A plan by Montgomery County Sheriff Sean Kilkenny to conduct surprise inspections of county gun dealers is on hold—for now.
Grant Schmidt with Shot Tec LLLC and the Second Amendment Foundation filed suit in Commonwealth Court to stop the policy, which Kilkenny, a Democrat seeking re-election, announced a few weeks ago.
The parties, including the sheriff and State Police Commissioner Col. Christopher Paris, agreed to a stay on June 23.
“We’re delighted that Sheriff Kilkenny has agreed to pull back from enforcing his policy of conducting warrantless searches of licensees,” said SAF Executive Director Adam Kraut. “Respect for constitutional rights is paramount. The sheriff’s policy raised constitutional concerns that we had outlined in our petition. While this case may take a while to litigate, during the process, licensees won’t need to worry about the sheriff’s department violating their constitutional rights through the enforcement of the sheriff’s policy.”
“It is important that this challenge make its way through the court in a timely fashion,” added SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb, “but in the process, no actions should be taken which remotely suggest this policy is okay and will ultimately prevail. A warrantless search violates the Fourth Amendment, and that is never okay.”
Schmidt said that when he learned of the sheriff’s planned inspections, he looked into the law and decided to file suit to stop the program, which he believes is unconstitutional. His Bala Cynwyd-based business and other firearms dealers are already subject to various audits, including from the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau (ATF), he said.
“How many times do we have to be audited per year?” he asked.
“My hope is the sheriff’s office is genuinely serious about taking on gun crime and having a good faith relationship with FFLs (Federal Firearms License holders),” Schmidt said.
“One thing that I think is appalling is the state police is six months to a year behind on processing the paperwork that we have to submit to them every 14 days. So when we do a background check, they say, ‘Please be patient with us during this challenging time as we deal with increased volume.’ The volume has been here for three or four years now…We don’t expect it to come down.”
As for the sheriff’s office, “We hope they reach out to us and every place they planned on auditing, and they share intelligence. Tell us what tattoos we’re supposed to look out for that might show gang affiliation. Help us identify straw purchasers. No amount of going through my paperwork is going to help anybody because we already get audited by other organizations (it’s very redundant and a waste of resources to commit employees to that effort,” Schmidt said.
“So we hope that they actually create a working relationship with us, as opposed to being a hammer looking for a nail, trying to find a typo.”
While Kilkenny said the inspections were not political, Schmidt observed that the gun control group CeaseFirePA members were with Kilkenny at a press conference to announce it.
CeaseFirePA is “a wildly partisan, political group,” said Schmidt. “And they’re very ill-informed on the things they advocate for, and they advocate for stricter gun laws.”
When the Second Amendment stymies them, they try “to create a bad faith relationship between law enforcement and FFLs,” he said. “They’re trying to regulate us out of existence.”
Asked to comment, Kilkenny sent this response. “The initiative to conduct inspections of firearms dealers was enacted in accordance with our mandate to provide public safety. It is our firm belief that ensuring all firearms transactions involving licensed gun dealers in Montgomery County are conducted legally plays a crucial role in safeguarding our community by preventing illicit gun transactions. By taking proactive measures to address this issue, our ultimate aim is to reduce gun violence and foster a safer environment for our residents.
“While we stand steadfast in our conviction that we are acting within our legal authority, we will be staying the inspections pending the resolution of this court challenge. We believe it is essential to allow the legal process to play out, ensuring a fair and impartial evaluation of our policy.” Kilkenny said. “This temporary suspension will provide an opportunity for the court to thoroughly review the merits of the case and address any concerns raised through due process.”
Despite the litigation, Schmidt said he hoped they could work together.
“We want a good relationship with the sheriff’s office,” said Schmidt. “But we want them to have a good working relationship with us. It helps no one if they’re a hammer looking for a nail, looking for a typo. We really do everything we can to provide training and education and make FFL services as accessible as possible. So that way, people stay on the right side of the law.”