Justin Ervin and YouTube Star Matt Hoover, better known as CRS Firearms, are on trial for selling a metal card with a picture inspired by a lighting link etched on it. Mr. Ervin owned the company that produced the product, known as the Autokey Card, and Mr. Hoover was contracted to promote the novelty item through his YouTube channel.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) claimed that the Autokey Card was a machine gun. Under federal law, any item that can convert a semi-automatic rifle to a machine gun is itself a machine gun. The federal government saw the Autokey Card as a stencil and claimed that it is a machine gun, but documents uncovered by a Gun Owners of America Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request show that the ATF doesn’t consider stencils to be regulated items.
The first piece of evidence is an ATF criminal examination of a Napa fuel filter, a muzzle device, freezer plugs, and a plastic drill guide that inserts into the freezer plugs. The owner was going to use these items to create a suppressor. The ATF examined these items and determined them not to be a suppressor. Suppressors are regulated under the National Firearms Act (NFA), just like machine guns.
In the Autokey Card case, the government argues that the item is a machine gun because it has what they allege is a stencil. The ATF’s own criminal examination letter seems to disagree with the government’s case.
The second letter that GOA gave to AmmoLand News shows that ATF’s Firearms and Ammunitions Technology Division (FATD) doesn’t consider a lightning link to be a machine gun unless both parts are present. A lighting link consists of two parts. The letter shows the more significant portion of the item was examined. If both parts must be present and formed to the correct size, as the ATF stated in previous documents, how can the federal government charge the two men with selling machine guns?
The letter shows an agency with an almost schizophrenic approach to classifying items. The problem is that the ATF relies on a holistic approach to classifying things. There are no set standards. For example, the ATF will not say how much area on the back of a pistol brace turns that item into a stock. The Bureau relies on a “you know it when you see it” interpretation of rules and regulations, which leads to uncertainty because even the ATF’s trained examiners cannot agree on the classification of items.
One of Matt Hoover’s frequent collaborators Richard Hughes, known on YouTube as FlyingRichFirearms, thinks the ATF’s persecution of the men is egregious and unjust.
“Firstly, the ATF’s enforcement practices have been overly aggressive, often resulting in undue hardship and harm to law-abiding citizens and businesses,” Mr. Hughes told AmmoLand news. “The agency’s heavy-handed approach, including aggressive raids and seizures, has been known to disproportionately impact innocent individuals and legitimate businesses, creating unnecessary disruption and damage.”
“Furthermore, the ATF’s inconsistent interpretation and application of regulations and laws have caused confusion and uncertainty for firearms owners and industry members,” Mr. Hughes continued. “The lack of clear guidance and inconsistency in regulatory enforcement has resulted in unnecessary burdens, legal battles, and unwarranted penalties for law-abiding citizens.”
This uncertainty has real-world effects. Mr. Ervin and Mr. Hoover are looking at lengthy prison sentences even though it seems that some ATF employees would agree that the men did nothing wrong. The greatest travesty is for Hoover, who never sold a single Autokey Card and just advertised it on his popular YouTube channel. Mr. Hoover has maintained that he spoke to his local ATF field office before taking the sponsorship, and they assured him the product was legal. Mr. Hoover made these claims long before the ATF arrested him or Mr. Ervin.
Mr. Hoover and Mr. Ervin are currently on trial in federal court in Jacksonville, Florida. Both men maintain their innocence.
About John Crump
John is a NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. John has written about firearms, interviewed people of all walks of life, and on the Constitution. John lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and sons and can be followed on Twitter at @crumpyss, or at www.crumpy.com.