Police say Arizona criminals are using illegal devices to amplify firepower of guns

Police fear mixing drugs with high-capacity magazines, armor-piercing bullets, and those small illegal devices increase the odds of more collateral damage.
Published: Aug. 29, 2022 at 6:00 AM MST|Updated: Aug. 29, 2022 at 2:41 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - For many, it was a normal trip to the mall, filled with lots of walking, talking, and other shoppers eager to find the latest fashion outfits on a packed back-to-school shopping day at the Chandler Mall.

Suddenly, panic and chaos ensue as 30 shots ring out from the parking lot at one of Arizona’s busiest malls. Thankfully no one was hurt.

“They thought they were gonna get injured or killed; it was emotional!” recounted Chandler Police Sergeant Jason McClimans. The suspect, later identified by police as 19-year-old Nathanial Vensor, confronted a guy who made a comment to his girlfriend and then pulled a gun on the man in the parking lot. Detectives say Vensor tried to steal his jewelry, then opened fire, offloading 30 rounds with a single trigger pull in seconds.

Police were able to arrest Vensor when he showed back up at the mall the very next day.

After his arrest, detectives brought him to the Chandler Police headquarters for questioning. Asking him about the shooting and the gun he used. “I don’t even own a gun,” Vensor told detectives. “You don’t?” the detective asked. “I don’t own a gun!” Vensor said adamantly.

Detectives proved him wrong, serving a search warrant at his home, they seized three guns. One of the firearms they found matched the shell casings found at the mall shooting the day before. What they found next, is becoming a common concern for law enforcement across Arizona and America.

“They took apart the upper and lower receiver and, at that point, found a gray polymer device that was inserted into the trigger mechanism,” said Sgt. McClimans. The device they found is a 3-D printed, drop-in auto-sear.

“Criminals think these devices are cool. They can put out a lot of rounds very quickly, so our concern is we’re going to see a lot more victims,” Sgt. McClimans said.

Just a few months ago, Arizona’s Family aired a story with Valley detectives catching drug dealers who were selling these illegal sears and Glock switches on the social media platform Snapchat.

“We have to pour all our resources into stopping this,” says Brendan Iber, the Special Agent In Charge for the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Department, Phoenix field division.

Iber recently assigned two agents to join a task force with the Maricopa County Attorney and Phoenix Police to crack down on a spike in violent gun crime. Homicides involving guns are up 45% in Phoenix in the last year, and aggravated assaults involving firearms are up 23%.

The taskforce just recovered a slew of illegal switches and sears in a recent roundup of more than 700 guns found with criminals on probation. Officers even found ghost guns. “It’s insane what’s going on out there” Iber says. “It’s happening day in and day out”

Back in Chandler, Vensor is still defiant about his involvement with the shooting, “You’re pinning me to a shooting that I did not do!” he said during interrogation. He’s now being held on 12 felony counts, including possession of Fentanyl. Vensor decided he didn’t want to talk to detectives anymore but seemed to understand the severity of the charges during this phone call with his girlfriend. “I’m about to get 12 years dawg,” Vensor says on that call from the detective’s cellphone.

This wasn’t Vensor’s first run-in with the law. He was already on probation for a drive-by shooting and just got another gun seized earlier that week. “He was high on fentanyl, and he was using an AR pistol that was fully equipped to be used in a war zone,” said Sgt. McClimans.

Police and agents fear mixing drugs with high-capacity magazines, armor-piercing bullets, and those small illegal devices that can spit bullets out in seconds only increase the odds of more collateral damage for innocent bystanders. “This time nobody was hurt- but we don’t want a next time,” said Sgt. McClimans.

“We’re not going to rest until we can curb this. Federal, state, and local law enforcement can’t do this on their own. We can’t. Period. We need the community’s help,” said Iber.

The ATF is encouraging anyone who knows anything about illegal gun crimes or prohibited possessors to call their tip line so their agents can get these guns off the streets. Tipsters can call 800-ATF-GUNS or Silent Witness at 480-WITNESS.

From July 5 through Aug. 15, Phoenix police seized 711 guns and made 526 gun crime-related arrests.