Should You Modify Your Carry Gun?
November 05, 2014
The old "9mm vs .45" controversy is pretty much dead these days, but there are still a few subjects that will get those of us in the gun community into heated arguments. Many of the most heated disagreements include whether citizens should modify their carry guns.
While there are a number of ways to modify a handgun, when this topic comes up, more than 90 percent of the people involved are referring to modifying the trigger pull and/or (to a much lesser extent) deactivating the safeties on a carry gun.
There are two schools of thought on this subject, with a very clear distinction in their views. They can be summarized as follows:
1. No, never.
For decades, gun magazines have been filled with articles stating that carry guns should have trigger pulls over "X" pounds, X usually (but not always) being 4 pounds (lbs.). Why? Because some gun writer decades ago decreed that any trigger pulls under 4 lbs are not suitable for a carry gun. Why 4? Why not 5, or 5.23, or 6.79 lbs? When does a trigger pull become "too light?" What's a "light" trigger pull? "Light" has no specific definition. Factory guns can be found with trigger pulls ranging anywhere from well under 4 to over 12 pounds. Factory trigger pulls on identical models from the same manufacturer can even vary wildly.
I've got some news for you — if you can't keep your finger off the trigger, no trigger pull is right for you because you're unsafe. Presumably, some "experts" argue against lighter triggers on carry guns because it will leave the defendant open in court to charges that he or she was carrying a gun with a "hair trigger," that the gun was "unsafe," or that he or she made the trigger pull lighter because of some less-than-wholesome impulse ("He wanted to kill someone!"). To my knowledge, over at least the past three decades, I am aware of only one court case where the weight of the trigger pull was a factor in the trial.
But how many private citizens defending themselves with firearms (or even cops) would be better served with lighter, crisper trigger pulls on their carry guns?
About two years ago, two NYPD officers fired a reported 16 rounds at a homicidal suspect outside the Empire State Building, hitting him — as well as nine bystanders. Considering how many bystanders were hit, it appears most of the officers' rounds weren't hitting the suspect. NYPD officers are required to use Glocks equipped with nightmarishly heavy "New York Plus" triggers, which make it tough for even experts to shoot that pistol well. 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. Hit percentages in armed encounters involving private citizens are higher than in those involving law enforcement officers. Is that because the citizens aren't burdened with department-mandated, boat-anchor trigger pulls? Again, we'll never know.
I don't blame the officers, I blame their commanders who send them out ill-equipped to do a dangerous job. NYPD officers have to qualify twice a year with their handguns, which is about average for police departments. Think about it — how skilled of a driver would you be if you only got behind the wheel of a car twice a year?
I suspect that is why many people argue against trigger jobs on carry guns. They know just how many people carrying guns have only the minimal training required. Does that mean everyone carrying a gun should be handicapped with a long, heavy trigger? Apparently some experts think so, but not all do.
Col. Jeff Cooper personifies the opposite point of view. This is what he had to say about the best trigger pull weight on a 1911 destined for carry: "Three pounds, crisp, is the word." A 3-lb. trigger on a carry gun would give a lot of gunwriters and trainers used to dealing with people who have no grasp of basic safe gun handling skills explosive 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, and some of those idiots carry guns.
And if modifying the trigger pull on your carry gun opens you up to legal attack, theoretically, any alteration you make to that gun will as well. This means if you changed the sights, springs, had a gunsmith install a new barrel or even just switched the grips on your gun, you have "modified" it and could be in trouble '¦ if you follow that line of thinking to its logical conclusion.
I am not a lawyer. I've been a uniformed and plainclothes police officer and a private investigator, and have carried a gun every day for the past twenty years, so take my opinion for what it's worth. Where do I stand on the issue?
None of my carry guns have ever had stock factory trigger pulls.
My response to that line of courtroom legal attack, if it ever occurs, will be that everything I've done to my gun has allowed me to shoot it better — both faster and more accurately, which means I will have a higher chance of stopping a bad guy before he can do worse. Cars have adjustable seats and tilt-wheel steering for a reason: One size does not fit all. Truthfully, you're open to legal attack even if you've left 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?
The largest concern in any shooting will be whether or not your rounds went where you wanted them to go? If they did, then any attack on the gun you used by the other lawyer will be merely a distraction and hopefully seen as specious by the judge and jury. 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, any argument a lawyer makes about your trigger pull will just seem silly to the jury.
However, if you didn't hit what you were aiming at, or accidentally pulled the trigger when diving for cover, shooting an innocent bystander or yourself, then you've got all sorts of trouble.
Removing a safety from a firearm, on the other hand, just sounds bad no matter what side of the argument you're on. The most common example of this is deactivating the grip safety on a 1911. I know why it's done — my hand is flat enough that I personally have issues reliably depressing the grip safety on some 1911s. If you do ever deactivate a safety on your carry gun, you need to be able to clearly and simply explain why doing so made the gun safer/better. That will be an uphill battle for you in court no matter what.
Some gunsmiths will gladly testify to the safety and quality of their work in a courtroom; some not so much. Whether you hire it out or do the work yourself (and know your limitations), no one should ever carry and depend on a pistol that's had work done to it until it's been fired enough to prove its reliability.
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.
4. Even stippling the grip on your pistol counts as a modification, and usually voids the manufacturer's warranty to boot. But the advantage it provides in gripping is undeniable.
3. Replacing any part on your gun, whether that means parts of the trigger group or just sights, technically counts as modifying it. If you do modify your carry gun you should be able to articulate why — saying for instance that it enables you to shoot the pistol more accurately.
2. Many 1911s straight from the factory have lighter trigger pulls than the 'œexpert' mandated 4 pound minimum. Does that make them inherently unsafe?
1. There is intense debate as to whether you should ever modify your carry gun. Arguments against it say that altering your carry gun could open you up to attack in any legal proceedings that follow.