As Baton Rouge struggles for a third year in a row dizzying gun violenceofficials fear a new trend could make the carnage worse: small, illegal devices that turn pistols into machine guns circulate in the streets of the city.
The devices — made of plastic and easy to attach to a gun’s action — are called auto sears or “Glock switches” after the popular gun maker whose guns they are often attached to. Federal officials say they are increasingly being used by criminals across the country, with authorities linking them to shootings linked to gang activity, drug trafficking and extremism.
Semi-automatic pistols fire a single round with each trigger pull. But with an automatic sear, they become machine guns that can empty a magazine in seconds, with a single push of the trigger.
And in the past two years, more and more weapons adapted with the devices have emerged in Baton Rouge.
East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore said detectives recovered 19 firearms equipped with auto-sears throughout 2021. Not even halfway through 2022, they have seized 39 of them since January.
The devices are particularly dangerous, Moore said, because they allow gunmen to… unloading dozens of rounds in a fraction of the time it takes to fire a semi-automatic cannon. Automatic sears have often been made unreliable, and weapons equipped with them give a powerful recoil when fired for which pistols are not designed, also posing a danger to the shooter, he said.
“These devices really don’t serve a legitimate purpose,” Moore said. “They can give a shooter a false sense of invincibility and put the shooter in a situation where aiming is nearly impossible. Coupled with an expanded magazine, the shooter simply squirts and prays they hit their intended target.
“Everything below range is at risk,” he added.
Amid the rural gulf of gun violence which emerged alongside the COVID-19 pandemic, officials seized nearly four times the number of firearms modified with auto sears last year compared to the previous year.
The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has calculated that authorities across the country seized 300 such weapons in 2020. The following year they seized over 1,500, according to a letter to the ATF director written by more than 40 members of Congress.
Auto sears are similar to bump stocks, serving the same purpose for semi-automatic long guns. Bump shares were banned in the wake of the 2017 shooting at a concert in Las Vegas that left 61 people dead.
In general, fully automatic weapons are subject to strict federal regulations. And because autosears convert handguns into fully automatic weapons, the ATF says, they’re mostly illegal, with some loopholes for gunmakers and others with certain licenses.
But the federal agency has struggled to crack down, something lawmakers have been waiting for called on the ATF to address: in the April letter. The cheap devices tend to flow to the United States from other countries, they wrote. Some are even produced with 3D printers.
Use of the devices is becoming more common, they said, citing recent shootings in Houston and Sacramento, where authorities… found shooters using auto-sear-modified weapons†
One of the devices appeared in a loot of weapons, drugs and cash seized by East Baton Rouge deputies during an April raid by an alleged criminal group called the Banks Town Mafia. Three Glock pistols equipped with switches — and a hand grenade — appeared in a different bust this week, according to Moore.
Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said there are signs of the use of car sears that have emerged from investigations into some recent shootings in Baton Rouge. In one case, bystanders reported hearing the “pop-pop-pop” of automatic weapon fire. But officers investigating the shooting found only gun casings from the crime scene, Gautreaux said, suggesting the shots came from a modified pistol.
Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul last week called on Congress to pass common-sense gun laws, in part to crack down on the distribution of auto sears and other high-powered firearms.
It is one of the “greatest disappointments” the country is currently facing that such laws have failed, he said. Noting the Impact on Baton Rouge Families torn apart by gun violencehe called on Congress to take action.
“We don’t need fully automatic weapons on the streets of Baton Rouge,” he said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”