One effective way States can resist unconstitutional encroachments from the general government is through the Anti-Commandeering Doctrine. James Madison articulated this idea in Federalist Number 46. He said States could obstruct “unwarrantable measures” emanating from “the federal government” through “refusal to co-operate with the officers of the union.” In recent years States have successfully used this rationale to defend themselves from assuming liability for radioactive waste, adjudicating firearm background checks, and expanding Medicaid. Currently, State and local officials in Missouri are using this doctrine to fight what they believe are threats to the “rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms” especially under the Biden Administration.
On June 14, 2021 Missouri Governor Mike Parson signed the Second Amendment Preservation Act into law. The act declared “as invalid all federal laws that infringe on the right to bear arms” protected by the State and Federal Constitutions. This included certain taxes, tracking and use laws, as well as confiscation orders. State and local officials who enforced invalid federal laws were subject to a $50,000 civil penalty. Multiple Missouri counties and municipalities accompanied the legislation with decrees of their own. The Camden County Commission passed an ordinance declaring their County to be a Second Amendment Sanctuary thereby nullifying certain firearms regulations and penalizing those who applied them. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) justified these actions in the minds of many Missourians later that year.
On November 9, 2021 twenty armed and tactically equipped ATF agents raided a gun shop in Camden County, Missouri for selling firearms without allegedly administering background checks. According to investigators, the owner Jim Skelton made a comment about selling guns out of his truck during a compliance inspection. This triggered a series of investigations in which ATF agents claim Skelton illegally sold firearms. Skelton accused the agency of using entrapment techniques to justify their raid.
He said two undercover agents posing as a couple falsified documents when purchasing firearms at Skelton’s Tactical. In compliance with the law, Skelton would not sell firearms to anyone but the buyer. In this case however, a female agent deceptively signed Federal paperwork stating she was making the purchase while the male agent physically handed over the money. As a result, the ATF confiscated Skelton’s records along with around 180,000 dollars worth of firearms.
The following year Jim Skelton’s brother, Ike Skelton, campaigned in part on the issue of gun rights and became the Camden County Presiding Commissioner. He made national headlines in 2023 for defying the ATF when they requested information on Federal Firearms License holder’s zoning and business licensing. Skelton believed the ATF was trying to find minor unrelated infractions to shut down small businesses selling firearms. “It’s easier for them to enforce their unconstitutional edicts if they only have to enforce them on the big box stores. . . that comply with Federal rules,” He stated.
Skelton, along with other County officials including the sheriff signed a joint letter to investigator Amy Borkowski informing her the ATF was “unconstitutional” and they would not assist her in violating citizen’s God-given rights. Skelton followed the letter with a press conference claiming they did not recognize the ATF and warning citizens not to assist the agency. Sheriff Tony Helms pledged to defend 2nd Amendment rights of Camden County residents. 1st District Commissioner James Gohagan added: “The only thing the ATF is good at really is murdering innocent dogs.”
Camden County’s actions are a good example of the Anti-Commandeering Doctrine in practice. In the words of Ike Skelton: “[The ATF] can go try to enforce what they want to enforce, we’re not going to help them.” Lesser magistrates are not obligated to support government-sponsored tyranny. Because multiple levels of government in Missouri sponsored laws to protect firearm rights, even if the State’s Second Amendment Preservation Act is struck down there are still multiple counties standing in the ATF’s way. Tying up Federal agencies in court for years can easily stall tyranny until the election of a new administration more favorable to Constitutional rights.