Modifying Your Gun? Here's What You Need to Know
Most gun owners are gear heads.
They love buying accessories, special ammunition, and making modifications to their firearms to make them more effective. Lightening trigger pull, polishing feed ramps, adding laser sights, polymer parts, folding stocks, shooting hot loads or frangible ammo, high-capacity magazines, even bayonets and grenade launchers. In a nutshell, doing things to their weapon to make it more comfortable, lighter, more accurate, or just, well, cooler.
But the truth is if you ever have to use your weapon in self-defense, it's possible those modifications will be used against you in court.
After a self-defense shooting, the scrutiny you'll come under will almost make you feel like you are the criminal. Your gun will be taken as evidence in the investigation, and will be subjected to rigorous examination. Besides being tested for DNA and dusted for fingerprints, it will be taken apart by a crime lab to test functionality, and to find out if the gun meets factory specs. Any modifications or deviations from factory specifications will be noted on the lab report, as will the type of ammunition used.
It would be nice to think that prosecutors always want to see justice done first and foremost, and that if a shooting is justifiable they will decline to prosecute, but the sad fact is that too many are gung-ho and looking for convictions however they can get them. Most people who serve on juries aren't very knowledgeable about firearms and have had their opinions formed purely by what they've seen in movies and on TV. If such a prosecutor believes that he can convince a jury that the modifications made to your firearm somehow proves that you were reckless, negligent, or just a bloodthirsty trigger-happy gun nut, they will do so, and it could lead to a conviction for manslaughter or even murder in extreme cases. Sometimes even when a shooting in self-defense is clearly justified, the defendant is convicted.
A lightened trigger pull is one of the most common handgun modifications, and therefore is the one that is most likely to become an issue in court. You'd think that if you claim that you intentionally pulled the trigger and fired at an assailant, trigger weight wouldn't be an issue. But a prosecutor can argue that you're not being honest, that your gun accidentally discharged because of your non-factory standard trigger pull, and that you're guilty of negligent homicide. It can and does happen. It can also happen in a civil suit where you're being sued for wrongful death, where it might be easier to sway a jury because, after all, it's just money at stake, and will cost you dearly if you lose.
Think Before You Modify
If you research this issue online, you'll find there's a lot of controversy in the gun community about it, with some arguing that it's not really something to worry about, and others saying it is. There's no doubt that modifications have led to convictions, though not in most cases. It just depends on the situation. It's up to you whether the mods are worth the risk. It might be better to leave your primary self-defense weapon in its factory condition.
Understanding your rights and being prepared with a good legal defense is essential in any case.