GREAT FALLS — A rally was held in Great Falls on Saturday to show support for Highwood Creek Outfitters. It's been a little more than two weeks since the gun store was shut down for a day while armed federal agents searched the premises.
Gun shop owner Tom Van Hoose — and members of Montana’s congressional delegation — are still waiting for answers while support for the business continues to grow.
“We're getting calls even from Ecuador and Lithuania,” said Van Hoose. “They're like, ‘What's going on in America?”
Van Hoose describes his life as very interesting since the IRS and ATF came to his gun shop on June 14.
“We’ve been trying to put records together, trying to get support from an attorney that would represent us with the IRS,” said Van Hoose. “Being a gun shop, most attorneys don't like gun shops. We had to go all the way to Denver to get an attorney.”
Van Hoose says he’s yet to be charged with anything but he’s surprised by the support he’s received.
A conservative Christian virtual fundraising website called GiveSendGo had raised more than $23,000 as of Friday afternoon to help with possible legal fees.
“It’s probably it's going to cost us half a million dollars to defend ourselves before the IRS,” said Van Hoose.
Van Hoose says IRS agents took the business' 4473 forms, which is paperwork filled out by gun buyers containing confidential information.
It was a move that drew attention from both of Montana’s U.S. senators.
U.S. Sen. Steve Daines wrote a letter to the IRS saying, “With the PII (personally identifiable information) of an unknown number of Montanans potentially collected by your agents, the store’s customers and the community are rightfully concerned.”
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester sent a letter to both the IRS and ATF demanding answers, saying “Federal law enforcement agencies should aim to be as transparent as possible, while respecting the rights of those under investigation.”
Van Hoose says he still does not understand why the investigation warranted such a heavily armed presence.
“I've been reached out to by four other gun shops and when their IRS raid happened, it was a couple of guys with a calculator and a briefcase and a couple of people with guns,” said Van Hoose.
Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter admits there is no state law requiring his office to be notified by federal agents of an investigation, but in a recent Facebook video he had a strong message for them.
“If you're not going to provide us with the information that we need so we understand and we can later be held accountable to the public, we're not cooperating with you or being part of your operation, period. End of story,” said Slaughter in the video.
A rally in support of the business is scheduled for Saturday, July 1st, at 10:00 am across from Highwood Creek Outfitters (205 Ninth Avenue South).
MTN checked with the IRS the day after the incident, all they could tell us was they were at facility on June 14 on official business. MTN tried again on Friday and left a message, but the call has not yet been returned.