Fresno police, federal agents on hunt for fully automatic weapons
CORRECTION: The original version of this story incorrectly reported that automatic weapons are illegal in the U.S. Ownership is tightly controlled by federal law.
Fresno police are working with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to track down Chinese-made devices that convert a Glock semi-automatic pistol into a fully automatic weapon capable of firing a burst of bullets in seconds.
Automatic weapons, which can fire multiple rounds with a single trigger pull, have been tightly controlled in the United States, requiring federal registration since passage of a law in the 1930s. Legal semi-automatic weapons require that a trigger be pulled for each shot. The emergence of inexpensive devices that can modify a semi-automatic Glock, one of the most popular handguns in the U.S., to automatic fire has caught the attention of law enforcement.
In March, police seized two such weapons during a sweep targeting gang members after a violent weekend of gang shootings.
So far in May, officers have recovered at least two more during traffic stops of suspected gang members. Alleged gang member Pornthep Vongsoury was taken into custocy on May 14. Tuesday night, officers arrested reputed gang member Timmy Sysaknoi, and reported seizing a modified Glock along with a high-capacity magazine during a warrant search.
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer called the modified pistols a danger to his officers, who would be outgunned in a confrontation with someone armed with one of the weapons.
They also raise the risk of citizens nearby, he added, because of the diminished accuracy of automatic fire and the number of rounds fired. Dyer said the conversion process used to modify the weapons is relatively simple and does not require the expertise of a gunsmith.
The difficulty of getting the modified guns off the street is made more complex because the conversion devices are not manufactured domestically; they are produced in China. So police are working with the ATF to track websites where they are offered for sale. When police gain information about purchasers, they attempt to track them down through the Fresno MAGEC anti-gang unit.
Federal penalties for possession of an automatic weapon are severe, including up to 10 years in prison. But not everyone arrested with one of the modified weapons is tried in federal court. Steve Wright, a spokesman for District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp, said his office routinely meets with federal prosecutors to determine how such cases will be prosecuted.
Glock firearms were developed in Austria. Officials at the manufacturer’s U.S. headquarters in Smyrna, Georgia, did not return a call for comment on this story.