Turning A Semi-Automatic Gun Into A Machine Gun Has Some Serious Drawbacks

Although to some, it may sound like a fun idea, converting semi-automatic firearms to fully automatic is illegal, unsafe and probably not worth the risk of huge fines and prison time, say Wyoming gun enthusiasts.

Mark Heinz

December 16, 20235 min read

ATF agent demonstrates firing a Glock pistol with a switch attached to make it full-auto in this video posted by WTHR in Indianapolis, Indiana.
ATF agent demonstrates firing a Glock pistol with a switch attached to make it full-auto in this video posted by WTHR in Indianapolis, Indiana. (WTHR.com via YouTube)

If you’re thinking about converting your semi-automatic firearm into a full-auto, just don’t, some Wyoming gun experts said.

If fact, don’t even talk about it. It’s simply not worth risking massive fines and prison time, they told Cowboy State Daily. Not to mention the dangers of tinkering around with a gun and trying to get it to do something it wasn’t meant to.

“If somebody is in my shop and they start bringing those things up, I tell them, ‘Don’t say another word,’” said Scott Weber, owner of Gunrunner Firearms & Auctions in Cody.

It’s illegal to even attempt to convert a semi-automatic to full auto, by any means, so it’s definitely a forbidden subject in gun enthusiast circles, Ryan Allen, owner of Frontier Arms in Cheyenne, told Cowboy State Daily.

Vince Vanata of Cody, a retired Marine and law enforcement officer, agreed that such clandestine gun tinkering is best avoided.

“The penalties surpass the novelty,” he said. “It’s not worth it. It’s just not worth it.”

Full-automatic firearms have been severely restricted in the United States since the 1934 National Firearms Act.

Worland Man Faces Charges

Modifying semi-auto to full-auto firearms has been a hotly debated issue across the United State in recent years, and was front and center again in Wyoming this week.

Steven Shobert, 48, of Worland, is accused of attaching an illegal aftermarket device called a “Glock Switch” to a Glock 9 mm pistol to convert it to a full-automatic. A Wyoming grand jury has charged him with possession of an illegal machine gun and possession of an unregistered short-barreled rifle. He pleaded not guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court for Wyoming in Casper.

If convicted, Shobert could face up to 20 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.

Watch on YouTube

Semi-Auto VS. Full-Auto

Semi-automatic guns fire one round for each pull of the trigger, and the action cycles itself to load the next round into the firing chamber. There is a huge variety of semi-auto handguns, rifles and shotguns that Americans can own with no special licenses.

Fully automatic weapons – including machine pistols, submachine guns and machine guns – fire continuously once the trigger is pressed.

Americans may also own fully-automatic weapons, but only with a special license. And those guns can be legally fired only on designated target ranges.

There are numerous stories and scuttlebutt about how altering certain parts on semi-auto firearms will make them go full-auto, Allen said. Those stories are B.S., he said, and people who try those supposed “tricks” will just ruin their guns, or perhaps even risk them flying apart in the shooter’s face.

Weber agreed that illegally messing around with a firearm’s action is just plain stupid. Altered or marred parts could cause a gun to go off accidently or just keep firing on its own.

People who really want something that rocks and rolls at the shooting range should just get the proper license and go buy the real thing, Vanata said.

That’s not cheap, but it’s still cheaper than the alternative, he said.

“You’re going to pay a hell of a lot less for a fully automatic rifle than you would pay in terms of fines and prison time” if caught illegally trying to modify one, he said.

‘Glock Switches’ Came From China

So-called “Glock Switches” can convert certain Glock pistols to fully automatic fire by altering the trigger mechanism. They can be installed on the rear of a pistol’s slide, or the upper portion of the action that cycles when the gun is fired.

Allen said there have been rumors of switches floating around the black market in the United States for a while. They likely came from China.

Vanata agreed that the Glock Switches likely originated in China and were shipped here illegally.

From what he understands, they’re relatively easy to install, but again, simply not worth the risk of even considering.

Any alteration of a semi-automatic firearm made in an attempt to make it go full-auto is, as far as the federal government is concerned, an attempt to manufacture a machine gun, he said.

Only authorized people or companies with Type 7 manufacture’s licenses can legally make machineguns in the U.S. And they may sell those weapons only to the military or law enforcement agencies.

‘Bump Fire’ And Binary Triggers

There are legal ways to get increased rates of fire with semi-auto weapons.

For instance, the Franklin Armory makes “binary trigger” devices that can be installed on some semi-automatic firearms. According the company, they allow the shooter to fire the weapon upon both the pull and release of the trigger, thus effectively doubling the rate of fire.

Binary trigger systems are priced from $394.98 to $754.98, according to the company’s website.

A novelty shooting technique called “bump firing” can also produce a high rate of fire from a semi-auto, though generally not with much accuracy or reliability.

It involves stiffening the trigger finger while holding the gun relatively loosely. The idea is that the weapon’s own recoil will cycle the action at an extremely accelerated rate.

Allen said many shooters like to attempt bump firing, with mixed results.

“When it does work, it can really surprise you,” he said.

Mark Heinz can be reached at mark@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter