HOUSTON - The gun that was used in Houston's East Side shootout with police appears to have been illegally modified to operate as an automatic weapon.
The part used to make the conversion is, technically, known as an 'auto sear' but also goes by names like 'Glock switch' and ‘buzz plate.’ Whatever the name, the modification makes the weapon very dangerous in the wrong hands.
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On Houston's East Side, the intense shootout between Houston Police, that left three officers injured, and accused shooter Roland Caballero, rivaled a movie scene. Investigators say each involved the same kind of illegal machine pistol.
"That was an intentional act," says Black Gold Guns & Ammo owner Gordon Taylor, "He was trying to hurt those officers. He was trying to kill them."
Taylor says the modification is a simple process of changing out a portion of the trigger mechanism that controls the rate of fire. Add a high-capacity magazine, and a handgun or 'sporting-rifle', like the AR-15, can be a deadly threat to officers and anyone near the gunfire.
"You pull the trigger once, and you just start spraying with bullets," says Taylor, "It's not that he was that good a shot, he just put up a wall of bullets coming at somebody, and you're going to hit people when you do that."
The modification was made illegal in the 1980s, but that has not stopped tinkerers in their garages and machine shops from producing the inexpensive parts needed to convert simple weapons into machine guns for an illicit trade that carries a heavy burden for anyone who makes or buys one.
"The last thing you want to do is get caught owning one, or have one in your possession," warns Taylor, Just having the part in your pocket is a federal violation."
The government considers possessing a machine gun, or parts to make one, a federal offense that's punishable by 10 years in prison and a quarter-million-dollar fine.
Still, the part continues to circulate. The ATF's Houston office says its caseload of investigating illegally-modified machine guns tripled in 2021. Meantime, they are working with police to identify those weapons before they're used to hurt someone.