New operation aims to get illegal machine guns off Texas streets

A statewide initiative was announced Monday by the DOJ and ATF to stop illegal machinegun conversion devices from being produced and sold.

grand prairie, Texas — On Monday, the U.S. Attorneys for all districts of Texas and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) announced "Operation Texas Kill Switch". It is a statewide initiative to stop illegal machinegun conversion devices, often known as "switches," and get them off the streets.

It is a tiny piece of plastic, often made on a 3D printer, to convert a handgun into a machinegun.

In Grand Prairie, ATF Special Agent Jared Lowe demonstrated the difference between having a switch and not on his weapon. Without the switch, only one shot was fired each time he pulled the trigger, but once he turned the switch in place, his pistol became fully automatic. Lowe was able to rapid fire 30 rounds in 1.8 seconds.

"This round could impact 200 yards down the road. And it could impact a child playing on a playground. It could impact a vehicle driving down the road. It could impact a home," he described. "These bullets are going to be all over the place." 

As small as a piece of Lego, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Leigha Simonton held up an example of a switch. "This one inch piece of plastic is killing people," she said. "A shooter can pull the trigger just once and the gun will fire continuously until the magazine is empty."

Simonton said between 2017 and 2023, Texas-based ATF agents seized 991 switches — 490 of those were in the last year. They are being manufactured exponentially, and often sold over social media by adults and juveniles. 

Criminals are making a significant amount of money from these switches. It costs about 8 cents to 3D print, but one piece sells between $100 to $400.

"You guys have seen it. You guys have covered this stuff here in the greater DFW metroplex. You know what I'm talking about," ATF dallas Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Boshek told journalists.

In a 2022 shooting in Deep Ellum, officials confirm a switch was used in that incident where five people were shot and two people were killed.

He said, "One of our biggest fears in ATF and law enforcement around the country is the fear of a mass shooting with one of these devices."

A switch itself is considered an illegal machinegun. Even if it's not attached to a gun, it is illegal to possess.

With Operation Texas Kill Switch until August 31, 2024, Crime Stopper programs across the state are offering up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest or prosecution of people who have or manufacture machinegun conversion devices. 

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