Earlier this month it was reported that at least three residents of North Texas have found themselves in big trouble for possession of a rather small device. Dubbed a “converter switch,” it attaches to the end of a Glock handgun and illegally transforms the regular semi-automatic-only firearm into a fully-automatic “machine gun.”
As the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE or ATF) described on its website, “A relatively simple, albeit illegal, device that allows a conventional semi-automatic Glock pistol to function as a fully automatic firearm. The switch is classified as a machine gun under federal law.”
The switch isn’t exactly new, and it has been imported to the United States from China for more than a decade. It was in September 2017 that TheFirearmBlog even reported that the switches were being sold via online retail giant Amazon.com. What is notable is that the device even features a Glock logo, which could confuse the less knowledgeable to think it is a sanctioned product—something it certainly isn’t.
And as TFB noted, “Given the size of the Amazon marketplace, it isn’t surprising that some unscrupulous sellers slip through the cracks. Nothing that I saw on the seller’s page indicated they are affiliated with Amazon beyond having a presence on the e-commerce giant’s marketplace.” However, no such product is now available and Amazon has done a good job of cracking down on such illicit sellers of illegal products.
Flowing From China
Whilst Amazon no longer sells the items, these continue to be available online from Chinese websites—and ATF has stepped up efforts to crack down on imports of the devices, which have been advertised to convert all Glock pistols to “Full Auto.”
According to the ATF, “the device operates by applying force to the trigger bar to prevent it from limiting the weapon to firing only one round each time the trigger is depressed.”
It isn’t just Texas that has seen a spike in the sale of these devices. Last April, the ATF announced that efforts to track the source of the parts in the United States had been hampered by the novel coronavirus pandemic. What is especially worrisome is that the switches aren’t just being imported from China.
The ATF reported that it was tracking shipments not only from overseas, but has seen evidence of them being made in Southern California as well. As of last year, the ATF had identified 4,000 converter switches that had been smuggled into the United States, while the agency was able to recover more than 3,000. However, that still leaves hundreds that could be in the hands of criminals and others intent to commit nefarious purposes.
What is especially worrisome is that with the right tools, the switch isn’t that difficult to make. DallasNews.com reported that a Las Vegas man had used a 3D printer to produce the switches.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.