WASHINGTON — Tighter gun control and stronger law enforcement in southwestern states were recommended Thursday by lawmakers concerned about drug violence in Mexico spilling across the border.
The escalating violence — which has killed thousands, mostly south of the border — has been blamed on Mexican drug cartels, which one Homeland Security official described as the biggest organized crime threat facing the United States.
Roger Rufe, Homeland Security's head of operations, outlined the agency's plans for protecting the border, a response that includes — as a last resort — deploying military personnel and equipment to the region if other agencies are overwhelmed.
Echoing comments a day earlier from President Obama, Rufe said there currently is no need to militarize the southwestern border with Mexico.
"We would take all resources short of DOD (Department of Defense) and National Guard troops before we reach that tipping point," Rufe told a House homeland security subcommittee.
Rufe did not specify what circumstances would trigger a call for troops.
The violence has been blamed on Mexican President Felipe Calderon's crackdown on drug cartels over the past two years.
In recent weeks, his government has deployed 700 extra federal police to Ciudad Juarez, a city across from El Paso, Texas. This month, 3,200 federal troops were sent to the city.
Mexican officials say the violence killed 6,290 people last year and more than 1,000 in the first eight weeks of 2009.
"The United States and Mexico border violence can only be solved if we look at all parts of the equation," Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., told a House subcommittee considering changes to U.S. gun laws on Thursday. "Let's examine our gun laws. Let's cut down on U.S. drug consumption. Let's ask there to be more resources to root out drug money laundering."
Tierney said 90 percent of the weapons seized from Mexican organized crime came from the United States.
Warring drug cartels are blamed for more than 560 kidnappings in Phoenix in 2007 and the first half of 2008, plus killings in Atlanta and Birmingham, Ala.