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Illegally Modified Firearms: A Growing Threat to US Communities

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Muthana Al-Najjar
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Illegally Modified Firearms: A Growing Threat to US Communities

Law enforcement officials across the US are grappling with the rising menace of handguns and rifles that have been illicitly modified with small, inexpensive devices known as Glock switches or auto sears.

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These devices effortlessly convert conventional firearms into machine guns, capable of discharging a high rate of fire and posing a significant threat to law enforcement and innocent bystanders alike.

ATF Prioritizes Machine Gun Conversion Devices

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has flagged machine gun conversion devices as a top enforcement priority. In the span of four years, from 2017 to 2021, seizures of such devices have skyrocketed by 570%. Alarmingly, this figure is projected to surge further in 2023.

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Imported from China or domestically produced via 3D printers, these devices have been implicated in multiple incidents resulting in both police officers and civilians being shot, underscoring their lethal potential.

Victims' Families Advocate for Stricter Laws

Amidst this backdrop of escalating gun violence, families of victims are lobbying for stricter laws. Lacie Jeffrey, whose father, a Houston Police Officer, fell prey to a gunman wielding a modified weapon, is among those championing for tighter regulations. The aim is to align state regulations with federal laws, under which possession of conversion devices is a felony. However, in certain states, possession is still only considered a misdemeanor. This disparity in legal treatment has fueled calls for more stringent penalties to deter the criminal use of these devices.

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Legislation to Combat Illegal Gun Modifications

Efforts to curb the illicit modification of firearms and the associated violence are not confined to advocacy. Legislative action, such as the Hadiya Pendleton and Nyasia Pryear-Yard Gun Trafficking and Crime Prevention Act, has been instrumental in seizing over 1,300 illegal guns and charging more than 200 defendants. The proposed GOSAFE Act introduced by Sen Martin Heinrich also seeks to restrict access to high-powered rifles. By focusing on the internal mechanisms of firearms, the Act aims to reduce the lethality of semi-automatic rifles used in mass shootings, providing a fresh approach to gun reform.

Focus on Campus Safety

Amidst the national concern over gun violence, the UNC community has faced its own series of safety concerns in 2023. Following a spate of violent incidents, including the tragic shooting of an associate professor, the university has implemented license plate readers and security cameras in residence halls. The student government and various campus organizations have also launched safety programs, while the appointment of a director of threat assessment and management reflects the institution's commitment to safety. Nonetheless, concerns persist, underscoring the ongoing need for proactive safety measures in all communities.

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