'Switches' make ordinary handguns much more lethal, officials warn

Local and federal law enforcement agencies say they’ve joined forces to battle the advance of so-called "switches," or small, cheaply made devices which turn a pistol into a machine gun.

At a shooting range, a federal firearms expert fires a shot from a semi-automatic pistol. But, take an easily produced piece of plastic or sheet metal, press it on the back of the weapon and now it's a gun that keeps firing until the shooter pulls his finger off the trigger. That’s what FOX 29 witnessed Tuesday.

They’re known as machine gun conversion devices (MCDs) or switches. Cheaply made in bulk, law enforcement says switches are turning up in crime guns across the region.

Eric DeGree leads the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in the Philadelphia region. He said, "3-D printers are being used to manufacture these, sometimes sheet metal. They’re being made here in the U.S. Other times they’re being brought in from foreign countries like China."

FOX 29 was invited to the Philadelphia Police shooting range to witness the destructive power of a pistol with a switch, and learn about local and federal efforts to limit their distribution and keep them out of the hands of increasingly young shooters.

United States Attorney Jacqueline Romero, of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said, "You’re facing potentially up to 10 years in prison just for having it. You don’t even have to have a gun with it."

Use a pistol with a switch in a crime of violence or drug-related offense and face a mandatory 30 years in prison, warn the feds. Philadelphia police say they saw a nearly 40 percent jump in switches in confiscated guns from 2022 to 2023 and have collected more than 50 so far in 2024.


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Eight Philadelphia students were shot as they waited to board a SEPTA bus on their way home from school Wednesday afternoon. 11 students have been shot in the city on their way to or from school so far this week.

They say a pistol with a switch was used in a shooting that wounded eight people at a SEPTA stop in March, and likely killed Officer Richard Mendez at the airport last year.


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Deputy Commissioner Frank Vanore of the Philadelphia Police said, "Sometimes we’ll have a scene with multiple casings, 20 plus. We know they came from the same guns. We may not have recovered that switch, but we know one was probably there."

Law enforcement warns the summer often brings street violence and the presence of switches invites death.

The accompanying video shows a switch on the back of a pistol with the word Glock on it.  Law enforcement officials tell FOX 29 Glock did not make the switch or place its name on it.