News10NBC Investigates the small device that turns a gun into a machine gun
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — News10NBC investigates a little device that turns a gun into a machine gun. They’re known as auto sears, which are little devices that turn a gun into a machine gun.
Police call them “switches” and “converters” too, and they are always illegal in New York state. Not only are auto sears found in guns in our city, but a local man is also accused of making and selling them. That’s why we got the ATF to demonstrate what they do.
Special Agent Sean Martineck is an expert with a gun. When he fired his semi-automatic Glock service weapon, one bullet fired every time he pulled the trigger. But when he fired a similar Glock fitted with an auto sear and an extended magazine, he fired 28 rounds in a matter of seconds.
“As you can see from the demonstration, bullets are flying everywhere,” Special Agent Martineck said. “So now we’re putting the general population or public in harm’s way as well.”
Watch an extended version of the demonstration below.
Before the demonstration, Martineck showed me what the auto sears look like. They’re about the size of a die.
Brean: “Under no circumstances would something like this ever be legal.”
Sean Martineck, Special Agent ATF: “Correct. This switch by itself, any of these switches by themselves, they’re considered machine guns.”
Brean: “The law would consider you as possessing a machine gun?”
The auto sear device is in our city this year. In July, when police arrested three alleged gang members hired to come to Rochester from Boston to kill rival drug dealers, police say they found an arsenal of guns, including one with an auto sear.
One of those men arrested was Kelvin Vickers Jr., who is also accused of firing 17 rounds, killing RPD Officer Tony Mazurkiewicz, shooting his partner Sino Seng and hitting a 15-year-old girl with a stray bullet.
Tamaia Walker is that 15-year-old. Police say she was not shot by a gun with a sear but she’s an example of what gun violence has done to our city. She was shot sitting in her home with her family.
“At first I was really scared,” Walker told me in July. “I was just shocked. At first I was thinking that if I got shot it would have hurt a lot more even though it did hurt.”
Brean: “What are you doing about it?”
Martineck, Special Agent ATF: “As soon as we hear about somebody who is in possession of these things, we’re on it, especially the ATF. As soon as we hear somebody is selling these things or making them, we’ll get on it right away.”
Brean: “And with the advent of 3D printers, it’s more likely that people can make them and sell them and get them out there.”
Martineck: “It’s definitely a possibility, unfortunately.”
That’s what a 32-year-old man from Brockport is accused of doing.
Shane Scaccia is in federal custody, accused of using a 3D printer to make and sell plastic auto sears out of his apartment. The federal complaint says he sold eight sears for $30, a little more than $3 per piece.
Scaccia was arrested in April 2021. His latest hearing in October was canceled. His attorney, Matthew Lembke, declined to talk on camera about the case for this story.
I asked Special Agent Martineck what the public will think after they watch his demonstration using an auto sear.
“How dangerous those are,” he said. “How dangerous an auto sear in a gun that is already dangerous, how it just takes it to another level, out in a community that is already plagued with violence from guns.”
There isn’t any data with the accurate number of homes hit by bullets.
But this year, we’ve reported on at least 20 cases. Police described some of the homes as “sprayed” with gunfire.
And in at least half of those cases, children were in the home, including a 10-year-old hit several times in April and 15-year-old Tamaia Walker hit in July.
Brean: “Do you think any of these homes that are getting shot up are getting shot up by guns with these devices?”
Lt. Greg Bello, RPD: “I certainly can’t discount it. The amount of criminals we’re catching with these guns that we’ve recovered throughout the past few months, I can’t imagine them not being used to shoot up houses.”
RPD says, since July, they recovered two guns with a sear installed in the gun.
ATF won’t say how many cases they have. But an investigation by The Trace and VICE News found 260 in the last five years and a thousand auto sears recovered. Click here to read that report.