Derik Oakes has a warning for gun owners: you could be next.
The fire captain from Sacramento made headlines last month after a local media outlet got wind of multiple felony charges leveled against Oakes related to his ownership of illegal “assault weapons.” The ATF had gotten involved, and rumors surfaced about “machine guns,” “Uzi’s,” and “fake serial numbers.” It was a juicy story for the outlet, especially since its protagonist was a public servant living in a $1 million home in suburban Sacramento.
But so far, Oakes hasn’t played the part of the underground gun runner or secret militia member. In fact, he isn’t contesting any of the charges leveled against him by the district attorneys in California’s El Dorado County.
When California Highway Patrol and ATF agents knocked on his door in July of 2019 looking for illegal machine gun parts, he opened his gun safe and let them rifle through his belongings. When they asked him if he owned the illegal “assault weapons” they found, he admitted to owning the rifles, though he argues that they’re still constitutionally protected items. When they asked him about an unfinished part that allows a Glock to fire in fully automatic mode, he admitted to purchasing it and said he would have freely surrendered it.
Oakes isn’t a bad guy. If the reams of letters vouching for his good character are any indication, he’s actually a stand-up citizen. But he’s a case study in what can happen when state and local governments constantly change gun laws, criminalize previously legal items, and selectively enforce those laws on the people least likely to commit an actual crime.
“You think you’re doing the right thing, and you’re not,” Oakes said in an interview with GunsAmerica. “The ATF can just change their mind on something, get a warrant, and come to your house.”
How It Started
Oakes’ trouble began when he purchased an item from JNC Manufacturing called an “80% Glock Auto Switch” that, when machined, enables a Glock to fire automatically. Much like 80% receivers, these items had been deemed by the ATF to be “unfinished” and therefore legal to purchase without adhering to the regulations of the National Firearms Act. Then, in 2018, the ATF reversed its decision and compelled JNC to release a list of the 240 customers who had purchased the items.
We covered this last month when we wrote about Oakes’ case. But Oakes stressed in his interview that he purchased these products prior to the 2018 determination, meaning they were legal at the time he purchased them. He also pointed out that he never machined them to allow a Glock to fire automatically nor did he install them in any of his guns.
The ATF seems to understand the weakness of their case: more than two years after raiding his home, they haven’t charged him with any federal crimes.
So, why is Oakes facing so many state felony charges? In part, it seems, because of a misunderstanding. The ATF claims in court filings that Oakes and his attorneys refused to comply with the agency’s initial attempts to contact Oakes and secure the now-illegal items. Oakes was not home when they first arrived at his house, and they tried to communicate via the doorbell camera. The ATF says whoever they spoke with triggered the alarm and refused to speak to them. When they contacted Oakes’ attorney, Kimber Goddard, they claim Goddard was belligerent and refused to comply.
SEE ALSO: ATF Seizes Customer Data from Gun Company, Uses It to Confiscate Guns and Raid Home of California Firefighter
Goddard has flatly denied the ATF’s account. Oakes also argues that he and Goddard would have complied, as he did during the raid, but ATF agents never spelled out precisely what they were looking for.
“If they had ever, at any time, been even remotely descriptive of what they want, I would have been more than happy to say, take this thing. I don’t want it,” Oakes said. “But that never happened. They just kept saying, ‘he has a machine gun.’ They also described it as an ‘item.’”
The ATF secured a search warrant based on Oakes’ supposed non-compliance. Agents arrived when Oakes wasn’t at home, forced his stepson out of the home at gunpoint, and proceeded to search for the offending Glock parts. When Oakes arrived, the ATF admits that he provided the passcodes to his gun safes and willingly admitted to owning the rifles they soon found.
All his felony charges stem from what local law enforcement found during the course of that ATF raid.
How It’s Going
All of Oakes’ gun-related infractions can be traced back to sudden changes in California gun laws.
First, the “assault weapons” found in his home only became illegal after California outlawed “bullet button” firearms in 2018. Since 2001, California gun owners were allowed to own “assault weapons” with prohibited features like pistol grips as long as their rifles had a magazine that required a tool to remove. “Bullet buttons” allowed a magazine to be removed using the tip of a .223 Rem. cartridge. Then, in 2018, California passed a law requiring the owners of rifles outfitted with “bullet buttons” to register them with the state.
Mainstream and pro-gun news outlets covered the change extensively, but Oakes claims not to have realized his rifles needed to be registered. In addition, the registration system was so flawed that many gun owners were unable to register their rifles anyway. Others were prosecuted for owning prohibited firearms after attempting to register them through the system.
The situation was so bad, in fact, that gun-rights groups won a case in California to force the state to re-open the registration system for 90 days. The state has yet to announce when that registration period will open.
SEE ALSO: Judge Benitez’s California Assault Weapon Ruling is Pure Gold, and the Media Totally Missed the Point
Second, the initial story in the Bee made much of the “fake serial numbers” that Oakes had engraved into the firearms he had assembled at home. They only became “fake,” however, in 2019 when California passed a law requiring gun owners who assemble their own firearms to apply for an official serial number from the state DOJ.
Prior to that time, as Oakes pointed out, serial numbers were not required on homemade guns. Oakes engraved his rifles in order to identify them if they were ever lost or stolen.
“People took that and thought I was scratching serial numbers into the guns. Or maybe that I obliterated legal serial numbers and put my own. That is not true. I put my home location, my wife’s birth date, my birth date. Who does that with bad intentions?” he said.
Oakes and his attorney are asking the state to lower his charges to misdemeanors or public nuisances in light of his nonexistent criminal record, his good character, and the absence of clear criminal intent.
“This has nothing to do with me being a firefighter,” he said. “The point was, hey, this is a good person who also has guns. That was the crux of it, and the state has the ability to charge this as an infraction or a misdemeanor. That’s not asking for a break. That’s asking them to do the right thing.”
Oakes also claims law enforcement agents were well aware that he doesn’t pose a danger to society.
“They even said while they were [at my house], we know nothing nefarious is going on, but we’ve got to do this,” he said.
So far, the state hasn’t budged. But Oakes says his fire chief has been extremely supportive, and he’s received letters of recommendation from many of his colleagues at the fire department as well as the owner of Gray Ops Firearms Special Training, where he’s worked as a range safety officer.
Whatever happens with his case, Oakes believes the ever-changing gun laws present a clear threat to even the most law-abiding gun owners.
“We’ve got to reach some kind of black and white decision on these firearm laws. This gray area that we’re in is a recipe for disaster, like with me,” he said. “If you’re going to classify something as legal one day, and then classify it as illegal the next day, where does that stop? What if you have a shotgun and you also have a hack saw? Does that mean you have a short-barreled shotgun?”
He’s unlikely to get any of his firearms back. California law stipulates that even if he’s convicted of a misdemeanor, his firearms must be destroyed.
“In the end, this will be a government-authorized home invasion to steal my property and charge me with whatever. In the end, nothing was prevented. Nothing was stopped. They’re trying to regulate firearms, but they’re making criminals out of people who aren’t doing anything,” he said. “We let people go for assault, arson, and all kinds of stuff. But here’s a person with a pistol grip on his rifle, and he’s the worst person ever. But that’s all California.”
Oakes doesn’t want a GoFundMe, as he’s seen some people propose online. Instead, he encourages gun owners to support Second Amendment advocacy groups like the Firearms Policy Coalition and the Second Amendment Foundation: “Instead of helping me, let’s help everybody. Let’s help all of us. This is an everybody problem, not just me.”