Jian Kia Chen was stopped on Interstate 10 on February 20 after buying the rounds at the Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, court records show. He'd flown to the United States two days earlier from Taiwan on a visitor's visa. Federal law makes it illegal for foreign visitors to possess ammunition unless they have a hunting license or are participating in a competitive shooting event.
During a search, Chen's vehicle also allegedly contained a "large amount of machine gun parts," but a federal booking sheet doesn't state where he obtained those parts.
"I guess that means the system's working." — Bob Templeton, owner of the Crossroads of the West Gun Show, on the bust of a Taiwanese national who's been charged with buying 17,204 rounds of ammo illegally at last month's Crossroads show.
The buy didn't fall into the "gun-show loophole" that President Obama and some lawmakers want to close because the purchase of ammo isn't regulated. That is, no background check or identification is required to buy ammo.
But local gun-control activist Geraldine Hills tells New Times that the foreign national probably chose the gun show over a Walmart or Cabela's because "it's another step of un-regulation."
A federal firearms-license holder, such as Walmart, has its purchases regularly reviewed by the government, and a large purchase might be red-flagged, says Hills, who founded the group Arizonans for Gun Safety. Plus, American gun shows have a reputation worldwide for being soft on gun sales, which was "probably a contributing factor in the decision to go there."
On the other hand, it may have been that Chen believed he was getting a good price.
Records show that Chen flew to Los Angeles on February 18, then drove to Phoenix with the intent of purchasing weapon parts and ammunition. U.S. Homeland Security Investigations already had identified Chen as a possible firearms purchaser before he went to the show. HSI agents watched as Chen purchased 17,204 rounds of 9-mm ammo in 17 cartons from a vendor.
Records don't state how Chen paid for the ammo but presumably it was with cash, because using a credit card might require showing an ID, which would have tipped off a seller to the fact that Chen was a foreign national.
The vendor, Miwall Corp, which specializes in inexpensive reloaded ammunition, declined comment. Miwall does business almost exclusively at gun shows.
A booking sheet states that after Chen drove from the gun show on eastbound Interstate 10, "his vehicle struck a piece of metal" as local police watched. (Apparently, the metal in the road was no accident.) Chen, who had a Taiwanese passport on him, reportedly admitted he had the weapons parts and ammo in the vehicle.
He's being charged with illegal possession of the ammo, but an indictment filed this week doesn't mention the machine-gun parts.
Bob Templeton, owner of the California-based Crossroads gun show, says he doesn't believe that "machine-gun parts," if that's what they were, could have been purchased at the gun show because such parts are illegal.
Templeton says he believes the suspect was attracted to the gun show only because of the availability of the ammo and the price. A store like Walmart might not have had 17,000 rounds of 9-mm ammo on hand, he surmises.
The gun-show owner says HSI agents routinely monitors gun shows like his for illegal activity. If someone was caught making an improper purchase, "I guess that means the system's working," he says.
Chen was ordered held in detention until his trial because he is considered a flight risk.
After he was read his Miranda rights, Chen told agents that he was heading to Las Vegas for the next part of the operation, HSI says. The machine-gun parts were to be smuggled to Taiwan while the ammo was destined for resale in the United States with the help of a woman he identified only as "Angela."
Chen's scheduled for an arraignment in Arizona U.S. District Court on Wednesday.