One device turns weapons in DC into automatic weapons

In 2021, there were more than 200 automatic rifle shootings.

WASHINGTON — It started off as a pleasant, sunny Friday afternoon along Connecticut Avenue in northwest DC. People were wrapping up their work weeks and Edmund Burke School students getting ready to leave for the weekend.

Suddenly, a barrage of gunfire rained from a 5th-floor window of an apartment. Within minutes, more than 200 bullets spread down Connecticut Avenue. As people took cover, police and paramedics responded.

But a question hung in the air: In a country where automatic weapons are basically illegal, how did the alleged gunman, Raymond Spencer, fire more than 200 rounds in minutes?

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WUSA9 put the question to ATF Assistant Special Agent In Charge Chris Amon.

“It’s just this little device that’s capable of converting that firearm from semi-automatic to fully automatic,” he said. “It’s one pull of the trigger and you can empty an entire magazine in two to three seconds.”

That device is called an auto sear. On the street it is called a ‘switch’. But most commonly they are used in pistols like Glocks, which is what gives it the term “glock switch.”

According to the ATF, an automatic sear works, “by applying force to the trigger bar to prevent the weapon from limiting the weapon to only one round at a time when the trigger is pressed.” A simple slip-in of the device and the gun becomes fully automatic.

Amon said they are very easy to get.

“They can be 3D printed, they can be made, come from abroad, people can order them over the dark web,” Amon said. “There are many different ways people get these, but they are illegal because they are a machine gun.”

While investigating the Van Ness “sniper style” shooting, DC police said they found automatic sears in several of the shooter’s rifles.

“To say that so many more people could have been killed by this gunman, and the reckless behavior on display here, is no understatement,” DC Police Chief Robert Contee said. “This really could have been a lot worse than it was.”

Van Ness gunfire devastated Northwest DC. But the fact is that the phenomenon of automatic gunfire is happening all over the district.

According to the ATF, there were more than 200 automatic gunshot shootings in DC in 2021, averaging nearly four a week.

In 2019, DC police seized 14 car sears. Two years later, that number rose to 66. At the time of this report, the police had taken 45 off the street by 2022.

But it wasn’t like that before. According to Amon, automatic gunfire was rare in city crime.

However, when a gun can be made automatic through simple adjustments, it creates an increasingly deadly environment. It is a problem that has the full attention of the police.

“How do you prevent that?” asked Contee. “These are the things that are worrisome for community members, but also keep me up at night.”

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