MOBILE — Law enforcement officials across Alabama have seen an increase in illegal modifications on pistols for years, but the Glock switch modification has recently become a top concern. A Glock switch is a tiny device placed on a Glock semi-automatic pistol to make it function as a fully automatic firearm.
Just this week, the Big 10 Mayors, from Auburn, Birmingham, Decatur, Dothan, Hoover, Huntsville, Madison, Mobile, Montgomery and Tuscaloosa, came together to call on lawmakers to pass legislation to create a state law prohibiting Glock switches and other similar devices.
Mobile City Administration’s Chief of Staff James Barber told 1819 News that officials in Mobile have been crafting a bill to present to lawmakers. He said he wanted to make it clear the law would not prohibit any firearm but simply the illegal modification of firearms.
“It’s not the gun. It’s the device,” said Barber. “And we’re hopeful that even our gun fanatics understand that we don’t need people modifying weapons to shoot full automatic. You can legally possess the weapon, but if you start getting these devices, that’s what we’re going after.”
The proposed state law would make it a Class B felony to possess, manufacture, transfer or sell any device that causes a semi-automatic weapon to shoot more than once with a single trigger pull.
Federal law already prohibits a machine gun's possession without approval by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF). ATF Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Nashville Field Division Ashley Lightner, who is assigned to the state of Alabama, confirmed the federal law of possession of an unregistered machine gun is a felony charge punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000. If the firearm is used in a crime of violence or a drug trafficking crime, prison time is increased to a term of not less than 30 years. Furthermore, he said a device that turns a weapon into a fully automatic firearm does not have to be accompanied by a firearm to make it illegal on a federal level.
“The part itself is illegal,” said Lightner. “It doesn’t have to be on the Glock pistol to be illegal.”
However, Barber said the law could only go so far for local authorities.
“Right now, if we stop you with a Glock switch, we can seize the gun because there is a federal violation, but we cannot arrest you because we don’t have any corresponding state law to arrest you under,” Barber explained.
Lightner said the ATF's investigation into Glock switches and similar devices is a high priority. It responds to local authorities as quickly as possible to help with cases.
Case in Point
The Bureau is currently working with Mobile authorities on one of the most high-profile cases involving a Glock switch. Multiple people were shot during the city's Moon Pie Drop on New Year’s Eve. One person was killed, and nine others were injured in that shooting. That’s one of the reasons why Barber said the issue is very important to city leaders in Mobile.
Hoover City Administrator Allan Rice said Glock switches have also been confiscated in Hoover. On Sunday, a man allegedly carried a pistol with a Glock switch and a 40-round magazine. Neighbors in a subdivision reported the man seemed incoherent and was walking around with the firearm. Police could take him into custody but could only charge him with disorderly conduct, so he was released from jail after posting bond.
Both Barber and Rice believe Glock switches are not only a threat to the public but also to law enforcement.
“This weapon will fire up to 20 rounds a second,” said Barber. “So, you could put 20 rounds into a police officer before he could unsnap his holster.”
“It is 100% an officer safety concern that they will be out-gunned,” said Rice. “If we say we’re going to back the blue, we need to back the blue.”
Lightner said law enforcement could take action to protect themselves and the community. The ATF offers training to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies on identifying Glock switches and responding to the dangers they present.
What exactly is a Glock switch?
Glock switches are aftermarket parts that are not made by Glock. Lightner explained how they work.
“It overrides the trigger mechanism, making the firearm function as a fully automatic weapon, a machine gun,” explained Lightner. “It’s very dangerous, and it is a firearm that is not accurate … thereby increasing the chance of innocent victims being shot.”
Glock chip, Fully, The Switch and Fun Switch are other terms used to describe a Glock switch. Lighter said they are small and hard to spot, but if you know what to look for, you can identify the part. The ATF also offered photos comparing a Glock without a switch and a Glock with a switch.
"On the back of the pistol where the slide meets the frame on a pistol, it looks like a little Lego block, and it's going to have a switch on it," Lightner explained. "It's about the size of a dime or a nickel."
The ATF has seen evidence that the pieces are made overseas and imported into the U.S. disguised as machine parts and other items, including key chains. During an investigation into the purchasing of a Glock switch, it took less than one minute for an 1819 News reporter to locate one and communicate with the seller. A year ago, Lightner said the items were selling for around $30 each, but that price has since increased to around $300 to $400 each. The ATF continually works online to find where the illegal parts come from. The Bureau has also found parts made within the United States on 3D printers.
The ATF asks citizens to contact their local law enforcement agency if they encounter a Glock switch.
There have been discussions and calls on the ATF to prohibit any firearm, such as a Glock, that is easily converted into a machine gun. According to the ATF, these pistols are some of the most popular among Americans who choose to own a firearm. Millions use them for self-defense and recreation.
The NRA believes the Violence Policy Center (VPC), which has led an effort to prohibit all handguns, is using the unfortunate events involving Glock switches to take guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens.
"In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the U.S. Supreme Court made clear that the Second Amendment right extends to the possession and use of arms' in common use at the time' for lawful purposes like self-defense. Under any conceivable consideration, Glock pistols fall under this protection, and the Second Amendment precludes any attempt to ban them," the NRA stated last year.
The NRA suggests a better way to handle the illegal use of these devices is to enforce the laws already on the books.
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