This story was produced in partnership with VICE NewsThe Trace and Wikipedia

Clockwise from top left: The 2017 Las Vegas shooting, the Orlando nightclub shooting,   the Virginia Tech shooting, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and the 2019 El Paso shooting

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In Vegas it was the bump stock that did the damage. Now there is a new part retrofitted from airguns that fits the GLOCKS and does the same. It turns the weapon into a fully automatic hand machine pistol.

The Mongolian Boys Society was out for revenge. Six members of the Fresno, California, criminal gang huddled in a vacation rental in November 2019, cleaning their guns in preparation to retaliate against the Asian Crips for the suspected killing of one of their own.  

According to court records, one of the “triggermen” carried a Glock pistol outfitted with an auto sear, a small device the size of a thimble that transformed his semiautomatic weapon into a machine gun capable of firing 20 rounds per second. 

Around 8 p.m., the crew drove across town to a palm tree-lined street. Moments later, in one of the backyards, they opened fire on a gathering of people. Bullets sprayed through the crowd, killing four and wounding six. 

But the house was not a rival gang den; police later determined that a family had gathered there to watch football together. Six members of the Mongolian Boys Society were arrested for their alleged involvement in the mass shooting.   Three face the death penalty. 

Machine Gun Conversion Kits Are ‘Everywhere,’ Feds Warn — An auto sear — the most common automatic conversion device — transforms a semiautomatic gun into a weapon capable of emptying an entire magazine with a single pull of the trigger. Also known as switches or chips, auto sears have been around since the ‘70s but are exceedingly tough to acquire legally in the United States, where machine guns cannot legally be owned without a special license.

 In recent years, these small metal or plastic devices have exploded in popularity on the black market and gained a particular cachet among criminals and anti-government extremists. Last year, members of the Boogaloo Boys, an accelerationist movement that hopes to spark a second civil war, usedweapons equipped with auto sears to attack a federal courthouse. 

An investigation by The Trace and VICE News found that federal prosecutions involving automatic conversion devices have spiked in recent years. From 2017 to 2021, the number of cases jumped from 10 to 83, according to our exclusive nationwide analysis of court filings. 

We found over 260 cases filed in the last five years, including robberies, assaults, and murders, with over 1,000 devices recovered. The government has not previously compiled this data, and the actual number of illegally converted machine guns on the streets is likely far higher.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the federal agency responsible for policing guns in the U.S., said it seized 1,500 weapons modified with auto sears in 2021, a staggering increase over 2020, when only 300 were recovered. 

“Auto sears are everywhere on the street right now,” said Jefferey Boshek, a 21-year ATF veteran who now serves as the special agent in charge of the Dallas Field Division. “They’re one of the scariest things we’ve dealt with since I became an agent.”

The ascent of the auto sear has been propelled by its availability and ease of use. The American market is largely supplied by China, where manufacturers sell the devices on websites like Alibaba and directly to consumers, law enforcement officials say. Auto sears are often advertised as airsoft parts or tools and shipped with false documentation and packaging labels. 

They can also be created using a 3D printer. Once in a person’s hands, installation can take just seconds and requires scant technical knowledge or tools.

“It is so simple,” said Rick Vasquez, the former head of the ATF’s Firearms Technology Division. “The information is out there, and the knowledge to do it is out.” 

Conversion devices can be installed in many types of handguns or rifles, but they’re particularly common for Glock pistols. That’s because of the Glock’s internal design, which makes its parts easy to access and modify. A Glock spokesperson did not respond to repeated requests for comment. 

In September, a Houston man opened fire with a Glock pistol modified with an auto sear after police showed up at his front door to arrest him on a narcotics warrant. One officer was killed and another wounded. Four months later, a convicted felon with a converted Glock wounded three more Houston officers in a gun battle in broad daylight. The suspect managed to escape, but police arrested him later that same day at his home, where they also found a cache of guns, machine gun components, and a 3D printer.

