State lawmakers this session are moving to curb a small plastic device officials believe is exacerbating gun violence in South Bend and around the state.
The device — commonly called a Glock switch or just a switch — attaches to the back of a handgun and changes what would normally be a single-fire, semi-automatic firearm into a fully automatic weapon. Officials, including South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski, are very concerned about the devices, as they can be cheaply made or bought and can make a handgun fire over 30 rounds in under three seconds.
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A recently proposed bill that's making its way through the legislature seeks to outlaw switches by more clearly defining them as "machine guns," which are already prohibited by state law. Some prosecutors now, including in St. Joseph County, are charging people in possession of the devices with a felony for possession of a machine gun, though Marian County Prosecutor Ryan Mears has called that and “admittedly aggressive” interpretation of the law.
Glock switches are illegal under federal law, but the The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives mostly leaves enforcement up to local authorities. Both the sale and possession of a machine gun are Level 5 Felonies that carry an advisory sentence of three years in prison, but the language is unclear.
The law that prohibits the sale of machine guns specifically outlaws any “part ... designed and intended, for use in converting a weapon into a machine gun,” However, the law outlawing the possession of machine guns doesn’t include such language.
HB1365, authored by Rep. Mitch Gore, D-Indianapolis, would add that language to the possession statute and make clear that those found with a modified handgun face one to six years in prison if convicted. The bill passed the Indiana House in a 68-24 vote Feb. 21 and was referred to the Senate. On March 14, it unanimously passed out of the Corrections and Criminal Law committee.
Local impact of switches
Data from the St. Joseph County Prosecutor's office shows that there were no criminal cases filed related to switches from 2013 to 2021. From 2021 through March of this year, there were 15 instances of people charged with possession of a machine gun.
Of those cases, five defendants pleaded guilty, three cases have been momentarily dismissed while evidence is collected and the other seven cases are still pending.
The South Bend Police Department has only recent begun keeping statistics on the number of switch devices recovered, but Ruszkowski said that, anecdotally, officers have been running into the modified handguns more and more in shooting investigations.
“It’s bad enough when the trigger is pulled once and that bullet enters one,” Ruszkowski said. “But when you’re talking about high-capacity magazine and fully automatic functions, there’s no stability, those rounds could go anywhere into anyone at any moment.”
In a January interview with The Tribune, Ruszkowski said officers see switches on Glock handguns, with many of the devices bearing the Glock logo. Glock, however, does not make or sanction the devices, which also work for other handgun brands, as well as some rifles.
The kicker is that most can be found online for very cheap, or made on a 3D printer in less than 10 minutes.
In Indianapolis, Mears told the IndyStar he supports the new language, saying it provides "certainty" to prosecutors. Mears added that if more switches are taken off the streets, investigators can test the guns against other unsolved shootings to hopefully solve more cases.
In St. Joseph County, Chief Deputy Prosecutor Amy Cressy told The Tribune she feels the law governing machine guns is fine as currently written.
“Anytime you have more verbiage, there’s more for people to argue about. I’m a big fan of straightforward and clear statutes and I think the possession of a machine gun and the definition of a machine gun are incredibly clear,” Cressy said in January.
If the bill does not pass, a court case could limit the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office's ability to file the cases.
A man in Marion County was charged with possessing a machine gun, but his attorney argued the device was not a machine gun. The issue is now pending in the Court of Appeals, where its ruling could determine whether prosecutors are able to charge people possessing modified handguns with illegal possession of a machine gun.
With the Indiana legislature removing requirements for firearm permits last year, if an individual found with a switch isn’t charged with possession of a machine gun, they likely wouldn’t be charged with anything at all.
IndyStar reporter Sarah Nelson contributed to this report.
Email Marek Mazurek at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @marek_mazurek
This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Indiana moves closer to banning device that turns handguns automatic