CCW Safe Podcast- Episode 77: Carry Gun Modifications
CCW Safe Podcast- Episode 77: Carry Gun Modifications
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CCW Safe Use of Force Expert Rob High and Firing Line Radio host Phillip Naman are joined by CCW Safe Critical Response Coordinator Gary Eastridge to discuss weapon modifications and some things to think about regarding them.
Rob High: Hi welcome to the CCW Safe Podcast. I’m Rob High, joined by Philip Naman, and today our critical response team manager Gary Eastridge. Welcome, gentlemen.
Phillip Naman: Thanks. [inaudible 00:00:15] [crosstalk].
Gary Eastridge: Happy new year.
Rob: We’ve discussed this a couple of different ways, [unintelligible 00:00:21] things but we’re going to touch today on modifications to your firearms and some of the troubles that can come about even on something that’s a joke or something like that. Gary was a homicide investigator, he was the chief investigator for the district attorney’s office here in Oklahoma county, and we’ve seen about everything you can see but Gary’s seen more than I have. I shoot but I’m not an armorer, I’m not a gunsmith, I don’t ever pretend to be. I’m not the guy that’s going to go out and trick out my own gun or anything like that. If I have work to do, I take it to a gunsmith.
There are pitfalls that if you’re going to add these little sassy things you want to think twice about it, especially if it’s something that you’re going to carry. If it’s something you’re going to put away in your safe and just have for a showpiece, that’s one thing, but I would really err on the side of caution when you’re doing things that make a mockery of self-defense and the potential to take somebody’s life.
Phillip: There was a t-shirt that was around in the ’80s, I think it was from Vietnam Special Forces, said something in the neighborhood of kill them all, let God sort them out.
Rob: [inaudible 00:02:08].
Phillip: We’ve all seen those t-shirts. Like you’re saying is you carry something– Oops, dog is in the background. You carry something but for whatever reason, you have something like that in your vault. Now as a homicide detective if you get a search warrant for the guy’s house, you go in there, and he has a Smith & Wesson 642 that it was used to defend his life but then he’s got a 1911 in there engraved on the side, “Kill them all, let God sort them out,” Gary, what does that do for mindset?
Gary: What the concealed carrier needs to keep in mind is that in a absolutely clear-cut, clean, self-defense incident, the weapon really is irrelevant. The problem is they’re very seldom that clean-cut and readily apparent as a justified self-defense. When a prosecutor is determining whether to file charges or not, sometimes if things are a bit ambiguous, they might look at your mindset as Rob touched on. If you’ve got this tricked out “Kill them all, let God sort it out” and things that reflect maybe a callousness towards human life, that can play into that prosecutor’s decision on whether or not to file a charge.
I always make the recommendation that you don’t make any modifications that either show a lack of maybe compassion or good judgment, anything that might show a bias in addition to those modifications that might make the firearm inherently more I hate to say dangerous but not safe for the purpose it was designed for.
Phillip: We’re talking right now about somebody engraving, a lot of times, like a Glock, just your basic Glock 19, 17, 34, whatever. The backplate of those on the Glocks, sometimes guys will have taken off, put an American flag on the back, or a “Don’t tread on me”, or something that they like. Are you talking about stuff like that?
Gary: Actually, in my mind, there are two separate modifications to a firearm. One is strictly the appearance. If you have it coated a green color but you haven’t really done anything to change the operation of the firearm, just its appearance, so if you engrave logos on it, the American flag, that’s all well and good, US marine corps, that’s all well and good, but when you start the little catchy, what comes to mind, I don’t know if you’ve seen there’s an aftermarket barrel that has around the muzzle of the barrel, it has words to the effect of “Smile and wait for flash”. What have you accomplished by saying that or putting that on your firearm?
To me, as an investigator, it’s almost that cavalier that you just don’t take human life serious enough.
Rob: Well, and there’s a big difference in a cosmetic change versus a change that actually is to the mechanics of the gun.
Rob: You’ve done some gun plumbing and going from a 14-pound trigger to two. Why?
Rob: Is that what we’re going to carry for everyday concealed carriers? Part of that is understanding what your mission is as a carrier. I carry for no other purpose but to protect myself and my family, that’s it. I don’t go looking for trouble, I don’t go trying to intercede. I’ve done that for a living, I’ve been a police officer, I don’t do that anymore. I laid that down, I do something different now. I really carry pretty much a factory firearm, I don’t have any special modifications or anything like that to it.
