GREAT FALLS, Mont.—A gun shop in Great Falls, Montana, is back up and running after 20 heavily armed IRS agents raided and searched the business on June 14, seizing thousands of documents containing private customer information.
Highwood Creek Outfitters owner Tom Van Hoose said agents of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CI) showed up carrying semi-automatic rifles and dressed in full tactical gear when he arrived to open the store at 7:30 a.m.
Van Hoose said he was just as perplexed by the federal search warrant stating he was under financial investigation by the IRS-CI.
“They somehow think a small mom-and-pop gun shop makes enough money to justify 20 heavily armed agents,” Van Hoose said.
“There is no justification for what happened.”
During the 10-hour search, Van Hoose said the agents confiscated documents, including financial records and over 12,000 individual firearms transactions representing 13 years in business.
He said those records filled more than 20 boxes at 600 records in each box and comprised “90 percent” of the documents seized.
Whenever a person purchases a firearm, they must fill out a Firearms Transaction Record, ATF Form 4473, which contains the buyer’s name, address, vital information, and photo ID.
Unlike “box store” gun retailers, small firearms dealers like Highwood Creek Outfitters maintain custody of the 4473 forms on paper for the life of the business, Van Hoose said.
“The IRS has no reason to have those records. They’re not financial records,” Van Hoose told The Epoch Times.
“Nobody else can look at that information. They don’t see the light of day unless something criminal happens with the firearm. That’s the only time we must disclose who owns that firearm.”
Van Hoose said two years ago, an FBI agent began surveilling his gun store, taking photographs outside, although he didn’t know who it was then.
“We thought somebody was casing our shop to rob it,” he said.
Van Hoose called local police, who instructed the agent to show his identification or “go downtown.”
“Nobody knew this guy,” said Van Hoose, who found out later his business was on a Department of Homeland Security domestic terrorism watchlist.
“We don’t know why,” he said. “The level of harassment just continues to grow.”
“We sell guns most of your box stores won’t sell. We have an indoor range. So, I guess because we sell the ‘scary’ guns from the liberal perspective, we got on the radar.”
“If you want a legal gun, we will procure it for you. We do everything legally. We record everything legally.”
Gun Owners of America (GOA) said the organization remains “incredibly concerned about any effort by agents of the federal government to seize firearm transaction records given the nearly 1 billion records already in possession of the ATF that are being digitally transferred into a searchable database in direct contradiction to existing statute.”
‘Weaponized’ Federal Government
In a June 19 statement, GOA Senior Vice President Erich Pratt said the raid was an “incredibly alarming incident to hear about—especially given the checkered past of the IRS targeting conservatives.”
“This continued weaponization by the Biden Administration of federal agencies to go after their political opponents once again underscores the dire need for Congress to act, including defunding the ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms] and demanding answers from the IRS.”
U.S. Congressman Matthew Rosendale (R-Mont.) condemned the IRS action in a June 16 letter to ATF Director Steven Dettlebach and IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel.
“Although the ATF is a useful resource in crime prevention and firearms theft cases, this event is another example of President Biden weaponizing federal agencies to target and harass hard-working Americans for exercising their constitutional rights,” Rosendale wrote.
“While we wait to hear more details and rationale behind this raid, given the positions of the Biden Administration, this raid appears to be an attempt to intimidate firearms dealers and owners.
“This is particularly worrying given that it comes just weeks [after] the ATF closed a gun store in Cobb County, Georgia, without any warning.”
Van Hoose believes the search for financial information linking him with a crime was just a “ruse” by the IRS-CI to seize private information on firearms purchases at his store.
“Are they creating an alternative gun registry? I’m just asking. Does it get scanned into some database? That’s how it seems,” Van Hoose said.
Van Hoose said the number of heavily armed IRS agents could have ended in tragedy if cooler heads did not prevail.
“The danger they presented to this small community with 20 heavily armed IRS agents is if somebody started pulling the trigger on their side,” he said.
Community at Risk
“It’s very scary. The danger they put people in the community. This is the third busiest street” in Great Falls. “If for any reason gunfire started, any passerby would have been in jeopardy.”
“I kept my cool. They kept their cool. They didn’t trash my place like other alphabet places. I thank them for being professional. I don’t thank them for the job they’re doing.”
The Great Falls Police Department said a uniformed officer was present at the gun shop on the morning of the raid by request of the IRS-CI.
“This type of assistance by the GFPD is common with any requesting law enforcement agency,” according to a statement from the department.
“At this time, the GFPD has no further information to provide as the matter is under the purview” of the IRS-CI.
IRS-CI Public Information Officer Karen Gurgel did not return a phone call from The Epoch Times requesting comment.
Van Hoose said he plans to take legal action against the IRS and is seeking an attorney.
A GiveSendGo campaign by Amanda Overton hopes to raise $200,000 to help Van Hoose “defend against the overreach of the federal government.”
So far, the campaign has raised $11,432.
Van Hoose said losing a day of business from the raid on his store is the least of his worries.
He’s more concerned about the ultimate fate of small gun store owners like himself due to increasing federal pressure and legal fees.
“They’re trying to put mom-and-pop gun shops out of business all across America. They will try to bankrupt me if they can’t find a legal or regulatory reason to put me out of business.”
Correction: A previous version of this story stated the incorrect name for the Great Falls Police Department. The Epoch Times regrets the error.