A recent story about the self-proclaimed patriots with Hamilton's Celebrating Conservatism included a brief anecdote about raffle prizes at the group's September meeting. According to the AlterNet story, and later confirmed by Celebrating Conservatism founder Mona Docteur to the Independent, the group offered "60 percent firearm kits" from Dillon-based Kristi Tool (KT) Ordnance. These kits include everything an individual needs to make a fully functional .45 caliber pistol—just drill a few holes, assemble a few doohickeys and you're ready to shoot. The guns have no serial numbers, and no bothersome registration is required.

But the story behind KT Ordnance goes much deeper than a few dubious raffle prizes. Last month, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) slapped KT Ordnance owner Richard Celata with what appeared to be a cease and desist order alleging he was engaged in unlicensed firearms dealing. According to Celata, the order actually referred back to his company's first encounter with BATFE in 2006, when agents seized 192 kit components they deemed to be firearms. BATFE believes Celata's business belongs "within the definition of a dealer or manufacturer in firearms," but has yet to levy any penalties for KT Ordnance's continued activity.

"That's fabulous for me," says Celata.

Missoula gun rights advocate Gary Marbut is hardly surprised by the BATFE's repeated hounding of Celata. Individuals have long been in the business of manufacturing their own firearms or creating kits that allow others to complete the task. It's perfectly legal, Marbut says, and those in the industry even earned the nickname "80 percent firearms manufacturers." Yet the government continues to push back despite what Marbut describes as an open dialogue between the BATFE and firearm kit manufacturers.

Celata's story may paint the BATFE as an overbearing federal regulator, but the language KT Ordnance uses to describe its products does raise concerns. The company's website claims the .45 caliber kit "has the strength that combat and action shooters require, with an integral accessory rail that accepts laser sights and tactical lights." KT Ordnance also sells a number of DIY gun kits for automatic rifles, all shipped in what it calls a legal "state of limbo."

Marbut says the 80 percent businesses are small within the larger firearms industry, accounting for what he guesses to be less than half a percent of all gun sales. But no matter how small that niche might be, it's still consciously skirting federal regulation, with potentially deadly consequences.

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