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FOCUS | Dime-sized device is creating mini-machine guns in Louisville

The number of "Glock switches" seized this year is already up over 800%.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Non-fatal shootings are down 30% in Louisville this year, from 450 to 314. Murders are down 8%, from 138 to 128. 

But there has been a massive influx of one highly illegal handgun modification.

It's no bigger than a dime, but it turns a semi-automatic Glock pistol into a fully automatic gun. The shooter can empty an entire magazine with one pull of the trigger.

"Over the last three years, we've seen a surge across the United States. Louisville has somewhat followed that trend," Shawn Morrow said, special agent in charge for the Louisville division of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

What Morrow is talking about is a "Glock switch" or an "auto sear". It's a metal or plastic device that attaches to the back of one gun, a Glock, and allows it to function as a mini machine gun.

Credit: WHAS
The green device is a 3D-printed Glock switch. The black device is believed to have been shipped to the US from abroad.

The increased recoil and firepower makes these guns harder to control, and there's a higher chance for collateral damage.

"The chance for someone that's in the vicinity to get harmed goes up greatly," Morrow said.

These devices are illegal because under federal law, no new machine guns can be registered by private persons after 1986. Machine guns built before then can still transfer to new owners, but it requires a lot of paperwork.

There is no requirement to register single shot and semi-auto firearms in Kentucky, but fully-automatic weapons are required to be registered with the ATF.

In 2020, the ATF didn't find a single one of these devices on Kentucky streets. In 2021, 13 were seized by law enforcement. With three months left in 2022, over 125 have been seized, the vast majority in Louisville.

Most Glock switches in Louisville were either 3D printed, or shipped in from another country.

Credit: WHAS
The number of Glock switches seized in Kentucky has gone up over 800% this year. Source: ATF Louisville

Morrow said there have been witness reports of stray bullets from Glock switches hitting bystanders or civilian property, but could not give any examples of specific shootings.

One thing the ATF does have data on is the age group carrying these devices; 75% of Glock switches have been taken from minors.

"We've kind of been in that direction for a while," Dr. Eddie Woods said. Woods is the president of No More Red Dots, a nonprofit that hosts youth diversion programs, food drives and more.

Woods said it's not surprising that so many juveniles are reaching for these guns. He said many kids who are familiar with gang violence feel the need to intimidate others, and social media has made things worse.

"They've created that whole environment with social media. They’ve created that whole arena of violence that they have to participate in," he said.

Woods said offering youth programs like Peace Through the Arts and Peace Basketball League is an important part of the solution, but he says people need to have that one-on-one talk with the person who's engaged in violence.

“Our message to them is we need for you to consider trying to live for your loved one, instead of trying to die for them," Woods said.

Credit: WHAS
Dr. Eddie Woods stands on the porch of the No More Red Dots community house in the Portland neighborhood.

Special Agent Morrow said the ATF is proactive in getting Glock switches off the streets. The agency does have a cyber crimes division that looks into illegal posts selling these devices.

LMPD has seized 2,104 firearms overall this year. 

As of October 2, 126 Louisville juveniles have been charged with Possession of a Handgun by a Minor on a first offense, and 21 have been charged with a second offense or greater.

Eight minors have been charged with Murder and two have been charged with Attempting to Murder a Police Officer. 

Morrow said to get a handle on the problem, they need the community's help.

“Without the community’s help, we’re not able to do our job. We need public support, we need communication from the public to help us keep Louisville safe," Morrow said.

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