To gang members, auto sears are an advantageous new accessory that can inflict incredible damage and intimidate enemies, especially when paired with high-capacity magazines. One California ATF agent, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak on the agency’s behalf, said that in his first decade on the job, he hardly ever came across machine guns; now he sees firearms that have been converted with auto sears “all the time.” Some criminals, the agent added, have been caught with the devices on ghost guns — untraceable firearms that can be made at home or obtained without a background check.  

For nearly 90 years the federal government waged an aggressive campaign to shrink the pool of automatic weapons available to the public.  In 1934, after several high-profile crimes involving machine guns, Congress passed the National Firearms Act, which required anyone who owned a fully automatic weapon to register it with the government and pay a $200 tax, equivalent to about $4,000 today. This significantly drove up the cost and difficulty of owning one. 

Industrious gunsmiths searched for workarounds. In the ’70s, conversion devices started surfacing in niche gun communities but the general public rarely sought them out. It became more difficult to obtain an auto sear in 1981, when the ATF ruled that possessing one was, in legal terms, the same as owning a machine gun, whether or not the device was installed on a firearm. Having an auto sear without the proper federal license, which requires an extensive background check and costly fees, can carry a 10-year federal prison sentence.

Five years later, Congress passed the Firearms Owners Protection Act, blocking the import or manufacture of any new automatic weapons in the U.S. 

The 1986 law created an extremely limited pool of legal machine guns, and the weapons now command sky-high prices.  Even basic models can cost $10,000 online. More sought-after weapons, like World War II-era machine guns, can run six figures. 

But obtaining an illegal machine gun is no longer so expensive or logistically challenging. Over the last five years, advances in low-cost manufacturing tools, like 3D printers, plus global commerce on the internet, have combined to create a vast black market of illegal machine gun makers, dealers, and traffickers. With an auto sear, anyone willing to break the law can effectively create a machine gun for as little as $20. 

Sales of auto sears have also been popularized by YouTubers and Instagrammers, whose demonstrations of the devices have racked up millions of views.

“People don’t sell drugs, for the most part, outside of the dark web — they’re not on Instagram selling crack cocaine or powder cocaine, but they are out there selling machine guns now,” said Boshek, the ATF agent in Dallas. 

Boshek said the wide availability of auto sears has created an arms race on the streets, and that his division in Texas is inundated with cases — including homicides and robberies — involving the devices. 

At the Ohio home of a self-described incel charged last July with plotting to massacre sorority members, sheriff’s deputies discovered a modified Glock machine gun stashed in a heating vent. In May 2021, federal agents in Florida seized two converted machine guns from a convicted felon linked to the murder of a 20-year-old mother. 

Ghost Guns Are Everywhere in California —  Feds say nearly a third of firearms recovered in the state are homemade, unserialized, and untraceable.

In Denver, when undercover ATF agents told arms traffickers they needed help outfitting a drug cartel “going to war” with its enemies, the blackmarket gun sellers quickly obliged. Over the course of a five-month investigation in 2018, traffickers working out of an auto-repair shop demonstrated their custom weaponry to the agents and showed them how to install and use auto sears and other automatic conversion devices. One trafficker extolled the devices as being “fuckin’ fast,” achieving ferocious rates of fire that caught him “by surprise.” They sold the agents a Glock handgun and five AR-15-style ghost guns. All the weapons had been modified into machine guns. “We go full-auto everything,” the traffickers said. 

“If you don’t have one, pretty much you’re butt naked,” said a former arms trafficker whose name has been withheld to protect his identity. He said demand for auto sears skyrocketed around 2020, as word got out on the street about the effectiveness of conversion devices. He claims to have modified and sold thousands of Glock machine guns, commanding between $500 and $3,000 per gun. 

He says the shooting death of a close friend motivated him to take his business above board and apply for a dealer license from the ATF.  

In 2019, the ATF opened an investigation into a Michigan resident who ordered auto sears through the mail. Agents say the man, a convicted felon on probation for selling machine guns, openly bragged about selling switches in a music video and ordered more than 20 conversion devices from a company located in Shenzhen, China. 

According to federal court documents, a separate investigation found that the company had sold auto sears to American customers 2,400 times over a 15-month period, for as cheap as $19.98 per device.

