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| Crime |

When Venezuelans Need Guns, It Seems, They Turn to a Parking Lot in Mesquite

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You can't buy a gun in Venezuela. It's illegal, and has been since the government of Hugo Chavez banned the private sale of firearms earlier this year as part of an effort to tackle the country's sky-high murder rate: 19,336 last year, more than in Mexico, which is in the midst of a drug war and has four times the population, and more than have been killed in Syria since the start of President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown against dissidents.

Things haven't always been that way. In 1998, the year before Chavez took power, the country recorded 4,550 murders. The New York Times pins the increase on the rise of thousands of low-level street gangs, "just guys shooting it out for control of their slum's tiny share of the retail drug business. More Stringer Bell than Pablo Escobar."

The gun ban, of course, hasn't stopped Venezuelans from buying guns; it's merely forced them to redouble existing efforts to sneak firearms past the Chavez regime. A Venezuelan national living in Utah was even busted for concealing Glock and Smith & Wesson pistols in toys and electronics shipped to his home country.

Enter Alberto de Macedo and Alisandra Gonzalez, both 41-year-old Venezuelans. They entered the United States on November 10 using tourist visas. They told customs agents in Atlanta that they were headed to Mesquite to do Christmas shopping. That explained the $3,500 cash they were carrying.

What de Macedo and Gonzalez were actually doing, the feds say, was buying guns to take back to Venezuela. Shortly before their trip, they got in contact with someone they have been buying guns from for the last five years and told him they wanted to buy as many Glock pistols as he had available. He had three, which he offered to sell for $2,200. The deal went down at a strip-mall parking lot in Mesquite.

The problem for de Macedo and Gonzalez was that their supplier had also contacted a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. After the purchase, both were arrested on firearms charges. They are being kept in U.S. prison pending trial.

It's not clear from court filings why de Macedo and Gonzalez were buying the weapons. They told customs officials they were police instructors. Which, hey, could be. One of many reasons someone in Venezuela would want a gun these days, and would need to come to Texas to get it.

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