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Federal officials campaign to address rise in machine gun ‘conversion devices’ by: Travis Schlepp

Federal law enforcement officials have launched a new initiative to inform the public of what they say is a growing problem that involves the illegal modification of semi-automatic firearms into fully automatic weapons.

Officials from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives launched a series of public service announcements designed to raise awareness on the dangers of these machine gun conversion devices, which are often referred to as “switches,” “chips” or “auto sears.”

A simple aftermarket device added to the internals of a firearm can convert a semi-automatic gun into a fully automatic weapon, ATF officials said in a new public service announcement.

The devices can be 3D-printed at home, but are often sold online, sometimes under misleading names to avoid detection by law enforcement, and billed as being legal to possess.

But despite their seeming harmlessness on their own, simply owning one of the conversion devices carries the same legal penalty as carrying an illegal machine gun, even if you don’t even have a weapon to modify.

The public service announcements feature U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada and leadership from the ATF Los Angeles, highlighting the dangers of the illegal conversion devices and the stiff legal penalties for those found in possession of them.

“These devices are not gun accessories. They are illegal and considered machine guns under federal law,” says ATF LA Field Division Special Agent in Charge Christopher Bombardiere.

He adds that the ATF has recovered more than 31,000 of the devices in the last five years and compared the problem to the rise of ghost guns — untraceable firearms that are assembled using spare or 3D-printed parts and which have no serial number.

Law enforcement officials say the devices can switch a semi-automatic pistol or rifle into fully automatic in as little as 60 seconds. “One pull of the trigger can release all the ammunition in the magazine,” they said.

In a new PSA, a law enforcement officer demonstrates how a semi-automatic pistol can be converted into fully automatic using an aftermarket device known as a “switch.” (ATF)

Estrada said simply possessing one of these “switches” can carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and federal law enforcement officials are being extra diligent to keep the devices off the streets.

If you know of anyone who may be purchasing, making or stockpiling these devices, you are urged to contact your local ATF office. They can also be safely turned over at a local office.

A machine gun is described under the National Firearms Act as follows:

  • Any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.
  • The combination of parts designed and intended for use in converting a weapon into a machine gun.

To view one of the public service announcements published by the ATF, click here.

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