‘Glock Switches’: Turning Handguns Into Machine Guns Becoming Popular Among Gangsters

‘Glock Switches’: Turning Handguns Into Machine Guns Becoming Popular Among Gangsters
A combination of images showing a Glock switch. (ATF.gov)
Petr Svab

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 that had been modified with what are referred to as “Glock switches” earlier this year, including one related to a shootout that left three police officers wounded. In 2021, a 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 gang shootout in downtown Sacramento, California, where one of the criminals used a gun that had a Glock switch, according to authorities.

There are no comprehensive national statistics on the proliferation of Glock switches, but it seems that they’ve only been used in a small fraction of violent gun crimes.

“It’s largely a novelty,” one gun expert told The Epoch Times.

The conversion allows the popular Glock handguns to fire multiple 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. Because the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) considers guns with Glock switches to be machine guns, getting one illegally can 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 outlets reported.

A Glock switch is a small device that’s 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 with a Glock switch can empty 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 9-mm ammunition, the recoil is rather strong, causing the muzzle to increasingly jerk upward the longer a person holds the trigger, according to Charles Heller, a 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, according to Heller.

“If you can put three to five rounds into somebody instead of one or two, it is more deadly,” he said.

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, Heller said.

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.” However, he noted that “from 2017 to 2021, machine gun conversion devices recovered by ATF increased from less than 100 to more than 1,500.”

However, that includes other devices that enable fully automatic fire, not just switches, the spokesman 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.

“The genie is out the bottle on 3D printing; you’re never going to be able to quash it,” he said.