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Are Trigger-Pull Modifications Legal Trouble Waiting to Happen?

Colt Mustang Pocketlite with trigger modifications

This is always a popular topic and generated a lot of interest in the comment section of the blog lately, so we thought we would republish this post from a couple of years ago.

Everyone knows that politics have an effect on laws, and laws can have an effect on gun function (such as recent successful state efforts to outlaw certain magazine sizes). But have the politics of anti-self-defense forces infected one of the most important aspects of gun function: Trigger-pull weight? Should you be concerned legally about a trigger modification you make to your firearm? We put the question to Kirk Evans, president of Texas Law Shield and U.S. Law Shield to find out.

Colt Mustang Pocketlite with trigger modifications
The single-action trigger-pull weight on this Colt Mustang XSP Pocketlite Polymer 380 ACP is 7.5 pounds. Pull weight is only likely to be an issue in court if it contributes to a negligent discharge, says Law Shield President Kirk Evans. Photo courtesy of Gun Tests magazine.

CHEAPER THAN DIRT!: First, Mr. Evans, let’s define our terms about trigger modification. The trigger-pull weight is the amount of weight in pounds, or the force that represents that much weight, required to be exerted on a trigger by the user’s finger to discharge the firearm. The greater the trigger-pull weight, the more force is needed to make the weapon fire. Since trigger-pull weight is a product of a mechanical process involving springs, the trigger pull can be manipulated to be lighter or heavier to better suit the owner. Our purpose here is not to take a position on what the perfect trigger pull is for any given situation, but for you to tell us about what the law might have to say if we modify the trigger pull on a gun. U.S. Law Shield Evans: Right. There is no standard trigger-pull weight for firearms, and there are as many opinions on what is an ideal trigger pull as there are gun owners.

If you have intentionally fired your gun, the trigger pull weight is most likely legally irrelevant. If you fired your gun like you intended, the fact that it operated with a very light trigger pull or a heavy trigger pull will likely be of little consequence to any resulting legal matters. If you intentionally shot someone or something with a gun, the key legal issue will be whether or not you were justified in the shooting, with trigger pull being an afterthought.

For example, if you were in fear for your life from an intruder who was breaking into your home and you intentionally shot the intruder, whether you had to press four pounds on the trigger or ten pounds on the trigger is not likely to be a matter that the law will focus upon. Thus, the issue of trigger pull weight of a firearm is very likely going to be not as important as other factors in a legal proceeding in most intentional discharge cases.

CHEAPER THAN DIRT!: What if the gun went off when we did not intend to pull the trigger? A lot can happen to people under stress. Evans: In a situation of a non-intended discharge, the issue of trigger pull weight could be relevant.

Suppose you are confronting an attacker and you have drawn your weapon but have not fired. The attacker, upon seeing the barrel of your gun and your clear verbal warning to STOP, decides to immediately surrender, put his hands up and get on the ground. Just as the adrenaline is easing and you are feeling relief that you did not have to shoot the attacker, the relief is instantly broken when you hear a surprise BANG and feel the recoil of your own gun in your hand. You may not have meant for the gun to go off, but you just had a non-intended discharge.

In a situation involving a non-intended discharge, the law will likely impose a negligent or reckless standard to evaluate the conduct of the person discharging the firearm, and the circumstances surrounding why the gun discharged will be evaluated. This could hypothetically include the trigger-pull weight of your gun. However, the inquiry in most non-intended discharges will likely be decided on a more fundamental issue than trigger-pull weight.

CHEAPER THAN DIRT!: So the 3.5-pound crisper-than-glass break on a 1911 trigger isn’t the problem if we make a mistake? Evans: Before the issue of trigger-pull weight may come into play, the first question in the legal analysis could be, “Why was the person’s finger on the trigger before he or she intended to discharge the weapon?” A very persuasive argument could go like this, “If your finger was not on the trigger, the gun would not have fired.” Therefore, the first act of reckless or negligent behavior would have been putting your finger on the trigger before you wanted the gun to fire. Then, the analysis could potentially shift to the trigger-pull weight of the gun. This is a very unlikely scenario, but not beyond possibility.

CHEAPER THAN DIRT!: What trigger pull should shooters have on their guns? Evans: Our best advice is to be reasonable. As we said before, there is no ideal trigger pull for every gun. For example, a 90-year-old woman suffering from arthritis in her hands may find a nine-pound trigger pull impossible, while a 23-year-old starting linebacker may find it to be just right.

Just remember, when the adrenaline is flowing, that “hair trigger” may cause you to fire your gun before you are ready.

When modifying the trigger-pull weight of your firearm, also keep in mind its intended use. It may not be best to put a one-pound trigger pull on your carry weapon. Similarly, it may not be a great idea to put a ten-pound trigger pull on your new carry gun, making it so hard to pull you can’t effectively hit a target.

