Debunking the Myth: Clearing Up Misconceptions About Machine Gun Conversion Devices

Handguns that shoot thousands of rounds per minute?

You may have heard about a device that can be attached to handguns to turn them into rapid-fire automatic pistols. Called “machine gun conversion devices” or “switches,” they definitely make handguns more dangerous. After the first round is fired, recoil from that and subsequent rounds make such a gun difficult to control. Absent a skilled shooter, rounds are likely to strike targets they were not intended to hit.

I don’t want to minimize the potential danger of these devices. Still, at the same time, there is no reason to exaggerate their capabilities either, as this and other news stories have done. The headline says these devices allow handguns to shoot thousands of rounds a minute. That’s a lot of rounds, but reading the story, it’s also a substantial overstatement. The article quotes ATF agent Tommy Estevan as saying, “instead of one round being discharged from a firearm with a single pull of the trigger, when the switch is installed onto a firearm, you’re looking at 1,200 rounds with a single pull of the trigger within a minute.”

There’s a big difference between thousands of rounds a minute and 1,200 rounds a minute. The headline of the article substantially overstates what AFT Agent Estevan claimed. But even Agent Estevan’s claim is a substantial overstatement. There is no way to load 1,200 rounds of ammunition into a handgun, so it is not possible for a handgun to fire that many rounds with a single pull of the trigger. If there was a way to load that many rounds, 1,200 rounds of 9mm ammo, a common caliber, would weigh more than 33 pounds. Could anyone aim and shoot a handgun that weighed that much?

These conversion devices make guns more dangerous. I get that. But when the news media, and the ATF itself, way overstates the capability of the devices, it damages their credibility and makes it look like they are trying to mislead the public to further their agenda. When this happens, I’m all in favor of publicizing a fact check.

Claim: Conversion devices can be added to handguns to allow them to shoot several thousand rounds a minute.

Fact Check: Not even close—the claim is false.

Randall G. Holcombe is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, the DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University, and author of the Independent Institute book Liberty in Peril: Democracy and Power in American History.
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