A Jackson, Mississippi man was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison for illegally manufacturing machine guns using 3D printers, according to the Justice Department.
Kent Edward Newhouse, 41, already had a felony conviction, making it illegal for him to have firearms. In 2022, he illegally possessed firearms and used 3D printers to manufacture a firearms component called an “auto sear,” which turns a semi-automatic firearm into a fully automatic machine gun, the Justice Department said Thursday. Federal law designates auto sears as machine guns themselves.
“On July 13, 2022, Newhouse sold a confidential informant a firearm and several auto-sears,” the DOJ said in a statement.
Newhouse pleaded guilty to two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm and one count of engaging in business as a manufacturer of firearms in September.
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Auto sears turn semi-automatic firearms into machine guns
The auto sears Newhouse 3D printed are a type of conversion devices that make semi-automatic firearms act like machine guns that fire rapidly without the need to repeatedly pulling a trigger. They’re tiny metal or plastic pieces, the size of a dime, and quickly attached to the back of a semi-automatic.
Auto sears have been turning up more often in places like Louisville, the USA TODAY Network’s Courier Journal reported. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reported 120 of the devices were confiscated in the city in the first nine months of 2022, compared to about a dozen in 2021 and none in 2020.
In the nation’s capital, police told The Washington Post that guns with auto sears were being recovered more frequently in 2021; police seized 20 that year, double what they recovered in 2020.
“The use of 3-D printers to unlawfully manufacture firearms, and to make devices to convert semiautomatic firearms into machine guns, poses a real and current threat to our communities,” Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Special Agent in Charge Kurt Thielhorn said when Newhouse pleaded guilty.
Democrats target machine gun conversion devices
Congressional Democrats last month reintroduced legislation they hope will help authorities prevent the importation and trafficking of conversion devices such as auto sears, and report data about auto sears in federal firearms tracking reports.
“Gun conversion devices can turn ordinary handguns into deadly automatic weapons in less than a minute. As we grapple with the epidemic of gun violence in this country, virtually unfettered access to these types of deadly firearms is exactly what we do not need,” New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a cosponsor of the Preventing Illegal Weapons Trafficking Act of 2023, said in a statement on Monday.
A 2022 investigation by Vice News and The Trace found that illegal auto sears were increasingly recovered as part of federal prosecutions of cases including robberies, assaults and murders.