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Gun Store vs. ATF

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SAN DIEGO — A store that helps clients build their own guns is daring federal agents to raid their stores for a second time.

The controversial build-it-yourself gun store Ares Armor has once again started selling a questionable piece of equipment without the approval of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

Its called an 80 percent lower polymer receiver, and federal agents claim the plastic gun part actually qualifies as a fire arm and is therefore illegal to sell. Federal agents raided the four Ares Armor store locations in San Diego County in March and confiscated its supply of 80 percent lower receivers.

“I don’t care what they do, but if they have a problem with it they can come and see me,” said Dimitrios Karras, owner of Ares Armor.

The business has been praised by gun rights advocates, but gun control activists say the business helps people build guns without having to go throught a background check.

“We are in complete compliance of the 1968 Firearms Act, and unless the ATF changers the laws their is nothing they can do about it,” said Karras.

Fox 5 attempted to contact the ATF for comment but has not received a call back.

SAN DIEGO — Two San Diego congressmen want to know why federal agents raided an Oceanside gun parts store last weekend and what the government plans to do with the computers and customer lists it confiscated.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) sent a letter to the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Friday asking for information about the raid on Ares Armor last Saturday. The store owner had been granted an injunction by a judge to prevent the raid, but BATFE agents served a search warrant on the business anyway.

READ HUNTER’S LETTER TO THE BATFE

In a letter to BATFE Director Todd Jones, Issa asked

  • why customer information unrelated to the investigation was collected,
  • what BATFE intends to do with the data,
  • how BATFE will insure that the customer data remains confidential.

Another member of the San Diego congressional delegation, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) has also expressed concerns over the raid. Issa said he wants BATFE officials to explain what the investigation is about.

“It’s concerning when you have the ATF disregard an injunction and get another judge to sign a warrant, so I want to see what happened,” Issa told Fox 5 Thursday. “Tomorrow members of my staff will be sitting down with officials to see why they raided that shop, and I’m deeply concerned about the collection of customer lists who have nothing to do with the controversy.”

OCEANSIDE, Calif. – The battle between an Oceanside gun parts store and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives continued to escalate Wednesday, as the store owner told Fox5 he will be reaching out to a local congressman.

Dimitrios Karras, owner of Ares Armor, said he will ask Rep. Darrell Issa (R-San Diego) for help after his shop was raided by armed ATF agents over the weekend.  They confiscated computers, customer lists and the questionable polymer 80 percent lower receivers.

Karras claims the ATF agents are acting illegally.

“These people are overstepping their boundaries. This is a rogue agency that has pretty much gone wild,” Karras said. “I’m going to be going over to local congressman’s office in an attempt to garner some support.”

Karras said the fight has nothing to do with firearms. The issue was the sale of a newly manufactured product called a polymer 80 percent lower receiver.  The part has been approved for use by gun enthusiasts to build their own guns, without a serial number, for years, according to Karras.

“This is across party lines and more reaching,” said Karras. “It’s not about gun control – it’s about control.”

A new version of the lower receiver is plastic and is somewhat like paint by numbers. According to the ATF, the part that the owner must drill into to make it a firearm appears to be a separate piece and would makes it illegal to sell.

Gun enthusiast Mark Halcon owns American Shooting Center and is considered a second amendment expert.

“Maybe they were just too readily convertible?” said Halcon, who explained it’s a chicken or the egg scenario with not a lot of guidance. “There is no process for approving an 80 percent lower. There’s no regulation.”

Halcon said he was not surprised to find out the agents took Karras’ customer list.  It’s not uncommon for the feds to ask for the list since the controversial parts eventually become firearms without serial numbers and are not registered.

“If you’re doing everything right and its legal, you got nothing to worry about,” he said. “If you’re buying a dozen of them, building a dozen of them and selling 10 of them to your friends – you got a problem.”

The search warrant provides little information about the raid, and neither the ATF nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office will talk about the case.

However the ensuing battle turns out, Halcon said one thing is certain, “We are going to see changes in law regarding 80 precent receivers and the manufacturing of it. I think this is going to be a long and expensive litigation for both parties.”

SAN DIEGO – With a search warrant in hand, federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives confiscated computers, customer lists and the questionable polymer 80 percent lower receivers from four Ares Armor store locations throughout San Diego County over the weekend.

“There were women and children inside our retail establishment when the (ATF) agents came in with guns drawn,” said Ares Armor Executive Officer Dimitrios Karras. “They came into our manufacturing facility with their guns up like they were invading Iraq.”

The raid happened three days after Ares owner was granted a temporary restraining by a judge to stop ATF agents from searching their stores.

The ATF confirmed they were investigating the stores for federal firearm violations.

The case stems from the sale of what is called an 80% lower receiver, which gun enthusiast use to build their own rifles and guns.

Building a rifle with specific versions of the 80 percent receivers is legal.   The polymer lower receiver appears to be manufactured differently with two parts, making them a firearm and illegal sell, according to the ATF.

“We did ask the court to clarify if these things were firearms or not,” said Karras. “We did ask for protection as this gets resolved within the court system.”

Karras said they had their polymer lower receivers locked in a closet ready to turn over to the ATF since Wednesday.  He was more concerned about the federal agents taking lists of his customers’ information.

“If anybody is a criminal organization that should be investigated, I think they should look in the mirror. We gave them a black eye publicly,” Karras said. “They tried to do an underhanded deal with us. They said, ‘Hey hush, hush. Keep it secret and nobody’s going to know that we took the customer list from you. Nobody’s going to know we took this from you.’”

The investigation has some customers nervous about their right to bear arms.

“I’m on that list, and I’m waiting for the knock on the door to tell me they are here to remove my second amendment rights,” one customer told Fox 5.

ALSO ON FOX5SANDIEGO.COM:

OCEANSIDE, Calif. – The owner of an Oceanside store that sells various gun parts to build a rifle from scratch refused to turn over his customer list to federal agents.

Dimitrios Karras, owner of Ares Armor, said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents were investigating their business, not for what they sell, but for the people who purchase their products.

80 percent lower receiverKarras said the ATF threatened to shutter their business if they didn’t hand over the names of 5,000 customers who have purchased an 80 percent lower receiver (the base) for building an AR-15.

It is legal to build a rifle from scratch without serial numbers only if the base is manufactured to ATF specifications.  The base is not considered a firearm if it’s sold separately.

A manufacturer made an 80 percent receiver in plastic with a different material and colors which show exactly where the customer can drill making it easier and cheaper to build.  The ATF said it is illegal.

The ATF sent stores, including Ares Armor, letters demanding they turn over the products and names of customers who purchased them.

“They said either give us these 5000 names or we are coming in and taking pretty much anything – which is a huge privacy concern and something we are not willing to do,” said Karras.

Karras’s attorney informed the ATF to pick up the receivers Wednesday morning at their Oceanside location, but the inventory was not the issue. The store owner said he will not comply with turning over their private client list.

“They were going to search all of our facilities and confiscate our computer and pretty much shut our business down,” said Karras.  “The government invades our privacy on a daily basis and everyone thinks its ok. This is one of those situations where hopefully the governmental institutions will come in say this is protected and no you’re not taking it from them.”

In anticipation of a raid, they filed a temporary restraining order against the ATF, stopping them from confiscating their property, Karras said.  The ATF has a certain amount of time to respond. If the two parties do not reach a compromise, they will be in court for a preliminary hearing March 20.

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