As a competition shooter, when I was shooting PVC stuff, I had an action job done on the gun, worked the trigger, and when I was shooting like service auto stuff. There was nothing with taking a Dremel tool and polishing up the linkage in your trigger or something like that and just making it smoother. Gary, I don’t know if you recall that we’ve discussed some of this recently, I don’t know if you were involved in that discussion, but we had a officer in this area of Oklahoma in the central part of Oklahoma that had a parts gun that he had put together for a patrol rifle. The dust cover on it at his ejection port had some stupid deal on it. It’s just one of those that was a clean shooting but man.
Gary: Well, it became a point of great concern and they used it unsuccessfully but it was still used to try to put the officer, which it could have been a concealed carrier for that matter, but to show a callousness on his part. The dust cover said “You are f’d” and it had no bearing whatsoever on the actual incident but it was used by a prosecutor to try to show a callousness towards his fellow man. What did you really gain by adding that to that firearm?
Rob: Well, it’s just being flippant, it’s like you’re talking about the sanctity of human life.
Gary: Well, and that’s what again a lot of the average concealed carrier probably doesn’t realize, that if you’re involved in a shooting, your gun is going to be taken, it’s going to be examined. Any modifications are going to be noted. You pointed out earlier about the trigger weight. If a standard Glock trigger is around five pounds and that firearms examiner measures yours repeatedly at two and a half pounds, a significant change over factory, that’s going to raise some eyebrows. Now, if it’s been cleaned up and instead of five pounds, it’s four and a half, but it’s cleaner and crisper, it’s going to be in the normal range of what a trigger may pull and is not going to cause a lot of concern.
When doing functional modifications to a firearm, in my book, they should not be anything extreme.
Phillip: So [crosstalk]–
Gary: Anything– Go ahead.
Phillip: Anything extreme, I brought a couple of examples in here. Everybody has seen a six-shot Smith and Wesson 586. Pretty standard, two-inch, four-inch, six-inch, eight-inch barrel, whatever. These have all been cleared by the way. If this was your particular firearm, would this be slightly modified?
Gary: Yes, very much so. That’s a purpose-driven target revolver. Not to say that it could not be used in a self-defense setting.
Phillip: You don’t want to carry this appendix carry, I’ll tell you that for sure.
Gary: Well, you’re not going to want to carry it because of the size and weight but also, like I say, that doesn’t scream self-defense gun. That is, to me, an aggressive competition gun.
Phillip: It is. A lot of us with the gray hair syndrome, our eyes are not what they used to be, and black sites, especially if you’re low light situation, black sites, black night, there’s a lot of different things. What if somebody added optics? Here’s a Glock 19, again, this gun’s previously been cleared, so here’s a Glock 19 with an optic on it, a hollow sun, and a nightlight. Is this what you would consider an overly aggressive style firearm?
Gary: To me, that has a setup that can be justified. It’s easy if you’re asked, “Hey, why do you have this optical device on top?” “Well, I’m getting older. My eyes are not as good and if I have to use this, I want to be able to shoot it as accurately as possible.” The problem with that particular firearm is you have the lightning cuts on the slide which are either an option or done aftermarket. You don’t want a gun that you walk in and the first thing the prosecutor does when he sees the picture of it from where it’s being examined by the firearms examiner is look at it and go, “Wow, look at that killing machine. Look at that. This is somebody that was gunning for a fight.”
“He’s got this gunfighter fantasy rig here that he’s using to defend himself.” The light, the optic are both things that are becoming more readily acceptable in society. The lighting cuts on the slides should really have no bearing on whether a shooting is justified or not justified. As I said, the issue you run into, you don’t want charges filed on you. You want everything that can put yourself in the best light possible.
Phillip: For instance, you’re saying that if there’s no other option. The slides for a Glock that are available for optics have those cuts on them. Again, here’s a prosecutor saying, “Wow, that’s a killing machine,” not realizing because he’s not in the gun culture that that’s the way they come. If you need to have optics on your gun, people don’t buy a basic slide over again. They get a better slide or better upgrade. If you’re going to have optics on your gun, it’s going to look something like that across the board. Again, that’s not their culture. It’s not what they know, and so the image appears to be more aggressive.
