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Should Your Concealed Carry Gun Have a Light Trigger?

by James Tarr   |  June 6th, 2013 12

Some say light triggers have no place on carry guns. The author calls BS.

Many people are wondering these days if their carry gun should have a light trigger. Like many small, close-knit communities, gun writers tend to follow certain belief systems and echo what other writers say about certain subjects without really looking into the source of the belief. In giving good-natured grief to fellow scribes, I often use the phrase, “Like most gun writers, you have confused your opinion with fact.”

I call these set-in-stone ideas “gun magazine gospels”—in direct contradiction to the secondary definition of gospel, which is “a thing that is absolutely true.” One of these is the dictum that carry guns should have trigger pulls over X pounds, X usually but not always being four.

This jumped out at me again recently as I was reading an article on customizing Glocks for competition shooting and saw the following about trigger jobs: “With that in mind, however, the minute that the firing pin and spring are modified, the Glock 35 becomes a competition-only gun. It is not suitable for personal protection with the trigger pull hovering around three pounds.”
My immediate reaction was, “Why not?”

The author of the article was building a gun designed for practical shooting. Practical shooting involves firing thousands if not tens of thousands of rounds in practice and during high-stress, on-the-clock competition. It requires a completely reliable gun that is drawn from a holster as fast as possible. The trigger pull in question was being modified to allow the user to make tough shots under pressure while keeping the pistol completely reliable.

How is an ultra reliable gun with good sights and a trigger that allows the user to make tough shots under pressure unsuitable for carry? Because some gun writer decades ago decreed that any trigger pulls under four pounds are not suitable for a carry gun. Why four? Why not five or 5.5 or 6.79?

I’ve got some news for you: If you can’t keep your finger off the trigger when it’s not supposed to be there, no trigger pull is right for you because you’re unsafe.

NYPD officers are issued Glocks with the “New York trigger,” which features a trigger pull nearly double the standard weight. But even that wasn’t heavy enough. There were lots of instances of negligent discharges, and at NYPD’s request Glock developed the “New York Plus” trigger. Apparently the NYPD doesn’t have the time and/or money to train its officers to keep their fingers outside the trigger guard until they’re ready to fire.

An eight- to 11-pound trigger makes a handgun much tougher to shoot accidentally. And accurately. Last August two NYPD officers fired a reported 16 rounds at a suspect outside the Empire State Building, hitting him—as well as nine bystanders. One officer was about 12 feet from the suspect, the other about 25, so we are not talking about distance shooting.

There were a number of people on the sidewalk directly behind the suspect, but considering how many bystanders were hit, it appears most of the officers’ rounds weren’t hitting the suspect.

Would lighter triggers on their Glocks have allowed them to shoot more accurately? We’ll never know, but I find it hard to believe they could do worse. (And I don’t blame the officers but rather a system that requires them to qualify only twice a year with their handguns, which is about average for police departments. How skilled a driver would you be if you got behind the wheel of a car only twice a year?)

Competition vs. Street
Does somebody want to make the argument that competition is not the street? You are correct; it is not. However, U.S. Practical Shooting Association and International Defensive Pistol Association range officers are strict about ensuring a competitor’s finger stays outside of the trigger guard except when engaging targets, whether he or she is running, reloading a pistol, whatever. Doing something over and over again is one sure way to ingrain it into your muscle memory. Doing it twice a year is not.

So why are guns with trigger pulls suitable for the “crucible of competition,” as Jeff Cooper called it, unsuitable for carry?

Short answer? They’re not—in my opinion. As long as your pistol is mechanically sound, if you keep your finger out of the trigger guard and carry the pistol in a holster that covers the trigger guard, a pistol with a “light” trigger pull is perfectly safe.

I’ve been an armored car driver in Detroit, uniformed police officer and private investigator, and I have carried a gun every day for the past 20 years. None of my carry guns have stock factory trigger pulls, and none of them has ever gone off “accidentally.”

Heck, forget me; listen to what Col. Jeff Cooper had to say about what was the best trigger pull weight on a 1911 destined for carry: “Three pounds, crisp, is the word.” A three-pound trigger on a carry gun would give a lot of gun writers—as well as trainers accustomed to dealing with people who don’t have basic safe gun handling skills—brain aneurysms, but light trigger pulls aren’t inherently unsafe. Some shooters are. I don’t think people with the proper skills need to be handicapped because the world is full of idiots.

When people talk about guns having “too light” a trigger pull, what they fail to realize is that “light” has no specific definition in the first place. Factory guns can have trigger pulls ranging anywhere from under four to more than 12 pounds. The single-action trigger pull on my SIG P226 was just over three pounds out of the box. Does that mean it’s inherently unsafe? No.

