Lawmakers want ATF to update guidance on automatic firearm conversion devices

While adapting guns to fire like automatic weapons is already prohibited, lawmakers say loopholes allow people to continue to access devices that allow the conversion.

AR-15-style semiautomatic rifles similar to this one are sometimes turned into machine guns with conversion devices called auto sears.Bob Self / USA Today Network
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WASHINGTON — More than 40 House Democrats are calling on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to update federal guidance on illegal gun conversion devices, which they say were used in a deadly Sacramento shooting this month.

"These devices, which can allow weapons to fire at a rate of up to 1,200 bullets per minute, make shootings more deadly, make our law enforcement officers’ jobs more dangerous, and increase the risk that innocent bystanders could be injured or killed when such a volume of bullets is unleashed," the group wrote in a letter to acting ATF Director Marvin Richardson.

The lawmakers said that in January, a gunman used a small device called an auto sear to convert a semiautomatic pistol into an automatic weapon and shoot three Houston police officers.

An auto sear converts a semi-automatic firearm so bullets continue to fire while holding down the trigger.

In the April 3 shooting in Sacramento, at least one gun was modified with an auto sear, they said. Officials estimated at least 100 rounds were fired, leaving six people dead and wounding a dozen others.

"ATF must do more to protect communities across the United States," they wrote in the letter to Richardson, adding that people are often using these modification devices on guns made with 3D printers, or ghost guns.

The members of Congress said that the ATF has issued rulings on auto sears, but the rules were limited to only ones already regulated by the National Firearms Act.

"We urge you to issue updated and explicit guidance on auto sears, put a stop to gun companies pushing the legal limits on these devices, and provide additional resources to help rid communities like ours of these dangerous devices," they said.

Their request came the same day that President Joe Biden announced that he was nominating Steven Dettelbach to serve as the next ATF director. He also unveiled new policy measures that target the proliferation of ghost guns, which can be built at home from kits to create working firearms without serial numbers, making them untraceable.