Gary: Exactly. Sometimes that can make the difference rightly or wrongly. It can make the difference on whether charges are ultimately filed or not. In reality, you and I know those cuts on that slide have no bearing whatsoever on the justification of a shooting. However, if you’ve got a prosecutor, and a lot of investigators are not necessarily gun people, but if that mindset of, “Oh, look how aggressive this thing looks.” If the investigator says that, then the next thing you know he goes over and tells the prosecutor, “Man, look at this gun that he used.” That can change that perspective of the prosecutor. You just don’t want to do anything that will put you in a bad perspective.
Looking like maybe somebody who was looking for a fight versus purely defending themselves.
Phillip: If I can bring up another example. This is a CZ 75. Again, I’ve pre-cleared it. This is a CZ 75. Now, this is stock. When these come out of their box, their trigger literally extends almost to the front of the trigger guard. You’ve got a two-inch trigger pull. It’s like you want to get out of the car and walk to the curb from there before the gun goes off. In a defensive situation, that long of a trigger pull is really pretty much going to pull you off target on your first shot, especially since it’s double action. This looks just like it came out of the box, but it’s had a Cajun trigger job done on it. The trigger reset is shorter and the reach on this trigger is half of what it was before and it’s a little bit lighter.
This is actually looks stock, but it shoots much better. It shoots more accurately with a cleanup on the trigger than the way this comes out of the box. How would something like this be considered?
Gary: For me, it doesn’t have that aggressive look.
Phillip: So, the look is more important than the actual weight on the trigger pull maybe?
Gary: Yes, it could be. Keep in mind again, if it’s a super, super clean incident where there’s no question [crosstalk]–
Phillip: Like the Rittenhouse shooting. [laughs]
Gary: Well, without touching on specific cases, you want to put yourself in the best light possible. My only concern with that is the average firearms examiner is going to see a lot of Glocks. He may not see a lot of CZ 75s. If that CZ 75 has a six-pound double action when every other one has a seven, seven-and-a-half-pound, it’s probably not going to be any issue at all. However, if that is substantially less than any representative sample the examiner has to compare with, that’s where it could build in questions. For me, that’s an easy one to justify, “I had the trigger mechanism cleaned up so I could shoot it more accurately.”
Phillip: Again, I’m just asking this for roundabout questions, is there a limit that you would say you wouldn’t want to justify it, the trigger pull, “Okay. You should never have a trigger pull under X.” Well, if somebody has a 1911, most of those in single-stage have very light trigger pulls. Is there a number, is there a weight? Help us understand exactly what they’re looking for?
Gary: I don’t believe there’s a number or an exact weight. What I would look for is I know the average 1911 has somewhere between a four-and-a-half and probably five-and-a-half-pound trigger pull. If that trigger weighs four pounds, I’m not going to get excited over it. However, if I’m examining it and I have enough 1911s that I can tell by handling and function testing, “Boy, this has got a heavily modified trigger,” and we then put a scale on it and it comes out to two and a half pounds, you’re going to get looked at from a slightly different perspective. Again, it’s not just one thing.
Let’s say, then you’ve got that trigger, pull that’s two and a half pounds, and now you’ve got de engraving “Kill them all, let God sort it out”, that’s one more thing and that [crosstalk]–
Phillip: By the way, folks, that was not a recommendation to put on your gun. No, no, no.
Gary: I prefer a firearm that looks like it came off the shelf. I carry VP9, I had the trigger action worked over by a company up there in the Northwest that does excellent work.
Phillip: I would carry that too if it was allowed in California. It’s a great gun.
Gary: Well, here in Oklahoma, we don’t have as many restrictions, but if you looked at my VP9, it looks like a factory VP9. One of the things, there’s a lot of aftermarket triggers for the striker-fired guns. One of the things I never liked is when you got a black and it’s got this bright-red, anodized, aftermarket trigger that just screams, “Look at me, I’ve changed the trigger on this,” does that really change anything? Absolutely not, but it catches the eye so it’s going to build in a question.
