SACRAMENTO – As law enforcement officials continue their investigation into the mass shooting that killed six people and injured 12 last weekend, the use of a stolen handgun modified to pack the deadly punch of a machine gun The focus is on search.
What police determined was a gang-related shootout after a firearm was found among more than 100 scattered shell casings scattered across downtown Sacramento early Sunday. Now, law enforcement officials and firearms experts say the gun’s potential use in one of Northern California’s deadly shootings could be part of a larger trend, given that weapons modified with similar equipment are increasingly being used at crime scenes. changing from.
Known as “Auto Sears” or “Glock Switches,” the devices are metal parts no larger than a nickel, which look like little Lego pieces. Within minutes, and often with the help of videos posted online, the pieces could be attached to the back of a semi-automatic handgun, allowing the gun to fire continuously until its magazine ran out. Come on, release dozens of rounds in seconds with a single pull. of a trigger.
Special Agent Patrick Gorman in charge of ATF’s SAN said, “Now you have all these extra rounds that are being fired, and when you have groups of people, it’s more likely that now, you have multiple rounds. The victims are innocent bystanders.” Francisco Field Division. “Everyone is very worried about this.”
A spokesman for the agency said the number of such devices recovered and reported to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives across the US increased from about 300 in 2020 to more than 1,500.
In the Bay Area, some law enforcement officials say the use of such devices has increased, leading to an already worrying increase in gun violence.
Sargent said it takes a few minutes for someone to watch a YouTube video to learn how to put an “auto-switch” on a handgun to build a fully automatic pistol. Ray Kelly, spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.
“We have a problem with this on our hands,” Kelly said.
Few details have been released regarding the weapons used during the Sacramento shooting, and although people have been arrested, no charges have been filed directly in relation to the shooting or the deaths. But investigators say 27-year-old Smiley Martin appeared to use a converted handgun while talking about going to a nightclub in a Facebook Live video recorded just before Sunday’s massacre. He was seriously injured in the shootout and was arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of several weapons-related offences, including machine guns, police said.
The discovery of fully automatic handguns surprised some law enforcement officers and experts—particularly amid witness reports of what looked like blistering bullets more commonly found on battlefields than on the streets of downtown Sacramento.
While serving as a street gang officer, Sacramento Police Sgt. Zack Eaton said he often confiscated fully automatic capable handguns during vehicle stops or when conducting search warrants of homes. Such illegal conversions are occurring at a “fairly consistent rate,” although Eaton could not determine how many the department had seized in recent years.
“Obviously we’re not seeing them like regular guns, but we never want to see fully automatic weapons,” he said, calling the reconfiguration of handguns a “special concern” for the department.
The lethality of the devices has a constant back-and-forth, which makes shooting with any degree of accuracy nearly impossible, said Professor Peter Diazuk, of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. As a result, shootings involving such equipment are more likely to put innocent bystanders at risk, as gunmen only “spray and pray.”
“Usually after two shots, the gun is already out of their control,” Diazuk said.
Experts say it is exceptionally difficult to reduce the use of such devices.
Because of their small size and simple shape, customs inspectors can easily miss them as part of shipments of other, legal firearms components, said Lindsey Nichols, federal policy director at the Giffords Law Center for Preventing Gun Violence. Many are ordered online and shipped to the US, often from companies in China. They can also be easily 3D printed.
“It’s a problem that often involves people who shouldn’t have guns, who are generally not qualified to have guns,” Nichols said. “The Sacramento shooting is really scary, partly because it’s an indication of the danger posed by these devices.”
Finding a way to stop the problem is more difficult.
Some past mass shootings have led to changes in federal regulations or state laws to tighten gun laws, including stricter rules that banned bump stock following the massacre at a 2017 La Vegas concert. Bump stocks are attached to a semi-automatic rifle to fire like a machine gun.
But federal law already prohibits possession of auto sears and switches. Nichols said that law enforcement agencies have been placed to deal with the problem.
Better training is needed to help officers find the equipment, while law enforcement agencies need more resources to keep an eye on the problem, Nichols said.
Some are surprised that more bloodletting hasn’t happened as a result of the increased use of devices.
Mike Vidmar, deputy district attorney for the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, said he and others in his office are currently prosecuting cases involving the equipment, often under laws banning the possession of machine guns as well as certain firearms. to convert to machine. guns
“It’s unfortunate—these tools are so cheap, they don’t require any sort of special training to stick to a firearm,” Vidmar said. “And as a result, they are in high demand because of what they are capable of.”
Staff writer Maggie Angst contributed to this report.