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Feds Probe Chinese-Made 'Switches' Converting Pistols to Machine Guns

A gun trafficker has what every Chicago Gang member desires: a machine gun. The man divulged that he sells illegal machine guns, most of them Glock pistols equipped with an after-market "auto sear," known on the street as a “switch.” It lets the shooter go from single shots to automatic. The guns come with extended magazines that can hold 20, 30, or even 50 bullets. “It’s like the new, hot thing right now. It’s what’s trending right now — switches,” says the man. “And, if you have a switch, you got to have extended mags or a drum. It’s like hotdogs and mustard.” The number of switch-equipped handguns and extended magazines seized by Chicago police has surged over the past several years, an investigation by the Chicago Sun-Times, WBEZ and NPR has found. So has the number of prosecutions by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office involving guns that have been turned into machine guns. The proliferation of illegal switch-equipped guns has made Chicago a hot spot for what federal authorities say has become a national problem. That’s happened as mass shootings — in which at least four people are killed or wounded — have become more commonplace in Chicago, according to WBEZ Chicago. Federal authorities believe the proliferation of these makeshift machine guns is one of the main reasons.


Most handguns sold at licensed gun stores are semiautomatic, meaning the shooter must squeeze the trigger every time a shot is fired. When a semiautomatic handgun is turned into an automatic, the bullets keep firing as long as the trigger continues to be squeezed and held. With a modified Glock, a person could fire 20 bullets from the extended clip in about a second, says a U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives official. The numbers of machine-gun prosecutions and mass shootings has risen. Aside from intercepting 3D-printed switches through the mail or pulling them off the streets, authorities have few ways to respond to the proliferation of those homemade devices. In 2019, a year after switches began popping up in Chicago, ATF began working with Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs, and Border Protection, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service on two global task forces targeting switches. Switches made in China are sometimes sold online as kitchen utensils, carburetor parts, or components for pellet guns. Once they get to the U.S., they’re sold within criminal networks in a similar fashion to how the illegal drug trade works. The Homeland Security agency has been working with Chinese counter-smuggling officials to shut down those operations. U.S. Senate Democrats have introduced a bill to establish “a coordinated national strategy to prevent or intercept the importation and trafficking of automatic gun conversion devices.”

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