The U.S has become an increasingly lucrative market for auto sears. Many smugglers operate out of China, court records show, where conversion devices can be manufactured at low cost and shipped to American customers falsely labeled as innocuous items. In 2019, officials at Los Angeles International Airport intercepted more than 200 packages from China containing auto sears. The packages were labeled “multitool switch” or “screwdriver.” 

“It scares me for all of us,” said Nancy O’Malley, the district attorney for Alameda County in California. She says officers in her district have started coming across shipments of switches: “If there is a box of switches, then we know a modified weapon is in the community.”

CHINA IS PART OF THE PROBLEM— The problem has prompted Homeland Security Investigations to form a task force with Customs and Border Protection, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the ATF, and Chinese counter-smuggling officials intended to stem the flow of auto sears from China into the U.S. 

“China is very good at identifying items, whether it be auto sears or sneakers, and expanding those markets to sell them,” said Joe Lestrange, the division chief of public safety and border security at Homeland Security Investigations. 

In 2019, the agency launched Operation TriggerFish, an initiative to track auto sear deliveries in the U.S. back to their points of origins. Homeland Security worked with international authorities to shut down production of switches in the Guangdong Province of China. It was a blueprint modeled after the government’s war on blackmarket fentanyl smuggling

Lestrange said that in the last three years, Homeland Security had seized  4,348 auto sears and opened up over 600 investigations related to the devices. While the agency regarded those seizures as successes, he said auto sears continue to show up in criminal investigations at an alarming rate. Stopping the flow of the devices, he added, depends on gathering new intelligence about how auto sears are entering the country. “We don’t know what we don’t know,” said Lestrange.

The spike in smuggling has pushed U.S. senators to ask for answers. In October 2021, Senators Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker wrote a letterasking the Department of Justice how it plans to address overseas smuggling, as well as for statistics on seizures. 

Experts say auto sears are particularly sought after by anti-government extremists, who see amassing military grade weapons as a way to resist the government.  In August 2020, an FBI agent posing as a foreign terrorist purchased a 3D-printed AR-15 auto sear from Timothy John Watson, a West Virginia man selling conversion devices as “ portable wall hangers” online. According to court documents, authorities seized 903 conversion devices from Watson’s business, which had ties to the Boogaloo Boys.

One of those devices was sold to Steven Carrillo, a 32-year old Air Force staff sergeant and Boogaloo adherent who’d converted his homemade AR-15 into a machine gun. On May 29, 2020, during a protest in Oakland against the murder of George Floyd, Carrillo launched an ambush on two federal security officers, killing one. 

The following month, Carrillo struck again. He texted his fellow Boogaloo Boys to “ kit up and get here,” before shooting at three California police officers when they arrived at this property. One was killed in the attack. 

Carrillo was apprehended by authorities after being wounded in the shooting, but not before he wrote “boog” in his own blood on the trunk of his stolen car. 

Rachel Rivas, a senior policy analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said far-right and anti-government extremists seek machine guns because they are woven into much of their apocalyptic and conspiratorial ideology. 

“There is a worldview that there will be a coming moment in which they have to take up arms against the government and to do that they will need heavy weaponry,” she said. “It’s the ultimate symbol of personal freedom and individual rights; to the extreme.” 

Firearms are the weapon of choice for extremists to carry out violence. According to a recent report from the Anti-Defamation League, 75 percent of extremism-related deaths over the last decade were shootings.

 “It’s so much easier to have a full-auto firearm than to make weaponized anthrax,” said Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the ADL. He said that extremists represent a small sliver of criminal activity, but the types of attacks they carry out warrant concern. “You really do have to take it seriously. Some may argue it’s only a matter of time before we see one of these shooting sprees actually be conducted with full-auto weapons.”

Additional reporting by Brian Freskos


Device That Can Turn A Semi-Automatic Weapon Into A Machine Gun In Moments Is Wreaking Havoc On American Streets

By Scott Glover and Curt Devine  Updated 9:05 PM ET, Tue August 30, 2022

(CNN) — The number of shootings involving automatic weapons in the US has skyrocketed in recent years, suggesting a troubling resurgence in the use of machine guns by criminals, according to an analysis provided exclusively to CNN.

