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Arguments finish in Naples antique store owner's gun trial

Mar. 28, 2013
Homer Helter
Homer Helter

The failure to purchase a $200 gun-dealing license could result in prison time for a Naples antique store owner if federal prosecutors get their way today.

They are hoping a 12-person jury convicts Homer Helter, 68, of dealing firearms without a license and conspiring to unlawfully deal in firearms without a license. He faces up to five years behind bars.

Helter owns Homer Helter’s Military & Antique Mall, which he billed as the state’s largest military store. James Kassel, 61, a vendor at the store, is being tried alongside Helter. He faces the same charges.

Dennis Jarstad, 59, another vendor, pleaded guilty this month to dealing firearms without a license. His sentencing is set for July 8.

On Thursday, Helter’s and Kassel’s defense lawyers presented their closing arguments. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jesus Casas followed with a rebuttal and jurors deliberated about five hours before asking to be sent home for the day.

They return today, the eighth day of the trial, at 9 a.m. to continue their deliberations.

On Thursday, Donald Day, Helter’s lawyer, argued his client only sold two guns — both from his personal collection — in the last six or so years.

Day said selling guns without a license only becomes illegal when the guns aren’t from one’s personal collection and when the sales are regular, repetitive and intended to make a profit.

But, he said, the law itself is unclear, because the term “repetitive” is never defined.

“Is it five guns? Is it four guns? Is it three guns over two years?” he said. “There is no answer. The government arbitrarily draws the line.”

Landon Miller, Kassel’s lawyer, argued his client didn’t break the law either because the guns he sold to the confidential informant in the case were his own guns, retrieved from his vehicle in the store’s parking lot.

In his rebuttal, Casas argued Helter himself conceded people brought guns to his store to be sold and that Kassel, in a video shot when he and Helter were in the back of a patrol car, tried to concoct a false explanation for why there were so many guns in the store because he knew what they were doing was wrong.

He also pointed out Helter began filling out an application for a license to deal guns but never sent it in.

“Seventy bucks a year over three years, that’s a minimal cost,” he said. “Why not get it if you’re in doubt?”

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