In 1982, Gaston Glock, an Austrian curtain rod manufacturer, invented his first pistol to win an Austrian military contract. The 9mm Glock 17 stood out from other handguns at the time with its polymer frame, striker firing system, 17-round magazine, and simple construction, as it’s made from just 34 parts. That first contract led Glock to expand his company, which opened an American subsidiary in Smyrna, Georgia, in 1985 and aggressively sought law enforcement contracts. Success led to subsequent Glock models in various calibers and sizes, and today, Glock is one of the world’s largest producers of pistols.
In 2021 alone, Glock Inc. produced over 580,000 pistols in the U.S. and imported at least another million from its Austrian headquarters — rivaling the 1.65 million pistols that Smith & Wesson produced that same year. In other words, Glock pistols are incredibly popular.
But they have also become the weapon of choice among criminals. In data collected by the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund from police departments in 31 cities, Glock was the top manufacturer of recovered crime guns in 2021 with 10,577 recovered firearms. On average, over 1.5 times more Glocks were recovered than the second-leading producer of handguns, Smith & Wesson, across the collected data.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) also released a report identifying Glock as the number one manufacturer of crime pistols recovered and traced between 2017 and 2021 with 255,055 firearms, representing 19.6 percent of all recoveries in that category.
This is perhaps not surprising given the company produces pistols that are both affordable and very easy to operate, as they lack more traditional safety mechanisms that can render a firearm inoperable.
The high number of Glock pistols recovered from crime scenes calls into question the measures that Glock takes to secure its supply chain and prevent its products from entering the illegal market. While a 2017 “Stocking Dealer Program” agreement circulating online suggests that some Glock dealers are to maintain a security system, for example, few other details have been made public. It is unclear whether Glock requires all of its dealers and distributors to, for example, flag questionable customers or report the results of ATF compliance inspections and crime gun trace requests. A review of Glock’s online “dealer locator” also found that it includes dealers previously linked to reports of gun trafficking.2See City of Chicago v. Westforth Sports Inc., https://everytownlaw.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2021/04/Westforth-Complaint-Stamped.pdf.
Considering the lack of legislative or regulatory action in this regard, gun manufacturers should, at a minimum, adopt stronger public codes of conduct to hold their distributors and dealers accountable in securing supply chains.
Glock promotes retailers who offer “shoot now, pay later” financing. Selecting “Buy Now” on the company’s website provides prospective buyers with links to two online retailers: Guns.com, which offers financing through Credova, and Gearfire, which has its own financing program. Buyers may not even need to make their first payment for 30 days.
Glock helped popularize handgun magazines that hold over 30 rounds of ammunition. Glock first developed these magazines — like the kind the Tucson shooter used to carry out his attack in 2011 — for fully automatic Glocks and then introduced them into the civilian market. Aftermarket producers followed suit with their own extra-large magazines. Glock magazines that hold over 30 rounds of ammunition are available through several retailers.
Glock pistols have been used in several mass shootings across the United States. While this database offers a better picture, some of the more high-profile incidents include:
- Killeen, Texas, October 1991
- Newington, Connecticut, March 1998
- Springfield, Oregon, May 1998
- Honolulu, Hawaii, November 1999
- Virginia Tech, April 2007
- Northern Illinois University, February 2008
- Tucson, Arizona, January 2011
- Hialeah, Florida, July 2013
- Charleston, South Carolina, June 2015
- Kalamazoo, Michigan, February 2016
- Thousand Oaks, California, November 2018
More and more Glocks are being converted to fire like machine guns. Glock pistols are very easy to modify for fully automatic fire by adding a small metal or plastic component called an auto sear, or “switch,” that interferes with the pistol’s trigger mechanism. These devices, imported from China or manufactured or 3D-printed here in the U.S., have led to a surge in shootings where assailants unload entire magazines in seconds. According to the ATF, law enforcement agencies recovered 5,454 machine gun conversion devices, including Glock switches and those designed for AR-15s, from 2017 to 2021 — a 570-percent increase over the 814 recovered from 2012 to 2016.
While Glock has said that it has “collaborated with law enforcement officials to target illegal sellers and users of switches,” the company claims that its pistols “cannot be altered” to “make it harder to attach switches.”
The popularity and simplicity of Glock pistols has also contributed to the growth of the ghost gun market, where many companies focus on selling unserialized “80 percent” frames and kits that allow people to build untraceable Glock clones at home. Instead of distancing itself from the drastic increase of Glock-style ghost guns recovered at crime scenes, Glock continues to sell the components required to build, modify, and repair pistols — including ghost guns — through its distributors, and some companies even sell Glock factory parts alongside ghost gun frames and kits.
The safety of Glock pistols has also been called into question. Glock calls its pistols “Safe Action” designs, but dozens of lawsuits related to unintentional discharges have been filed. In the past, Glock has blamed such discharges on the user’s lack of training or negligence. Gaston Glock, the founder of the company, also allegedly “wanted to blame the dumb Americans.”4Paul M. Barrett, Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun (New York; Broadway Books, 2012), 131. The only external safety on a Glock pistol is the so-called trigger safety, a small tab built into the face of the trigger that must be depressed for the trigger to move rearward. However, these “safeties” do not physically prevent the gun from firing if someone pulls the trigger, intentionally or not, like a traditional safety button or lever.
Glock is a leading industry supporter of the NRA. The company is ranked fourth on the NRA’s list of “Top 10 Industry Allies,” meaning it sponsors NRA events and helps recruit new members. In 2007, the NRA awarded Glock with an “NRA Member Recruitment Award for recruiting over 10,000 new members to the NRA.” In 2017, Glock also joined the NRA’s “Golden Ring of Freedom” for donating over $1 million to the organization.
Do Glocks have safeties?
Glock pistols have internal safety mechanisms that are designed to prevent them from firing if they’re dropped. Externally, every Glock pistol also has a pivoting tab — known as a “trigger safety” — built into the face of the trigger that must be depressed for the trigger to move rearward. But this is not a traditional manual safety lever or button that can render a firearm “safe” and prevent unintentional discharges. If someone, such as a curious child, attempts to pull the trigger on a loaded Glock, the gun may fire.
Could Glock add traditional safeties to its guns to make them safer?
Yes. Glock has produced pistols with manual thumb safeties for U.S. military trials, but the company has never made them available to civilians.
What are Glock switches, and how do they work?
Glock auto sears, or “switches,” are devices that turn semi-automatic Glock pistols into fully automatic machine guns. In other words, while a standard Glock pistol will only fire one shot per trigger pull, a Glock switch allows a shooter to fire continuously as long as they hold down the trigger and the gun has ammunition. These devices attach to the back of a Glock’s slide and interfere with the pistol’s trigger mechanism to allow for extremely high rates of fire. To learn more, click here.
Can you legally own a Glock switch?
Generally, no. Glock switches are considered machine guns because they allow someone to shoot “automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.” Machine guns are highly regulated in the U.S. and require approval from the ATF to own. Moreover, civilians cannot own machine guns manufactured after May 19, 1986, and Glock switches were developed after that date.
The only people who can legally possess Glock switches are licensed manufacturers who provide weapons for military and law enforcement entities. Those who are found in possession of an unlicensed Glock switch face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.