As a teenager, I was big into hot rods and custom cars. It only follows that I would also like to customize some of my handguns and make them unique to me. Right away, I am sure the warning bells are going off in the heads of those who have read that minor changes to a handgun’s trigger, sighting system, barrel, or action could give a prosecuting attorney all kinds of ammunition to use against you, should you ever find yourself having to be defended after a personal defense shooting.
A well-informed defense attorney, coupled with a careful selection of modifications, should make short work of that type of legal challenge, but I’m not here to give legal advice. Legal concerns aside, let’s just assume that you have guns that are not within your personal defense arsenal and could use a little dressing up. Let’s not forget, some changes are simply cosmetic and have no effect on the gun’s operation.
Types of Customization
When it comes to personalized handguns, there are “race guns” which are totally decked out with features that will make them fast in competition. This includes internal changes such as trigger jobs, competition barrels, flared magwells, etc. These guns would not pass muster in a defensive trial, but they wouldn’t need to. They are built for competition on the range, not concealed carry and self-defense.
Then there are BBQ guns whose only purpose is to impress your buddies at local backyard BBQ events. BBQ guns look so good in the holster they stimulate enough conversation to elicit comparison with other guns at the BBQ.
Personally, I find it difficult to leave a gun alone when there are options on the market that will make it just a little bit unique. Such options include grips, sights, and custom finishes which can be applied without jeopardizing your legal standing in the event of a defensive encounter. Other options such as trigger modifications may be ill-advised on your carry gun but a delight on a gun you own just for the enjoyment of shooting it.
I guess it’s possible simple cosmetic changes could be used against you in court. For example, a Glock punisher backplate could be construed to convince a jury you’re a killer at heart. However, there are hundreds of custom backplates from which to choose that do not imply anything about the gun’s owner other than an association with a particular state, country, religion, school, etc.
Custom backplates are available for Glocks, M&Ps, Shields, Springfields, SIGs, and Rugers. They represent an inexpensive and easy-to-install way to personalize your pistol. Just be careful of the message when installing a custom backplate for a carry gun. Most of the companies that make backplates also make magazine floorplates with logos or messages on them.
One custom backplate made by the folks at ClipDraw has been a delight for me and my arthritis because it is actually a charging handle that makes racking the slide a piece of cake. Once I discovered how well it works and how easy it is to install, I equipped them on several of my guns. The product is a replacement backplate with a rubber loop attached to it. Inserting the index finger of your support hand in that loop and pulling back either locks or cycles the slide with ease.
Grip and Frame
Another easy and common way I’ve used to dress up some of my guns is with a grip change. Grips are available from a variety of manufacturers for both revolvers and semi-automatics. Even some of the most attractive guns can have their appearance approved by the addition of new grips. For example, the SIG Sauer Emperor Scorpion Fastback 1911 Commander looks good with the black grips it comes with from the factory. However, I discovered a set of Coyote Tan sunburst grips from Cool Hand that matched so well with the copper-colored PVD finish, I couldn’t resist making the change.
My Colt Commander has Hogue rubber grips that really make it fit my hands well. Some of my other 1911s have grips that have been changed for no other reason than to make the gun more attractive.
The grip mods I have on a couple of Walthers were available from the factory store. One is a complete grip exchange, and the other was kind of a unique bronze backstrap exchange. The changes on both set them apart from the stock handguns.
The modular designs of pistols such as the SIG P320 or SIG P365 make them easy to convert the gun’s personality. I took advantage of an inexpensive offering from Wilson Combat to change the frame on my P365. It was an easy exchange that gives the gun an entirely new look and feel.
When it comes to making frame changes, one option is DuraCoat. DuraCoat sells kits for camouflage or different color treatments. This is great for a do-it-yourself project, but you can also have a professional do it for you. Certified DuraCoat professionals exist all around the country.
One of these professionals just happens to own my local gun store. I bought a Glock 43X treated by him and had him do a camouflage treatment on my Canik TP9SF. A DuraCoat treatment can take the place of a bluing job producing a beautiful, shiny blue/black surface. I used this treatment, which comes in a spray can, on my Ruger Blackhawk .357 Maximum.
Birchwood Casey also has frame finishing treatments. One I’ve enjoyed using is the Perma Color Firearm Case Coloring Kit. I had a Uberti Hombre with a flat black finish I felt would have more personality if it was color case hardened. Having a firearm restorer with all the equipment and know-how to do color case hardening is expensive, and this was not an expensive gun. I tried Birchwood Casey’s kit and was pleased with the results. Birchwood Casey’s cold bluing kits are great for touching up the bluing on a gun.
Another easy change is a personalized magazine baseplate. Some baseplate exchanges are done just to add some artwork to your gun, but there are also magazine baseplates such as the ones from NDZ performance that provide a tab in front that can easily be grabbed to jerk the magazine from the gun when it’s necessary to reload quickly.
One of my M&P 9mm handguns has custom features — some added by Viking Tactics and others by me. Viking Tactics added night sights doubled up with highly visible fiber-optics for daytime use. Viking Tactics provided a flared magazine well, and this pistol also has an Apex trigger installed by me.
The Apex trigger mimics a straight 1911 trigger and makes for an easy, crisp trigger engagement. I love it, but I don’t carry this as a concealed carry pistol because of the precedence of crazy court decisions that have discouraged reducing the trigger pull weight on carry guns. I’m not sure, but wonder, “What if I knew I was wading into a gunfight ahead of time?” Then, I might just put that gun on my belt because it was designed by a combat veteran for combat duty.
When it comes to sights, I generally elect to buy a gun with night sights. If I get a gun that doesn’t have them, I’ll generally check to see if XS-Sights has a set that matches the gun. If it does, those are my go-to sights. Lots of manufacturers, including XS-Sights, are using Glock’s method of mounting sights which makes them easy to replace. The front sight is mounted with a screw with a hex head and several sources have a wrench designed for that screw.
The rear sights slide out and the replacement sight slides in. Some guns require a sight tool for removing the rear sight. I’ve somehow managed to accumulate three different types of sight tools with the easiest to use being the ATG sight pusher.
Here are some of the highlights of the features I have added to my guns. There’s no question I enjoy personalizing them, especially when I can do it without spending a fortune on a custom gunsmith job. It’s not that I wouldn’t like a custom pistol costing thousands of dollars, but that’s just not in the cards for me. Hopefully, I’ve given you a few ideas here that you can use to dress up your favorite handguns.