Tombstone, Arizona – On Friday, April 21, 2023, Kristopher “Justin” Ervin and Mathew Hoover were found guilty on charges related to the selling of illegal machineguns, based on Ervin’s sales of credit card-sized pieces of 18 gauge stainless steel sheet with etchings of “Lightning Link” parts laser engraved on the front. Hoover advertised the cards on his YouTube channel called “CRS Firearms.”
A Lightning Link is a two-piece device that is supposed to adapt a semi-auto AR-15 style firearm to fire full-auto. They are a finicky, fidgety, extremely unreliable method of perhaps achieving the goal of rapid ammunition depletion, but let’s be very clear, what Justin Ervin was selling, and Matt Hoover was advertising was not Lightning Links. They were selling drawings of a Lightning Link-type designs on a thin piece of sheet metal – about 50% thinner than what’s called for on most internet Lightning Link build instructions.
That’s right, detailed drawings of Lightning Links, with dimensions, along with illustrated instructions on how to make and install them, have been available on the internet for years, and are still available. These instructions include precise measurements, material requirements, and instructions on forming and fitting the devices. And like any other information out there, from instructions on how to manufacture bombs or poisons, to gun designs, to guides on how to “pick up chicks in bars,” these instructions are protected by the guarantees of the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Knowledge, and the sharing of that knowledge, may not be regulated by the government. It all falls under the umbrella of free speech.
At best the Auto Key Card was a niche novelty, and at worst it was a bit of a scam taking advantage of some gullible consumers. If I tell you that the “X-Ray Glasses” I sell are just a novelty and if you buy them, you probably won’t really be able to see through clothing. Still, you buy them because you’re convinced they’ll let you see through the clothing. Am I guilty of selling invasive surveillance gear, or just clever marketing?
That criminal charges were brought against Ervin in the first place is a travesty. The fact that he has been held in custody without bail for two years is an absolute outrage.
Hoover’s subsequent arrest for advertising the products is unconscionable. But for them to be prosecuted and convicted…??? This is nothing less than criminal abuse of the “justice” system. But it gets worse.
Several purchasers of the cards testified that, though they had not attempted to cut them out, they admitted that they believed they could use the cards to make functional Lightning Links. One admitted to trying it, but when he couldn’t get the device to work, he gave up and threw it away. All of these witnesses were testifying under threat of prosecution or had been granted immunity in exchange for their testimony. I want to meet these fellows and introduce them to my amazing “X-Ray Glasses.”
The really astounding testimony came from a BATFE expert, though.
He initially claimed that he was able to cut functional Lightning Links from the cards and had a video to prove it. But on cross-examination by Hoover’s attorney Matt Larosiere, the “expert” admitted that when he followed the lines on the cards, he couldn’t make the resulting parts fit into any of the AR’s he had for testing – and you can be sure the BATFE has a variety of AR’s available. He admitted that he modified the design, ignoring the lines and cutting the parts to different dimensions to get them to fit into a gun, then admitted that he was still unable to get the Lightning Link to actually function – ever – at all. What the BATFE claimed was a “success” included “40 minutes of work with a Dremel tool,” This was not a functional Lightning Link at all, but rather a couple of pieces of metal ground on and fiddled with for an indeterminate amount of time, and finally crammed into the trigger mechanism of a rifle causing it to malfunction.
The BATFE “expert” went on to admit that the hammer-follow malfunction induced by the failed Lightning Link installation was the exact same malfunction that would result if you simply removed the disconnector or ground off its hook – either of which is much easier than fabricating a Lightning Link. He then admitted that he tried several different brands of ammunition before finding one with sensitive enough primers to achieve hammer-follow, full-auto fire for a total of 5 consecutive shots. Upon further questioning, he also admitted that he was only able to achieve this result while using an M16-style bolt carrier. That style BCG is not the same as the civilian, Colt SP1 bolt carrier that Lightning Links were originally designed to work with. And don’t have the modifications that were built into the SP1 carrier specifically to protect against hammer-follow discharges. He also admitted that this type of hammer-follow malfunction is dangerous and could theoretically result in a catastrophic, premature detonation which could destroy the gun and injure the shooter.
So, the BATFE and prosecutors claimed that these cards with pictures of something similar to Lightning Links lightly etched on them, and sold as novelties, which Ervin and Hoover never marketed as gun parts, were actually designed and intended solely for the purpose of converting a semi-auto firearm into a full-auto firearm? Yet their own experts were unable to create working parts from the Auto Key Card templates. They admitted that they basically ignored the lines etched on the cards and cut out parts of their own design just to get them to fit into a gun. Even then they were unable to make a functional machinegun conversion device from the metal of the card…
Yet the jury still came back with a Guilty verdict for both men on charges of making and selling illegal machineguns.
How is that possible?
It boggles the mind to think that even the BATFE could seek prosecution in this case.
It’s further unbelievable that the Federal prosecutor, Laura Cofer Taylor, would pursue these charges, and absolutely beyond comprehension that a jury could listen to that evidence and conclude that both of these men were guilty of any crime.
But they did, and now Matt Hoover’s wife and child are left alone with no means of support while they wait to find out what’s going to happen next. The potential sentence for Hoover is 45 years in prison, while Ervin is facing 110 years, though it would be very unlikely that the court would give the maximum to either. Still, after the absolute clown show of this trial, nothing is beyond possibility. What is very likely is that, even if this conviction is reversed and Mat Hoover is completely exonerated, the next time his FFL comes up for renewal, the BATFE will find some pretext to deny it and make the denial a permanent ban, keeping him from being able to return to his business ever again. Sentencing isn’t scheduled until the end of July, and both men are to be held in custody at least until then.
My fellow AmmoLand News contributor John Crump has been following this case from the beginning, and he’s created a GiveSendGo account to benefit Hoover and his family at: www.givesendgo.com/freecrs. All funds contributed go directly to Matt Hoover’s wife, Erica, and any contributions to help keep them afloat during this lunacy would be greatly appreciated. Prayers and encouragement are also welcome.
What’s not welcome are any sort of rants, threats, or calls for violence toward any witness, juror, or anyone else involved in the case. Prosecutors have already used such comments on Matt’s YouTube channel “CRS Firearms,” to claim that Ervin and Hoover are too dangerous to be on the streets. So yell at your keyboard if you must, but keep your incendiary comments – on this article and elsewhere – to yourself. These guys don’t need the additional burden of being responsible for your anti-BATFE rants. Big Brother is watching.
Meanwhile, lawyers for Hoover and Ervin are working on post-judgment motions for acquittal and planning potential appeals. Let’s hope they prevail soon.