Pursuing honor students more than gangsters
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 16, 2007


On the surface, it seems like Arizonans are more troubled by undocumented honor students attending our universities than by undocumented gangsters purchasing our assault weapons.

Below the surface . . . it seems the about same.

Consider the news that has generated the most recent interest from regular folks, journalists, talk-show hosts and politicians.

One story that drew a lot of attention involved undocumented university students and how Arizona State University officials are funneling private scholarship money to students who were brought to this country as children and who've lived here all of their lives.

Because these kids don't have U.S. birth certificates, they must, under Proposition 300, pay out-of-state tuition. Some local politicians already are calling for an official investigation to make sure that absolutely no public resources are being used in the program. This is bound to come up when the Legislature convenes.

At the same time we were getting all worked up about the undocumented college students, news broke that three high-ranking Mexican police officers were busted for reportedly buying weapons at a Phoenix gun show.

Non-citizens aren't supposed to purchase guns here. It happens all the time, however, because gun shows in Arizona allow for the sale of weapons to anyone at any time with no questions asked.

Although politicians here have never gotten too worked up about that.

If a gun dealer holds a Federal Firearms License, paperwork must be filled out and a background check is required for each sale. But "private" gun sellers aren't regulated.

As Tom Mangan of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told me, "There is no limit to the amount of guns that a private collector can have. Some have 10; some have 1,000.

"If I go to a gun show and state that this is my private collection, I am not required by law to ask you for identification, ask you to fill out any paperwork or conduct a background check.

"It is simply cash and carry."

Those in favor of current rules say law-abiding citizens shouldn't be hassled with ID requirements. Then again, Arizonans passed a proposition that requires law-abiding citizens to provide identification before they vote.

Is it too much to ask gun buyers to do the same?

Apparently, it is, because attempts to close the so-called gun-show loophole have failed in the state Legislature.

They haven't succeeded at the federal level, either. Sen. John McCain and Sen. Joe Lieberman have tried and failed to pass national legislation to prevent sales of unregistered guns.

Arguing in favor of such laws a few years ago, McCain said, "Clearly, alleged members of terrorist organizations have been able to secure guns and weapons using the gun-show loophole."

Criminals also have used gun shows to acquire weapons through "straw purchases," according to Mangan. Essentially, legal citizens with clean records are recruited to purchase weapons from licensed dealers.

He said gangs in Mexico use this tactic, bundling the weapons after purchasing 25 or so, then smuggling them across the border. However, if authorities capture such weapons at a later date, they can be traced back to the "straw" buyer, who may be able to help authorities to bust the bad guys.

One small step in the right direction, Mangan said, would be to pass a law allowing only licensed dealers at gun shows. That would force criminals to go underground for weapons or to leave that potentially helpful paper trail.

But, don't count on it.

We've got those pesky honor students to deal with.

Reach Montini at ed.montini@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8978. Read his blog at montiniblog.azcentral.com.