Federal authorities in Texas cracking down on machine gun-conversion 'switches'

The number of the devices, which convert commercial firearms into automatic weapons, has exploded in recent years, authorities said.

click to enlarge Firearms "switches" such as these can be produced by a 3D printer. - U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
Firearms "switches" such as these can be produced by a 3D printer.
Officials with the U.S. Attorney’s office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on Monday said they're cracking down on the rising use of illegal machine gun-conversion devices.

U.S. Attorneys from across the state held simultaneous press conferences, including one in San Antonio, to unveil “Operation Texas Kill Switch,” a statewide initiative targeting devices known as "switches" that can convert legally procured commercial firearms into a fully automatic weapon weapons that can fire more rapidly than some military-grade guns.

“As U.S. Attorneys and federal law enforcement agents, our offices have been investigating and prosecuting switches for many years, but as the problem continues to escalate, we are determined to do more,” U.S. Attorney Jaime Esparza for the Western District of Texas said in a written statement. “Operation Kill Switch has two main goals. We encourage state and local law enforcement to be on the lookout for machinegun conversion devices, and we urge the public to report switches to law enforcement.”

In a statement, ATF Special Agent in Charge Michael Weddel warned that switches pose a threat to both law enforcement and people living in Texas communities.

“Simply possessing one of these devices is a federal crime and we will work endlessly in conjunction with our United States Attorney’s Office in addition to our local, state, and federal partners to identify and prosecute these crimes," Weddel said.

Switches may be made of metal or plastic, and the inch-long devices can even be manufactured using a 3D printer. They generally slot into the butt of a gun and allow wielder to unleash bursts of rounds with a single pull of the trigger, Justice Department officials said. 

The number of switches recovered by law enforcement has ballooned in recent years, according to federal authorities. Between 2017 and 2023, Texas-based ATF agents seized 991 switches, and about half of those were taken last year.

From now through Aug. 31, Crime Stoppers will offer rewards of up to $5,000 for anonymous tips leading to the apprehension or prosecution of people who possess firearms switches or are producing them with 3D printers, Justice Department and ATF officials said Monday.

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Sanford Nowlin

Sanford Nowlin is editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Current.

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