The rise in murders in recent years has been accompanied by another trend—criminals are increasingly modifying their firearms to enable fully automatic fire, converting simple handguns into tiny machine guns.
Houston police brought 19 cases involving guns furnished with these “Glock switches” earlier this year, including a shootout that left three police officers wounded. Last year, another Houston police officer was killed while serving a warrant after the criminal pulled a Glock with a switch and opened fire. In April, six people were killed in a large gang shootout in downtown Sacramento where one of the criminals used a gun with a Glock switch, according to authorities.
There are no comprehensive national statistics on the proliferation of Glock switches, but it seems they have only been used in a small fraction of violent gun crimes.
“It’s largely a novelty,” one gun expert told The Epoch Times.
The switch allows the popular Glock handguns to rapidly fire rounds with a single pull of the trigger.
Machine guns are generally illegal to own in the United States. The exception is those made before 1986, which have become prohibitively expensive, and those held by licensed firearms dealers. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) considers Glock switches machine guns. Getting one illegally can thus land a person in federal prison for up to a decade.
In 2020, the ATF in Houston confiscated about 30 such switches. In 2021, the number rose to nearly 150, local media reported.
A Glock switch is a small device about an inch in diameter. It snaps onto the back of the gun and applies pressure on the trigger mechanism so that it doesn’t stop after firing just one round. A regular Glock can eat through a 30-round magazine in about 2.3 seconds.
Such a firearm is highly impractical, as the rapid recoil and small size make it difficult to control and wildly inaccurate. Because most Glocks use 9mm ammunition, the recoil is rather strong and the muzzle will increasingly jerk up the longer one holds the trigger, explained Charles Heller, firearms instructor and radio host in Arizona.
“If you run a Glock full-auto you’re going to be shooting airplanes pretty quick,” he told The Epoch Times.
Such a modified gun becomes more dangerous at close range, he said.
“If you can put three to five rounds into somebody instead of one or two, it is more deadly.”
There are a small number of such switches that are legally owned by people with the required license. Some law enforcement agencies have them, too, according to Heller.
Unlicensed switches have started to proliferate in the past several years after some people in China started to make them and sell them online. They’re usually mailed to the United States directly or smuggled in through Mexico, according to the ATF. Some have also been made domestically on 3D printers. The agency has identified about 2,500 people who may have bought one, WGN TV reported in 2019.
An ATF spokesman told The Epoch Times that the agency hasn’t released any statistics on switches in particular and was unable to verify the figure reported in 2019 “based solely on the information in the article.” He noted, though, that “from 2017–2021, machinegun conversion devices recovered by ATF increased from less than 100 to more than 1,500.”
That, however, includes other devices that enable full-auto fire, not just switches, he clarified via email.
In Heller’s view, Glock switches—or machine guns, for that matter—shouldn’t be illegal in the first place, according to the Second Amendment, and since the switches are so primitive and can be 3D printed, it won’t be possible to prevent people who are willing to break the law from acquiring them, he argued.
“The genie is out the bottle on 3D printing, you’re never going to be able to quash it,” he said.