Not all types of guns are equal when it comes to the trigger pull argument, however. If you’re carrying a 1911, not only do you have to deactivate the thumb safety before firing it, there is the grip safety to consider as well. Having to physically deactivate two safeties before it’s even possible to pull the trigger adds something to the equation. I know someone who carries a Colt Commander with a two-pound trigger pull. That’s lighter than I’d want for myself, but is it inherently unsafe? Again, no.

A lot of 1911 owners carry their guns in Condition One—cocked and locked, with loaded chamber and thumb safety on—but striker-fired guns such as Glocks and Smith & Wesson M&Ps are entirely different matters. When loaded, they exist in a permanent “cocked and unlocked” state, with a partially cocked striker. There is no external safety to be found other than the lever on the trigger.

Plenty of cops have had accidental discharges into the ground (or their legs) when reholstering striker-fired guns because the drawstring of their jackets or the strap of their thumb-break holsters got wedged into the trigger guard. In such instances there is nothing to stop the pistol from firing other than the force required to actually pull the trigger. This is why a well-fitting quality holster that covers the trigger guard of the pistol is a must.

The fewer mechanical safeties on your pistol, the more you need to ensure it’s not going to go bang until you want it to. If your carry pistol is bouncing around loose in your purse, briefcase or glove box, where pens or lipstick tubes can get wedged inside the trigger guard, the last thing you want is a striker-fired pistol with no external safety to have a light trigger. Whenever possible, such pistols should be in holsters so their trigger guards are covered.

A big reason thrown out against custom or “customized” guns is that if you ever do shoot anyone, the opposing lawyer will crucify you for having an unsafe gun, a gun with a “hair trigger.” I hate to break it to you, but if you’ve done anything to your carry gun—changing the grips, sights, springs, adding grip tape or doing a trigger job—you’ve customized it, and you’re open to the same kind of legal attack.

I know a lawyer who simply added an aftermarket safety to his striker-fired gun, and in my opinion he unwittingly opened himself up to all sorts of courtroom attacks.

“Sir, your model pistol has been issued to dozens of police departments and several military units, but you apparently thought it was unfit to use as is? What are your qualifications to make that decision? If you felt the design of the pistol was inherently unsafe, why didn’t you carry a different pistol? Isn’t that irresponsible of you? Has this aftermarket safety been approved by the maker for use on its pistols?”

I’m certainly no lawyer and am not qualified to dispense legal advice, but as a private investigator and former cop I’m no stranger to the legal system, so take my opinion for what it’s worth. My response to that line of legal attack has always been that everything I’ve done to my gun has allowed me to shoot it better.

Frankly, you’re open to legal attack even if you haven’t done anything to your pistol as it came from the factory, so why not make sure you can hit what you’re aiming at—at speed and under stress?

One of the biggest legal aspects of any defensive shooting will be whether your rounds went where you wanted them to. If they did, I think any attack by the opposing lawyer on the tool you used will be merely a distraction. Even if your carry gun has a one-pound “hair trigger,” if the three shots you fired at your carjacker hit him in the dead center of his chest, I would think any argument a lawyer makes about your trigger will seem silly to a jury.

Now, on the other hand, if you didn’t hit what you were aiming at or accidentally pulled the trigger when jumping behind a car and shot an innocent bystander or yourself—then you’ve got all sorts of trouble.

When it comes to customizations, some gunsmiths will gladly testify to the safety and quality of their work in a courtroom, some not so much. Regardless, if you get a trigger job done—whether by a professional or by yourself (know your limitations)—do not carry or depend on it until you’ve shot the gun enough to prove its reliability. And by that I mean hundreds of rounds, not just a magazine or two.

My philosophy has always been to carry a gun that best allows me to hit what I’m aiming at under stress. Winning the gunfight has always been more important to me than any potential court case that may come afterward. Carry a gun that you can shoot as fast and accurately as your skill allows, and practice, practice, practice.

The Glock at left has aftermarket sights and a trigger job, the one on the right is factory stock. Many people will argue the modified gun should never be carried, despite the fact that both function identically.

  • AfghanVet

    How can you argue with that? I have always thought that the relative safety of a gun rests with the shooter and not the gun (if the gun’s safety mechanisms (other than trigger job, etc) have not been altered or disabled). To parrot what the article says, a good holster, in good condition is a must as is regular practice and formal training. Some of this stuff sounds like a given but I know many people that carry and only get out to the range maybe every other month and then only shoot a box. If you don’t shoot, and shoot a lot, how can you know your gun? And how can you perform in less than ideal situations if you only stand in front of a target and plink at it every once in a while? The answer is: you can’t.

