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Modifying your Everyday Carry Gun (Part 2)

A while back I wrote an article Should You Modify Your Carry Gun? In the article, I addressed the often asked question about reducing the trigger pull weight on your concealed carry firearm. In the original article, I cited some factors to consider before modifying your trigger, ultimately advising that:

For these reasons, I recommend not modifying the trigger pull weight on your carry gun. The factory specifications are more than acceptable for balancing accuracy, safety and speed. If you don’t like the factory trigger on a firearm you are looking to purchase as your carry gun, and you can't make it work with simply changing out the shape or composition of the trigger, or using a polished set of internals, there are many other options that may feel adequate without modification. If you are intent on modifying your trigger, please do it the right way and replace the trigger group with an aftermarket product. This way, if you find that it is something that does not feel right, you can change it back. As always, focus on your training and stay safe.

Again, Let's Mention Reducing Trigger Pull Weight:

I addressed the fact that while reducing the trigger pull weight helps in accuracy, there is a distinct difference between combat accuracy (accuracy that allows for quick, successive, well-placed shots into a targeted area of the threat) used in the vast majority of close quarters personal defense incidents, and micro-targeting accuracy (trying to place shot after shot through the same hole in a target) used on the range to score points. The added accuracy hoped to be gained from reducing your trigger pull weight can usually be gained from more practice and training with your firearm, rather than a modification of reducing trigger weight. Now yes, I know there are those of you who bring up hostage situations and taking that one super accurate shot through the brain stem.

Statistically, you have a better chance at winning the lottery than you have of being a civilian involved in a deadly force incident with a hostage requiring you to take a kill shot. Can it happen? Sure. The fact is, if you need to modify your trigger in order to increase your accuracy, you need more training. Unless you have a physical disability or other special situation, you should have the required strength in your hands to squeeze a 5-pound trigger an eighth of an inch.

I addressed the idea that a reduced trigger pull by nature allows the trigger to be pulled with less force, thus, CAN increase the possibility of a negligent discharge during drawing or re-holstering. This possibility also can be mitigated through more training and proficiency, but it IS a factor that must be considered. Additionally, unless it is a quality trigger replacement job, or quality manufacturer's product, do you really know the reliability of your firearm after installing aftermarket products?

carry gun modify trigger

Addressing the Passionate Arguments Aginst my Original Article:

I noted in the original article was the possibility that ANY modification done to your weapon (including reducing the trigger pressure needed to fire a round), WILL be a factor in court if you end up using that weapon. Especially in the inevitable civil suit that is sure to follow regardless of the outcome of the criminal investigation. This is where I received the most passionate responses and dialogue. I get it, as gun owners, our rights to own firearms and be accepted as regular citizens are under attack. So, when someone writes an article advising against modification of your firearm, the quick response can turn into, “Here we go again; we are having our rights attacked.” The passionate responses received are actually welcome. We need dialogue and understanding that there are differences in opinion even amongst fellow instructors and gun enthusiasts.

Some believed my article “tainted the jury pool” or was “placing irrational fear into gun owners.” I was repeatedly challenged to, “Cite a case where the person was convicted because of a modified trigger” and that, “As long as it is a good shoot, it doesn't matter what I do.” I even heard, “Whatever I do to my gun that allows me to shoot more accurately is good to go.” In theory and principle, I agree that if it helps you shoot more accurately, it should be a welcomed modification. Unfortunately, we live in the reality where that is not always how gun modifications are seen by potential jury members. And, I would be curious to know how the picture of the grim reaper on your grips, increases your accuracy.

Does Any of This Matter to a Jury?

Still uncertain as to what matters to a jury? Take the study documented in this publication from, The Jury Expert’s, Will it Hurt me in Court: Weapons Issues and the Fears of the Legally Armed Citizen. The article is a great read if you want to try and understand some factors that influence a jury. In the study, a mock trial was conducted several times over. Facts remained the same, except for the type of weapon used by the homeowner defending him or herself with deadly force. The firearms used in the experiment were: a Ruger Mini-14 .223, an AR-15 .223, a Winchester 1300 Defender 12 gauge shotgun, a Winchester over/under 12 gauge, a Glock 19 9mm, and a Smith & Wesson 642 .38 special revolver. The findings?

We found the overall effect of gun type was significant. AR-15 shooters were given longer sentences. The most telling finding was the female mock jurors gave female AR-15 Shooters the harshest sentences – a mean of approximately eight years as compared to a male average of five and a half years. In comparison, the lowest average recommended sentence was for a male shooting a Ruger Mini – about two and a half years. Thus, gun type and gender could be a potent combination in sentencing.

Should this scare you as a person who may someday use deadly force? I don’t think so. It is just information that you should use and weigh, along with other opinions and information, to make your decision, if modifying your everyday carry gun is what you want to do.

Because of the passionate responses to my last article about this topic, and a recent incident involving a Mesa Arizona police officer, I thought it would be prudent to revisit this topic and stir up the hornets’ nest once again. In the incident I am referring to, a police officer was involved in an on-duty use of force where he shot a suspect with his AR-15. As is routine in any shooting, police or civilian, the firearm was impounded as evidence, ballistically tested, inspected, etc. During the investigation, there were issues raised about an inscription on the inside of the dust cover/ejection port cover of the officer’s AR-15. The inscription read “You’re F***ED.” This prompted the attorney for the deceased to argue, “That statement tells me this is a person who’s enthusiastic about killing people.’” While this is obviously not the only issue being brought up, in this case, it IS an issue that is being brought up. Similarly, your punisher skull, grim reaper decals, etc. WILL be a topic. Will it be a deciding factor or even an issue in your use of force case? Who knows…it could.

