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A Missouri county won't work with the ATF, claiming the federal agency is ‘unconstitutional’

Assault weapons and hand guns for sale.
Seth Perlman
Officials in Camden County, Missouri, are refusing to cooperate with ATF agents, claiming the whole agency is unconstitutional.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says it just wants zoning information to complete the applications of four people who want to open gun stores. Camden County says it won't cooperate.

Six top elected officials in Camden County, Missouri, are refusing to cooperate with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, claiming the agency itself is unconstitutional.

ATF agents say they need zoning information so the agency can complete the applications for four people who want to open gun stores in Camden County, about 250 miles southeast of Kansas City.

In a letter to the ATF office in Kansas City, Camden County presiding commissioner Ike Skelton cited a local ordinance banning county employees from working with the ATF.

"Under the Anti-Commandeering Doctrine, Camden County was the first county in Missouri, and possibly in the country, to pass an ordinance prohibiting any county employee from assisting your unconstitutional agency in violating the rights of our citizens," Skelton wrote.

The letter was signed by Skelton's two commission colleagues plus County Attorney Jeff Green, Sheriff Tony Helms and County Treasurer Kendra Hicks.

"We are in lockstep with this thought process,” Skelton told KCUR. "Any and all federal firearms laws, so-called laws, in my opinion, and many others' opinion, are unconstitutional."

In the case of Camden County, ATF spokesman Jon Ham says the agency is trying to help people open guns stores, not take them away,

Federal law requires the ATF to check on local zoning and other laws before granting a Federal Firearms License, according to Ham. The ATF needs to make sure someone isn't opening a gun store on property zoned for housing.

"We use that information to put people in business, not to take people out of business," Ham said.

Ham said he has never seen a county in the four states the Kansas City Field Office covers refuse to provide this kind of information. He said it could impact ATF's ability to approve the federal license needed to get these four businesses up and running.

Missouri’s Second Amendment Preservation Act, which was signed into law in 2021, allows citizens to sue Missouri police if they believe their rights to guns were violated by the enforcement of federal regulations.

Last month, a federal judge ruled the law, referred to as SAPA, was unconstitutional and said it violated the standard that federal law trumps state law.

The Missouri statute is an “unconstitutional (violation of) federal law and is designed to be just that,” U.S. District Judge Brian C. Wimes wrote.

“SAPA exposes citizens to greater harm by interfering with the Federal Government’s ability to enforce lawfully enacted firearm regulations designed by Congress for the purpose of protecting citizens with the limits of the Constitution.”

The law is currently still in effect while the state appeals Wimes' decision.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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