  • Tracy Thorleifson

    The ability to have a light trigger pull accessible at will is precisely why I carry an S&W M&P 360 PD (exposed hammer), rather than the concealed hammer M&P 340 PD. I’ve equipped this revolver with a CT laser sight, and it’s remarkably accurate at 25 yards.

    Short radius open sights are what makes shooting J-frames a challenge, not the inherent accuracy of the weapon. The laser sight mitigates the short radius sight problem. When I’m firing single action, I can make surprisingly long shots. Up close and personal, double action is the word.

    With the exposed hammer you do have to pay attention to what you are doing when drawing from a pocket holster, to avoid catching the hammer on anything. That’s just a matter of practice, and there’s nothing wrong with paying extra attention to your draw.

  • Dean956

    Absolutely Much easier to shoot

  • BJC

    It has been my experience that a lot of police officers are very poor marksmen and making them carry a firearm with a heavy trigger pull just multiplies the problem. There are also officers that are very fine marksmen but they are not the problem. Training and practice are necessary for proficiency in the use of firearms. New York’s policies have gotten more people killed and injured and that is not acceptable. More training and better weapons would save lives and stupid politicians like Cumo and Bloomburg refuse to believe it, they are the problem not the solution.

  • Kevin Graham

    Flag as inappropriate
    Can’t you argue with that ? A lighter trigger makes the gun much easier to shoot. I have 3.5 connector on my G lock 17 and it makes a hell of a difference when I have to qualify.

  • Phil Wong

    Does the difference in pull weight between a 3# trigger and a 6-8# trigger truly make the difference between putting 3 shots in the center of an attacker’s chest at 3-10 yards and missing? If it truly does, you really need to learn how to shoot – the reason you *think* you need a light trigger is because most of the time, that light trigger lets the gun fire before your flinch reflex kicks in. Sorry, but that’s NOT what a “surprise trigger break” really means…

    IPSC competition pistols have light triggers because matches can be won or lost by margins of .01 second, and as long as the shooter gets the hits, if he breaks his last shot 1/100th sec faster than all the other competitors, he wins. If you’re counting on that light trigger and the relatively feeble bullets in your pistol to stop a human assailant, who is physiologically capable of 10-30 seconds of directed physical activity even after being shot in the heart with a service pistol or pocket pistol – that hypothetical, fractional-second advantage is a mighty thin margin…

    If instead, one were to train properly on crush-gripping the pistol, smoothly performing a compressed surprise trigger break, and following-through and calling every shot, those skills would be of far better service than shaving pounds and ounces off of triggers – my carry Glocks all have New York triggers weighing between 6-7# each, and they haven’t handicapped me in either close-range rapid fire or long-distance shooting. In several different classes, I’ve been able to get 6/6 A-zone hits at 4 yds in under 2 seconds, as well as get hits on torso-sized steel gongs at 100 yds on demand, in front of other students, with triggers that “heavy”…

  • Rufus McGufus

    Truth of the matter is a 5# trigger pull can be mastered by just about anybody who committs himself/herself to enough practice time and is determined to shoot well with it.

  • Christopher C DeCaro

    The M&P’s striker is fully cocked, not partially, like a glock. ;)

  • Amber Robish Christenson

    What is that gun in the top picture?

    • Bumpasses

      the pistol in the pic is a specialty 45 of some kind…anyone I.D. it?

  • toughestsoldier

    Ive fired a competition rifle with a 3/4 pound trigger pull i used to use in competition and a standard new york trigger and the user in general is always the best safety. A heavy trigger might be nice to keep people from accidentally squeezing the trigger but for anyone who really knows what they are doing you dont need to require a trigger that doesnt have a comfortable trigger squeeze.

  • Ryan Burch

    I believe Glock lists their 3.5 connector as a competition only modification.

    Most jurors gun knowledge is what they saw on TV.

    The argument may just be a distraction, but I personally wouldn’t feel very comfortable hearing the other lawyer saying,

    “The manufacturer says his gun is not suitable for defense or duty use, but is only safe for competition!”

    I can easily explain changing sights and grips to even the gun ignorant. The new grips make the gun fit my hand better, the new sights are easier to see.

    Even though you can explain lighter triggers, I’m not sure it can overcome the opposition’s claims of a freak with a hair trigger and an itchy trigger finger just looking for a chance to shoot someone…

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