PITTSBURGH — It’s a small plastic or metal device known on the streets as a Glock switch. Attached to the end of a 9 mm Glock handgun, it converts the weapon from semiautomatic to fully automatic, like a machine gun.
“Those conversion kits are a danger to law enforcement. They are a danger to the public,” said Joe Price, ATF Special Agent in Charge of the Pittsburgh office
He showed us some of the illegal automatic conversion devices they’ve taken off the streets.
“That’s the switch. That little piece is the switch. That’s it,” said Price.
In a video, an ATF agent demonstrates how the switch works, along with the increased firepower. The handgun with the switch attached fired 17 rounds in a matter of seconds.
“One pull of the trigger and (it) fires until it runs out of ammunition,” said Price.
An extended clip added to the handgun also increases the number of rounds from 15 to as many as 30.
“(A) lot of damage, lot of rounds, and a high rate of rounds; and like recently happened in Pittsburgh, you have innocent people killed,” said Price.
The ATF said the switches began showing up in Chicago and Philadelphia about five years ago. They have now made their way to the Pittsburgh area.
Target 11 discovered that since 2019, federal agents have indicted at least four people in western Pennsylvania for allegedly possessing these machine gun conversion kits.
Most of the switches were previously ordered on the internet from overseas for as cheap as $50, but now they can be made at home.
“What we’re seeing also now is with the use of 3D printers, people are starting to make their own,” said Price.
Price showed us a 3D printer confiscated by the ATF from a home in western Pennsylvania as part of an ongoing case.
“This one was recovered out of a house in Western (Pennsylvania). Yeah, and this is not the first one we’ve uncovered,” said Price.
“Do you suspect this person was making these to sell them?,” asked Earle.
“Making to sell them, making to give them out,” said Price, who showed us the small plastic conversion switch made with the 3D printer.
Earle: “So you can use the 3D printer there to make this little plastic conversion switch?”
Earle: “Put it on a handgun, and convert it into a machine gun?”
Earle: “All of this is illegal? "
Price: “It’s illegal, yes. Owning the 3D printer is not illegal, but what they’re using it for is illegal. Yes, so they took the a perfect tool here and turned it into a crime.
No one knows how many of these illegal, aftermarket add-on devices are out there.
In 2017, the ATF recovered fewer than 100 nationwide.
In 2021, that number jumped to 1,500.
The penalty for possessing one of these illegal devices is up to 10 years in federal prison.
The company that manufacturers Glock handguns has nothing to do with the illegal switches. The devices are made by third -party companies and under federal law, they are illegal to possess in most states.
Texas is the exception. Under state law, a person in Texas is allowed to possess a switch, but it becomes illegal once it’s put on a gun.
The ATF is working with local law enforcement agencies to get and keep these devices off the streets.
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