Not just Glocks, actually. The Violence Policy Center’s Kristen Rand (and a lot of other gun control activists) want the ATF to broadly reclassify semi-automatic firearms as machine guns, and it’s an idea that will likely gain more traction in the gun control lobby if Republicans take back one or both chambers of Congress in the midterms. With no chance of new gun control laws passing on Capitol Hill and the Supreme Court likely to undo some of the existing infringements already on the books, the White House and the executive branch agencies are going to be one of the only places where groups like the VPC can expect to find any traction, and they’re aiming big.
Rand’s argument (one that the gun control group Brady has also made in a recent lawsuit) is that many models of semi-automatic firearms are “readily converted” into machine guns, which would subject them and their owners to the provisions of the National Firearms Act. As evidence, Rand and others point to the increase in the number of firearms recovered by police that have been illegally adapted with auto sears or switches that enable the guns to fire continuously. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that last year police in the city recovered more than 300 firearms that had been illegally modified to full-auto, and lays out in detail the struggles that law enforcement have in trying to combat their growing popularity among the city’s criminal class. The switches are small and easily available, both from online shippers who sent the switches from China and those who make their own on 3D printers, which is why Rand says the focus should be on the guns themselves.
In July, Democrats in the U.S. Senate introduced a bill to establish “a coordinated national strategy to prevent or intercept the importation and trafficking of automatic gun conversion devices.”
“Gun violence is an epidemic, and lawmakers must do all we can to combat this horrific threat — including by stopping the flow of illegal gun-modification devices into our society,” says U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, a lead sponsor.
With switches, though, the effort might be too late, says Kristen Rand, government affairs director for the nonprofit Violence Policy Center, which advocates for gun control. She says concentrating on the devices is “probably a lost cause.”
“The focus should be on why so many firearms are so easily converted to full auto,” Rand says, noting that Glocks and other guns can easily be modified. “Manufacturers must bear some of the responsibility to design their guns to be more resistant to conversion.”
From 2018 through late September, 643 of the 706 modified automatic weapons recovered by the Chicago police were Glock handguns, records show.
A spokeswoman for Glock didn’t respond to questions or interview requests.
Rand says ATF should consider using its authority to reclassify certain types of firearms that are easily converted into fully automatic weapons. Other firearms besides Glocks also are “readily convertible” into machine guns by machining or adding a few parts, she says.
“ATF should be looking at using their existing authority to classify some of these firearms as ‘machine guns’ as they did in the 1980s with the KG-9, MAC-10 and STEN,” Rand says. “This is a classic example of how the gun industry escapes responsibility for problems of their own making.”
If concentrating on the switches is a “lost cause” then so is focusing on the gun. After all, we’re talking about hundreds of millions of firearms that would fall under the type of re-classification Rand and other anti-gun activists would like to see from the ATF. But for Rand and other anti-gun activists, that’s not a bug, but a feature. In fact, the more guns that are re-classified the better.
At best the vast majority of U.S. gun owners would have to register their guns with the federal government and pay a $200 per gun fee or else become a criminal subject to ten years in an federal prison for possession of an unregistered machine gun. At worst, the Biden administration and Attorney General Merrick Garland could argue that since the Hughes Amendment prohibits the registration of any machine gun made after 1986, tens of millions of Americans need to hand over their legally purchased and lawfully owned pistols and rifles. Either one would be the most significant victory the gun control lobby has ever achieved, though one that would face an immediate court challenge.
The Supreme Court has already declared that arms that are in common use are, prima facie, protected by the Second Amendment. Only those arms that are dangerous and “unusual” fall outside of the Second Amendment’s protections, and it’s hard to argue with a straight face that semi-automatic firearms aren’t in common use for a variety of lawful purposes. I have no idea what would happen if “readily converted” meets “dangerous and unusual” inside the Court’s chambers, but if the gun control lobby gets its way we’re all going to find out soon enough.