In the end, the issue of trigger modification should be an informed one. By adjusting the trigger pull, you are making your tool more useful for its intended purpose. Regardless of what you decide is the ideal trigger pull weight for you and your gun, be sure to practice.

Click here to ask a confidential legal question of Texas Law Shield or U.S. Law Shield.

Have you lightened or improved the triggers on your EDC firearms? Tell us below what you think is the right trigger-pull range for your carry gun.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (24)

  1. Good suggestions , I learned a lot from the points – Does anyone know where I could possibly access a fillable Concealed carry permit application durham county nc form document to edit ?

  2. Some laws/rules can get a person killed. You must decide if that will happen to you if you follow the laws or rules.

    REMEMBER, Bad guy’s don’t EVER care about any laws or rules.

  3. I would argue that a smoothed/lightened trigger lends to more accurate shooting, thus reducing the risk of collateral damage. Remember that your finger should not be on the trigger until you’re ready to shoot, and then a good quality trigger pull is an asset. Of course, practice and training are essential too.

  4. im a retired gunsmith and as a rule of thumb i tell people for a carry gun 4-5 lbs a target pistol as low as the gun will still function reliably. for hunting rifles 3.5 -4 is best and target guns down to about 1lb if you are capable of handling it. shotguns about 3-4lbs. release triggers only for trap shooters and never for a shotgun used for hunting. the real limit though depends on will the gun still function reliably with out the hammer following the slide,hammer drop from impact and hammer spring not causing misfires.
    most hand guns are unshootable from the factory now days and i challenge any one to consistently shoot 1″or less groups at 100 yds with the terrible triggers on most factory rifles. sadly the triggers on most shotguns are even worse.
    the reason for the bad triggers on factory guns is not because the company fears lawsuits,it is because they now have low wage assemblers putting guns together instead of trained craftsman that know how to properly fit parts. take any gun with a steel trigger and look at all the tool marks on the sides of the trigger and sear and hammer not to mention the engagement surfaces.hard to get a good trigger pull if you dont care about fit and finish. just sand blast everything and parkerise or spray paint it.
    i would also like someone to tell me why a gun manufacturer would advertise adjustable trigger pull and then not give instructions on how to do it or what screw to turn.

  5. In regards to using modification to paint a bad picture of the shooter couldn’t the same argument be used for caliber choice? After all the argument is to show you intend to kill or maim. Couldn’t caliber be used as the same? Example You carry a .45 you want to kill people.

  6. I am retired military, retired fed and provide training for LE here in Denver. I have talked to 4 officers and the assistant police chief. All said the same thing. If you or a smith modify a firearm in any way, whether trigger, barrel, even an extended magazine, and use that same weapon in a self defense situation, such modifications can place you at greater risk for prosecution. Secondly, even if you are not prosecuted, there is a chance of being sued by the assailant or their family. If the weapon was modified by the maker / factory, the same is true. My response each time was simple – if the weapon is made more accurate and more dependable, it is inherently more safe, and the chances of negligent discharge, or hitting an innocent would be greatly reduced. The asst chief told me, “yeah you would think that wouldn’t you”. Remember we are dealing with lawyers…

  7. On all of my Glocks I have been told I can Modify my trigger, but I don’t I like the way my Glocks Handle, and as they say: If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

  8. This article was enlightening as far as the criminality of your actions go and the presence of a modified trigger. But what about the civil liability associated with the modified trigger. Criminal = beyond a reasonable doubt. Civil = preponderance of the evidence. I believe Mr. Evans only spoke to the criminal side of legal culpability. I would love to see a follow up article or interview discussing the inevitable civil suit that will ensue the discharging of a firearm in a defensive situation.

  9. I tell students in NC CCH classes to not modify triggers on carry guns! End of story…no further discussion necessary.

    1. Dale: I liked and agree with you that carry guns should not have triggers modified ! End of story….no further discussion necessary. Best answer!! Your answer was right to the point!
      Off the cuff I have a question that you may be able to answer for me. My nephew is planing to move to NC and was told that any firearms he had would have to be shipped from a dealer here in NJ to a dealer in NC. Which doesn’t make sense too me if there are no permit for long guns, only hand guns.
      Now if you bring a hand gun to NC, do you have too take it to the sheriff of the county that you will reside in and get a permit for it or is a permit only required if you purchase a hand gun as a NC resident?
      Your thoughts on this would be very helpful .chrisdmckeon@aol.com

    2. Chris, to answer your question, no. Whomever told your nephew that is just trying to make some money off him.

      Plain and simple…. If you move to NC with your legally purchased firearms, you don’t have to do a thing. This includes handguns.
      In NC, permits are only required from your county sheriff to purchase a handgun, nothing more. A $5 fee for the purchase permit. They do a background check and mail the permit to you in a few days.
      Some counties are a little more relaxed than others, some do just a standard NICS check and some ask about arrest records but the basic process is the same for all 100 counties. Take your application and $5 in person to the Sheriff’s Office of your county and wait for the permit to arrive in the mail. The exception to the purchase permit law is if you are a NC Concealed Carry Permit holder. If you are, then the CCP is your purchase permit as long as your CCP is current/valid.
      The only county in NC that requires its residents to actually register their handguns with local law enforcement is Durham County.

