Minnesota cases involving firearms hit high, agencies worry about automatic gunfire

MN cases involving guns hit high, agencies worry about automatic fire

MN cases involving guns hit high, agencies worry about automatic fire

While the number of cases involving firearms hit an all-time high in Minnesota, the attorney and sheriff of the state’s most populated county say they’re worried not just about the numbers…but the firepower behind those guns.

According to the most recent County Attorney Firearms Report, highlighting felony cases where defendants allegedly had or used a firearm and committed offenses, there were 1,805 cases in 2023 — a 14% increase from the year before.

When asked what sticks out most as she reflects on last year’s cases, Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty says the number of switches — which are also known as ‘auto sears’ — her office is seeing involved in cases is increasing. Switches are small modifications made to guns that turn them into automatic weapons.

“Gun violence is dangerous [and particularly when we’re seeing the assault rifles, and the guns with switches, we’re seeing like a spray of gunfire and it is harming people who are in the community, gun violence is harming our young people,” Moriarty said.

She says that violence is getting more dangerous due to the proliferation of switches.

“The idea that there are now assault rifles [and] guns with switches is really scary,” Moriarty said.

Another agency tracking this issue closely is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) — the ATF’s St. Paul Field Division told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, “The Twin Cities were not the first to start recovering these auto sear devices, but certainly among the first areas to start seeing them proliferate with such intensity.”

The region’s Special Agent in Charge Travis Riddle also shared the following statement.

Auto sears are wreaking havoc here in the Twin Cities and in cities across the U.S. These small devices by themselves are considered machineguns, and when attached to a firearm, they present a significant threat to not just the intended targets, but also any innocent bystander that happens to get in the way. I know I speak on behalf of all law enforcement that this is something that needs to stop, and we are committed to ensure people who are driving this violence be held accountable.

The ATF is one of the partners the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office is working with in a coordinated effort to rid the streets of these kinds of weapons.

“It is not uncommon for [my deputies] to be doing their job and finding these guns with switches almost on a daily detail,” Hennepin County Sheriff Dawanna Witt said.

“We’re doing a lot of collaboration work on what we call focus enforcement details which we collaborate with MPD, the BCA, the ATF, and going into these targeted areas,” she added.

Both Witt and Moriarty say reaching the youth and young adults will be key in this battle, adding it will take everyone to be successful.

“It has to be a team effort,” Witt said. “There’s not one of these agencies that can do it by themselves.”