Allen Breed / Associated Press
Friday, Oct. 6, 2017 | 2 a.m.
MORAN, Texas — In this tiny West Texas town on Thursday, Jeremiah Cottle was trying to take comfort in the support he has gotten from neighbors.
But elsewhere, there was little comfort. Cottle and the company he owns, Slide Fire Solutions, have come under heavy criticism for selling a rifle attachment that few outside of gun enthusiast circles had ever heard of before this week.
But since a gunman killed 58 people attending a country music concert Sunday night in Las Vegas, a flood of attention has turned to Cottle's little-known device, called a "bump stock" or "bump fire stock," which may have enabled Stephen Paddock to turn semiautomatic, one-shot-per-trigger-pull rifles into ones able to fire much like machine guns.
Online commenters have called his invention "irresponsible" and said he has blood on his hands. Retailers have rushed to pull the items from shelves and websites. Members of Congress have called for the bump stock to be banned. And in a surprise announcement, even the National Rifle Association said it would not oppose regulation of the device.
Unshaven and red-eyed, Cottle, 40, declined to talk about the shooting or the blowback against the company he founded in 2010.
All of the attention clearly has taken him by surprise.
"I'm a hunting and fishing kind of person," he said, standing in front of his business that is housed in a corrugated metal building at the end of a gravel driveway.
At the last census, Moran had a population of 270. Since the tragedy, the tight-knit community has rallied around Cottle.
He said he was heartened by his neighbors' response, adding that "we've lived here since the 1880s."
"We've always been about community. Everybody is," Cottle said. "That's the way we live out here."
If his business had to close, Cottle said, "it would hurt the whole town, the school. We pay a very large amount of property taxes.
"I'm one of the largest businesses in Shackelford County."
And one of the largest employers. At one time, Slide Fire Solutions employed 27 people, the equivalent of a tenth of the town's population.
The idea behind the"bump stock" is incredibly simple.
It essentially uses the force of the gun's recoil after a shot is fired to bump the trigger against the shooter's finger again and again almost instantly as the rifle slides back and forth within the stock. As a result, the shooter can fire almost continuously.
According to a 2011 article in The Albany News, Cottle spent $120,000 of his life savings developing the idea and getting a patent for it. It was an immediate hit.
"We were expecting to sell 500 to 1,000 units the first year, but we sold that many in the first week," the article quoted Cottle as saying.
Slide Fire sent a letter to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in 2010, apparently to ask if any regulations prohibited its use. The sale of automatic weapons to civilians has been banned since 1986, though weapons manufactured before then can still be owned.
The company received a letter from the ATF, which it had posted on its website, saying that because the "bump stock" was not a firearm, it would not be regulated.
It was not known where the Las Vegas gunman bought the bump stocks that federal officials say he used to accelerate the fire during his massacre.
Authorities found 19 guns in Paddock's home and 23 in the room he used as a sniper's nest at the Mandalay Bay hotel. Police said 12 of those weapons were outfitted with bump stocks.
Flurry of action
Though bills to curb guns, ammunition and related devices have been nonstarters in Washington for several years, on Thursday, members of Congress seem to be coalescing around the idea of at least holding hearings on the use of "bump stocks."
Some lawmakers from Texas have said they favor legislation to ban the device.
Meanwhile, consumers were rushing to gun stores on Thursday to try to buy the devices in advance of anticipated regulation.
But Cabela's and Wal-Mart pulled the items from their websites this week. Wal-Mart said in a statement that they had been listed by mistake.
"These items, which were sold by third-party sellers on our online marketplace, violate our prohibited items policy and never should have been sold on our site. They were immediately removed," the statement said.
A representative of Amazon told The New York Times that its policies did not allow the sale of "bump stocks."
While there are other manufacturers of the device, Slide Fire has drawn the most attention online. Its Facebook page has become a venue for pro- and anti-gun-control forces to clash.
As of Thursday, the company had not issued any statement about the shooting on its website. It did have a note saying that it was struggling to keep up with demand for the devices.
"We have decided to temporarily suspend taking new orders in order to provide the best service with those already placed," the statement said.
In the town that is now infamous as the birthplace of the bump stock, nearly everyone knows someone who works at Slide Fire.
Sisters Patricia and Crystal Ward have cousins who work there. They said the business provides jobs in a town that offers few others.
There's the liquor store, the bank and Cyrilla's Eatery, which serves up meatloaf and "taters" for lunch and town chatter for breakfast. Most businesses close long before sundown.
"Everybody I ever talked to loves working there," said Joey Scott, who rolled down Fisher Avenue in low-slung Slingshot, a three-wheeled car-motorcycle hybrid.
The 63-year-old was raised in nearby Albany and moved back to just outside Moran in 2010 after spending 26 years in North Texas.
Scott, who remembers riding in his pickup as a teen with loaded rifles in the back, doesn't think much of the notion of banning Cottle's product.
"I don't think it's going to solve a single problem one," he said, gesturing for emphasis. "All it's going to do is put some good people out of work."
"This whole thing is a sad situation, and I sure feel for" the victims and their families, he said. "I just don't think you can blame it on the gun.
"You've got crazy people in the world. They're going to get those guns, legally or you can get 'em on the black market."
Shackelford County Commissioner Lanham Martin took a break from road repair duties early Thursday to speak up on behalf of Slide Fire Solutions.
Martin has known Cottle and his family for years. Decent people all, he says.
He bristled at the notion that Cottle and his company were being vilified on social media for the weekend carnage in Las Vegas.
"I couldn't find any fault in Slide Fire," said Martin, who was friends with Cottle's grandpa "Buster." "I don't have anything against the Cottles."
Cottle, a military veteran, hired other vets and brought in mobile homes for those who needed a place to stay, Martin said.
The small, red-brick Moran Post Office is on Fisher Avenue, which served as the main drag in headier times.
It rests next to a row of squat, earth-toned homes, across from an overgrown field.
Most days it's only open until noon. It almost wasn't open at all.
There was talk, Martin said, of shutting it down. But a steady stream of shipments from Slide Fire saved it.
This week, Martin's been listening to the radio. He hears talk about how Congress may turn Slide Fire's signature product into an outlaw.
Martin sees the wrath directed at Slide Fire as misplaced, akin to "blaming Smith & Wesson" for a shooting. In his view, Cottle is just making a product that people want to buy.
"The people that work for him are extremely proud to work for him," Martin said. "I know there will be somebody that will try to blame him or the company. I think it's ridiculous."
Assistant business editor Arnessa M. Garrett contributed to this report.
Correction: 8:09 p.m.: A previous version of this story referred to Lanham Martin as a Moran County Commissioner. He is a commissioner of Shackelford County, which includes Moran.