SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge handed an American Fork man a nearly three-year prison term Thursday for illegally making and selling more than 1,400 machine-gun converter devices for AR-15-style rifles.
Scott Ray Bishop told U.S. District Judge Dee Benson that he thought his product was the same as bump stocks or trigger assemblies that are sold legally.
"In my view, my kit was no different. In my view, my kit was as legal as they were. I was wrong obviously," he said.
A jury in January found Bishop guilty of unlawfully engaging in the business of manufacturing machine guns and illegal possession and transfer of machine guns. Benson sentenced Bishop to 33 months in prison followed by three years of probation.
Benson called the case "troubling." He said Bishop was seemingly unaware of how risky his endeavor was and that a lot of his clientele were people "we would not want converting anything into an automatic weapon."
"In the last several years, this country has seen an increase in the number of mass shootings," prosecutors wrote in court documents. "The risk that a (converted machine gun) will be used to harm others at a future date remains unabated. Defendant’s sentence should reflect this dreadful reality."
The conversion kit included a piece of metal that could be placed in the lower receiver of an AR-15 to allow the rifle to continually fire while the trigger is pressed down.
Spencer Rice, Bishop's lawyer, said the conversion device was a "flimsy, 5-cent piece of metal" that didn't really work all that well. Bishop, he said, was selling his knowledge and information about the kit but threw in the metal because customers wouldn't pay for just instructions.
Bishop, 48, believed he was operating in a gray area, somewhere between a legal bump stock — a device that modifies weapons to fire faster — and illegal machine guns.
Prosecutors argued that Bishop knew he was violating the law.
"He, for whatever reason, has a tendency to walk over the line," said assistant U.S. attorney Drew Yeates.
Yeates asked the judge to impose a much stiffer sentence because the government believes Bishop was engaged in gun trafficking. At least four customers sent their guns to Bishop and he made them into automatic weapons before sending them back.
Bishop also bragged about how well his device worked, telling a customer in an email, "It runs like a top," about the modified gun, Yeates said.
Prosecutors argued in court papers that the modified guns are capable of endangering countless lives across the country. While Bishop does not have a criminal history, the nature and circumstances of the crime should weigh heavily in the length of the sentence, prosecutors said.
Bishop told the judge he didn't understand the seriousness of what he was doing until he went through the trial.
"I apologize to society for creating a product that can so easily be used to create a machine gun," he said.
"I can't change the past, l know that," Bishop said. "I wish I could. I would do the last five years of my life very differently."