Authorities raise alarm on device that turns handguns into automatic weapons

CHARLOTTE — A semi-automatic handgun can normally only fire as fast as its operator can pull the trigger, but a small device can turn a Glock handgun into an illegal machine gun.

They’re called Glock switches, and law enforcement agencies are trying to get them off the streets.

One switch is about the size of a quarter, and it enables a handgun to fire in a fully automatic mode. Instead of having to squeeze the trigger each time the user wants to fire a round, it behaves more like a machine gun you’d see in older action movies.

Special Agent James Nash with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, demonstrated how quickly a gun can fire with a switch.

Thirty-three rounds can be fired in roughly one-and-a-half seconds. But Nash says the increased recoil from the rapid firing makes it hard to control where those bullets are going.

“They tend to spray and pray,” Nash said. “Those rounds can go anywhere.”

The ATF’s Charlotte field office gave Channel 9′s Hunter Sáenz rare access inside its vault of seized firearms. Some of the guns still had switches attached.

“Unfortunately, we’re seeing an uptick in terms of more and more people actually getting these Glock switches and more people wanting to sell them to other people,” said Dena King, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.

“The community should care because what we are seeing is so many of these devices being sold and distributed on the street.”

King’s office has prosecuted several criminal cases involving switches over the years. That includes Desmon Taylor Moore, who was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison for illegally manufacturing and selling switches.

“He also had a business in which he would teach individuals how they could utilize the Glock switch and use it on a traditional firearm and convert it into that machine gun,” King said.

Moore was arrested after undercover ATF agents infiltrated some of his classes.

“They learned from him what he was teaching, and we were able to prosecute him in that manner,” King said.

Where are Glock switches coming from?

The ATF says many people are getting switches by ordering them in parts or complete kits from China or Russia. Agents say they’re being found with alarming frequency, and that they’re contributing to violent crime.

They’re also being found during traffic stops. Search warrants obtained by Channel 9 show that a switch was found last October after North Carolina state troopers got in a chase with Joshua Jenkins. He was then charged with possession of a weapon of mass destruction.

“Each time we’re able to take one of these from the street, we’re also wondering how many more are on the street,” King said.

Another complication in getting the switches off the street is that several designs can be homemade with a 3D printer. Plans for Glock switches are easy to find online, with search engines displaying numerous stores where people can purchase the 3D printer design files.

Even though they’re known on the street as Glock switches, the manufacturer, Glock, has nothing to do with them.

Regardless of where they come from, having a switch can land you in prison.

“If we catch people doing any of those things, we will seek to prosecute them to the fullest extent possible,” King said.

If convicted, you could face up to 10 years in federal prison.

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Hunter Sáenz

Hunter Sáenz, wsoctv.com

Hunter is a reporter for Channel 9.