'Outgunned': Holcomb signs bill targeting devices that turn handguns into 'machine guns'

Update: On April 20, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed HB 1365 into law.

A concerning trend has emerged at Indianapolis crime scenes.

Semi-automatic handguns have been found modified and given the ability to automatically spray bullets in mere seconds due to a small device inserted in the firearm.

The devices, coined machine gun conversion devices, can be made illegally through 3D printing or shipped from overseas and sold on the street.

Glock switches: 5 questions answered about the devices showing up at Indy crime scenes

The presence of these gun accessories has since skyrocketed and officials are sounding the alarm. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has determined a machine gun conversion device can make a handgun fire 31 rounds in 2.1 seconds.

The devices, commonly called Glock switches or auto sears, are already illegal under the federal National Firearms Act.

Some Indiana lawmakers, however, are hoping to pass a nearly-identical law in the state to target these devices on a local level.

Here's what to know about the bipartisan bill making its way through the Indiana legislature:

What does House Bill 1365 do?

HB1365, authored by Rep. Mitch Gore, D-Indianapolis, would expand the state’s definition of machine gun to include conversion devices. If passed, possession of a conversion device would be a Level 5 felony and violators would face a sentence between one to six years.

How would the bill impact crime in Indianapolis?

Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears said as law enforcement takes more of these devices off the street, the weapons will be handed to investigators, who can test the guns against unsolved homicide and non-fatal shootings.

“I think that’s a tremendous benefit to everyone in Marion County and will have a direct impact on violent crime because we’re going to be able to solve more cases,” he said.

Right now, there’s no clear law on the books defining how prosecutors in Indiana can charge someone who has a firearm with conversion devices attached. Mears said his office has responded by charging people with possessing a machine gun. Since January 2020, the office has filed 78 machine gun possession cases.

He called the move an “admittedly aggressive” interpretation of the law.

The bill would give a definitive answer about how to prosecute possession of the devices, he said.

“Right now, we are in a position where we’re defending these charges and certainly having to explain and rationalize in front of the judge in the Court of Appeals to say ‘This is why we believe this fits the current statutory definition,” Mears said. “(The bill) is going to provide certainty.”

How did we get here?

Gore said the dangers of machine gun conversion devices, as well as the ease people can get them, prompted him to file the bill. All anyone needs to get a Glock switch, he said, is $20 and access to a 3D printer.

Though the devices are not machine guns themselves, he thinks the bill matches the spirit of the current law.

“When we criminalized the possession of automatic firearms in Indiana, we did not conceive of devices that we’re seeing on the streets now,” he said.

As a deputy for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Gore said he’s keenly aware of these devices' dangers to law enforcement.

“They're being outgunned,” he said.

Bill on path to the governor's office

The bill, co-authored by two Republicans and a Democrat, passed the Indiana House in a 68-24 vote Feb. 21 and was referred to the Senate.

On March 14, it unanimously passed out of the Corrections and Criminal Law committee.

A message sent to Gov. Eric Holcomb's office about whether he would sign the bill if it makes it to his desk was not returned at time of publication.

What’s next?

If the bill does not pass, a court case could limit the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office's ability to file the cases.

A man in Marion County was charged with possessing a machine gun, but his attorney argued the device was not a machine gun. The issue is now pending in the Court of Appeals, where its ruling could determine how cases are handled if the state’s law remains unchanged.

Contact Sarah Nelson at 317-503-7514 or sarah.nelson@indystar.com

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Bill targets machine gun conversion devices, such as Glock switches