I hope you have heard about the arrest of Kristopher Ervin for selling what the ATF alleges are “lightning links,” machinegun conversion devices for AR-pattern firearms.
Let’s run down the specifics of the claim.
A “lightning link” of the sort the ATF alleges that Ervin possessed and sold is an assembly of two pieces of metal. Are the two separate pieces of material a lightning link if they aren’t assembled?
What if you have a picture of a lightning link etched on metal (the AutoKeyCard)? It not only isn’t assembled, it isn’t even two pieces of metal shaped for assembly? It’s a… template. Is the picture on metal a lightning link? The ATF says it is.
Another step back. What if you have a picture of a lightning link on paper? A template. Is that a lightning link? After all, you could trace the image onto metal, cut out the pieces, and assemble a lightning link.
But what if you have a computer image — JPEG, PNG, whatever — of a lightning link? You could print that out, and make a lightning as above. Are you in possession of an unregistered machinegun part yet? You think not?
Do a web search on “Lasnik Defense Distributed.” The Dishonorable Lasnik blocked the release of computer files — templates — because they could be used to make gun parts.
Templates are just instructions. But instructions can be verbal. What if you have this — on paper, on your computer
Take a piece of sheet metal 2.163 inches long, by .650 inches wide. Cut a slot .370 inches wide, centered .043 inched from one end. Starting at that end, cut a .080 inch wide strip and 1.338 inches long from one side. Next […]
I’ll stop there lest I generate instructions, a verbal template, that the ATF will mistake for a lightning link.
At most, Ervin’s AutoKeyCard is handy instructions for how to make a lightning link. The ATF says that’s close enough for government work.
The AutoKeyCard isn’t even complete instructions. Note that dimensional data is left out completely. It’s just enough that you can do it, without really knowing how.
One reporter I communicated with agreed with the ATF, that the picture — the template, the instructions — is the thing. Even incomplete.
Now, let’s say you don’t have those instructions on file, but you read a PDF about lightning links once…
…and you remember enough to make one. At what point in the process from concept to working material object is the lightning link real? We know the ATF claims it’s somewhere before there’s a working object.
That aforementioned reporter is a fool. He doesn’t know enough about law and judicial precedent to see the broader implications of the ATF’s argument that instructions are close enough.
Knowing how to commit a crime — making an unregistered machinegun part — is the crime: having an unregistered machinegun part.
Pretend you’re a reporter, making a living on your First Amendment free speech rights to tell people what’s happening in their community. Suppose there has been a series of homicides, and you want to warn people about the danger. Maybe you read the police reports and wrote this:
Police say the killer hides in the shadows of dark alleys. Witness statements say the suspect wears dark clothes, possibly to be less easily seen. He waits for a lone individual and , per surveillance video, strikes silently from behind, slashing the victim’s throat. Forensic psychologist Dr. Jane Smith says the suspect chooses smaller, weaker targets, usually women, because they are more helpless.
Police say that people, especially women, should avoid dark spaces at night, and always travel in pairs or groups. Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Good job! You told the people to be cautious, why they should cautious, and what to watch out for. Give that guy a Pulitzer!
The problem is, by ATF standards, you described how a crime is committed. You gave other wannabe serial killers instructions, a how-to. A template for murder. According to the ATF and that ignorantly supportive reporter, you committed murder. The Concept, the instructions are the thing.
Ervin provided instructions on how to make an unregistered machinegun part.
Our hypothetical reporter gave instructions on how to commit a murder right down to where to hunt, what to wear, selection of silent weapon, and how to pick victims.
If the same standards applied to the Second Amendment were applied to the First, a lot of reporters would be on death row.
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