Federal prosecutors this week announced the first indictment under a new law passed by Congress to crack down on gun trafficking in the wake of this spring’s shooting attacks.
Said Isaac Hernandez, 25, was caught by police as he drove toward the border last month, and authorities say they found 17 pistols hidden inside a panel between the back seats of the Nissan Murano he was driving.
Federal investigators said that when they confronted him, he admitted to carrying the weapons and planned to meet with people in Laredo, Texas, where he would turn the guns over to people who would take them into Mexico.
Mr. Hernandez said he made a profit of $50 to $100 for each gun he trafficked.
Federal investigators said they had been tracking Mr. Hernandez, a U.S. citizen living in Mexico, for some time. They said they have traced 231 handgun purchases to him dating back to Jan. 21, 2020.
They questioned his ability to make the purchases on an income they determined was less than $10,000.
He was initially charged by complaint and then indicted under 18 U.S.C. 933, part of the new anti-firearms trafficking law Congress passed this year. That section outlaws transferring firearms to someone who is barred from obtaining a gun.
Given his usual residence in Mexico, federal prosecutors had initially opposed bail for Mr. Hernandez. But they dropped that objection, and he was ordered released on a $75,000 bond, with a $500 deposit.
The Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act was part of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that Congress approved. It was meant to give investigators new tools to charge people who engage in straw purchases or buying guns on behalf of someone else.
Backers of the legislation said that before the new law, investigators usually made cases based on paperwork violations, charging people with making false statements on the forms they file for background checks before gun purchases.
With the new law, authorities now have a specific statute they can use to charge people they believe are buying guns specifically to turn them over to prohibited persons.
A key target of the new law is the trade in guns from the U.S. to Mexico, where firearms are more tightly restricted, and where the American market provides a convenient, albeit illegal, point of access.