We're U.S. attorneys for Texas. We need your help fighting this rising gun violence threat

The devices transform regular handguns into fully automatic weapons that can fire numerous rounds with a single squeeze of the trigger.

Leigha Simonton, Alamdar Hamdani, Damien Diggs and Jaime Esparza
Austin American-Statesman

A half-inch piece of plastic is making Texas much more dangerous. It’s called a machine gun conversion device, or “switch.”

Switches transform regular handguns, which require a separate trigger pull for each round fired, into fully automatic weapons that can fire multiple rounds with a single squeeze of the trigger. One of these simple but deadly devices can be manufactured in a few hours using a commercially available 3D printer. Installation is as simple as slotting the device into the butt of the gun and takes less than 60 seconds.

That’s when things get even scarier.

Special Agent James O'Flaherty, a firearms instructor coordinator for ATF field agents, demonstrates a handgun fitted with a "Glock switch" in Houston. (Credit: Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle)

A switch-equipped Glock emits not the staccato of individual shots, but one long, menacing thrum. Incredibly, a gun equipped with a switch fires faster than the standard M-4 machine gun issued to U.S. military servicemembers.

Switches have been linked to a number of homicides, including a mass shooting at a sweet sixteen party in Dadeville, AL, where four young people were slain; a drive-by shooting in Cincinnati, OH, where an innocent 11-year-old boy was killed; and a law enforcement shooting in Houston, TX where Officer William Jeffrey was gunned down during a narcotics arrest.

Alarmingly, these devices have acquired a certain macabre cachet, especially among juveniles. Criminals brag about selling switches on social media and the devices have even made their way into rap lyrics.

Without serious intervention, it’s only a matter of time until these devices wreak more havoc in our communities.

We’ve recently seen a dramatic uptick in the number of switches on our streets. In just five years, the number of switches recovered by law enforcement nearly sextupled. Between 2017 and 2023, Texas-based ATF agents seized 991 switches; 490 of those, 50 percent, were seized just last year.

Notably, the National Firearms Act classifies the switch itself as a machine gun because the definition includes any “combination of parts designed and intended for use in converting a weapon to a machinegun.”

And, except in very limited circumstances, it’s illegal to possess a machine gun – meaning it’s illegal to possess a switch. Simply possessing a switch – not to mention firing one – carries a term of imprisonment of up to ten years.

In partnership with the ATF, our offices have already prosecuted numerous conversion device cases against both sellers and possessors.

In Fort Worth, for example, a man who bragged that he’d 3D printed more than 400 switches per day – and even showed an undercover agent how to slot them into his AR-15 – was sentenced to more than seven years in federal prison. In Beaumont, a man who admitted he used a switch-equipped Glock to bolster his drug trafficking business was sentenced to eight and a half years. In San Antonio, an avowed anti-government extremist who 3D printed switches for AR-15s was sentenced to more than eight years for felon in possession. And in Houston, a man who allegedly shot and wounded three police officers using a switch-equipped pistol is awaiting trial; if convicted, he faces up to life in federal prison.

But federal law enforcement can’t handle this problem alone. Urgent action is needed.

That’s why today, we’re launching Operation Texas Kill Switch, an initiative aimed at heightening awareness of illegal machine gun conversion devices and increasing our prosecution of those who manufacture, sell, and possess them.

Part of Operation Texas Kill Switch is helping state and local law enforcement identify machine gun conversion devices and encouraging them to collaborate with the feds on investigations and prosecutions. Local officers need to know that U.S. Attorney’s offices are underutilized resources when it comes to conversion device cases and that we, the leaders of the Texas offices, are focused on using our resources to prosecute those who create, traffic in, or possess these switches.

Another part is urging the public to be on alert and to reach out to law enforcement when they become aware of someone having a switch.

 We’re proud to announce we’re partnering with Crime Stopper programs statewide to combat the proliferation of these illegal devices.

From now until Aug. 31, local Crime Stopper programs will offer rewards of up to $5,000 for information leading to the apprehension or prosecution of those who possess switches or 3D printers being used to manufacture them. To be eligible for cash rewards, tipsters must provide information to their local Crime Stoppers program. Tipsters may also use **TIPS to be connected to a Crime Stoppers program in their area. Tips can be submitted 24 hours a day, and anonymity is guaranteed by law. Information may also be submitted directly to ATF at .

Ridding our streets of machine gun conversion devices is one the best tools we have to reduce gun violence. We intend to do just that.

Leigha Simonton, Alamdar Hamdani, Damien Diggs and Jaime Esparza are United States Attorneys for the Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western Districts of Texas, respectively. Nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, they are the chief federal law enforcement officers in the state of Texas. They wrote this exclusively for the American-Statesman.