Auto sears bring several challenges to law enforcement

It's small, but it really packs a punch.

And not in a good way.

In Friday's special report, FOX 32 looks at the challenges auto sears are bringing law enforcement.

When an auto sear is added to a standard glock, it can fire as much as 30 rounds in 1.5 seconds. 

An auto sear is about the size of a quarter and can turn a handgun into a machine gun.

"As citizens, we should feel overwhelmed and bothered that this is going on, but we should feel really confident there are a lot of people out there who want to make this better," said Kristin de Tineo with ATF's Chicago division. 

She says they first started seeing auto sears on Chicago streets back in 2018.

"The trends that we saw is they were being illegally imported first, and then with the advent on the internet, with the cost of 3D printers, that people starting printing them themselves," said de Tineo. "It just made them even easier for people to obtain."

How easy?


In September, a joint ATF investigation led to a Minnesota man being charged in federal court with "using 3D printers to manufacture auto sears" out of his home in the Twin Cities.

In 2020, the feds charged a south suburban Chicago man with illegally dealing handguns and auto sears. 

A search warrant led to the discovery of 117 auto sears in Lenard Johnson's home in Robbins

A judge sentenced him to 10 years in federal prison in August.

"The devastation that 100 conversion devices could do when spread throughout a community is probably the most alarming thing," said de Tineo.

Lt. Greg Spayth is with the Aurora Police Department and says officers are concerned about more than just the rapid fire rate an auto sear can bring to a handgun. 

"Those guns are hard to control when they’re shooting, especially a handgun with an auto sear that’s auto fired," said Spayth. "Those rounds are spraying in all different directions and could possibly hit people that are not the intended target."

In some cases, police say all those little evidence markers you see on the ground at a single shooting scene came from the same gun.

Back in July, the Preventing Illegal Weapons Trafficking Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate. 

Its focus is to "combat the increased use and proliferation of dangerous gun conversion devices."

If passed, it would require federal law enforcement to stop the importation and trafficking of auto sears and other similar devices.

It would also allow law enforcement to seize all profits that come from illegally trafficking them.

If you know of anyone who might be making or selling auto sears, the ATF wants to hear from you.

You can report information anonymously at 1-800-ATF-GUNS (1-800-283-4867).

Other resources:

  • Report Illegal Firearms Activity. 1-800-ATF-GUNS (1-800-283-4867)
  • Bomb Hotline. 1-888-ATF-BOMB (1-888-283-2662)
  • Arson Hotline. 1-888-ATF-FIRE (1-888-283-3473)
  • Other Criminal Activity. 1-888-ATF-TIPS (1-888-283-8477) Email: