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Do-it-yourself border patrol: one man's vigil with a gun and spotlight

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To some, the idea of armed civilians is a bad answer. "I'm not saying this guy would murder someone, but he might get confronted in a way that guns are pulled and people are shot," says Mark Potok of Alabama's Southern Poverty Law Center, which documents border vigilantism.

Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever, however, says the border patrol needs help: "I'm grateful that we have citizens that are willing to step up to the plate."

What is clear is that Kartchner's plan, like Arizona's controversial immigration law, is a signal of the desperation that many Americans along the border feel.

"We've seen this time and time again over the last 10 years, whether it's people putting up their own little drones in the sky, or marching along the border with guns," says Mr. Potok.

This has been particularly true in Cochise County since the mid-1990s, when tightened border enforcement began shifting illegal activities from urban areas into far-flung desert terrain. In 2005, for example, the county spawned the Minuteman Project, a controversial attempt to have neighborhood-watch-like citizen patrols on the border.

Cochise County is part of the busy, 262-mile Tucson sector, which boasts the most manpower along the 2,000-mile Southwest border and yields 40 to 50 percent of marijuana seizures, according to the border patrol.

But statistics present a mixed portrait of the region today. Border apprehensions in the Tucson sector dropped from 616,000 in fiscal 2000 to 241,000 in fiscal 2009. The violent crime rate in Arizona as a whole is falling, and homicides in Cochise are steady.

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