Tiny, illegal device turning handguns into automatic weapons popping up around Lowcountry

It’s a small device that turns a regular handgun into an automatic weapon. Police say this piece of technology inflicts maximum damage with minimal accuracy.
Published: Sep. 2, 2022 at 1:00 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 6, 2022 at 7:09 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - It’s a small device that turns a regular handgun into an automatic weapon, and police say this piece of technology inflicts maximum damage with minimal accuracy.

It’s also seeing concerning growth in popularity across the country and here at home.

A switch, or Glock switch, is a quarter-sized device that slides into the back of a handgun and converts it into an automatic weapon.

“It’ll expend as many rounds as in the magazine with one trigger pull,” North Charleston Police Lt. Fred Hoose says.

The small mechanism is illegal both on the state and federal level to sell, transport, or own, Hoose says.

When compared to a normal handgun, which shoots about 15 rounds in 10 seconds, a handgun with a Glock switch can fire 40 rounds in two seconds or less, according to Jeremy Godsave with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“It’s extremely difficult—actually it’s nearly impossible—to be accurate,” Godsave says.

The reason accuracy is affected to such an extreme degree is that the design of a regular handgun is not conducive to shooting so many rounds in such a short period of time. Police say converting a handgun into an automatic weapon makes it far more dangerous and deadly for innocent bystanders.

“More rounds come out; it’s kind of like a shotgun blast,” Hoose says. “They go everywhere: they go up, they go left and right. The more rounds go out, the more people that get struck by the gunfire.”

Glock switches—small, illegal mechanisms that convert a handgun into an automatic weapon— have...
Glock switches—small, illegal mechanisms that convert a handgun into an automatic weapon— have been seen in multiple jurisdictions in the Lowcountry in the past year.(Live 5)

Glock switches are not a new type of technology, Godsave says, but what is new is that they’re popping up all over the country.

“We’re just now seeing these on the streets,” he says. “We have recovered multiple Glock switches on violent crime targets here in the Lowcountry. We do have several pending cases for federal prosecution at this point.”

Deputies in Charleston and Dorchester Counties have each seen one in the past year. Charleston Police say they’ve recovered at least a dozen, and while North Charleston Police did not have an exact number, the department has seen them numerous times.

“We’ve seen several on search warrants for shootings and murders,” Hoose says. “Our narcotics unit has found some in their search warrants, and patrol sees some.”

One of the recent examples of a Glock switch used in a crime was in June on McKnight Street in North Charleston, according to Hoose.

Seventeen-year-old Kendall Ancrum was shot in the early morning and later declared dead.

“I’m pretty fairly certain that a switch was used based on the rate of fire,” Hoose says. “You could tell that the victim was only hit a couple of times and the trees were hit and all this kind of stuff.”

Law enforcement says people are 3D printing Glock switches. They’re also getting them online and from overseas and then distributing them throughout the U.S.

“ATF had a nationwide case in 2020 where we figured out that one particular company had smuggled over 4,000 of these into the country,” Godsave says.

And it’s not hobby collectors or hunters with Glock switches in their arsenal, Hoose says.

“People that have these switches are our most violent criminals and they are involved in drugs and gang activity,” he says. “They’re not concerned with the safety of the community.”

The safety of the community is exactly why both local and federal law enforcement want people to know what these devices are and just how dangerous they can be.

“We’ve tried to educate not only law enforcement, but the general public as well, to the not only the dangers of these things but to get the message out that they’re highly illegal as well,” Godsave says.

To submit a tip about a Glock switch or other crime, visit the ATF website.