“Switches” are becoming an issue. Our organization is very supportive of law enforcement. However, as Second Amendment aficionados, we also need to help our friends in blue (and the press – somehow) with accurate information about firearms and their uses. In the greater Philadelphia area and most larger cities in America, drug crime is amplified with the use of firearms. The big thing in Philly is to find a person who knows how to use a 3D printer (a device that actually creates something three dimensional out of melted plastic thread following a computer program’s instruction) and make a new sear device. A sear is the mechanical part of a semi-automatic firearm trigger assembly that permits one shot for every pull of the trigger. Depending on the sear for a particular firearm, trigger pull weight and how it “breaks” during a shooting sequence can be adjusted through gunsmithing. A proud gun owner is one who demonstrates how nicely their trigger works to generally assist with accuracy.

However, very specific firearms have the ability to be modified with parts having different geometry to cause the trigger assemblies to work in a much different way. The most prevalent method these days is the installation of a plastic module that replaces the semi-auto sear in Glock handguns. Called an auto sear, these devices do not reset the trigger. Instead, one pull of the trigger in this specific gun platform causes the handgun to continue shooting rounds until the magazine is empty.

There are other sear sets for guns that can be made to operate in full-auto mode, but there aren’t that many. It is not commonplace nor desired for lawful use, as a fully automatic firearm often suffers from muzzle rise, or the additive effects of multiple recoil actions that cause the muzzle to physically drift upwards. Depending on the amount of recoil relating to both caliber and firearm weight, it may take a bit of muscle to controllably shoot a fully automatic gun.

However, for seasoned shooters, an occasional opportunity to shoot a full auto gun can be fun. This is why auto sears that can be actuated on and off (semi versus full auto) have been called “giggle switches” for decades.

Firearms that shoot in fully automatic mode have required BATFE authorization since the enactment of the National Firearms Act of 1934. A Form 4 authorization with a $200 tax stamp is required for lawful ownership of such a gun.

But criminals…commit crimes.

Individuals have figured out that a $400 3D printer can be used to manufacture auto sear devices. The printers are not taxed nor registered, since law abiding people typically don’t but them with the intent of making auto sears. Criminals are happy to buy these devices for their Glock handguns, essentially making them handheld machine guns. They are difficult to control, completely inaccurate, but can deliver a lot of firepower in a very short period of time. This past March there was a shooting not two miles from my house where at least one gunman shot 11 teenagers getting off of a bus. The amount of time it took to shoot 30 rounds was quite short.

Neighboring Montgomery County’s District Attorney is suggesting a state prohibition on auto sears. Other states have such prohibitions, but because federal rules are broken, these NFA-based crimes are not handled by local law enforcement and often overlooked. The DA wants to have more tools to go after these criminals.

The bigger problem is that in many cities a lot of crime is left unchecked. In an NRA Instructor-level class I had two attendees who were law enforcement officers from two different departments; one was from Philly. When asked about their agency’s approach to law enforcement, the Philly officer said that their people ask folks to just “keep it down” and thus spend more of their overworked focus on chasing serious crime. Their George Soros-funded DA is not keen on filling up jails. Crimes committed in nighttime hours have created a new term – “out by lunch”, meaning they will be released the next day to free up the legal system. A Montgomery County-based officer explained that folks coming up from Philly thinking they are still within the city boundaries find that MontCo officers will put them in jail, period. A lieutenant from a suburban agency told me about a man who was arrested that had a 35-page rap sheet; one sheet contains about 20 documented infractions. This dude went to the MontCo jail where he resides today.

Back to giggle switches. Like a lot of things, this term has lost favor to a shorter version – just “switch”. Law enforcement and the press have taken to this term that really doesn’t explain much but has become another one of those “do something” topics. There are several parts to firearms that could be called a switch, so now we all need to learn how the term has been applied to the criminally intended way to create a fully automatic firearm.

As upstanding individuals exercising our Constitutional rights, we need to be vigilant and provide calm and knowledgeable information to those who are simply concerned about criminal use of a gun. We all have this same concern, but our underlying opinion is to not lump us into the category of Bad Guys for conducting the lawful and ethical use of firearms. 

By the way, once again please tell your shooting buddies to make sure they are registered to vote in the General Election in November. As we found out in the last U.S. Senate race, every vote matters. If 150,000 gun owners voted for someone other than the now-junior Senator from our state, the election outcome would have been quite different.

Todd Ellis – President