A federal raid by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on a San Diego gun-parts store chain has prompted criticism that the primary purpose of the operation was to collect the names and addresses of customers.
Despite a temporary restraining order, ATF agents obtained a search warrant and raided four Ares Armor stores over the weekend, according to San Diego’s KSWB-TV.
The ATF, which went to a judge privately to obtain the warrant, said it was investigating alleged violations of federal firearms laws that stemmed from the sale of a new plastic version of the 80 percent lowers of AR-15 rifles.
Building a rifle with specific versions of the 80 percent receivers is legal, the TV report explained. But the ATF said the polymer lower receiver appears to be manufactured differently with two parts, making them a firearm and illegal to sell.
Ares Executive Officer Dimitrios Karras said he was trying to get the federal definition explained when the raid was executed.
“We did ask the court to clarify if these things were firearms or not,” Karras told KSWB. “We did ask for protection as this gets resolved within the court system.”
Karras said he had offered to turn over custody of the disputed parts to the ATF until the issue was resolved, but federal officials refused to settle the issue that way.
Instead, they demanded a list of his customers, he said.
When his stores were raided, federal agents insisted on the lists and took computers in which records might be held, he said.
“I offered to give them keys to the room [containing] the product,” he said. “They didn’t want that. They wanted the customer list.”
The idea of collecting names and addresses of gun owners has been a fear of Second Amendment supporters since President Obama took office in 2009. They cite a historic pattern of governments that intend to confiscate guns establishing gun registration as a first step, to identify the owners.
In Connecticut, a law recently was passed requiring owners of certain firearms to submit their names, addresses and fingerprints. Hundreds of thousands refused, and now the state is faced with the possibility of having a large segment of its working population classified as felons. A similar issue is developing in New York state.
Michael Hammond of Gun Owners of America, meanwhile, called the San Diego raid “outrageous.”
“Obviously, the ATF could have gotten the parts if it wanted them. What it wanted was the customer list,” he said.
Hammond said it appears to be part of the Obama administration’s decision to “ruthlessly to go after the Second Amendment.”
Watch security video of one store as the ATF raids got under way:
Dave Workman of the Second Amendment Foundation, who writes about firearms issues for Examiner.com, explained that Karras, a Marine Corps veteran, had stored the disputed "receiver blanks" in a locked room days before the raid in order to not allow any sale that would violate the law.
"Karras further asserted that he had offered those keys to two unidentified ATF agents earlier in the week, as an assurance that none of the inventory would be moved, sold or shipped, but that they declined to take the keys at that time," he reported.
What the agents wanted were the stores' computers, he wrote.
He also explained the ATF had gone to the judge, without having Karras present, and requested that the temporary restraining order be amended to allow the search.
Workman reported that even before the raid, the ATF wanted Ares Armor customers' private information.
"This made me feel as if I was being extorted," Karras said at the time.
The ATF, as an agency, has had its image tarnished significantly over the past few years because of the deadly "Fast and Furious" gun-walking fiasco.
An Arizona field office of the ATF reportedly tried to run a series of sting operations allowing firearms dealers to sell weapons to illegal straw buyers, hoping to track the weapons to Mexican drug cartels.
However, a large number of the 2,000 weapons that were part of the program never were followed. U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered with one of the weapons the agency's work facilitated.
Guns from the program also have been found at numerous crime scenes in both Mexico and the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder eventually was held in contempt of Congress over the release of documents relating to the scandal.
WND reported the ATF was in a seven-year dispute with an Idaho gun shop, Red's Trading Post of Twin Falls, that was resolved with an agreement that an outside third part would help with the shop's record-keeping.
The dispute erupted when the government alleged the shop made mistakes in its gun sales record-keeping. The arguments got to the point that inspectors complained about a "threat" from the gun-shop manager when he posted an update on his disagreement with the agency on his blog.
The agency also complained in court that its inspectors has to suspend their work because they believed their safety was threatened.
WND reported the store appeared to be caught up in a new gun-control campaign focusing on the elimination of retail outlets through technical rules infractions.
Pratt told WND then that as recently as 15 or 20 years ago, there were 250,000 licensed gun dealers in the United States. The federal government confirms there are only about 108,000 now.
In the San Diego case, the local Fox affiliate reported customers were getting nervous.
"I'm on that list," one said, "and I'm waiting for the knock on the door to tell me they are here to remove my Second Amendment rights."