Home of the bump stock says don’t blame us for Las Vegas

December 18, 2017

By Patrick McGee
The New York Times
Friday, October 20, 2017

MORAN, Tex. — For a tiny town about 150 miles west of Dallas that was struggling to stay alive, it seemed like a small economic miracle.

A company started from scratch by a local Air Force veteran, Jeremiah Cottle, soared to more than $10 million in sales in its first year, 2010, and provided jobs and prosperity that many residents said they never expected to see.

The company’s hit product was a “bump stock” that allows a rifle to mimic the speed and killing efficiency of an automatic weapon. News from Las Vegas three weeks ago — that 58 people had been killed and hundreds more injured by a man whose arsenal of weapons included a dozen rifles outfitted with bump stocks — has turned the economic fairy tale of Moran, Tex., into something much darker.

The company has shut down production for now. But the carnage in Las Vegas has not changed many minds in Moran about Mr. Cottle’s product or Slide Fire Solutions, the company he started. Instead, in a town of about 270 residents where nearly everyone has a gun, there is a feeling that Mr. Cottle, the company and the town are being unfairly maligned because of a madman’s horrific crimes.

“It’s being used as a scapegoat — they’re looking for somebody to blame,” said Lanham Martin, a Shackelford County commissioner who lives in Moran. “Guns don’t kill people. Slide Fire stocks don’t kill people.” He added, “It could have been just as lethal, if not more so, with a good scope.”

Steven Taggart, the mayor, took a break from cooking curly fries for the homecoming football game to lament the tragedy in Las Vegas and the negative attention it has brought to his town.

“Everyone out there thinks we’re killers, and that’s very far from the truth,” Mr. Taggart said. “They’re trying to tear us down, and saying that we’re evil. That is heartbreaking. That’s what tears me up, that they think we’re bad people.”

Mr. Cottle’s brother, Jed Cottle, said that to his horror, he immediately recognized the sound of the bump stock gunfire — slightly different from automatic fire to the trained ear — when he saw cellphone footage of the attack on the news.

He said that Slide Fire, where he and his wife used to work, breathed new life into a dying town.

“It’s kept the community going,” Jed Cottle said, extending his hands toward the football field. “Everybody shows up here on Friday night. Slide Fire has kept it going.”

He said he had not spoken to his brother in several months, and could not comment on what his brother might think about the shooting. Jeremiah Cottle did not respond to messages left for him with his employees.

“He’s upset about it, he’s lost sleep about it,” said Mr. Taggart, the mayor, who works at Slide Fire along with his wife. He described the company as a pleasant place to work, where birthdays are celebrated and many veterans and volunteer firefighters are among the employees.

The Cottle family has a history in Moran that dates back to the late 1800s. A street is named for them, and a historical marker commemorates Cottle No. 1, an oil and gas line that supplied Abilene beginning in 1908. Residents repeatedly pointed to that and to the solid reputation of Mr. Cottle’s late grandfather. They see Slide Fire as the latest chapter of the Cottles bringing jobs to Moran, and doing it with a firm grounding in something they believe in, the Second Amendment.

Mr. Martin, the county commissioner, said that residents were excited to see Slide Fire grow into a success, with new trailers moving in, a new building going up, and the frequent, rapid-fire sound of Slide Fire employees testing their products.

“It was amazing to see how his little invention turned into millions of dollars and mass production,” Mr. Martin said, recalling a visit he paid to the business before it even had office furniture. He scorned any move to ban bump stocks as an unconstitutional regulation that could wipe out dozens of local jobs.

“It’d be bad, because there’s not anything that’s around here,” he said. “Moran’s a long ways from anywhere.”

The town has no stop lights, no gas station, and only one retailer, a liquor store.

“Moran is absolutely struggling,” said Charlie Brewster, a longtime resident. “They don’t have any money. We’re fortunate to have a bank and a school.”

Mr. Brewster said banning Slide Fire products was not the answer to horrors like the Las Vegas shooting, and he was quick to link the issue to gun rights.

Many area residents scoffed at the lawsuits that have been filed against Slide Fire, and said the Las Vegas victims ought to be suing the gunman’s estate or the makers of the oversized magazines he had.

Jon Glenn, an Army veteran and rancher who lives one county away from Moran, said he bought several Slide Fire devices, found them to be great products, and regards any regulation of them as an infringement of his rights.

“This is about defending yourself from a tyrannical government,” Mr. Glenn said, standing at a gun range. “I don’t think we need any more gun laws.”

Another recreational shooter at the range chatted with him about guns in great technical detail, about tours of duty in Iraq, and about their shared disdain for gun control. On a wooden table was Mr. Glenn’s long-barreled AK-47, with a black plastic Slide Fire bump stock affixed to it so neatly that it looked like a seamless part of the weapon. Mr. Glenn turned the knob on the stock to show how it could convert the single-shot rifle to produce a torrent of continuous fire.

More than 150 people turned out for the Friday night football game, many of them lining up for Mr. Taggart’s curly fries and barbecue sandwiches. Cowboy hats were outnumbered only by baseball caps emblazoned with the team’s name, the Bulldogs, and many teenagers in the audience wore mums, the oversized corsages that are an icon of Texas culture. The town is so small that it could only field a six-player team. At halftime, the homecoming queen was crowned with a tiara, and her king looked a bit self conscious when a purple velvet crown was plopped on his head, but people cheered and said they were proud to keep small-town Texas traditions alive.

Mr. Martin’s son, Jeff Martin, a 2005 graduate of Moran High School, was on hand to serve as the announcer. After the home team won, he said the next move is to run a defense for Mr. Cottle.

“Jeremiah is absolutely sick over it, but we’ve come together to say, ‘No matter what happens, we’re here for you,’” the younger Mr. Martin said.

“Moran is just a spot on the map,” he said. “Slide Fire brought a lot of stuff back into the community. They helped a lot of people.”

He said that blaming bump stocks for the killings in Las Vegas was like blaming a pencil for misspelled words; it’s the user that matters, he said.

Joe Brenham, a 57-year-old Moran High graduate who came from a nearby town to see the game, agreed that the community was behind the Cottles.

“I just wonder if they’re going to be tried in Shackelford County,” he said about the lawsuits against Slide Fire. “They’re going to get a very favorable trial if it’s in Shackelford County.”