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Should You Modify Your Carry Gun’s Trigger?

That thing on the back of this Glock 27 is the Glock E-Trainer. Check it out here.

I'm often asked by my students what I think about modifying the trigger pull of their carry gun. Most of the time, owners do not wish to increase the weight of the trigger pull on their firearm, and they seek to lighten it. 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, lets say 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'll 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, which replaces 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.

Aftermarket triggers often have polished parts that smooth out the trigger pull, remove some of the 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 EDC firearm.

Trigger

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 types 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 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, 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 who 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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13 Responses to Should You Modify Your Carry Gun’s Trigger?

  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.

    • Matthew May 1, 2016 at 5:07 pm #

      This may be an interesting case to read.

      http://americanhandgunner.com/unintended-shot-the-santibanes-incident/

      • Eric W May 8, 2018 at 5:57 pm #

        This example is from a negligent discharge. Do you have examples where a self-defense case was lost due to a trigger modification?

        • Matthew Maruster May 9, 2018 at 5:10 am #

          Hi Eric,
          If you want a simple answer, it would be no. But rarely are cases won or lost based on a single factor. Every Jury member is not polled after every court decision to ask what the single reason for deciding to convict or acquit. If you ask me, are there cases where the pull-weight of a trigger was brought up and may have influenced a decision? Of course, there are, just ask any attorney who regularly defends clients in self-defense cases, or someone who has testified in many cases on the issue.

          Love them or hate them, If you read their publications or attended seminars from people like Massad Ayoob or Emanual Kapelshon, they explain how prosecutors and defense attorneys retain them to testify as an expert witness on, gun modifications including trigger modifications.

          Your question is reasonable but more of a ‘straw man’ argument, and not unique. Just look at every other comment on this post and any other article taking a similar stance on the topic.

          Could anyone reasonably answer this question? “Can you show me a self-defense case that was won, because the defendant’s argument was, ‘there are no self-defense cases where a trigger modification was the reason for conviction. So for that reason, I must be found not guilty.’ Of course not.

          There is legal precedence of course. There is also conceptual or objective precedence when it comes to the jury. Big money is spent by the prosecution and defense, on jury consultants whose job is to find out how to connect with a juror and play on that emotion. There is a ton of evidence that shows things like modifications (of any sort), the color of the gun, type of the gun, number of shots, the physical appearance/age/sex/race etc. of the defendant, social media posts, etc. etc. played a part in the jurors ultimate decision. These biases are not based on any legal standard, but they exist none the less.

          A couple additional reasonable questions that should follow should be:

          ‘Are there cases that may not have ever gone to court, had it not been for trigger modifications, regardless of the finding?’

          ‘Are there cases whos trial were extended in part, or solely because the defendant had to explain to jurors, why the lighter trigger pull weight made them a better shooter?’

          ‘Are there cases where an expert witness was needed to explain to jurors why the trigger modification was necessary for making the gun safer or making the defendant a better shooter?”

          ‘Are there cases where the number of shots is brought into question and used to determine the reasonableness of force? And an argument could be made that some of the final shots may not have been intentional due to a lighter trigger?’

          ‘Are there civil cases that have been brought to bear on someone after an acquittal in a criminal case, because there is a better chance to reach the legal standard to show the lightened trigger somehow played even a part in causing their client some damage that a court could make you pay for?’

          These are just as reasonable questions one should ask themselves if they carry a firearm for self-defense and intend on making any modifications. Personally, I don’t want to even end up in criminal or civil court, regardless of the outcome. There are plenty of financially destroyed people who were found not guilty. Attorney fees and expert witnesses cost tons of money, that frankly, I don’t have.

          So for those reasons, like I mentioned, I made the personal choice to limit the modifications on my trigger to the shape of the shoe, and not pull weight. Could that modification be a reason to drag me into a courthouse? possibly. I think after a preliminary examination of the evidence, it would be less likely, but I accept that level of risk.

          Hopefully, if you or any of the other readers are involved in a DGU, the initial investigation will be so overwhelmingly in favor of a self-defense claim, that you go home the same night with a pat on the back from the police and their word that no criminal charges will be filed.

          Laws and political aspirations vary from state to state and DA to DA. So what might be the case in Yuma, Arizona, might play out differently in Detroit, Michigan.

          If you or anyone want’s to reduce the trigger pull weight on an EDC go for it. It is not illegal and may make you a better shooter. It may also leave a couple chinks in the armor for an attorney to try and exploit. Beyond that, just be able to justify any modifications, and accept the added risk that comes with them.

  5. Timothy w McCann March 9, 2018 at 5:53 pm #

    Well being a law enforcement officer for over 17 years and carrying off duty. I have learned through experience testifying as an expert in officer involved shootings they completely dissect your weapon and question all modifications. So I agree just be ready to testify and educate yourself to the fullest regarding carry wrapon modification. Just fyi..

  6. RayS May 8, 2018 at 4:52 pm #

    I could agree on not modifying the trigger pull weight IF stock triggers were decent. All 3 of my Glocks had horrendus triggers – not even close to your 5.5 lb example – more like 8.5. My thoughts are those heavy (“safer”) triggers means more misses, and more down range liability. The correct answer should be – if you do modify it, practice, practice and practice to avoid any negligent discharges.

  7. Mike May 22, 2018 at 7:27 am #

    The only way to avoid being portrayed as a anything but a regular law abiding citizen is to have a stock gun, stock ammo and no modifications of any kind. If involved in a defense shooting the defense will be difficult and costly, there’s no need to make it more difficult.

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