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Should You Modify Your Carry Gun?

Trigger

Very often, I am asked by my students about my opinion on the pros and cons of modifying the trigger pull of their carry gun. Owners do not typically increase the weight of the trigger pull on their firearm. For this reason, when referring to trigger modification, we will be addressing reducing the weight of the trigger pull from what is set by the manufacturer. For example, your firearm comes from the factory requiring 5.5 pounds of force on the trigger to fire a cartridge. Reducing the weight of the trigger pull to 3.5 pounds of force would make it easier to pull the trigger. I give you my opinion based on an intimate understanding of the factors involved in a high stress, deadly force shooting, and the legal process (criminal and civil) that will likely follow. This topic can quickly expand into many areas of gun modification, so for this reason, I want to address handguns carried for personal defense. It does not matter whether you carry your firearm concealed or openly. The facts associated with modifying the trigger on your carry gun remain the same.

How Can You Modify a Trigger?

One way is to buy an aftermarket ‘drop in' trigger group. This product will replace the factory trigger mechanism.  Some of the benefits of these aftermarket triggers are that they change the shape of the trigger shoe (the part your finger actually rests on).  The change in shape can help with finger placement and leverage as you pull the trigger.  The aftermarket triggers often times have polished parts, that smooth out the trigger pull, remove some ‘gritty' feel and produce a crisper trigger ‘break'.  Some of these products actually use OEM parts, and simply change the ‘feel' of the trigger, i.e. pre-travel, reset break etc.  There are also drop-in products that reduce, or increase the pull weight of the trigger.

A second way to modify the trigger is to mill, grind, file or otherwise physically modify the original trigger group components of the firearm, to reduce the trigger weight.  While competition shooters are often more likely to do this to their firearm, some of these modifications are being made to everyday carry guns, or competition guns are being used to perform dual roles.  This should only be performed by a highly trained gunsmith and even then, can be very dangerous. Any modification to the tolerances of the firearm’s components could cause it to malfunction, wear and fail prematurely, or even fire when not intended.  For this reason, it is STRONGLY suggested that this type of modification not be done to your firearm.

Here are some factors to consider:

Reducing the weight of the trigger can help with accuracy. Typically, shooters do not hit their target because as they squeeze the trigger, they affect their aim and push/pull their sight alignment. While accuracy is a critical part of the equation, and we want to be as accurate as humanly possible, we need to understand that a deadly force or self-defense shooting is not a marksmanship competition. In that, I mean we are not trying to shoot all of our bullets through the same hole. We instead want to target our threat and balance speed with the ability to ensure all of our bullets strike our target area on our threat. This type of accuracy is often referred to as ‘combat accuracy', or accuracy that allows the shooter to place effective hits on a human-sized target.  For this reason, the micro accuracy hoped to be gained from reducing the weight of the trigger pull is unnecessary in the vast majority of deadly force encounters.  I'll mention some things to consider later in the article, in reference to trigger pull weight.

As I mentioned above, there are real benefits that can be gained by changing your factory trigger, and they don't all revolve around reduction of trigger pull weight.  These are trigger modifications that smooth out the trigger's feel and movement, or help in centering your finger on the trigger (a flat trigger shoe can help with this).  These modifications can in many cases, result in an astoundingly better feel to the trigger without actually changing the weight.

I have been personally amazed and tricked some people into believing I have installed a lighter trigger pull on their gun when all that was done is install a trigger group with polished internals and a reshaped trigger shoe design.  These type of drop in trigger groups are typically a more reliable option because you don't have to fit or adjust anything.  Instead, these products are usually simply a direct replacement part.  It is important to remember that not all companies produce the same quality product, so do some research on the reliability of the product before you install it.  And don't forget to test it before carrying it for self-defense.

Now My 2¢:

Everything you do, say, have done or have said in the past related to your character and firearms (accurately or not) will be presented in your criminal and/or civil trial. This means that in addition to your possible “kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out” social media posts, the type of ammunition and your firearm will be scrutinized. Every incident is different, and sometimes one bullet may be sufficient to stop the threat, while another time, nothing short of every round you are carrying will stop the threat.

In criminal cases, the core question in the hands of the jury is if there was reasonable and honest belief of death or serious bodily harm at the time each shot was fired.  Because of the high burden of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt) and the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise, the facts about trigger weight, the appearance of the firearm and character issues, while still very important, have less weight in shifting the balance from a justified shooting to something criminal.

In a civil case on the other hand, where only a ‘more likely than not’ decision needs to be reached, many more factors can greatly influence the decision. for example, reducing the weight of your trigger pull could present a kernel of doubt into the minds of the jury and have them guessing if the follow-up shots were really necessary, or if they were a result of your modified trigger and the stress of the incident.

Imagine sitting in court and having the Prosecutor present this picture of you: Defendant posted on social media “shoot first and ask questions later” and modified the trigger of his firearm to make it easier to shoot and kill people. He/she obviously was looking for a chance to use deadly force and didn't care about stopping the threat. He/she just wanted to shoot and kill someone.  I am sure you can think of a handful of people that you would not want on that jury because they would easily jump to the same conclusion.

Let me be clear, every shot may have been justified, however, gambling that every juror understands the nuances and factors associated with a self-defense/use of deadly force incident are not worth it in my estimation.

Ultimately, you may win your criminal or civil case, but at an incredibly high emotional and monetary cost.

