Illegal automatic weapons flood Chicago streets due to easily obtained conversion kits

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff and Christine Tressel WLS logo
Friday, August 18, 2023
Automatic guns made by conversion kits are surging on Chicago streets
Chicago ATF and other law enforcement say there's a surge of illegal automatic weapons in Chicago thanks to easily obtained gun conversion kits.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Offenders with automatic weapons increasingly have our streets under siege, often with more potent weapons than police. Some of the guns are homemade or altered with devices that turn legal handguns into illegal machine guns.

It's a fast-developing and deadly problem for police and the public across metro Chicago.

The new leader at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Chicago Field Division told the I-Team the situation is much worse than when he first started with the bureau.

"We're seeing an alarming rise in machine gun conversion devices," said Christopher Amon, Special Agent in Charge, ATF Chicago.

Amon has been a federal agent for 18 years and is newly installed as special agent in charge of the ATF Chicago Field Division, which is working to slow a surge in automatic weapons use.

"Four years ago this was not an issue for law enforcement. Early on in my career, rarely, if ever, did you see machine guns being used in violent crimes, and now it's everywhere on our streets," Amon said. "They're being used in shootings. The shootings are becoming reality, more victims, they're becoming deadlier because you're able to get off, in some cases, 30 rounds in a matter of seconds."

The firearms in question are modified pistols that fire continuously as long as the trigger is pulled, making them essentially pocked-sized submachine guns. Criminals are taking regular semi-automatic handguns, which require a trigger pull for each bullet to be fired, and installing a tiny and illegal metal or plastic switch that makes them fully automatic.

"They're up nationwide 561 percent between 2018 and 2021" said Amon.

Anthony Prisco, 20, of Oak Forest is facing federal charges for allegedly selling 25 machine gun conversion kits. He is being held t at the Chicago MCC without bond after pleading not guilty.

Amon said ATF teams in Chicago must now train to deal with these automatic weapons, which are now in the hands of mostly untrained criminals.

"Essentially the same powers as a Tommy gun in a pistol. A majority of them are coming from overseas, so places like China, Russia. You can also 3-D print them," he said. "It's an absolute threat not only to our law enforcement officers and citizens of Chicago, it just means that again, we're facing firepower that we, in a lot of cases, have never faced before on the streets."

After the Al Capone days, machine guns were rarely used in crimes until recently.

"Looking at ShotSpotter data, there were 13 fully automatic weapons shot in our neighborhoods in Chicago. Thirteen In the past 24 hours, that's how often these are being fired," Amon said. "I go back to conducting a traffic stop and you may not know anything about the individual you're facing. And that person has a Glock with a 30-round magazine that can unload that magazine in less than two seconds in your direction. I would call that outgunned no matter what type of weapon you're carrying."

Amon said his top priority as the new head of ATF-Chicago is interrupting automatic weapon use here and retaking the streets now under siege.

He aims to reduce the number of those illegal guns and components landing on the streets and arresting those who traffic and use them.