South Alabama has a new gun problem. When considering an already alarming rate of gun-related homicide and assaults, stolen firearms and the proliferation of guns into the hands of violent and potentially violent subjects, a new problem isn’t something the region can afford.

Under federal law, possessing automatic firearms is all but forbidden for the average citizen. Those who want them can only legally obtain ones manufactured prior to 1986, and they must file appropriate documentation to transfer their ownership, which can be lengthy and cost tens of thousands of dollars. This generally means there is a very high bar to clear to get one’s hands on an automatic weapon in the U.S. However, thanks to a rather simple device, access to automatic firepower is a whole lot easier for those with no regard for the law.

Glock switch

A pistol (left) is compare next to one that has a "switch" protruding from the back of the firearm. The switch manipulates the gun's firing mechanism, giving it automatic firing capability.

Switch w/ Prine

Mobile Police Chief Paul Prine points out a switch clipped onto the end of a 9mm handgun recently confiscated during a December drug trafficking raid.

Downtown shooting 2022

The front windows at Urban Emporium in downtown Mobile can be shattered following a deadly gang-related shooting on New Year's Eve that injured seven bystanders.


A pistol modified with a “switch” to fire automatically is shown next to a 50-round drum. According to law enforcement officials, a shooter could exhaust an entire magazine in a matter of seconds when it is used with a switch device. 

Prine with switch

Mobile Police Chief Paul Prine displays a 9mm handgun which has a switch and a 50-round magazine.

Switch w/ Battiste

Mobile Public Safety Director Lawrence Battiste shows examples of how switches are developing to be even more discrete.


An example of a "switch" is shown in a pamphlet by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive (ATF).

Street guns, firearms

Firearms confiscated by the Mobile Police Department during a drug sting in December.

Dale Liesch is assistant managing editor and a reporter with Lagniappe. He can be reached at

Dale Liesch has been helping to keep Mobile Bay funky since 2014. He covers the city of Mobile and brings dad jokes into the office almost every day. He studied journalism at the University of Alabama and graduated way back in 2007.  Dale Has won a number of awards from both the Alabama and Virginia press association over his career. The one he is most proud of is the First Amendment Award from the Alabama Press Association for a story on the Prichard City Council.  Originally from the wilderness of Baldwin County, he grew up around animals, including ducks, chickens, dogs, a horse, a rarely seen cat and an angry goat. In his adult life the menagerie has shrunken to just two very lazy, well-fed dogs. Dale is married to Hillary Liesch and the couple has one daughter. The family lives in Mobile.   

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