A fire captain in California has been charged with multiple felonies after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives raided his home in July of 2019 looking for a device that supposedly converts a Glock handgun into a machine gun.
During the course of the raid, agents discovered the Glock conversion devices, but they also found 19 firearms that violated California’s ban on “assault weapons,” four AR-10 lower receivers, and two AK-47 lower receivers, along with numerous illegal “high-capacity” magazines.
The ATF only knew to search the home of Capt. Derik Oakes because they obtained customer data from the company that manufactured the Glock conversion devices, JNC Manufacturing. Even though the ATF determined in 2012 that JNC’s product did not count as a “machine gun,” they reversed that decision in 2018 and launched an investigation.
Oakes and his attorneys are arguing that the search warrant—along with the evidence it uncovered—should be thrown out because the ATF did not properly inform the public about their reversal nor provide evidence proving Oakes purchased the device after the 2018 determination.
“Particularly relevant to this motion is that upon BATFE’s 180-degree change in position, i.e. the JNC kits were not machineguns according to the BATFE one day, and the next day they were, is that the BATFE utterly refused or failed to provide any notice of the kind to the public,” Oakes’ attorneys wrote in their motion to suppress unlawfully seized evidence.
The case has serious implications for gun owners in light of the ATF’s proposed rule changes on 80% receivers and arm braces. Like in Oakes’ case, the ATF could obtain customer data from 80% receiver companies, arm brace companies, or companies that used arm braces on their firearms, to harass law-abiding gun owners and look for additional violations of state and federal gun law.
The ATF claims that agents tried to reach Oakes and his attorneys prior to obtaining the search warrant in order to seize the Glock conversion kits. But Oakes claims that the agents never explained precisely what they were looking for and asked that Oakes surrender his “machinegun.”
“This misleading statement resulted in a magistrate judge unlawfully issuing a search warrant based on misrepresentations which evidence a reckless disregard for the truth and omissions by Agent Bietz,” Oakes’ lawyers write. “A warrant must be based on accurate information, not ambiguity and misrepresentations. The breach of those requirements requires suppression of the fruits of the warrant.”
Oakes’ attorneys are also pushing for a deal that would reduce their client’s charges to misdemeanors. Oakes has never been in trouble with the law, and multiple firefighters submitted testimony vouching for his high character. Oakes also argues that he did not know his rifles were illegal due to the complexity of California’s gun control regime.
“There is no allegation that Mr. Oakes posed a threat to anyone or anything, nor is there a victim or harmed party in this case,” his lawyers write in court documents. “Instead, this case derives solely from shockingly complex, draconian and arguably unconstitutional firearm statutes created by our beloved politicians in Sacramento.”
Oakes would be allowed to keep his job with a misdemeanor conviction, but he would still have to destroy all of his illegal firearms.
“Obviously, any offer would involve destruction of any kind of assault weapons, contraband, things of that nature, so they wouldn’t be returned to him,” Miles Perry, the deputy district attorney, told The Sacramento Bee.
Gun rights groups are following the case, and some believe the state will pursue a plea deal out of fear the Supreme Court will strike down California’s “assault weapon” ban.
“I think if you’re a prosecutor in California, and you’re continuing to try to imprison people for peaceful conduct for possession of assault weapons, you’d better think twice,” Brandon Combs, president of the Firearms Policy Coalition, told The Bee.
For now, Oakes plans to keep closer tabs on California’s ever-changing gun laws.
“I learned real fast from my event that the only way you’re going to actually know what is correct is to talk to legal counsel,” Oakes said. “Many people think they’re doing the right thing, and they find out in the flip of a switch: Oh, no, that’s entirely wrong.”