3D printers being used by criminals to transform pistols into machine guns, say authorities

Federal prosecutors in Texas issued a warning on Monday regarding the potential use of 3D printers to create small plastic blocks that can turn pistols into machine guns. These printers, which are capable of generating car parts and jewelry, can be utilized to create dangerous “switch” inserts. The state of Texas is the latest to take action against this deadly threat.

In an effort to combat the use of machine gun conversion devices, also known as switches or auto-sears, U.S. attorneys have launched “Operation Texas Kill Switch.” This statewide initiative aims to crack down on the production and distribution of these dangerous tools, which can be made within minutes using a standard 3D printer. Unfortunately, these switches have already been used in several shootings across cities like Houston, Sacramento, and Washington D.C. With this operation in place, authorities hope to prevent further tragedies from occurring.

Leigha Simonton, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, drew attention to a small piece of plastic that is causing havoc. Measuring just one inch, the plastic block bears a striking resemblance to a LEGO or k’nex block. However, it is responsible for the loss of many lives. “Machine gun conversion devices can turn legally owned firearms into weapons of war, which is not what the Second Amendment was intended for. Criminals who possess such devices become dangerous killers, making our streets unsafe and resembling war zones,” said Simonton.

Until August 31st, Texas’ Local Crime Stopper programs are providing monetary rewards to individuals who provide information that leads to the capture or conviction of those in possession of switches or 3D printers being used for their production. Additionally, prosecutors are encouraging local law enforcement to team up with federal agents regarding switch-related cases.

According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a regular 3D printer can produce approximately 100 plastic switches in just 72 hours. It is worth noting that a gun outfitted with these switches is capable of firing shots at a faster rate than the standard-issue M-4 machine gun that is issued to United States soldiers.

Across the United States, federal agents have noticed a significant increase in the number of switches being used. According to the ATF, there has been an astonishing 570% increase in the number of machine gun converters seized between 2017 and 2021 as compared to the period between 2012 and 2016. This trend is also reflected in Texas, where ATF agents have seized almost 1,000 switches between 2017 and 2023, with half of them being recovered in the last year alone.

On Monday, federal gun agents reported that social media platforms are where switches are frequently sold. These switches are advertised to both minors and adults.

3D printers used across U.S. to make switches

According to Formlabs, 3D printing is the process of constructing three-dimensional objects by layering materials using computer-aided design models. Although the technology has been around since the 1980s, recent advancements have made the printers more affordable and accessible. This has opened up opportunities for various industries, including healthcare, dentistry, jewelry, and entertainment to incorporate 3D printing into their processes.

According to prosecutors, it is possible to create kill switches within minutes using a 3D printer and materials like metal or plastic. These switches can be easily inserted into the butt of a gun, enabling the shooter to fire multiple rounds with the single pull of a trigger.

Last year, a man in Mississippi received a 14-year prison sentence for his involvement in converting semi-automatic weapons into machine guns using switches he created from 3D printers.

On Monday, it was reported that a man from Ohio has been sentenced to three years in prison for using a 3D-printed switch on his Glock. Even though he fired in self-defense, federal prosecutors claimed that he still broke the law by possessing the switch. According to prosecutors, the National Firearms Act considers possession of such switches illegal, since the switch itself is classified as a machine gun, except in very specific circumstances.

A man in Indianapolis has been sentenced to seven years in prison after confessing to selling switches that he had produced using a 3D printer.

According to Jeffrey C. Boshek II, the Special Agent in Charge for ATF Dallas Field Division, the increasing availability of machine gun conversion devices in Texas and its surrounding areas is a concerning trend. Despite this, he assures the public that the ATF, along with its partners, is making every effort to impede the distribution of these devices and prevent the potential destruction they can cause. Having been in the business for a long time, Boshek II emphasizes the urgency of this issue and the importance of taking swift action to curb its impact on society.

States try to combat surge in switches

According to Kristina Mastropasqua, a spokesperson for the ATF, federal agents and state authorities are currently dealing with a surge in the use of switches that enable shooters to fire multiple rounds in just a matter of minutes.

According to the National Firearms Act, owning a conversion device is considered as possessing a machine gun, which can lead to severe consequences. The maximum punishment for owning a conversion device is 10 years of imprisonment in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Several states are initiating programs to eradicate switches.

Last week, federal prosecutors in Oklahoma disclosed that a man was sentenced for being in possession of a machine gun conversion device. This development came as a part of an initiative that was launched in November, aimed at cracking down on such devices. In another state, New York, a bill was introduced to prohibit the sale of “convertible pistols” – firearms that can be easily transformed into a machine gun using a conversion kit. Similarly, Maryland Governor Wes Moore signed a bill last month, which also included a ban on switches.

In March, the city of Chicago filed a lawsuit against Glock for producing firearms that have the ability to be transformed into machine guns with the use of switches.

According to Mastropasqua, the rise in demand for machine guns among criminal groups poses not only a threat to public safety but also endangers law enforcement officials who often face heavily armed criminals. It is important to note that the production, sale, and possession of machine gun conversion devices is illegal.

The report, initially published on USA TODAY, reveals that criminals are utilizing 3D printers to transform pistols into machine guns, according to the federal authorities.

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