Reducing The Trigger Pull Weight Makes me a Better Shooter, Well so Does Training:

The last point I would make is that most anyone who does not have some sort of physical disability, has enough strength to pull a 5.5lb trigger, and the difference in a 5.5lb to 3 or 3.5 lb is not producing such an overwhelming benefit as to offset the potential problems it could cause.  Instead of believing that merely reducing the pull weight of your trigger will turn you into a world competition shooter, get out to the range and train with the gear you have.  Learn how your gear functions and you will become a far more efficient shooter with practice, than just changing out gear.

Remember that, many companies that produce aftermarket triggers or connectors that reduce pull weight will sell them with an advisement stating the trigger is designed for competition use only.  In other words, these companies transfer the liability to you, and if questioned in court, will indicate that they never intended their product to be used in a self-defense pistol.

Be Able To Back-Up Your Decisions:

Any modification you make to your firearm, make sure you can articulate why you needed to make the modification.  Being able to explain exactly why the modification makes the gun safer for you to use, and thus ultimately safer to the general public can help the jury understand why what you did was responsible and not reckless.

If you haven't guessed for all 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 feel of 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, maybe look into a different firearm. 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. Or have a trained gunsmith do the work so everything functions the way it was designed.

As always, focus on your training and stay safe.

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8 Responses to Should You Modify Your Carry Gun?

  1. Mikial November 28, 2015 at 7:39 pm #

    I had my Glock 21 worked on to give it a 4 pound trigger for USPSA competitions, but it is also my EDC. I like the lighter trigger. With a Glock, the safety mechanism works the same no matter the trigger pull, so the only change is that your shots are quicker and have a somewhat smaller chance for the trigger pull to affect the accuracy and follow-up shots in the event of a life and death situation.

    To me, it was well worth it and has had no impact on the safety of carrying the weapon. I suppose some will say it increases the chance for letting off a shot before you intended to, but I disagree. I was trained and my experience reinforced trigger control and taking your shot when you are ready and not before.

    2 1/2 years doing private security in Iraq, and multiple trips into garden spots like Afghanistan and Beirut have taught me that it ids you who have control of your trigger, and the pull weight is just another tool like the gun itself.

    • Matthew May 2, 2016 at 10:54 am #

      Hi Mikial,
      Thanks for the response. I agree totally with you that the ultimate safety is the user, not anything on the gun. And I thank you for doing private security over seas. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system in the United States and Civil Court System can be very brutal for uses of force against other civilians over here. Ultimately its a decision everyone has to make on their own. But I always believe having more facts is better than not enough, when making a decision that could cause legal or monetary repercussions later on.

  2. John November 29, 2015 at 10:41 am #

    Bullshit. You should modify the trigger if you want to modify the trigger. If you can get faster, more accurate hits without sacrificing safety, and you want to…..then you should. You said, “we need to understand that a deadly force or self defense shooting is not a marksmanship competition” Again, bullshit. Accuracy is critical, and in some hostage rescue situations, accuracy and speed will spell the difference between your loved one living or that loved one dying.

    • Matthew May 2, 2016 at 10:47 am #

      Hi John, thanks for the reply. I definitely agree that accuracy is critical when if comes to shooting a firearm. The distinction I made was between combat accuracy and slow fire, fully sighted marksmanship. There is a HUGE difference between the two. Yes the hostage situation requires much more fine accuracy than 99.9% of typical deadly force encounters. I think if you are training to the point where you feel comfortable taking a brain stem shot on a hostage taker who is holding your loved one, you probably can put in enough work on a factory trigger to become proficient taking that shot. I am by no means the best shooter on the planet, but through routine practice I can shoot hostage drills at 25 yards with a standard glock trigger. Would I take that same shot at 25 yards in a high stress situation, probably not, and not even if I had a modified trigger of .00001 lb. The margin of error on that type of shot is so slim, that you are better off using tactics to close distance and take a better shot with less margin of error.

      You also say if you can modify the trigger without sacrificing safety you should. I agree, the ultimate safety is the users ability with the firearm. However reducing the trigger weight on the gun makes it inherently easier to fire, and on a firearm that is being used for self defense where stress is probably as high as it can get, this is sacrificing safety. It has been proven scientifically that we have a “sympathetic squeeze response” during stressful situation. Even the most seasoned officers and military have experienced this phenomenon. This is just one example of that : http://americanhandgunner.com/unintended-shot-the-santibanes-incident/

      I definitely appreciate your input and feedback.

  3. Jim November 30, 2015 at 12:21 pm #

    Wow! Way to poison the jury pool there. Everyone should modify their carry weapons to be exactly the best that it can be to work for their individual situation. There is no “one size fits all” firearm out there, and manufacturer specifications are not designed to work optimally for every person. We should not even entertain the idea that weapons are good to go right out of the box, nor should anyone legitimize the thought through articles like this one.

    • Matthew May 2, 2016 at 10:36 am #

      Hi Jim, Thank you for the feedback. You are definitely passionate in your opinion on the topic and that is great. I happen to disagree with you though. I am not sure what brands of firearms you have been purchasing where a modification is needed in order for the firearm to option optimally. Most police departments across the country do not modify their duty guns, and in fact Glock will not modify any of their guns prior to shipping to law enforcement. The gun is designed for law enforcement use from the factory. I would see if you can speak with an experienced self defense/use of force defense attorney and get his/her opinion on reducing trigger weight on a firearm you may use in a deadly force encounter. As far as this article poising the jury pool, I think that has been done over the last 10 years with the push to limit gun ownership. I thank you for your feedback, and opinion. Thanks for reading.

  4. Daniel November 30, 2015 at 10:49 pm #

    Name a single court case where anyone was prosecuted based on the type of ammunition used or modifications on the firearm. If deadly force is appropriate it doesn’t matter if you shot them with a .22 or hit them over the head with a lamp and killed them.

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