The Big Difference Between Criminal and Civil Cases:

How could a lighter trigger weight affect the perception of a juror? Understanding that even the succession of shots, and what shot ultimately caused the death is something that is considered and crucial to the case in many ways. The entry angle and location of each round could be important in determining if excessive shots were fired after the threat was stopped. If it can be inferred from a savvy attorney that the final shot is, in fact, the shot that ended the suspect’s life, and that shot might not have been fired, had you not reduced the trigger weight. It MAY key in on the unavoidable biases that come with jurors, even if it is not accurate. Maybe the attorney can raise doubt in some juror’s mind that the fatal shot was fired after the deceased was no longer a threat, but because of a sympathetic muscle response by your trigger finger, due to the intensity of the incident. Had it not been for that last shot, the deceased would be alive.

Jurors have believed stranger things. Like I stated in the initial article, in a criminal case that requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt (99.9%), this may not affect the jury as much as in a civil case where these issues really come to hurt us. In a civil case where only a preponderance of the evidence 51% (more likely than not) is needed to reach a judgment, jurors’ gut feelings or biases can really have a drastic impact on the outcome.

So, in writing this article, I am sure I have once again, angered some. Some will agree, and some of whom this article has for the first time induced them to think about these factors. Some will be seeking more information to ultimately make their decisions on things such as modification of their firearms.

I will give you this advisement again: your first amendment right to modify your gun’s trigger or appearance, or to post on social media, “Kill em all and let God sort em out,” is alive and well. I support and defend that right, but, what you do with that right is not immune to the biases and personal opinions a jury of your peers may gather from said expression. I still advise against any modification of your carry gun that doesn't have a purpose. I personally just don’t see the benefit outweighing the liability you would be shouldering on some of these modifications on your EDC gun.

Modification of a range or competition gun? Absolutely! Trick it out with everything your imagination can come up with and your budget can support. I advise you to make your decision based on as much information you can possibly gather. You make the ultimate choice based on what information you agree with. If you do choose to modify the trigger pull on your carry gun there is nothing wrong, illegal or immoral about doing that. The only word of advice is I offer you is to have it done professionally and maintain the original equipment in case you decide you want to revert to factory specs or to sell the gun. Once again, keep training and stay safe.

And be ready to skillfully explain why each of the modifications you made to your firearm made its operation safer in its operation or it's application.  Ensure that the jury's opinion of your character or frame of mind is not solely determined based off of inscriptions, slogans etc. on your firearms or social media profile.

Once again, keep training and stay safe.

Reference links:

Will it Hurt me in Court: Weapons Issues and the Fears of the Legally Armed Citizen.

Should You Modify Your Carry Gun?

On Duty Shooting involving AR-15

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6 Responses to Modifying your Everyday Carry Gun (Part 2)

  1. Matthew May 1, 2016 at 5:12 pm #

    Here is a good follow-up read on the Santibanes unintended shot lawsuit.

  2. Jeffrey Cross May 2, 2016 at 10:34 pm #

    I had a question. Is there any consideration in jury selection related to having follow enthusiasts and especially CCW holders in the jury panel? Would not this be a true trial peers? Shouldn’t someone introduce a SB or AB Bill to that effect, that states that in essence?

    • Matthew May 3, 2016 at 8:03 am #

      Jeffrey, I like the way you think, but in actuality during the jury selection (voir dire) both sides attorneys examine the members and are allowed to disqualify jurors they feel would have any sort of bias in their judgment. Obviously people come with their own biases based on their past experiences. I can’t imagine a bill that would allow certain biases or jurors positions to specifically be included on a jury (holding a concealed handgun permit) would gain support because it is a slippery slope, (playing devil’s advocate-I could see a similar bill wanting gang members as jurors in gang crimes). The jury is just supposed to be your average cross section of the community.

      Where subject experts are valuable are as expert witnesses that help the jury understand more about a topic. The community where the jury is pulled from is very important. A jury in San Francisco will likely have a very different set of biases and opinions than say a cross section in rural Kansas because of the political environment of the area. That is why it is so hard to know what is going to be an important or deciding factor to a jury. There are so many variables.

      But don’t let that scare you from protecting yourself. The goal of the article is just to give people an idea of some factors that could affect a criminal or civil case. No matter what you do or don’t do to your gun, anytime you shoot someone, the jury will judge wether your actions were reasonable and appropriate, and they will also unavoidably be drawing that conclusion in part from how your character and credibility is perceived (fairly or not) in court.

  3. Jerry May 3, 2016 at 7:12 am #

    I feel this is good advise, with the way people are becoming towards guns any little thing could hurt you a lot in a court trial, it may not make them find you guilty but in a civil trial it could cost you thousands of dollars, I carry a glock and personally I like the trigger, is it strong yes perhaps but it don’t take much hand and finger exercise to overcome it, I did hone the edges a tiny bit to smooth it all out and now it has a nice crisp, and smooth feel

  4. jommy konrs May 3, 2016 at 8:25 am #

    Though your thought is sound I’d bet that would wash in a jury selection. Would be considered bias much like having more men vs women or blacks vs. white on a deciding civil jury. GOOD insight but they get whomever is available,regardless, and to prevent any kind of slant in our wunnerful system of jurisprudence. Sigh…

  5. Matthew May 3, 2016 at 8:29 am #

    Thanks Jerry, I agree. I am all for making the grip easier to grip, sights that work for you better than some perhaps minimalistic factory sights or cleaning and lubricating parts of the action that make the trigger perform more fluidly. I just don’t see the benefit outweighing the liability in reducing the the trigger weight. Thanks for the input!

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