Incidents of machine gun fire have exploded by about 1,400% from 2019 through last year, according to statistics compiled by a gunfire detection company that has acoustic sensors placed in about 130 US cities. Last year alone, ShotSpotter, Inc. detected roughly 5,600 incidents of automatic weapons fire, the analysis showed.

The previously unreported figures add to growing evidence that the widespread availability of inexpensive so-called conversion devices -- known as "auto switches" or "auto sears" -- capable of transforming semi-automatic weapons into machine guns in a matter of moments are wreaking havoc on American streets.

Above, an ATF agent demonstrates how a semi-automatic handgun works normally. Then, he shows how it works with a full-auto conversion device.

There has been a corresponding spike in seizures of conversion devices by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in recent years, from fewer than 100 in 2017 to more than 1,500 last year.

CNN earlier reported on an ATF effort in 2019 to recover what agents suspected were thousands of such devices illegally imported from China. In the years since, 3D printers have only added to the problem, law enforcement officials said.

"Not since Prohibition have we seen this many machine guns being used to commit crimes," said Tom Chittum, who spent more than two decades with the ATF and retired as its No. 2 official before signing on as an executive with ShotSpotter earlier this year. 

Gun laws virtually eliminated automatic weapons from city streets for decades, Chittum said. "But now machine guns are back, and they're everywhere."

Automatic weapons have been used in several high-profile assaults in recent years, including a mass shooting in Sacramento, California, in which six people were killed and a dozen injured, a school shooting in Washington, DC, in which a sniper with automatic rifles unleashed a barrage of more than 200 shots, wounding four, and the slaying of Houston police officer William "Bill" Jeffrey during the service of an arrest warrant last year. The 30-year-veteran officer died in a torrent of gunfire from a convicted felon armed with an illegally converted weapon.

The scene of a mass shooting is blocked off with police tape on April 3, 2022 in Sacramento, California. 

A CNN review of court filings in cities across the US found dozens of cases in recent years involving so-called conversion devices or semi-automatic handguns already converted to fully automatic.

In Chicago, a man prosecutors called "a prolific machine gun dealer" allegedly continued to sell the devices while out on bond and awaiting trial. An alleged associate of the man was recorded telling an undercover ATF agent posing as a buyer that he'd get a better price if he bought in bulk, and that he should act quickly because demand was high.

"People are gonna get them switches," he told the agent, according to a court filing. "It's gonna go to the people who want to go shoot some people, gangbangers and sh*t." 

The devices appear to be an emerging commodity on the black market. CNN reviewed cases in which they were allegedly hawked on social media, sold under the table by a licensed gun dealer in Miami, and turned up in the possession of alleged drug dealers distributing methamphetamine, fentanyl and oxycodone. In Los Angeles, a man under investigation for supplying local gang members with guns allegedly sold an ATF informant a Glock conversion device along with a Glock 9mm pistol and a high-capacity magazine. In Washington, DC, investigators looking into a young man who allegedly tossed a converted handgun into a trash can as police approached later found several videos on YouTube in which he rapped about "switches." 

The increasing availability of auto switches has been driven in part by the ease with which they can be made using cheap, 3D-printed parts and instructions available online, according to Earl Griffith, the chief of ATF's Firearms and Ammunition Technology Division. 

"It's very easy," said Griffith, who explained how he learned to use a 3D printer to make the devices on YouTube. "In a matter of 15 minutes I was able to do it myself the first time." Below, Griffith explains.

A CNN review of YouTube based on key-word search terms revealed multiple such videos that had collectively racked up more than 1 million views. One group of auto-switch instructional videos that remained online until August were linked to a man charged in December by federal prosecutors in Texas for allegedly making, possessing and transferring 3D-printed switches. He has pleaded not guilty. 

YouTube removed the videos after CNN asked about them. A company spokesperson said YouTube does not allow "content instructing viewers how to manufacture accessories that convert a firearm to automatic fire, or to sell those accessories on our platform."

Griffith said that despite the growing ubiquity of the devices, many members of law enforcement do not know how to recognize them on firearms they seize from criminals.   "When we tell them about it, they go back into their evidence vault and they look and check and they find this stuff," he said.   "Not since Prohibition have we seen this many machine guns being used to commit crimes.” 

