(This originally ran June 8, 2008.)
Chapter 8. Customizing a firearm.
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 and if it wasn’t, it wasn’t. The law still doesn’t care, but juries do (and sometimes DAs do too).
Some alterations to a gun 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 no problem, especially if you use commercially made items. One size fits all really doesn’t. Different sights are OK too. I know my eyes are not as good as they used to be and I can see the sights on my .45 much better with the high-visibility sights on it currently than I could with the mil-spec ones. Night sights have their place, and having a light on your house gun is not unreasonable. I am not wild about laser sights but I am not wildly opposed to them either.
Other things get questionable. Trigger jobs for instance. Smoothing out a trigger is one thing, making it lighter is another, making it very light (the proverbial hair-trigger) is dangerous both actually and legally. Removing, disabling or otherwise diddling with safety mechanisms can be legally dangerous. S&W puts a magazine safety in all it’s semi-autos for civilian sale, though they will leave it out of department guns. If you send your personal gun into S&W for service, and it does not have the magazine safety in it, they will reinstall it. Taking it out could be legally dangerous, even though having it in may not having anything to do with an actual shooting incident.
At one time pinning down the grip safety on a GI .45 was a common alteration, many gunsmiths won’t do it any more. Putting a grip safety on with a speed bump on it to make the engagement more positive has a lot less risk attached to it. At one time a LONG time ago cutting away the front of the trigger guard was a common alteration to serious self-defense concealed carry revolvers. You might now have a hard time finding a gunsmith who would do it.
All makers have a set of factory specifications that a gun has to met in order to leave the factory. Say for instance your revolver has a factory spec of 3-5 # single action and 7-11 # double action. Lowering the force required to fire the weapon below those specs in dangerous legally. If you are ever in a position where you have to use the weapon you can be sure the lawyer on the other side (and there will almost certainly be one) will be happy to try to make you out to be a dangerous psycho carrying a “hair-trigger gun”. That is why a lot of LAPD and NYPD revolvers back in their revolver days were either altered or purchased originally so they would only fire double action. S&W still offers this as a factory option on many of their revolvers.
The same can be said for auto-pistols. It is possible to take the single action trigger pull on a GI .45 down to 1#, 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 for a semi-automatic to go full auto if the trigger is set too light, or if the trigger job is done badly.
Have any work done by a reputable, experienced person and do not have a carry gun altered beyond factory specifications unless there is some compelling operational need to do so. It is the sensible thing to do. Sensible is safe and legally defensible. In the real world now days that is an important consideration.
The department now (as of 2015) requires that you sign a declaration that the weapons you are shooting on their ranges for off-duty / retired qualification are unmodified except for sights or grips. They do not specify what precisely they consider the term to mean.
As stated previously, the above thoughts are mine personally and not Paco’s, CCPOA’s CDCr’s, or anybody else. If you have a complaint blame me, not them.
Next week; Best gun, best load.