Skelton Tactical has been open for business in the small central Missouri town of Osage Beach for about three years, and owner James Skelton says during that time he’s never seen or spoken to anyone from the ATF. Apparently the agency has been keeping an eye on him, however, since agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and explosives conducted a raid on his business earlier this week.
And while it’s not surprising that the ATF wouldn’t give Skelton advance notice that they’d be coming to his shop to seize most of his inventory, the local sheriff says he was taken aback by how the raid happened.
Camden County Sheriff Tony Helms says the ATF raid on a local gun store in Osage Beach on Tuesday caught him by surprise.
“It makes me mad I was not notified,” Helms said. “ATF agents were in my office the day before, to discuss a separate issue and they did not tell me a thing,” Helms said. “They called me at 1 p.m., on Tuesday, and apologized for not telling me, saying they were not comfortable having too many people know about the raid before it happened. They were hitting several gun shops as part of an annual thing.”
“Before SAPA, (the Second Amendment Preservation Act, passed in June 2021) they would have notified me if they were going to be in my county,” Helms added.
So, was SAPA the reason why his office wasn’t notified by the ATF? Helms certainly thinks so, and several other police chiefs and sheriffs have offered similar complaints about the law, arguing that their hands are tied from working with federal officials on virtually any case that might result in a gun charge. But is that really what the law requires? Not at all, according to Dave Roland, Missouri Director of Litigation for The Freedom Center.
“SAPA only prohibits Missouri law enforcement from assisting in the enforcement of federal gun laws,” Roland said. “SAPA expressly allows state and local law enforcement agencies to receive assistance from federal agencies, when enforcing Missouri laws.”
“It may be local sheriffs are worried about asking for help in enforcing Missouri law for fear that it might be construed as assisting in the enforcement of federal law,” Roland said.
It is worth noting that a law enforcement agency is only liable for “knowing” violations of SAPA – if a violation is accidental or inadvertent, the law enforcement agency would not be penalized.
“Courts may interpret it differently than intended, but as it sits, SAPA does not need to be changed,” Roland said. “Many law enforcement agencies prefer a law that gives them more authority, and that enforces harsher penalties, than current Missouri law,” Roland said. “If this is the case, they need to make their case to the Missouri General Assembly in Jefferson City.”
For what it’s worth, I came to the same conclusion a couple of months ago, though Gov. Mike Parson has indicated that he’d be open to revising the law to address concerns by police. Whether or not the legislature is willing to go along with that is another story, however.
As for James Skelton, my advice would be to stop talking to the press and start talking to an attorney. Comments like these aren’t going to help your case.
Skelton said he was not entirely sure where his rights begin and end as a gun store owner, particularly in relation to the ATF.
“I can’t tell you cause I’m not an attorney,” he said. “And as far as that, I don’t know all the ins and outs of gun sales either.”
… The ATF told KRG 13 the investigation is ongoing and has been for some time and confirmed the seizure after what it called violations of federal firearms laws.
James Skelton doesn’t deny the list of violations.
“But they say that I have so many infractions, that they’re going to recommend they take my license,” James Skelton said, also mentioning one alleged sting operation against him, involving two agents, a man and a woman.
“She states that she was going to be the purchaser, now he handed me the money but she was the purchaser. They’re saying that was not right, because he was the one that handed me the money. He’s the one that bought the gun,” Skelton explained.
That’s the textbook definition of a straw purchase, and it’s illegal under both state and federal law.
I haven’t seen the full list of alleged violations so I don’t know if a license revocation is appropriate or not, but I do know that Joe Biden declared he was going after “rogue gun dealers” earlier this year and promised a zero tolerance approach to violations. Break the law and come into this country illegally and Biden may reward you with a six-figure settlement, but commit even a paperwork violation as an FFL and he’ll try to shut down your business faster than you can say “Hunter Biden lied on his 4473”.
Allowing a straw purchase to take place without batting an eye, however, isn’t merely a paperwork error. That’s a significant issue, as well as a good reason for Mr. Skelton to start lawyering up and piping down on his public comments going forward.