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Ares Armor operating; store camera caught first moments of Saturday raid

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Ares Armor store security cameras purportedly caught the first moments of a raid by agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Saturday, and in a joint interview this morning with Examiner and The Gun Mag.com, Ares CEO Dimitrios Karras said the company is up and running, and has already replaced computers seized during the raid.

Karras said the agents wanted the store’s security cameras turned off after being advised they were recording the event. The accompanying image captured agents brandishing rifles entering the store. A time discrepancy on the image, he said, was due to the camera's timer not being adjusted to daylight savings time.

Video taken of the raid on the National City store shows agents prying open the front door. Karras told Examiner and TGM that he was in Oceanside at the time the raids occurred, and he had the keys to both retail stores, so he remained there to open facilities in that community. National City is about 45 minutes away.

A protest in support of Ares Armor was unfolding just as the National City raid took place, and it appears at least two people had video cameras capturing the event.

Karras, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Monday that the entire stock of polymer “80-percent” receiver blanks had been specifically stored in a locked room days before the raid. He also said that the door to that room had been re-fitted with a new lock and that only two keys exist, one held by him and the other by Ares president Jonathan ZumMallen. Karras further asserted that he had offered those keys to two unidentified ATF agents earlier in the week, as an assurance that none of the inventory would be moved, sold or shipped, but that they declined to take the keys at that time.

A local law firm did provide attorneys to observe the searches at three of the four locations that Ares has facilities. Only at National City was there not a legal observer present, Karras said. Two of the facilities are non-commercial. One is a manufacturing facility where backpacks and other accessories are made from nylon and other materials, and the fourth is a customer service site.

Ares had obtained a temporary restraining order last week against ATF, but on Friday that order was amended after ATF filed an ex parte application.

The ATF “raid” came less than 24 hours after U.S. District Judge Janis Lynn Sammartino clarified the TRO that was issued earlier in the week did not prevent ATF from legally seizing the items. The new order, issued Friday explained, “the Court’s March 11, 2014 TRO DOES NOT ENJOIN lawful criminal proceedings, including the application for or lawfully executed seizure of evidence and contraband pursuant to a search warrant issued by a sworn United States Magistrate Judge…”

In her amended order issued last Friday, Judge Sammartino told Ares Armor not to “destroy, transfer, sell, or otherwise divest themselves” of inventory and ordered BATF to file a response to the store’s motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO) before 9 a.m. today, while the company fights to keep its customer files confidential. She also ordered Ares Armor to respond to ATF’s response by Tuesday before noon.

A hearing on the requested injunction is scheduled for this Thursday.

In addition to the so-called “80-percent” polymer receivers, ATF agents also took store computers. Karras and his staff spent the weekend replacing the computers to enable the company to continue shipping products not related to the controversy, apparently including “80-percent” aluminum receiver blanks.

These receiver blanks require additional machining before they can house the fire controls of an AR-15 rifle, at which point they become, under legal definition, a firearm. It is legal to sell 80-percent blanks, however, ATF is maintaining that the polymer blanks, manufactured by a separate company – EP Armory, which was raided early last week – do constitute finished receivers. They reportedly believe EP Armory constructed the polymer receivers and then filled in, with different colored material, those places that require machining. The “80-percent” product in question almost looks like a do-it-yourself project with an advanced color-coded “map” showing where machining is required to finish the project.

After Saturday’s raid, Karras and his staff went to work to enable the stores to open Sunday, which they did. Today, they will be shipping.

“I’m sure they’re going to pour through my computer,” Karras said. “We don’t do anything illegal.”

He says he got receipts for everything that was taken under the search warrant.

“Every single day is just another adventure,” he said. “Most people have to sit at home and watch this on TV to have a life…I’ve fought in two wars…been an executive officer of a company…This is an adventure in life.”

Read updates by Gun Rights Examiners David Codrea and Kurt Hofmann.

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