Quantifying incidents involving automatic weapons fire is a challenge. The shell casings fired by automatic weapons appear no different than those discharged from a semi-automatic gun. 

POLICE DEPARTMENTS  — ShotSpotter locates Auto Gunfire

That is where ShotSpotter comes in. The company has contracts with about 130 cities in which it installs acoustic sensors in designated areas to listen for gunfire. A patented computer algorithm attempts to distinguish between innocuous sounds such a jackhammer or car backfiring and gunfire. Human analysts at the company's headquarters in the San Francisco Bay Area or a satellite office in Washington, DC, listen to what the algorithm flags as gunfire and, if they concur, alert police. The company says its goal is to make such notifications within a minute.

In recent years, suspected incidents of automatic weapons fire have risen sharply from about 400 in 2019 to 1,800 in 2020 to 5,600 last year. Even after adjusting for an increase in the company's coverage area in the US, ShotSpotter said an internal analysis showed that suspected automatic gunfire incidents jumped 14 times in about three years. The upward trend has continued in the first half of this year with roughly 3,800 incidents detected. The company says its designation of an incident as "full auto" is for a police department's "situational awareness" only and is not guaranteed in the same manner as its primary mission of accurately identifying and locating outdoor gunfire.

Videos shared by ShotSpotter depict examples of where its system detected automatic gunfire. Based on its analysis, ShotSpotter says the areas highlighted in red represent places in which shell casings were likely to be found.

During a demonstration of the system in June, analyst Kaylan Parker replayed some of the incidents she and others had tagged as "full auto," filling her Washington, DC, listening post with audio from what sounded like some far-off war zone. On a recent day, she said, the company had detected what it determined to be more than 25 incidents of automatic weapons fire, involving some 300 rounds, including a shooting in nearby Baltimore. Baltimore police later issued a press release about the incident, citing the ShotSpotter alert and stating that two people were wounded, including a 14-year-old boy. 

Founded in 1996, ShotSpotter bills itself as an important tool for police, providing real-time information about the location and nature of shootings, which the company says often go unreported. The early intel, company officials say, provides a tactical advantage to police and has resulted in both the arrest of shooters and faster medical care for gunshot victims. 

But ShotSpotter, a publicly traded company with reported revenue last year of nearly $60 million, has been mired in controversy in recent years. The criticism is centered on the placement of its sensors in predominately minority communities and the use of its information as evidence in court cases as opposed to its primary mission of merely alerting police to the occurrence and location of gunfire. 

Critics see the placement of the sensors as racially biased, resulting in the increased use of stop-and-frisk tactics by police. 

States — Highest Murder Rates — All Southern Republican — Great Job !

Louisiana has the highest murder rate in the U.S. of 14.4 murders per 100,000 residents. Murders were more than twice as common in Louisiana as they were nationwide. Murders are disproportionately concentrated in urban areas, especially New Orleans. New Orleans has a murder rate of about 37 per 100,000 residents, one of the highest of any U.S. city, followed by Baton Rouge with a murder rate of 35.1.

Alabama has the second-highest murder rate of 12.9 murders per 100,000 residents. This is also more than twice the rate nationwide. In Alabama, Birmingham has the most gun violence and, therefore, the highest murder rate of 37.1. Fairfield, Anniston, Pritchard, and Troy are other cities with the highest murder rates in Alabama.

Mississippi has the third-highest murder rate in the United States. Mississippi’s murder rate is 12.7 murders per 100,000 residents. According to the latest FBI data, Jackson had the most murders in 2018 of 78, which is a murder rate of 47 murders per 100,000 residents. Brookhaven has the highest murder rate in the state of 57.7 murders per 100,000 people.

Missouri has the fourth-highest murder rate of 11.3 murders per 100,000 residents. Murders in Missouri are disproportionately concentrated in metropolitan areas – about 90% of murders committed in 2017 in Missouri were committed in metropolitan areas. St. Louis and Kansas City are two of the most dangerous cities in the United States. In 2017, St. Louis had 205 murders and Kansas City had 150.

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