A surge in gun violence has been reported in the Twin Cities and across the US, characterized by firearms equipped with readily available conversion devices, commonly referred to as switches or auto sears. These devices, which can rapidly convert semi-automatic guns into machine guns, have been linked to a significant increase in indiscriminate shootings.
A particularly harrowing incident in south Minneapolis saw over 40 shell casings scattered in a street, with eight bystanders suffering from bullet wounds. The unpredictability and volume of bullets these modified firearms release have made them deadlier, though they are also less accurate, heightening the risk to innocent bystanders.
These conversion devices are relatively easy to obtain. Small in size, they can be metal or 3-D printed plastic and are often imported from countries like China. Both antigovernment extremists and street gangs are known to use them. The ATF noted a 570% surge in recovered switches between 2017 and 2021, highlighting the growing concern over their availability.
Law enforcement started tracking these devices more closely as reports of shootings involving high volumes of bullets surged in recent years. In Minneapolis alone, the number of discharged cartridge casings has more than doubled since 2019.
Federal agencies have traced some of these switches to imports, often disguised as innocuous items or airsoft gun accessories. Moreover, the accessibility and appeal of these devices have been magnified through social media. Platforms like Facebook have witnessed posts glorifying the use of modified firearms, further propagating their allure among youth and criminals.
This increasing popularity overlaps with the rise of “ghost guns”—privately made firearms assembled from kits or 3-D printed materials. These guns often lack serial numbers, making tracing them exceedingly challenging if they’re used in criminal activity. This avenue has also provided an easier way for minors to obtain firearms they wouldn’t be able to purchase legally.
Social media not only serves as a platform to showcase and glorify these weapons but also to distribute them. A recent case highlighted a Snapchat group involved in advertising, selling, and trading ghost guns, conversion devices, and drugs across Minnesota. Such activities have also led to violent incidents, like attempted carjackings and shootings.
Despite these mounting concerns, apprehending individuals responsible remains a challenge. For instance, the mass shooting outside the Minneapolis convenience store is still unsolved. Survivors of such incidents often grapple with trauma, repeatedly reliving the horrific events.
The widespread availability and use of these devices underscore the need for more stringent regulations and proactive law enforcement interventions to curb the rise in gun violence and protect communities.