What should the penalty be for having a machine gun conversion device?

SAN ANTONIO – Federal and local law enforcement are teaming up to crack down on a tool that can be used to convert a handgun into a machine gun. This is called a machine gun conversion device, but it is more commonly called a “switch.”

They allow the shooter to fire in a “fully automatic” manner, discharging dozens of rounds with a simple pull of the trigger. Regular semi-automatic firearms require a separate trigger for each shot fired.

Except in very limited circumstances, possession of a switch is illegal, because the National Firearms Act classifies the switch itself as a machine gun. This means that it carries the same penalties.

Criminals are increasingly using these switches across the country.

These devices are very small, the size of a Lego, but they can cause significant damage.

“They possess the ability to convert semi-automatic firearms into fully automatic machine guns,” says Robert Topper, assistant special agent in charge of the ATF’s Houston Field Division. “In some cases, this rate of fire exceeds that of military-grade machine guns.”

RELATED | A small, inexpensive device that converts handguns into machine guns is on the rise in the United States, linked to ambush in Converse

We’ve seen them used in shootings here in San Antonio.

Joe-Isaac Yanez, 19 at the time, was one of the suspected gunmen arrested for a deadly ambush in Converse in December.

You see two people get out of a car and unload dozens of rounds of ammunition into another vehicle parked nearby.

A 22-year-old woman was killed in the shooting.

Records show the victim was threatened before this happened. She was told she “couldn’t outrun a switch.”

“We have seen a large increase in the number of switches on our streets across Texas, and they are extremely popular among juveniles,” said U.S. Attorney Jaime Esparza, who covers the Western District of Texas.

From 2017 to 2023, ATF agents in Texas seized nearly a thousand switches, and to give you a better idea of ​​this rapid increase, about half of them were seized in the last calendar year.

“We have seen here in San Antonio that firearms are often modified with switches or machine gun conversion devices after being stolen from law-abiding citizens,” Topper said.

He claims guns are stolen from unlocked cars, modified with a switch, then used in crimes.

We have been discussing these devices with ATF officials for months now.

Topper tells us that criminals can obtain them online, from foreign countries, or they can be 3D printed.

He notes that if you are caught in possession of one of these devices, it carries a hefty federal penalty.

“Operation Texas Kill Switch” is a new effort to seize illegal switches in Texas. It’s a partnership between law enforcement and anonymous tip lines like Crimestoppers, which allows you to report people using or making switches.

But with their growing popularity, will it be enough?

The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office tells us they see switches all the time.

Sheriff Javier Salazar said deputies found several during a raid in the Southwest last month.

“We found several weapons that we believe are equipped with switches that would make them fully automatic weapons,” Salazar told us at the scene.

Here is the full statement from the BCSO today:

Unfortunately, Bexar County Sheriff’s deputies have been confronted with an increasing number of illegally converted semi-automatic weapons turned into fully automatic firearms by “switchers.” These dangerous devices and weapons pose a direct threat to law enforcement and our community. During stops and searches, it is not uncommon for police officers to discover several weapons equipped with switches or seize single switches intended to transform semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic firearms.

These devices and weapons have no place in our community, and it is imperative that we all work together to keep our community safe.

Furthermore, we have found that the majority of illegal weapons are stolen from vehicles. This problem can be easily avoided by following a few simple steps. We strongly urge community members to refrain from leaving firearms in their vehicles overnight, remove all valuables from their vehicles, and most importantly, lock their vehicles.

Esparza says the Bexar County district attorney’s office is one of the few in Texas studying how it can create consequences under state law.

“We’re very afraid of what will happen if we don’t start solving this problem,” Esparza said.

Bexar County Prosecutor Joe Gonzales tells us his office actively cracks down on crimes related to gun trading and is committed to prosecuting these cases under state law.

The Bexar County Prosecutor’s Office is committed to prosecuting crimes related to gun trading under state law. Although we cannot provide specific details on pending cases, we review all submitted cases individually. If we find enough evidence to prove a criminal case, we will prosecute. Bexar County actively enforces firearms crimes to improve public safety.

Through August 31, local Crime Stoppers programs will offer cash rewards for information leading to the arrest or prosecution of those who possess switches or the 3D printers used to make them. To be eligible for cash rewards, tipsters must provide information to their local Crime Stoppers program. Tipsters can also use **TIPS to connect to a Crime Stoppers program in their area. Tips can be submitted 24 hours a day and anonymity is guaranteed by law. Information can also be submitted directly to the ATF at www.atf.gov/contact/atf-tips.

“Today is an important step in alerting those who tamper with switches and who use switches,” said U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani. “We will hold you to account. My office, joining forces with the ATF and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Eastern, Western, and Northern Districts, will do everything in our power to continue to make our communities safer by stemming the flow of change.

“Today’s important initiative is intended to raise awareness of illegal machine gun talk devices, also known as ‘switches,'” said Michael Weddel, Special Agent in Charge of Alcohol, Tobacco , Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “The current threat comes from MCDs which easily transform a firearm into a machine gun. These “interrupters,” as they are often called on the street, not only pose a serious threat to those who live in our communities, but also a unique and deadly threat to law enforcement. Simply possessing one of these devices is a federal crime and we will work tirelessly with our U.S. Attorney’s Office as well as our local, state and federal partners to identify and prosecute these criminals.