By Bob Walsh
Once upon a time if you had to actually use a gun on somebody the law didn’t much care if it was a .32 auto or a machine gun. If the shooting was good, it was good. If it wasn’t, it wasn’t. The law still does not care, but juries do, and sometimes prosecutors do too.
Some alterations to a defensive handgun are fine, some are questionable, some are legally dangerous. Putting different grips on a gun in order to make it fit your hand better are not problem, especially if you use something that is commercially available. (Pistol grips with things like DESTROYER or a skull and crossbones engraved into them might be unwise.) Different sights are OK too. I know my old eyes do not see GI pistol sights nearly as well as they do modern Hi-Vis sights. Night sights are often a good idea. I admit to having a problem with lasers and gun mounted flashlights, but they are becoming increasingly common and more acceptable.
Other alterations can get questionable. Trigger jobs for instance. Smoothing out a trigger is one thing. Making it significantly lighter, especially if you go below the manufacturer’s specifications can be questionable. The proverbial hair-trigger is very dubious indeed. “I didn’t mean to shoot it” is not much of a defense and especially so if you altered the gun so it will go off easily. Removing or otherwise diddling with safety devices is another issue. S&W puts magazine safetys in most of its semi-autos. They will sell guns without this device to law enforcement organization but not to private citizens. If you send your gun in to S&W for service they will put the magazine safety back in whether you want it or not. You could be involved in a shooting where the magazine safety had absolutely nothing to do with anything but a lawyer, or an anti-gun D.A., could try to make an issue of it.
At one time pinning down the grip safety on a 1911 was a common alteration. Now days a speed bump on the grip safety is a much safer way to go from a legal perspective, especially if the gun was available that way from the factory. A LONG time ago it was not uncommon to cut away the front of the trigger guard on a serious self-defense revolver. It is no longer recommended nor often done.
All makers have a set of factory specifications that a gun has to meet in order to leave the factory. Say for instance your revolver has a factory spec of 3-5 pounds single action and 7-11 pounds double action. Lowering the force required to fire the weapon below those specifications could be legally dangerous. If you are ever in the unfortunate position where you have to use the weapon you can be reasonably sure the opposing lawyer (and there will probably be one) will try to make you out as some sort of psychopath with a hair-trigger pistol just itching to try it out on somebody. It also makes it easier to claim you fired by accident, which is much, much harder to defend legally. Back in the day when NYPD and LAPD still carried revolvers they were changing to double-action only, their revolvers could NOT be thumb cocked and therefore could only be fired by a relatively long, relatively heavy trigger pull. It was a lawyer move to avoid liability exposure.
The same can be said for semi-autos. It is possible to take the pressure needed to fire a GI .45 down to 1 pound. I have seen it done, and it was reliable. I would not carry a gun so set-up. Besides the possibility of inadvertent discharge there is the possibility that a bad trigger job will result in a pistol going full-auto. That is a bad thing. Have any work done by a reputable, experience person. Do not carry a gun altered beyond factory specs unless there is some compelling operational reason to do so.
As stated previously the above thoughts are mine personally. If you have a complaint, blame me.
NEXT WEEK. Best Gun, Best Load.