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Are Trigger-Pull Modifications Legal Trouble Waiting to Happen?

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Article first appeared at CheaperthanDirt.

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.

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