By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — On Monday, WCCO’s Reg Chapman shared the first part of his investigation into Minneapolis’ gang problem. Police link tens of thousands of crimes to gangs every year, much of it violent, stealing innocent lives.

Chapman shared his sit-down interview with an active gang member, who we’re calling “John.” bHe agreed to talk openly if we disguised his identity and re-voiced his message.

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John told us about two rival gangs — the Highs and the Lows — and how they recruit kids to become criminals, motivated by fast cash.

The gangs’ gun power is making it dangerous for our communities and our police officers working to make the streets safer.

Disturbingly, John forecasts a dangerous summer, with gangs using auto sears to convert weapons into mini-machine guns, with an unmistakable sound that slices through the silence, rapid fire, multiple rounds letting loose with the single squeeze of a trigger.

“Three seconds, thirty bullets would be out,” said John.

That switch in firepower is caused by a device commonly known as a switch. The impact is in giving gangs an edge over the police.

“That’s what’s really causing the hectic. Right now, everybody has switches now. It’s not regular gun fire anymore; sound like an automatic machine gun or something. A lot of innocent people are getting shot. Why? Because there are switches around now,” John said.

John says gang members’ only objective is to shoot their target. They see the innocent collateral damage as part of the game.

“If you’re in the crowd and they see you in the crowd, they’ll shoot the whole crowd. They’ll just spray the whole crowd,” said John.

“Were consistently recovering high capacity magazines that hold 50 bullets, 100 bullets,” Minneapolis Police Department gang expert Sgt. Andrew Schroeder said. “How do you combat that?”

Switches take semi-automatic pistols, where the pull of the trigger releases one bullet at a time, turning them into fully automatic pistols, with nonstop, rapid-fire bullets as long as the trigger is pulled. It’s a machine gun created with the instillation of a metal switch that can be purchased online but are illegal to possess.

Schroeder says switches are a growing reality because of the surging number of guns in the hands of gang members.

“The guns are coming from burglaries, theft from autos, and a big part of it is straw purchases — people illegally buying guns for people who shouldn’t have guns,” Schroeder said.

John says he believes this summer will see more lives lost because of switches.

“I don’t want to predict it being worse this year, but I feel like it’s probably going to be worse this year because everybody has a switch,” John said.

That’s what Minneapolis police are trying to prevent. Teams are working to get guns and switches off the street. The MPD says it confiscated a number from recent busts.

“Already this year I believe the gun investigation unit alone has recovered eight firearms that are fully automatic. That is a significant increase from last year,” Schroeder said.

The MPD is not alone in this effort. The ATF is also actively searching for switch makers, to stop the supply chain.

If you’re worried that this reporting may empower purchases, Chapman points out that switches are not easy to buy online. You need federal authorization to buy or possess a switch. Police say the bulk are purchased on the black market.

Reg Chapman