Hours before morning rush-hour Thursday, local and state police, The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, and US Marshals were knocking on doors and kicking in others.  More than 40 gang members were arrested at the crack of dawn in East Boston, Chelsea, Brockton, Malden, Revere and Everett.  Sixty-six were cited on federal and state firearm and drug charges, including federal RICO conspiracy charges connected to an attempted murder. 

A year ago Federal officials began investigating the source of hundreds of guns fueling drug wars and other violence on Massachusetts streets.  On Thursday they acted: 

“And the objective was to identify, target and arrest members and associates of violent criminal street gangs”, said Dan Kumor, agent in charge of ATF in Boston:  Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, which took the lead on the investigation.

“Initially our focus was on the 18th Street gang, which is a multinational gang with cells in Central America and across the United States including here in Massachusetts and more specifically in Boston Chelsea East Boston Everett Lynn and Chelsea we focused on their narcotics and Firearms trafficking as well as the gun violence related to their criminal activities.”

More than 70 illegal guns were confiscated.  US Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz says a dangerous pipeline of drugs and illicit firearms was disrupted - and dismantled.  

“And I truly believe that today's arrests will have a significant impact on the communities most affected by gun and gang violence.”

Photos of the guns confiscated in the raid:

Ortiz said that she had visited families in Brockton, Chelsea and other communities beset by gun violence.

“I've had the opportunity to meet with hard-working people who live in those neighborhoods…and how they don't even feel safe in their own homes.”

And many in Greater Boston do not feel safe outside of their homes.  Seventeen-year old Raekwon Brown—described by many as a “friendly kid” who dreamed of going to college—was murdered this week outside Jeremiah Burke High School in Dorchester.  It was Boston’s 13th homicide of 2016. 

The ATF’s Dan Kumor says guns are being bought and sold through a wide underground network of three criminal groups allied with the much larger 18th Street gang.

“Namely Eastside Money operating in Chelsea, Boylston Street primarily operating in Boston and Brockton and the Orient Heights Street gang in East Boston”

Notoriety is like nectar to street gangs but no one in East Boston’s Orient Heights I spoke with had ever heard of them.  What residents here have heard are occasional gunshots piercing the night air like the planes from Logan Airport overhead.  There have been several high profile shootings in this neighborhood, including a double shooting in early June and a double shooting at Maverick station over the winter.  

When ATF agents swept through the community on Thursday morning they apprehended alleged Orient Heights gang member, Juana Pena, 22, at his mother’s apartment.

East Boston resident Andre Rivera heard about this week’s federal anti-gun trafficking raid on social media.   He was not impressed.

“I just seen it right on Facebook and just skipped right past it.   You know it's different locations, different places.   It ain't gonna stop.”

Yet Rivera was relieved when told that 70 guns had been taken off the streets.

“Whatever’s killing people they need to take it out of here.”

What’s killing people are large numbers of illegal pistols, rifles and, recently, even an AK47. Where are these illegal weapons coming from?  I asked Dan Kumor of ATF.

“Primarily, most of them coming from down south, places like Virginia, Georgia, Florida as well as in up north in New Hampshire.”  

But he said the specific provenance of these weapons is not always clear because gang members usually scratch off the serial numbers.

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans said the proliferation of guns from out-of-state is why Mayor Marty Walsh’s Administration is working on a regional approach to curbing illicit firearms.  Speaking outside the federal courthouse in South Boston, Evans said:

“He's (Mayor Walsh) had three summits where he’s brought in mayors from all the other regional cities and states, and all to get on the same page and see what we're doing here in Boston, see what we're doing in Massachusetts.  But if you can go to New Hampshire and Vermont and can buy them like you can buy candy than what good does it do because then you have all these straw purchases.  So we need to toughen up all the others states’ laws.  We can’t do it all here in Massachusetts.”   

Police are still looking for more than 20 alleged gang members or associates, and fear some may try to flee to Central America.  But the greater fear, they say, is of a new set of gangs that may try to take over firearm and drug trafficking while their competitors are behind bars.