One of the liberty that many Americans are proud of is virtually universal access to firearms. In many states (including Arizona), you don't even need a special license to do so - a driver license is all you need (provided your record is clean). But what about non-resident aliens (that is, people admitted to US under a nonimmigrant visa)? Can they obtain a firearm if they wish to do so?
According to ATF, the answer for most of them is "no, unless you have a valid hunting license". Further, according to 18 U.S.C. 922(y)(2)
(2)Exceptions.—Subsections (d)(5)(B), (g)(5)(B), and (s)(3)(B)(v)(II) do not apply to any alien who has been lawfully admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa, if that alien is—
(A)admitted to the United States for lawful hunting or sporting purposes or is in possession of a hunting license or permit lawfully issued in the United States;
(rest of the section omitted)
Therefore, technically if you have a valid hunting license, you should be able to purchase any firearm for hunting, right?
Yesterday I decided to go ahead and purchase a CZ-P10 C (a 9mm centerfire pistol) from a national hunting equipment retailer. Note that I do have a valid non-resident hunting license. At first the associate seems to be unaware of my situation and said as long as I have an AZ driver license I should be good to go. Things got a bit trickier once he realized I'm a student under F-1 visa. He then asked for my hunting license and my passport. Eventually a manager was called to assess the situation. She made the verdict that, they wouldn't sell handguns to nonresident aliens, however long guns are ok. When I asked if they consider ARs as long guns, she initially said "no" but then replied "maybe".
Well, that was bummer, but I'm not surprised. I speculate that it is much easier to justify a long gun for hunting purposes than a handgun (even though you can, for example, shoot coyotes and javelinas with a P10). It is also possible to conceal carry a handgun, making it more dangerous to general public (although... I do believe most foreign students don't have malicious intents at all.)
Later in the afternoon I called a few independent gun dealers in the Valley, and here's what they responded:
Dealer 1: "No we don't sell to students at all. 0% student visa."
Dealer 2: "I don't think nonresidents are supposed to have a gun at all."
Dealer 3: "We accept resident hunting license only."
(Quick note: it is easy to get a resident hunting licence in AZ regardless of status, however there will be consequences for that...)
Dealer 4: "Sorry we only sell to US citizens."
It is easy to see that they are either not familiar with the law, or are not willing to take the risk. Totally understandable, given that ATF has seized many illegally obtained guns from foreign students in recent years. Therefore when it comes to owning a gun legally, handguns are out of the question. Some long guns, such as shotguns and rifles, may be ok in bigger retailers. Also keep in mind that Arizona has one of the most relaxed law on gun control, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if you are denied outright in, say, California.
Anyways, this post is simply my observation and do not constitute any legal advice. You can be jailed for up to 10 years for illegally obtaining a weapon! Therefore it is always a good idea to check your state and local laws before moving to a decision.
That's all I've got for you today. Happy hunting!