Federal Law Follies: Auto Switches Show the Failure of Gun Control Laws…Again…Still

by Tommy Grant

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From the NRA-ILA . . .

In recent years there have been several articles complaining about the proliferation of auto or GLOCK switches (auto sears). These items are used by criminals to illegally modify commonly-owned semiautomatic handguns into machineguns. Those concerned about these items should focus on enforcement of existing federal law.

Reasonable people can question the wisdom of banning the mere possession of inanimate objects, rather than focusing on their intentional misuse. However, no one can deny that the federal government currently has the statutes necessary to confront possession and use of these items.

Federal law, 26 USC § 5845(b), defines a “machinegun” as follows:

…any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger. The term shall also include the frame or receiver of any such weapon, any part designed and intended solely and exclusively, or combination of parts designed and intended, for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun, and any combination of parts from which a machinegun can be assembled if such parts are in the possession or under the control of a person.

Note the language in bold. Firearms that shoot automatically meet the definition of a machinegun. However, even a mere part “designed and intended solely and exclusively… for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun” is itself a machinegun absent any other part of the firearm. Therefore, possession of an auto switch, even without an accompanying receiver, barrel, etc., is possession of a machinegun.

18 USC 922(o) makes clear, “it shall be unlawful for any person to transfer or possess a machinegun” unless it is done through the National Firearm Registration and Transfer Record. Registration of new machineguns for civilian use was frozen in 1986. Therefore, none of the auto switches at issue comply with this mandate. They are all illegal.

Those found in mere possession of an auto switch face up to 10 years imprisonment. (18 USC § 924(a)(2), 26 USC § 5871)

Violent criminals who possess or use an auto switch during the commission of a crime face truly staggering penalties.

18 USC § 924(c) provides,

(c)(1)(A) Except to the extent that a greater minimum sentence is otherwise provided by this subsection or by any other provision of law, any person who, during and in relation to any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime (including a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime that provides for an enhanced punishment if committed by the use of a deadly or dangerous weapon or device) for which the person may be prosecuted in a court of the United States, uses or carries a firearm, or who, in furtherance of any such crime, possesses a firearm, shall, in addition to the punishment provided for such crime of violence or drug trafficking crime—

(B) If the firearm possessed by a person convicted of a violation of this subsection—

(ii) is a machinegun or a destructive device, or is equipped with a firearm silencer or firearm muffler, the person shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 30 years.

(C) In the case of a violation of this subsection that occurs after a prior conviction under this subsection has become final, the person shall—

(ii) if the firearm involved is a machinegun or a destructive device, or is equipped with a firearm silencer or firearm muffler, be sentenced to imprisonment for life.

To put all of that in context, a 2016 report from NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice found that the average prison stay for murder was only 11.7 years.

Given the potential sentences, if the federal government were to vigorously prosecute those found misusing auto switches, anyone with half a brain would treat these items as the equivalent of nuclear waste. Criminals without half a brain would have ample time to improve their cognitive abilities while in a federal penitentiary.

However, there’s reason to believe that the feds aren’t doing all they could on the prosecution front. NRA-ILA has often pointed out the government’s lackluster prosecution figures.

An October 18 piece from the Minneapolis Star Tribune lamenting auto switches discussed a 2022 case involving alleged gang member twin brothers found in possession of illegal machineguns. Initially the state of Minnesota only gave the brothers probation. A press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota explained,

According to court documents, in January of 2022, the brothers were both charged in Hennepin County District Court for possession of machineguns after they were caught in possession of firearms that had each been modified with auto sears. An auto sear, also known as a switch, is a device used to convert a semi-automatic firearm into a fully automatic firearm and is considered a machinegun under federal law. In May, both [brother 1] and [brother 2] pleaded guilty to their Hennepin County charges and were released on terms of probation.

It was only after the brothers were subsequently found in possession — yet again — of firearms and ammunition that the twins were federally prosecuted as felons in possession. They were then sentenced to 30 months (2.5 years) in prison. Possession of a firearm or ammunition by a felon is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

There’s plenty that can and should be done using existing laws before law-abiding gun owners should countenance any further restrictions on their rights.

 

This article originally appeared at nraila.org and is reprinted here with permission. 

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