Jacksonville FL – Judge Marcia Morales Howard has sentenced Matthew Hoover of CRS Firearms and Kristopher Justin Ervin, the defendants in the AutoKey Card case. Ervin and Hoover were convicted in a Florida Federal Court in April 2023 for transferring machinegun conversion devices, known as Autokey Cards.
The AutoKey Card is a slim metal card that has etched markings that resemble a lightning link. A lightning link allows users to modify certain AR-15-style rifles and convert them into machine guns. As per the National Firearms Act of 1936 (NFA), any device that can change a gun into a machine gun is regulated as a machine gun itself.
Ervin considered the card as a conversation starter. He intended it to spark a discussion about gun rights and the foolishness of gun laws. During the trial, it was disclosed that Ervin did not want a deep etching on the card, in order to prevent buyers from cutting out the lightning link. It was also revealed that the lightning link etching was not the correct size to function as a lightning link, even if someone could cut it out from the card.
According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), it didn’t matter that no one was able to get the devices to work.
Even the ATF itself couldn’t get the lightning link to function by cutting out an AutoKey Card along the lines. The only way the ATF could get a firearm equipped with a lightning link made from the AutoKey Card to fire automatically was by jamming the fire control group and causing hammer follow. The ATF lawyers argued that the men believed the device would work, so it didn’t matter that the AutoKey Card wasn’t functional.
Hoover was convicted of conspiracy. However, he neither sold the card nor owned any part of the company. His role was advertising the item on his popular YouTube channel, CRS Firearms. According to the government, the majority of the company’s sales were directly attributed to its advertisement campaign.
The court recommended a sentence of 22 to 34 months in prison or supervised release for Hoover based on the pre-sentencing report (PSR). Meanwhile, the PSR suggested time served and a three-year probation for Ervin, who has been in jail for nearly three years. Our reporter and Richard Hughes from the YouTube channel FlyingRich were given access to the PSR, which prompted the government to attempt and fail to obtain gag orders against our reporting.
The Department of Justice disagreed with the pre-sentencing report (PSR) and urged the judge to impose a harsher sentence on two men. The Assistant US Attorney (AUSA) leading the case, Laura Cofer Taylor, requested the judge to punish the defendants severely.
The DOJ recommended a sentence of 19 1/2 to 24 1/2 years in federal prison despite the fact that the men had no prior felony convictions.
During the trial, the judge acknowledged that the Pre-Sentence Report (PSR) failed to consider that the ATF considers the AutoKey Card to be machine guns. However, the judge also stated that she would never sentence the accused men to the minimum punishment that the government wanted. Furthermore, the judge questioned why the ATF is not proactively recovering the AutoKey Cards from people’s houses if they pose such a great danger.
The judge handed down the sentences on the second day of the sentencing hearing. Kristopher Justin Ervin and Matthew Hoover were both sentenced to five years in prison. Although the sentence is not what the government had hoped for, it still seems excessively harsh for a crime with no victims.
Both men are expected to appeal the verdict.
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.