Feb 12, 2013 1:15 AM by Lupita Murillo
TUCSON - It's a nationwide problem, criminals packing guns. They're called prohibited possessors.
Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall says," Every thug in the community carries a gun if not multiple guns. "
A fact Carol Gaxiola knows all too well. Her 14-year-old daughter Jasmine was murdered by a gun-toting criminal in 1999. Holding back tears, she says "I think about her every day."
The two men serving time for her murder, Luis Rivera and Genaro Gonzalez. Gaxiola says they bought the gun they used, illegally. "The only reason they were able to get access to the is gun is because there were no background checks, it was a sale that flew under the system."
La Wall says in the last decade she's seen a 74% increase in crimes committed by convicted criminals who by law are not supposed to have guns. Gaxiola adds, "Do we have to wait to sacrifice more children before we begin to get a handle on this? We can figure this out."
Carlos Canino is a special agent with ATF, he says Arizona is known as a source state. Meaning, many weapons used in crimes, or stolen come from here. In 2011 8,000 weapons the ATF confiscated were traced back to Arizona. "I would say approximately over 50 per cent of that 8,000 were used in recovering crimes or crime scenes."
Roughly 20% of the criminals with those weapons were prohibited possessors. Like 28 year old Ricky Mendoza. He was charged with shooting Tucson Police Sgt. Robert Carpenter who was responding to a midtown burglary last December.
Lawall says, "He (Mendoza) should not have had any weapons because he was a prohibited possessor. Just like the 487 other defendants that were charged last year with the same crime."
ATF helped Tucson Police track Mendoza down. But Canino says catching criminals is increasingly difficult because of the lack of agents. There are 2,400 ATF agents nationwide. Just to give you a comparison, there are 4,200 Border Patrol agents in just the Tucson sector alone.
Canino says, "It gets frustrating, it's challenging, but you have to play the cards you're dealt." He adds, day in and day out the men and women of ATF target violent criminals, straw purchases, and firearms traffickers. So those weapons from the legal market won't go to that illegal secondary market."
The Arizona Department of Public Safety is responsible for a keeping a database of all the prohibited possessors.
But LaWall says DPS doesn't have enough resources to keep the database current. "Because if we don't get it in the Arizona system it doesn't get into the national system."
So if the prohibited possessors are not in the national data base, it becomes almost impossible to track down the criminals packing heat.