Caison Robinson, 14, had met up with a younger neighbor on their quiet Las Vegas street after finishing his chores when a gunman drove up and fired a torrent of bullets in an instant. “Mom, I’ve been shot!” he recalled crying, as his mother bolted barefoot out of their house. The Las Vegas police say the May shooting was carried out with a pistol rigged with a small and illegal device known as a switch. Switches can transform semiautomatic handguns, which typically require a trigger pull for each shot, into fully automatic machine guns that fire dozens of bullets with one tug. These makeshift machine guns — able to inflict indiscriminate carnage in seconds — are helping fuel the epidemic of gun violence, making shootings increasingly lethal, creating added risks for bystanders and leaving survivors more grievously wounded, say police and medical workers, reports the New York Times.
The growing use of switches, also known as auto sears, is evident in real-time audio tracking of gunshots around the U.S. Audio sensors monitored by a public safety tech company, Sound Thinking, recorded 75,544 rounds of suspected automatic gunfire in 2022 in portions of 127 cities covered by its microphones, That was a 49% increase from the year before. “This is almost like the gun version of the fentanyl crisis,” said Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas. He believes that the rising popularity of switches, especially among young people, is a major reason fewer gun violence victims are surviving in his city. Homicides in Kansas City are approaching record highs this year, even as the number of nonfatal shootings has decreased. Switches come in various forms, but most are small Lego-like plastic blocks, about an inch square, that can be easily manufactured on a 3-D printer and go for around $200.