      Hope this helps.
      Just make sure they are unloaded and locked in their cases when transporting.

    3. I would think that should be “no non factory trigger modifications”
      I personally carry with the ny-1 trigger in my glock, which changes the feel and reset just a little, but also makes it a little heavier than stock. As this is a glock factory trigger, and even it’s name comes from the fact that state police in new york use this trigger. It’s also recommended by massad ayoob.
      While a general statement of “do not modify the trigger” is in general a good idea, there is a little room for debate.

  10. In my opinion, experience and practice… The only place a “Modified or Lightened Trigger Pull” is acceptable is in the controlled environment of a shooting “Competition”, Not in everyday carry.
    Just me I suspect after reading previous blogs.

  11. My Gen 3 Glock 19 is modified some what. Fulcrum trigger bar and V5 race connector and all the standard upgrades any Glock owner does. But, If I am able to ever get to a CC class, after I qualify I will change to a Glock 17 trigger bar (polished of course). It took me along time to properly sight and shoot the Glock and the Fulcrum helped. Why the 17 trigger? I hate the way a 19 trigger feels. Did I mention I’m going cross draw it’s easier when you have to use a wheelchair

  12. Mogwan,

    Many places in this f—-d-up country allow police to carry what non-police people are prohibited from owning …. what then ?

  13. This question has come up since civilians started CCW. The BEST guideline-” Best” being totally subjective and interpretative; especially in the eyes of the law and probably a jury of your (non)peers who have little to zero firearms experience except what the Prosecuting Attorney will school them in while your butt is in the hot seat.
    Any modifications to your firearm will not endear you to the Judge or Jury. As previously mentioned, –in the eyes of the DA– your modifications become a clear indication to the jury that your little ‘tweaking'” here & there would make the firearm that much more efficient to accomplish it’s ultimate CC Goal… not to frighten away hostiles, but to be sure they are dispatched with enhanced efficiency. This alone will cast you as a paranoid ‘gun nut’ not satisfied with tits ‘factory determined’ functionality and stopping power. Its like trying to convince the Traffic Court that the 600 HP engine swap you did with your family sedan was to get better highway mileage; and your history of violations for Street Racing had no sway on your decision to install a hi-performance motor.

    THE BEST ADVICE: BUY AND CARRY WHAT YOUR LOCAL COPS USE. If a standard issue, full size frame is too big, call the Department and speak with the Police Armorer. Get his name and ask him what the boys are carrying for on-duty backup / off duty protection…buy and carry one of those.

    Any DA will have much difficulty convincing a jury (and accompanying public sentiment) that your carrying- and unfortunately having to use- the same firearm as carried by your local Law Enforcement puts you in the ‘Cowboy’ classification of toting enhanced weaponry.

  14. I read another article written by a lawyer that states the opposite. In a court, a sharp prosecutor paired with a jury that most of the times is not gun friendly or in best of cases gun-ignorant, wil take the fact that you lighted your trigger to make you look liike a gun nut looking to intently kill just anybody and not just defend yourself. If the case is decided by a jury and not a judge, you have more chances of being charged if you modified your trigger beyond factory. I find my 1911 have a light enough trigger from factory for self defense. Even my CZ double action first shoot is light enough for defense , since I have trained myself that follow up shoots will be lighter.

  15. I tried to improve the slipperiness of my AR15 trigger and discovered something amazing – a gun that can dump a 30 round clip in 3 seconds or fire single shots depending on how you pull the trigger.

    I also discovered that by pushing the trigger pin enough to the left to disengage the lower will accomplish the same thing.

    Making an AR15 automatic is very easy, dangerous, and undesireable. Be smart; buy – don’t make- modifications.

    I have discarded what is most certainly an illegal hammer. Be smart.

  16. One issue I wish they would have covered in the article is the caution of letting someone fire a gun with a light trigger who is not familiar with it. If you choose to put a light trigger on your firearm and will let someone else fire it make sure they dry fire the gun a few times before loading it. If it is a semi-auto, load one round at a time for a few runs before loading more. I like to load one round followed with a second dummy round to make sure they are not double tapping due to a recoil and a light trigger that they are not use to. Bottom line is to make sure they can safely handle the gun, as we recently seen with the child given a full auto she couldn’t handle, a semi with a very light trigger could be just as deadly.

  17. I installed a 3.5lb Ghost kit on my G17 for EDC. It’s light, and I spent several hundred rounds getting comfortable with it. I think anytime a mod is made to a carry gun the user needs to put in plenty of range time to check for safety and function and get comfortable with the mod.

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