New laws to regulate gun sales in this country are not the answer to increasing violence in Mexico and along the border, Gov. Jan Brewer told federal lawmakers Monday.
Brewer, testifying before a field hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, said a focus on new gun laws ignores the underlying problem: the failure of the federal government to secure the border. She said the problems of violence will go away once the government does its job.
The governor said the record to date has been that Washington has been unwilling to commit the necessary resources.
"If we get the resources, if we get the support and the federal government does what they're supposed to be doing according to our Constitution, those problems will halt."
And that, Brewer said, includes border violence.
"Stopping the flow of guns into Mexico won't stop Mexican cartels from obtaining guns elsewhere," she said. The governor said the evidence shows "other countries have large factories that are making guns."
She repeated her opposition to new gun control laws after the hearing.
"I am concerned every time Washington D.C. starts talking about gun control," she told Capitol Media Services. Brewer said that just diverts attention. "Every time we keep talking about all these other issues it diverts from what the issue is: We need to secure our borders."
Brewer acknowledged her testimony to the three lawmakers included a tinge of anger.
"Our people of Arizona are under siege," she said. "And we are all paying the price, not only personally but financially because our borders are not secure."
Brewer said it's not bad enough that the federal government is not adequately guarding the border.
"It is time for the federal government to address the immense fiscal burden that border states are unfairly shouldering in combatting illegal immigration," she said. "To date, the federal government is not bearing its full responsibility to law enforcement, education, health care, human services and the corrections system directly tied to illegal immigration and human smuggling."
The governor's testimony came three weeks after the U.S. Department of Defense essentially rebuffed her request for an additional 250 National Guard soldiers to be stationed along the border.
Edward Frothingham III, the agency's principal director of transnational threats, detailed in a letter to Brewer what Guard troops already are doing to intercept drugs. Frothingham said the amount of money being spent on that program has increased - and that the funding "comes at the expense of the other 48 National Guard programs."
He also said his agency is working with the Department of Homeland Security "to develop a national approach to enhance border security."
Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who chairs the panel, told Brewer he hears her call.
"Personnel on the ground, boots on the ground matter when you're in a conflict," he said. But Lieberman wanted to know from the governor exactly what she thinks the soldiers would do.
"They would be able to help law enforcement along the border, enable them to do the kinds of things that would relieve them from doing, such as communication, logistics kind of planning, all those things that take up their time from actually supporting the border security," Brewer said.
Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever said there's a practical reason for putting Guard troops on the border: Smugglers and border crossers "don't have a great regard" for civil law enforcement.
"But they do have a great deal of, I'll call it respect, more likely fear, of Army, of military resources," he told lawmakers. "And the mere presence of those units, regardless of what their tasking is, creates a whole new element of deterrence in the minds of the border crossers."
But Attorney General Terry Goddard, who also testified Monday, said he did not support Brewer's request.
"I think any additional resources are helpful," he said. "But we have to answer the question what they're going to do."
Goddard echoed the comments made last week by former governor and fellow Democrat Janet Napolitano, now homeland security chief, who said putting soldiers along the border only makes sense if they have something concrete to do.
"What we need is enhanced law enforcement presence," Goddard said. "If the National Guard can help with that, that's fine. But I'd like to know exactly how they're going to help."
Goddard had a suggestion of his own for dealing with border violence: Require people to declare how much credit they have on gift cards.
He held up a Costco card, telling the senators that the amount put on the card is the equivalent of cash. But Goddard said that value is not considered cash when people cross the border and not required to be declared when leaving the country.
What Goddard wants would require more than a change in federal law about what constitutes cash. It also would require that the cards be made "readable" to scanners that would be placed at ports of entry where people heading south into Mexico would have to declare what they are taking.
Lawmakers also heard from Ned Norris Jr., chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation, about the burdens the unsecure border has had on his tribe which straddles both sides of the border. Among the burdens are the average 70 deaths a year of illegal immigrants, many who died of exposure or injury while trying to cross the desert as others were robbed and murdered.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called the hearings helpful. And Lieberman said those who testified provided "some great ideas" for Congress to provide more resources on the border, though he did not respond to questions of whether he believes more National Guard troops should be stationed in the area.