In recent months, the University of Arizona has been roiled by the number of times firearms have been seized from students. Federal officials have seized firearms from eight students from China who had purchased firearms through the use of fraudulent hunting licenses.
While officials claimed that there was no malicious intent on the part of the students, the seizures have shown a spotlight on what some observers see as a troubling loophole in gun regulation in federal and state level laws. Foreign students and others who are visiting the country on non-immigration visas are exempt from some prohibitions on owning guns.
In the case of the Chinese students, because gun ownership is strictly controlled in China, the brief time they spend in the United States may be the only opportunity they will ever have to purchase a firearm. In one case, student Yifei Gong went to Walmart and purchased an Arizona resident hunting license. With the license, he then went to a gun store and bought a semi-auto RAS47: an American-made Kalashnikov replica. Gong told the media that he wanted the rifle for “fun” and took it to shoot at a range. When discrepancies were found in his license application, federal authorities went to his apartment in Tucson on December 2, examined the gun and seized it.
Gong was ultimately with a Class 2 misdemeanor for fraudulently obtaining the license. He paid a fine and faces no further legal action.
His case, however, shows a potential loophole in the state law regarding hunting licenses. In Arizona, applicants are merely required to reside in the state for six months in order to obtain a hunting license. Once the license is secured, the bearer can then buy a firearm from a gun store.
The seizures are part of a yearlong project of the Alliance to Combat Transnational Threats, a multiagency group of state and federal agencies, including Customs and Border Protection, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Homeland Security Investigations, and the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
Scott Brown of Homeland Security Investigations told AZcentral that he does not believe that the Chinese student had “malicious intent” when they acquired their licenses and guns. However, Brown did say that there are a “very small number” of other cases where there could be such intent, even though he said, “our concern isn’t necessarily that they themselves pose the direct threat.” Even so, he admitted that a loophole in gun laws “could be exploited by those with malicious intent.” Brown said that other states besides Arizona have similar issues.
Currently, nonimmigrant visa holders,including foreign students, are generally prohibited from owning guns. Exemptions are made for those with a valid hunting license or permit, according to the ATF. Arizona law reflects that exemption.
Arizona requires applicants for resident hunting licenses to have resided in Arizona for six months and not claim residency in another state or jurisdiction. Complicating matters, a stipulation of an F-1 student visa is that the bearer must maintain “a residence abroad which you have no intention of giving up,” according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. Therefore, that requirement would generally prevent foreign students from obtaining a resident hunting license.
Nonresident Arizona hunting licenses, while more expensive than resident tags, can be purchased by nonimmigrant visa holders in Arizona. Thus, it is legal for such license holders to buy and own a firearm until the license expires, at which time they become prohibited possessors, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
The FBI issued a warning after it received reports of Chinese students “legally” purchasing guns in 2015. In one case, a Chinese student was expelled and deported after bringing two AR-15s to the Arizona State University campus. Agent Brown described that incident as “the most serious” in Arizona involving an armed foreign student.
When Juang Yue, a 19-year-old Chinese student at ASU, was shot and killed in a road-rage incident on January 16, some compatriots sought information on buying guns for self-defense. In the case of Yifei Gong, whose gun was seized in December, he said that self-defense played but a small role in his purchase.