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Missouri county official who declared ATF ‘unconstitutional’ has family history with the feds

Photo of a man inside a gun shop is layered on indictment documents that are stamped with a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives logo. Part of the documents reads: "James Antonio Skelton used Skelton Tactical, a federal firearms licensee, to illegally sell firearms by allowing 'straw purchases' of firearms."
Photo illustration by Carlos Moreno
Ike Skelton’s dismissal of the ATF’s authority comes 16 months after his brother, James Skelton, 75, was indicted by the federal government on 15 counts for illegally selling guns.

Camden County Presiding Commissioner Ike Skelton has called the ATF unconstitutional. The statement comes after his brother was indicted for illegally selling guns to undercover ATF agents.

Presiding Camden County, Missouri, commissioner Ike Skelton attacked the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives earlier this month, calling the federal agency “unconstitutional.” Asked by the agency for zoning information to process gun store applications, Skelton ordered county employees to disregard any request for information from ATF agents.

But Skelton’s animosity towards the agency runs deeper than a basic issue of government overreach.

Skelton’s dismissal of the ATF’s authority comes just 16 months after his brother, James Skelton, 75, was indicted on 15 counts for illegally selling guns. After a six-week undercover investigation, the agency charged that Skelton used his Osage Beach store to illegally sell firearms by allowing “straw purchases,” according to the indictment unsealed in December of 2021.

A straw purchase is when someone other than the buyer fills out the federal form needed to buy a gun from a licensed dealer. James Skelton was also charged with selling guns “off book,” meaning he sold guns without even having the buyer fill out a form.

So, did Ike Skelton (no relation to the former 4th District Congressman) order Camden County to ignore requests for information from ATF to retaliate against the government for his brother’s indictment?

“It did not,” Skelton told KCUR.

Still, he said, the raid on his brother’s store was on his mind.

“What happened with my brother helped solidify my thoughts” on the ATF and federal gun laws, Skelton said.

The sting operation

According to court documents, the ATF investigation into Jim Skelton started when a pair of industry operations investigators (IOIs) made what the ATF calls a “compliance inspection” at Skelton’s gun store in Osage Beach, Missouri. That’s where agents, in part, check that there is paperwork for all the guns sold. During the inspection, the two investigators heard Skelton talking about selling guns out of his truck.

“He also made numerous comments that it is his ‘constitutional right to do what I want with the guns,’ and that the IOIs were ‘infringing’ on his rights,” the investigators wrote.

That inspection triggered an undercover operation that started the morning of September 24, 2021 at Skelton’s gun store, when an agent wired for sound and video entered the business. Outside was Skelton’s pickup truck and five back-up ATF agents.

The first gun the agent wanted to see was a .45 caliber pistol priced at $595. But, the agent said, he didn’t want to fill out any paperwork. Skelton, according to court documents, had a solution.

“Skelton directed ATF UC#1 (undercover number one) to the pickup and said if they are brought into the store, he has to put them on the books. ATF UC#1 clarified with Skelton what he meant and asked him if they are not in the store, they are good without paperwork.”

Agents said Skelton answered yes.

Ten days later, the same undercover agent returned to buy more guns, according to court documents. A final undercover buy was initiated ten days after that, this time with a female agent.

She would fill out the federal form for her male colleague, essentially becoming a straw purchaser. The raid happened about three weeks later.

Ike Skelton was in his locksmith store next door to the gun shop the morning of Nov. 9, 2021, when agents closed in on his brother’s business. He recounted the events to Kevin Burns on the streaming video show “What’s Burning” on Lake TV.

He said the ATF showed up with 20 agents in “tactical gear, ballistic helmets, the whole nine yards.”

Jim Skelton was charged with illegally selling 19 guns, including a Sig Sauer .45 caliber pistol, a .357 magnum revolver from the Czech Republic and a Mossberg 12-gauge pump action shotgun with a pistol grip.

Skelton was charged with illegally selling 19 guns to undercover agents. In all, the ATF seized 323 guns during the raid, according to court documents.

In February, Jim Skelton signed a pretrial diversion deal that will keep him out of prison if he doesn’t break the law for the next 18 months. His lawyer, Kevin Jamison, who is deeply involved in the gun rights movement in Missouri, called Skelton “a retired vet and just a hard-working guy who needed more advice,” and someone who “likes guns, he likes the gun community.”

Jamison told KCUR that Skelton didn’t understand all of the federal regulations about selling guns and that he got little help from the ATF when he had questions. He said Skelton selling the guns off the books was “a serious misjudgment of what he could do, and it bit him.”

Brothers at odds over whether to recognize the ATF?

Pretrial diversion for felonies is uncommon but happens occasionally, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas City said. Jamison said Skelton’s age was a factor.

Jamison said that by agreeing to the diversion, Skelton recognizes the ATF is constitutional and there are limits on people’s 2nd Amendment rights.

That puts him at odds – at least on paper – with his brother, the county commissioner. When Ike Skelton banned county workers from providing the ATF with zoning information needed to grant four Federal Firearms Licenses for businesses in Camden County, his stance on the 2nd Amendment was clear:

"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 to the ATF.

When asked about the diversion agreement signed by his brother, Skelton said that was better than “losing everything in life” to the government.

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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