CAMDEN COUNTY, Mo. — 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.
According to the gun shop owner Jim Skelton, approximately fifteen agents entered the Skelton Tactical gun shop on Tuesday, seven deep, in full riot gear, bearing automatic weapons. The agents seized all of the firearms from both the gun shop and from his brother Ike Skelton's store next door. “They said it had to do with the way I was selling firearms,” Jim Skelton said. The ATF also demanded Ike stop filming the raid on his cell phone. The ATF took Jim’s license to sell firearms. “I will appeal and fight this with everything I have,” Jim said.
“The feds regulate guns coming from the factory, to the shops, to the persons who buy them,” Helms said.
“I am all for second amendment rights,” Sheriff Helms said. “I pushed for SAPA. We were the first county to endorse SAPA. I own 20 guns and I teach a conceal and carry class. I am all for responsible law-abiding gun owners. I don’t want the feds coming and taking our guns.”
SAPA prohibits state and local cooperation with federal officials that attempt to enforce any laws, rules, orders, or actions that violate the Second Amendment rights of Missourians. Additionally, the bill is an acknowledgment that the right to keep and bear arms is fundamental and inalienable, and that the nation's federalist constitutional structure limits the federal government's authority over states.
“Besides the cut in partnership, the county is now limited to access to ATF resources and technology,” Helms said. “Before, if a gun was used in a crime in Camden County, we could ask ATF to run a check, to see if the same gun was also used in another crime, anywhere in the country.”
Helms said he cannot work with ATF, because SAPA has teeth; any person or entity who knowingly deprives Missouri citizens of their right to bear arms - as protected by state and federal constitutions - will be found liable for redress and monetary damages of $50,000 per occurrence. In this case, payable by the Camden County Sheriff’s office.
But according to Dave Roland, Missouri Director of Litigation for The Freedom Center many are misinterpreting this portion of the act, they have received bad legal advice, or they are intentionally misstating what the law requires, or allows.
“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.”
According to John E. Ham, Public Information Officer for the ATF Kansas City Field Division, “A federal search warrant was issued in the Skelton Tactical raid, as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into violations of federal firearm laws.”
There were no arrests. Once the warrant is unsealed by the court, more specific information on the criminal investigation, and the reason for the search warrant will be released.