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The Guns That Got Away

The inside story of how U.S. agents paid this dealer to send weapons into Mexico—and why it all went wrong

One weekend in February 2006, a young man approached Mike Detty and asked about buying some AR-15s. Detty, the proprietor of Mad Dawg Global Marketing in Tucson, Ariz., is a federally licensed firearm dealer who sells the high-capacity, military-style rifles at gun shows or from the living room of his Spanish colonial-style home on the outskirts of town. AR-15s are semiautomatic, meaning that they fire one bullet for each pull of the trigger; they typically accommodate 30 rounds of .223 ammunition. This buyer said he’d pay cash for six of the rifles. Then he asked Detty when he could buy more. Detty said he’d have 20 new ones in stock the following week. The customer said he’d take them all.

“Something wasn’t right,” Detty says. “This kid is like 20 years old. Where’s the money coming from? Where are the guns going?”