transporting guns: More than 100 in all, smuggled from Illinois to Mexico over the course of four years. His scheme eventually drew the attention of federal investigators in September 2008, when Mexican police recovered a rifle in an abandoned car. Using the weapon’s serial number, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives linked traced it back to Barajas, who had purchased it at a store called GAT Guns in the Chicago suburb of East Dundee.
Clerks at the shop told investigators that they knew where Barajas was taking the guns. He mentioned he was starting a “hunting business,” though he had no license to export firearms, which is required by law. GAT Guns sold him weapons anyway.
Barajas is the most prolific of the gun traffickers identified in a cache of ATF records obtained by The Trace. The documents contain the results of the bureau’s crime gun traces, through which firearms collected by law enforcement are tracked to their original sale by a licensed gun dealer, and cover 2,922 firearms recovered by Mexican authorities between 2007 and 2010. The records were provided to The Trace by the activists groups Stop US Arms to Mexico and the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, which had obtained them from an ATF source and had analyzed them data […]