‘Operation Texas Kill Switch’ | Federal initiative targets devices used to turn firearms into fully automatic weapons

Between 2017 and 2023, Texas ATF agents seized nearly 1,000 machine-gun conversion devices, also known as switches. About half of the seizures took place last year.

SAN ANTONIO — Federal authorities plan to crack down on machine gun conversion devices – also known as “auto sears” or “switches” – as part of a new initiative announced Monday in San Antonio. 

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen a sharp increase in the number of switches on our streets across Texas,” said Jaime Esparza, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas. “Under federal law, switches themselves are considered machine guns.”

Switches are small devices with the capability of turning commercially available firearms into fully automatic weapons.

The devices are made of metal and plastic, according to Robert Topper, a special agent in charge with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). They often come from overseas manufacturers. 

“In some cases, that firing rate outpaces military-grade machine guns,” Topper said.

ATF agents in Texas recovered nearly 1,000 switches between 2017 and 2023. Of those, 50% of the devices were seized last year.

“We’ve seen here in San Antonio that firearms are often modified with switches after they are stolen from law-abiding citizens,” Topper said. “These include foreign manufacturers who illegally import them through e-commerce sites as well as domestic sources. We do what we can to track down the source of those firearms.”

Data on the number of switches gathered by law enforcement in San Antonio could not be immediately provided.  

Esparza referenced the San Antonio case of 35-year-old Mark Ryan Hauser, who was sentenced in a federal court in 2023 to 100 months in prison for one count of felon in possession of a firearm.

Hauser is a three-time convicted felon who posted online that he wanted to kill law enforcement officers, aligning himself with anti-government “Boogaloo” ideologies, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Authorities revealed Hauser used a 3D printer to create various gun parts, including switches.

Esparza also referenced the 2021 killing of Houston police officer William “Bill” Jeffrey, who was shot to death while trying to executive a narcotics warrant alongside other officers. The suspect, who wounded another officer, was killed in the shootout. 

Law enforcement learned the suspect’s firearm was equipped with a switch, allowing the gun to shoot fully automatic.

“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,” said Special Agent in Charge Michael Weddel, of ATF Houston, is quoted as saying in a press release.

Esparza stressed one of the goals of the campaign is for local law enforcement to be on the lookout for the machine-gun conversion devices and partner with federal authorities.

The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office has seen an increasing number of compromised firearms that have been turned into fully automatic guns through switches.

“These dangerous devices and weapons pose a direct threat to law enforcement and our community,” said Deputy Johnny Garcia, BCSO spokesperson. “During apprehensions and search warrants, it is not uncommon for deputies to discover multiple weapons with switches or seize switches alone that are intended to convert semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic firearms. These devices and weapons have no place in our community, and it is imperative that we all work together to keep our community safe.”

“Furthermore, we have seen that the majority of illegal weapons are stolen from vehicles,” Garcia added. “This issue can be easily prevented by following a few simple steps. We strongly urge community members to refrain from leaving firearms in their vehicles overnight, remove all valuables from their vehicles, and most importantly, lock your vehicles.”

Through August 31, Crime Stoppers is offering cash rewards for tips.

Tips can also be provided to ATF at the website here.

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