LOS ANGELES – The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t slowed federal authorities in Los Angeles from actively working to track down thousands of illegal machine gun conversion kits that have been imported into the U.S. from other countries.
The converters, often referred to as 'Glock converter switches,' are smaller than the size of a coin but can turn a Glock pistol into a fully-automatic weapon.
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Agents from the ATF, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives, are concerned these devices could get into the hands of criminals, especially at a time when gun sales are on the rise.
“It’s a metal piece, actually three pieces. They are placed in the back of the slide here and convert this firearm to a fully automatic firearm,” said Stephen Galloway, assistant special agent in charge for the ATF in Los Angeles. “If you had a high capacity magazine, you’re taking about 30 rounds going down or being shot at one time.”
The devices themselves are considered machine guns and they’re illegal for anyone to own.
Galloway says the ATF has been tracking shipments of these devices from overseas but some are even being made right here in Southern California.
“We have seen cases here in L.A. where these are manufactured at home or within a machine shop,” Galloway said.
Red Rifle gun shop owner Jack Brandhorst has never handled a switch but can take a gun apart in seconds and showed us exactly how someone would install it.
It concerns him that someone would seek out an illegal device like a converter.
“I can’t speak to what people are thinking. We get a lot of customers in here that want stuff people don’t have – they see it in movies. They want to be that bad mamajama on the block, but it’s serious and it’s also very dangerous,” Brandhorst said.
Brandhorst said he hasn’t had any customers ever ask him about these converters, which only work on Glock-brand handguns, but some have been curious about fully auto weapons.
“I have had idiots ask how to turn a rifle into a fully auto, which, I send them on their merry way,” Brandhorst said.
For Galloway, a former police officer, it’s a scary thought.
“It’s quite fearful speaking from the perspective of a former street officer showing up knowing someone may have a machine gun and I don’t have the fire power to compete with that,” Galloway said.
Galloway added that in one of the ATF’s cases, they identified 4,000 converter switches smuggled into the U.S. and have managed to recover more than 3,000 of them. But hundreds from that shipment are still out there somewhere and being made by other manufacturers.
“These are dangerous and we’re doing everything in our power to take these off the streets,” Galloway said.