U.S. Attorney’s office, ATF announce joint initiative focused on machine gun conversion devices in Texas

Operation Texas Kill Switch is aimed at heightening awareness

A handful of fully automatic conversion devices is displayed for a photograph, above semi-automatic pistols, some with conversion devices installed making them fully automatic, at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), National Services Center, Thursday, March 2, 2023, in Martinsburg, W.Va. Machine guns have been illegal in the U.S. for decades, but in recent years the country has seen a new surge of weapons capable of automatic fire. Small pieces of plastic or metal used to convert legal guns into homemade machine guns are helping to fuel gun violence. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (Alex Brandon, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

SAN ANTONIO – Federal prosecutors and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are taking aim at devices that can turn legal firearms into illegal machine guns.

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas Jaime Esparza and Assistant Special Agent in Charge Robert Topper for the ATF Houston Field Division announced a joint initiative, “Operation Texas Kill Switch,” at a Monday morning press conference. The operation’s target is machine gun conversion devices, commonly known as “switches,” and the people who possess, manufacture, or sell them.

The U.S. Attorneys for the Northern, Southern, and Eastern Districts are also involved in the initiative.

The ATF has been warning of the increased prevalence of the devices, which can be made of metal or plastic and even printed with 3D printers.

They convert commercial handguns into automatic weapons. The switch itself is considered a machine gun because it allows a gun to fire multiple rounds with one trigger pull. In many cases, their firing power outpaces military-grade machine guns, Topper said.

Topper and Esparza also said they have a particular appeal to young people and have contributed to deaths across the country.

Between 2017 and 2023, Texas-based ATF agents seized 991 switches; 490 of those, 49%, were seized just last year, a press release stated.

“These ‘Switches’ as they are often called on the streets, not only pose a serious threat to those living in our communities but a unique and deadly threat to law enforcement. Simply possessing one of these devices is a federal crime and we will work endlessly in conjunction with our United States Attorney’s Office in addition to our local, state, and federal partners to identify and prosecute these crimes,” said Special Agent in Charge Michael Weddel for ATF Houston in a press release.

The agencies are collaborating with local and state agencies to identify the devices.

They’re also asking the public to reach out to law enforcement if they are aware of someone with a switch.

From now until Aug. 31, Crime Stoppers will offer rewards of up to $5,000 for anonymous tips leading to the apprehension or prosecution of those who possess switches or 3D printers being used to manufacture them. Information may also be submitted directly to ATF online.

It’s illegal to own a conversion device and the charge could carry a sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison.

About the Authors

Julie Moreno has worked in local television news for more than 25 years. She came to KSAT as a news producer in 2000. After producing thousands of newscasts, she transitioned to the digital team in 2015. She writes on a wide variety of topics from breaking news to trending stories and manages KSAT’s daily digital content strategy.

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

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