Modified Guns Capable Of High-Caliber Damage Are Making Their Mark

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Modified Guns Capable Of High-Caliber Damage Are Making Their Mark
Modified guns can act like semi-automatic firearms, causing damage that can be lethal in the wrong hands.

On Thursday, both Houston and Milwaukee had police officers targeted by gunfire, and more and more the weapons used in these shootings have been modified to hold more bullets or shoot more quickly.

So as the police officers continue their recovery, the question lingering is just how badly were they outgunned by a suspect believed to have a modified weapon.

They’re called glock switches: small devices that can fit on pistols that turn them from semi-automatic firearms to pocket machine guns. They're illegal under federal law — a hot topic in law enforcement because the suspect in the shoot out with Houston police officers Thursday used one with a high-capacity drum magazine.

"It appeared to have a selector switch which made it fully auto, and when your hear the audio you can tell it's a fully automatic weapon," Doug Griffith, president of Houston police officers, said. "The first officer was shot before he was able to get out of his truck."

Houston’s police union president says he saw the suspect's weapon when he responded to check on the three patrolmen injured in the hail of bullets.

Evidence of the violent exchange was all over the crime scene in Houston’s third ward, with dozens of shell casings on the ground and a police cruiser shot up like a tin can.

Texas' largest city is seeing a huge increase of modified weapons on the street, and it isn’t alone in dealing with this latest gun menace. In the last year, federal agents have also seized modified guns in New York, San Francisco and Chicago.

"Our number of cases went from 11 to 33, so we tripled the number of investigations," Fred Milanowski, special agent in change at ATF - Houston, said. "Our seizures of these devices went from 24 to 144 - a five fold increase."

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Houston division says the devices are smuggled or bought illegally online — the mass-manufactured part no bigger than a half-dollar coin being brought from overseas. 

"City of Houston field division has been ground zero for these investigations," Milanowski said. 

While the switches are illegal, high-capacity magazines are allowed in Texas, making a dangerous combination if they get into the wrong hands.

"There’s a reason machine guns are highly regulated in this country," Milanowski said. "They can put a lot rounds of ammunition downrage quickly."