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Fully Automatic Weapons On The Rise, St. Louis Police Warn

Federal and local law enforcement officials are issuing a warning after a dramatic increase in the number of firearms being outfitted with conversion devices, turning a semi-automatic gun into a fully-automatic one, reports KMOV-TV in St. Louis. On Thursday, agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and members of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department said in 2022 there was a 500 percent increase in the use of illegal devices in the St. Louis area. Police Chief Michael Sack said that in 2019 and 2020, city officers seized one device in each of those years. In 2022, 27 devices were seized. Five days into 2023, the department has confiscated three. “It’s so hard to control that {kind of weapon},” he said. “You’re not going to get much accuracy, we already have problems with shots being fired in our neighborhoods, homes and vehicles. Imagine someone with a fully automatic gun with a 50-round drum discharging that into our community.” The devices, most commonly known as auto-sears, Glock switches and lightning links, convert a semi-automatic handgun into one that can empty an entire magazine within a few seconds. Sack said that with one pull of a trigger, bullets can fly in every direction, putting community members and officers at risk.


ShotSpotter technology is used by law enforcement officers to detect gunfire in areas across the city. Sack said in 2021, the technology detected 66 incidents of fully automatic gunfire. In 2022, it detected 339 separate events. “It makes no sense if you want to use it for self defense,” said Sack. “Because your chances of hitting your target after the first round are diminished greatly because of recoil and everything happening within the firearm. It just makes our jobs much more difficult.” The devices are commonly manufactured using 3D printers, along with being shipped to the U.S. from overseas. Targeting multiple sources, especially on the black market, is an ongoing battle, but U.S. Attorney Sayler Fleming said her office is aggressively prosecuting those found in possession of the illegal devices. If someone were to use a firearm equipped with one of these devices when committing a crime, the mandatory minimum sentence would be around 30 years. Last year, Terrion Smith, 16, was killed in the lobby of an apartment building downtown. Fleming said the suspect, John Whitney Jr., admitted to using a “switch” on his Glock handgun and firing 20 shots in three to four seconds.

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