the iron river
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The Iron River
Amanda J. Crawford
October, 2010, Page 124
“These are people who would not normally be involved in criminal activity,” Forcelli says. “They think they’ll make a quick buck and no one will get hurt, without thinking about the violence in Mexico.”
The cartels use the networks of buyers for a few purchases and move on to new networks. By the time a gun is traced back to Phoenix, those who are actually trafficking the weapons may be long gone. It is like fighting “an army of ants,” says Cameron H. Holmes, senior litigation counsel in the criminal division of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and staff director of the Southwest Border Anti-Money Laundering Alliance. “The weapons are trickling into Mexico in many sales, not in mass shipments, as a general rule,” he says.
In August, the ATF had about 300 active Arizona cases of firearms trafficking to Mexico, mostly from the Phoenix area – twice as many as in 2009, Newell says. Some of the cases involve networks with as many as 40 players.
“The sad part is that this Jippy Munoz case is just one of dozens of straw purchaser networks operating in Phoenix then and operating in Phoenix now,” Forcelli says.
Munoz’s story is not unique. It is significant only in how common it is and that he got caught.
ATF Special Agent Peter Forcelli stands with a .50-caliber rifle that the ATF intercepted in Yuma on its way to Mexico.
A week before Christmas 2008, Munoz and his friend Juan Moreno Gutierrez went on a buying spree. Holiday traffic is a good cover for people trying to smuggle things into Mexico.
Prosecutors say they bought at least 18 firearms in two days:
• At Lone Wolf Trading Company in Glendale, they each bought an AR-15 type semi-automatic assault rifle.
• At Shooter’s World in west Phoenix they went bigger, buying two AR-15 type rifles and two handguns apiece.
• The next day, they returned to Shooter’s World, where Gutierrez bought four more assault rifles.
• At Bear Arms in north Scottsdale, they each bought two .45-caliber pistols.
Munoz and Gutierrez had no problems buying the guns. No one questioned the number of semi-automatic handguns and assault rifles they were compiling. They had identification and complied with the only restriction: They filled out a federal form attesting that they were the true buyers of the guns. (That form is used for an instant background check and kept on file by licensed gun dealers. The federal government does not archive the information or maintain a database of gun purchases.) Gutierrez was using the address of a vacant home in Somerton (in Yuma County) for some of the purchases, but he passed the background checks anyway. Munoz had already served 18 months in prison in connection with another gun charge, but he still had his state Concealed Carry Weapons permit that was issued before his felony conviction. Since a CCW permit is taken as evidence that you are clear to own a gun, the gun stores never even ran a check.
The plan was smart except for one thing: They should have stuck with the big guns. They could have bought dozens of assault rifles and huge .50-caliber rifles with remarkably high-powered rounds that can rip into buildings and lightly armored vehicles from long distances. They could have filled their van with ammunition – drum magazines of 75 or 100 rounds, cases upon cases of bullets. They might have gotten away with it.
But Munoz and Gutierrez made a mistake that would prove their undoing. They bought too many handguns.
Shooter’s World Manager Don Langworthy displays a semi-automatic assault rifle similar to ones Munoz and Gutierrez purchased there in December 2008.
Federal law requires licensed gun dealers to submit a report to the ATF and local law enforcement when someone buys two or more handguns in a five-day period at the same store. The reporting requirement is specific to handguns. There is no such reporting for assault rifles or any other kind of long gun, such as a hunting rifle or a shotgun. In Arizona, any adult qualified to buy a firearm can legally buy ammunition at gun stores and elsewhere or buy firearms from private sellers (including those operating tables at Arizona gun shows) with no paperwork or background check required. The ATF counts on gun dealers to deny sales or flag agents if they are suspicious – and many do, Newell says – but there are no requirements to do so.
“Someone can go in and buy 10 AK-47s – that happens all of the time here,” Newell says. “On its face, that’s not illegal – but who really uses AK-47s? Unless we can prove it is going to someone else, we can’t do anything about it.”
At Shooter’s World in west Phoenix, where Munoz and Gutierrez bought a dozen assault rifles and handguns, manager Don Langworthy says employees will call ATF if they see something suspicious, like guns going into a different car in the parking lot. But he says there is not much they can do. He remembers Munoz’s visit, but it didn’t seem out of ordinary at the time – a lot of people were stocking up on guns after Obama’s election in anticipation of new gun restrictions.
Langworthy says he worries that “media hype” about the violence in Mexico will lead to laws that negatively affect the rights of law-abiding Americans. But he says that as a retailer, the requirement to report multiple purchases of handguns but not other firearms seems “odd.” “If they are going to require multiple handgun reports, why not do the same for rifles? It seems paradoxical to me,” he says.
Heller of the Arizona Citizens Defense League says all reporting requirements violate the right to bear arms guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He says “there might be dozens of reasons” why individuals may want to purchase several assault weapons at once “and that is for the individual to decide, not the government.” He notes that AR-15-type rifles are popular for hunting deer and small game and a lot of people in Arizona enjoy recreational shooting with all sorts of weapons on public lands.
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