Federal Prosecutor: Most Glock chips in Mobile are homemade on 3D printers

Published: Jan. 20, 2023 at 6:25 PM CST
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Most of the machine gun conversion devices showing up on city streets in recent months have been homemade, according to the top federal prosecutor in southern Alabama.

Those devices – known as Glock switches, or chips – can transform semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic guns capable of firing many rounds with one pull of the trigger. The problem, as demonstrated by firearms experts in Mobile in May, is that the altered guns are hard to control.

Nationally, according to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Glock chips are coming from China, often across the Mexico border. But the acting U.S. attorney in Mobile, Sean Costello, told FOX10 News that the weapons seized in Mobile seem to be more home grown.

“Only a couple of them have been machine manufactured,” he said. “But the vast majority of them are actually 3D printed. So as far as what the sources of those are, we’re still looking into it, but it appears that at least some of them are being manufactured locally.”

Law enforcement officials have said they are an increasingly common scourge on Mobile’s streets and across the country. East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore in Louisiana, for instance, said his office had seen more than 80 cases involving those guns over the past two years.

Costello said that his office has gotten convictions in a half-dozen cases and is working seven more cases.

Investigators say Glock chips played a role in a New Year’s Eve shooting in downtown Mobile that left one dead and eight wounded. They also say they believe Darrius Dewayne Rowser, the man accused of shooting four people at the Paparazzi Lounge in November, had one of those guns.

Neither Rowser nor alleged New Year’s Eve shooter Thomas Earl Thomas Jr. has yet been charged with federal firearms violations. But Costello said the U.S. Attorney’s Office has made prosecution of cases involved Glock switches a priority.

“If we have sufficient evidence to prove that someone committed a crime using one of these firearms, we will prosecute it,” he said. “That’s our commitment, not only to our partners, but to the community.”

Possession of Glock switches is not a crime under Alabama law. Even under federal law, it is a relatively minor offense – technically, failure to register a machine gun. The base offense level under advisory guidelines starts imprisonment at 27 months, although punishment can be more severed based on the defendant’s criminal record and other factors.

A judge this week, for instance, sentenced Austin Jaden Jones to almost six years in prison. Mobile police found Glock switches during an apartment raid in June. Court records indicate that Jones cut himself trying to destroy the switches with a hammer and scissors as officers were coming in. Investigators found Jones’ blood and DNA on the guns.

No one yet has been charged in Mobile with manufacturing the conversion devices. And while the idea of producing Glock chips on a 3D printer may seem exotic, Costello said it is not a particularly sophisticated task.

“They can be made almost anywhere by almost anyone,” he said. “That’s part of the reason we’re trying to get the public to understand that these things by themselves, they look small; they look innocuous. But the devices, themselves, are actually machine guns.”

If investigators can identify a local source for these switches, Costello said, it might reduce the number of these converted guns that are on the street.

“We hope that we can, that we can cut off the source of supply – that we can identify those and dissuade anybody else from getting into this,” he said.


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