Phillip: Would a prosecutor look at, maybe there’s four shots fired, maybe they think the last shot was accidental because the trigger was too light? Are they doing something like that or are they saying that if you have a light trigger, you’re overly aggressive? Is it more that mindset?
Gary: Well, keep in mind that prosecutors are like investigators are like concealed carriers and there’s no two of them that are identical, that the prosecutor that you deal with out there in Southern California is going to be very different than the prosecutor I deal with here in central Oklahoma. I meant Southern California if I didn’t– anyway keep in mind that if that person has an anti-gun slant, is not a big proponent of self-defense, that’s where all these little things are like, “Yes, but look at this, look what he’s done here. Yes, but look at this.” Now, this is where the functional modification can really come into play.
You mentioned let’s say that last shot was accidental and now you’re looking at the possibility of a manslaughter charge where you did something you didn’t intend, now you’ve got a gun with a 50% trigger pull over what a factory gun has. You’ve just built in an issue for either your defense attorney or your civil attorney to address. What I’m trying to say is don’t build in any issues.
Phillip: Don’t give them any more billable hours. [laughs]
Gary: Don’t give them anything else to really consider. Is the juice is worth the squeeze? The visual, the aesthetic modifications don’t really improve the performance of the gun at all. For a defensive carry, avoid the catchy phrases. The American flag, hey, we can all get along with that.
Phillip: That actually may upset the California prosecutors more than anything else, is actually putting an American flag on something, [unintelligible 00:24:17].
Gary: Well, then you look at the Gadsden flag. Is that something I’m going to put on my gun? No, I’m not going to do any modification that screams any certain agenda. My gun is for self-defense, as Rob said, that’s what it is. It’s to defend me and my family. It’s a tool, it’s not a platform for me to express my political views or anything like that.
Rob: Well, there’s so many things that we just [unintelligible 00:25:02] through right there. I mentioned earlier, knowing your mission, what is your mission? What is your responsibilities? What is your purpose as a concealed carrier or not first responders? I don’t have an issue with the different slide on that Glock, it’s got an object on it that’s in place to help you be able to function the firearm and there are things that I can articulate if I’m asked about, and that’s something you need to keep in mind if you’re making any modifications is, why do you have that? Gary touched on it. That’s on there because my eyesight is not what it used to be.
In the event that I’m involved in an incident that I have to resort to lethal force, I want to ensure that I’m as accurate as I possibly can be. I don’t want to hurt anybody else. I know that I’m responsible for every round that comes out of my gun. That’s a big deal. Part of that is understanding why you’ve made that change. What is the change to the firearm and can I explain it in a court of law? Again, understanding what my mission is in that environment. Something else you got to think about is yes, in the event that it gets to a prosecutor or an investigator or whatever that makes me do a double-take and they start questioning other things, I’ve really put a hurdle in front of myself. I did that, I caused that.
I don’t want to do that. I want to keep things as smooth as I possibly can, but something we haven’t even discussed is if that charge gets filed, what is our jury pool going to look like and how are those people’s feelings towards firearms? Do they even think you have a right to defend yourself? We do, but there’s a lot of people in this country that would argue that fact and they think that we’re not really supposed to be citizen responders but Gary and I can both tell you, I can’t tell you what response time is going to be. I rode in the same district for about three years. I knew all my bad guys. I knew shortcuts off through the neighborhoods.
I knew how to get from point A to point B, but my district was large enough and if I’m at one far end and you call, and there’s not another unit available that’s closer, it may take me 10 minutes to get there. That’s not acceptable to me if I’m in a life or death situation so I [inaudible 00:27:54] [crosstalk]-
Phillip: It’s a long 10 minutes.
Rob: -when I can but again, it’s things that I can articulate, why do you do this? Why do you do that? Why would you make this change to the firearm?
Phillip: Now, both of you were at Oklahoma, right? Oklahoma departments, in the same department?
Phillip: I know you can’t speak across the nation, but in Oklahoma, was there a minimum or maximum trigger poll requirement on the duty weapons?
Gary: Well, most agencies are not going to allow much or any significant modification. I think in Oklahoma City now you cannot add aftermarket components to your carry firearm, so you could clean up the action on certain guns, but you wouldn’t be able to do anything that would make a significant change. That policy has really evolved over the years.
