‘It’s just spraying rounds everywhere’: Tiny, illegal machine gun device surfaces in Ala.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - A small, illegal device that’s been used in mass shootings in the U.S., is now surfacing in cities across Alabama. It’s called an auto sear, but most commonly known as a Glock switch. It converts a Glock handgun, a popular semi-automatic weapon, into a machine gun.
As violent crime continues to climb at an alarming rate in Jefferson County, law enforcement reached out to 6 on Your Side to alert and educate the public.
Glock switches are smaller than a quarter, cheap and unassuming. So much so, Birmingham Police didn’t realize what they were seeing when the first guns equipped with a switch surfaced in the city.
“We knew when we saw these initially, the gun appeared different than the way it was manufactured, so we began inquiring with ATF,” explained BPD Chief Scott Thurmond. “I was shocked because this is a huge danger to our community.”
The device fits onto the back of a Glock and allows the user to switch between semi-automatic and fully automatic. When engaged, the switch overrides the trigger mechanism to function as a machine gun.
“For each pull of the trigger it fires multiple rounds,” added ATF Special Agent Ashley Lightner, who oversees the agency’s cases in Alabama. “It can fire up to a rate of eleven to twelve hundred rounds per minute. It’s very dangerous to innocent bystanders. That is not an accurate weapon.”
Lightner, ATF agents and local officers showed WBRC the firepower at a local range. Using a Glock 17, professionals fired fifteen rounds with the semi-automatic weapon and repeated it with the Glock switch.
It took a little more than a second to fire off those rounds with a Glock switch compared to about six seconds with the semi-automatic.
“There’s a lack of control, it’s just spraying rounds everywhere,” said Thurmond. “It’s not targeted gunfire and so there’s a lot of innocent people that can be injured just by the use of these.”
Of the 75 shots fired by law enforcement professionals, only about a dozen hit the target.
“When they’re inaccurate, what’s concerning about that is if one person is trying to shoot another person, there’s a good chance an innocent bystander is going to be close by, and there’s a strong chance they’re going to be shot,” stated Lightner. “And we’ve seen way too much of that in our community and across this country.”
BPD began seeing Glock switches in Birmingham about a year ago. ATF confirms the frequency has picked up in the Southeast over the last three months.
“We’re hearing it somewhat regularly on ShotSpotter, so we know it’s out there in our city,” added Thurmond.
ShotSpotter is a policing tool that maps shootings across the city. BPD played a recent recording of a ShotSpotter report where they believe a Glock switch is being used. We could plainly hear 26 rounds fired off in seconds.
Earlier this year, BPD recovered a gun with a Glock switch at an officer-involved shooting. While they haven’t faced this fire directly, it’s changing the way officers do their jobs.
“To see that in a handgun, something that can be concealed in someone’s pocket, waistband or somewhere else with the ability to fire numerous rounds extremely quickly, it’s unsettling,” Thurmond said.
According to the ATF, most devices are coming in from outside the country or they’re being made at home, making it easy to find.
“It’s fairly simple,” Lightner acknowledged. “You can get them on the street. We have seen prices over the last few years anywhere from say $15 dollars to $30 dollars online, we’ve seen them go up here lately with the popularity to as much as $150 dollars online. You could probably get them on the streets that cost a lot more than that for up to $1,000 dollars.”
Taking Glock switches off the street requires all levels of government.
“There is not a state law prohibiting Glock switches or machine guns, although there are in other states,” reported Prim Escalona, U.S. Attorney in Alabama’s Northern District. “Alabama doesn’t have that.”
To date, Escalona’s office has prosecuted one case out of Tuscaloosa. It’s important to note, having a Glock switch alone violates federal law.
“It carries up to ten years of a federal prison sentence and can have a fine up to $250,000 dollars,” she explained. “Part of what we want to do is to disrupt and dismantle and take these very dangerous, powerful firearms and Glock switches off the streets before they’re able to be used in a homicide or other violent crime.”
Law enforcement wants the public to know what these devices look like and what they’re capable of. If you see a Glock switch or know someone who has one, you’re asked to call law enforcement.
“There’s going to be parents that find these on guns, there’s going to be people who you know a boyfriend or girlfriend who maybe sees it and we want you to contact us,” Thurmond stated.
Information about Glock switches can be reported to ATF at 1-888-ATF-TIPS or 1-888-283-8477.
Machine guns are not illegal for those who aren’t a prohibited to carry a gun. You can learn more here https://www.atf.gov/firearms
Read more 6 On Your Side Investigates stories here.
Copyright 2022 WBRC. All rights reserved.