Rob: Well, and it was something that the work needs to be done by a certified armor. It needs to be approved by [inaudible 00:29:07]. There’s several things that go with that that keep guys corralled because cops are as bad as anybody, they’ll put all stupid stuff because they think it’s cool, it has nothing to do with improving the function of a firearm. Aside from those other things, is understanding your local laws. There’s far more restrictions on what you can and cannot have in New York or New Jersey or California. We’re pretty open in Oklahoma. I can do a lot of things with my firearm, but I still need to be able to articulate.
If that’s what I’m carrying for self-defense, I got to be able to articulate, “Why do you have that light on your gun, Phil?” Well, when I come home from work, it’s after sundown.
Phillip: I noticed almost every day, it tends to get darker the later it gets. I don’t know. It’s a trend I’ve noticed sometimes that happens.
Phillip: Oh, there you go.
Gary: Yes. I think Rob, you touched on a very important aspect of that, is just being able to articulate why you’ve done that modification, keeping in mind that an investigator may not know what to ask, may not be a gun person, that prosecutor may not be a gun person. If you’re asked to explain your everyday carry setup, be able to do that, be able to say, “Hey, hell, I’m 64 years old now, I don’t see as good as I used to, so I have to run an optic. I have some arthritis from injuries. I had to have that action cleaned up a little bit to function it safely and efficiently.”
Rob: Well, even the CZ Phil was talking about. It’s got a trigger that’s almost out to the front of the trigger guard and you got all of this play that you have to pull through. I’ve cleaned this up to make this a safer performing firearm. I ran the police academy for several years and it was one of the things that I always tried to get through to those kids. I still saw bad reports come in but the most important articulation that I have to make is over a use of force, whether it’s just hands-on or anything beyond that, less lethal or whatever it may be. It’s critical that I’m able to [inaudible 00:32:02] you, “This happened, this happened, this happened. I said this, he said this, I did this, he did that.”
You got to articulate all of those facts. It can be something as simple as we’re all getting older. I’m not, but I used to be, I’m absolutely the first to acknowledge that, I feel it every morning when I get up, but it’s one of those that I’m 60-years-old and I look over here and you got this guy over here that he’s 22 and he just stepped out of a dojo, and I can’t go with this kid. That’s not for me. I got to be able to articulate all those little things.
Phillip: Another thing to maybe consider, at least here in California, if you’ve got a Glock 17, you’ve got 21-round magazines, why do you have two magazines? Are you just looking for a gun fight? It’s like, no, because you’ve capped us to substandard carrying capacity in a pistol, we have to change magazines. If you look at some of the police shootings, which obviously are different, many times the police officers shoot multiple, multiple rounds. If you had a minimum capacity magazine like we’re forced to have here in California, you’re out of gas, you have to gas up again because it’s just seven rounds, the Shield’s got seven rounds in it. There’s lots of different things that you would have to be able to articulate.
Why do you have two magazines? Well, I only used one, but we’re substandard, we’re fighting in the hole.
Gary: Yes. As Rob touched on as well ago, you are your backup in a lot of situations. I live out in a suburban area, but my police response would probably be 15, 20 minutes. Well, a lot can go wrong in 15, 20 minutes. You can’t have too much ammo, but you can have too little ammo. What you end up carrying on you is a compromise. Again, I think that’s where that perspective issue comes in. If you’re carrying a seven-round Shield, I may carry two spare magazines, maybe even three, but do you really want your USPSA mag pouch all the way around your waist with [inaudible 00:34:42] [crosstalk]–
Phillip: [unintelligible 00:34:42] look like Batman’s utility belt, right?
Gary: Yes, exactly. So much of it is about perspective.
Phillip: But, the grappling hook comes in handy. If you’re got to wear the utility belt, make sure you got the grappling hook on there. That’s a good thing.
Gary: As bad as my shoulders are, I don’t think I could use a grappling hook. [chuckles] My grappling hook days are behind me.
Rob: Yes. Gary, thanks so much for coming on and helping us through this. Again, guys, if you got questions, comments, you can shoot those straight in through email@example.com or me directly at robccwsafe.com. We always welcome your thoughts and your questions, and we appreciate you guys so much tuning in and hope that you’ll join us next time. Thank you, Phil. Thank you, Gary. Appreciate you guys.
Phillip: Happy new year.