The truth about trigger weight: Part 2 of 2

October 10, 2013  
Categories: Musings

Yesterday we ran Part 1 of a Critical Look at Trigger Weight. Today’s conclusion is going to discuss training – realistic training and training needs vs. training tradition. We will also be looking at whether or not trigger weight litigation concerns are bullshit. As expected, the article created a lot of discussion. Unexpectedly, the discussion was civil and thought-provoking. That’s a Good Thing, as whether you agree with Breach-Bang-COWAN! or not, we all have room to improve and the need for critical thinking. Dig it. MD

Yesterday I explained how two things seem to be the most common concerns when it comes to trigger weight: safety and liability. We’ll hit the litigation angle in a minute, but let me talk one final thing when it comes to safety – training.

Training traditions, handed down for decades give us many rules or practices that make little sense. Think about them critically, in the context of what we’re really training for. Ranges or instructors that don’t allow movement, drawing from the holster or proper use of cover/concealment in training (among other things) are negligent for it.  If they use the excuse it’s a safety issue then I have this to say: guns shoot bullets. They are inherently dangerous and they make loud noises.  If you can’t/wont train your students/officers to a level where they can perform realistic range movements, you should be fired. 

If they use the excuse it’s a safety issue then I have this to say: guns shoot bullets. They are inherently dangerous and they make loud noises.

Everything in firearms is a safety issue; our job as instructors is to train as safe and realistic as possible, not train our students with a range leash mentality.  I don’t go to the range to learn how to go to the range; I go to the range to learn how to win gun fights.  If you aren’t teaching skills based in reality, then what in the hell are you teaching?  Teaching becomes practice and practiced skills are handed on to others.  If I am sold a wolf ticket by an instructor, how many people can suffer from that bad instruction point?  No matter the pull weight, trigger discipline is trigger discipline.  I have no issue with students running 3.5 triggers on the range or for personal carry once they demonstrate a confident understanding of trigger safety and muzzle awareness.  I refuse to parrot an opinion just because it is a popular song to sing if it is unrealistic and unnecessary in the context of correct training and practice.

Someone may say well accidents happen. To that I say, no, negligence happens.  It is the shooter’s responsibility to be confident in their equipment and skill to use it, it’s my job to train them to that point and give them the skills to solve realistic problems with their tools.

Everything in firearms is a safety issue; our job as instructors is to train as safe and realistic as possible, not train our students with a range leash mentality.

Now let’s talk about lawsuit potentiality. I have been hearing this trigger pull liability nonsense my entire professional career without any objective evidence to support it.  I hear vague references, or people who “know a guy/cop/buddy who” but when I ask for specifics, I get shrugs and weird looks, as if I shouldn’t question the information based on its otherwise reputable source.  I have seen it written on by other instructors, some of them considered industry pillars, yet none of them cited any specific cases…is that because they didn’t bother to look, or when they did, they couldn’t find anything either?

I’m just going to come out and say it; I believe a large majority of the trigger weight advice when it comes to potential litigation is meme garbage.  It’s parroted nationwide from gun ranges to guns stores and despite the length of time I’ve been hearing it, I’ve yet to have someone point to specific case. No one can show me a case in which a handgun with a lightened trigger pull resulted in liability or conviction…how about you?

Of course I wasn’t satisfied with relying on someone else to do my research for me, so I went looking myself and you know what I found?  Nothing.  I found not a single case in which a factory trigger had been reduced in weight being a contributing cause to a conviction or liability of an individual that otherwise was justified in the use of deadly force.  Do you know why I couldn’t find anything? One good reason is that the object of self-defense is immaterial to the act of self-defense. If the item is illegal, that is a separate legal issue.  Any defense attorney worth their hourly fee can get such nonsensical items such as weapon modification thrown out in a suppression hearing before it ever sees a jury.  I can beat someone to incapacitation with a pillow slip full of dead cats or a homemade battle axe and it’s just as legal so long as the use of force is justified.  

I can beat someone to incapacitation with a pillow slip full of dead cats or a homemade battle axe and it’s just as legal so long as the use of force is justified. 

Does that mean no such case exists?  No, but I did not find one.  After an exhaustive search of Westlaw and LexusNexis, phone calls and emails to other instructors and LEOs, as well as a few calls to prosecutors I had worked with in the past, I came up with nothing.  I encourage the reader to do their own search and find, if they can, and actual case. Do not subscribe to the opinion of someone referencing a vague case who cannot, if asked, provide recorded specifics. If you know of one, engage us in the comment section or contact me (see below). Let’s look at facts and eschew innuendo. (Grunts: eschew)

 Or maybe is it because they are guilty of parroting the same type of information I heard as they progressed through their career?  I’m not going to say, or point fingers because I don’t know why they don’t know, or bother to say.

Does that mean your trigger weight won’t be an issue in your self-defense case, either criminal or civil?  No. If the prosecution/plaintiff’s attorney is any good at what they do, it ceratinly will be.  So will a laundry list of other things, and quite a few of them are going to be chaff used to confuse a jury.  Trigger pull weight is a chaff issue.  If it’s legal, it’s legal.  If you shot someone in justified self-defense, the weight of the trigger pull is immaterial to the action and your legal counsel should have little problem countering any allegations to the contrary – just as your firearms instructor should have no problem doing the same when they testify on your behalf (you do get professional training, right?). 

Put bluntly, if you are worried about litigation for a justified use of force, you have the wrong mindset.  A concern, yes, but it should not be a reason to avoid a common sense force multiplier lin the form of a modification that increases speed and accuracy.&

nbsp; Firearms are modified in many ways; stippling, night sights, reflex sights, custom colors, engraving, frame lightening…the list goes on and on.  All of this can be used against you and all of it is chaff so long as the modifications are legal.  Now, I am not advocating that people carry “race guns” at all, because a race gun is not a combat gun. A combat gun is going to be far more reliable when you really need it than a finely tuned (and cost prohibitive) competition machine. 

The trigger is pulled by you, not circumstance.

That said, common sense, solid modifications do not a race gun make. An OEM/third party trigger (or springs) installed by a qualified gunsmith is a perfectly reasonable modification for defensive carry if you are safe and confident in your weapon.  The trigger is pulled by you, not circumstance.  I have been carrying a Glock 19 (off duty) with a 3.5 LBS trigger for close to 5 years without a single negligent issue; this includes the few times I have drawn it with the intention of using it.  If the stars were to align in the favor of negligence and I did have an unintentional discharge, I would have no one to blame but myself.

I know this is going to be a somewhat controversial article.  I knew that when I began writing. I felt it needed to be written though, quite frankly because I didn’t want to wait around for someone else to do it and the topic deserves the attention.  Trigger weight, just like many other aspects with firearms, is an individual choice.  Provided a modification is common sense, correctly installed and safe, I can see no advantage to not having it should you want it.  I would like to see the myths and misinformation regarding this subject expelled from conversation and expunged from the industry. Unfortunately I know this will be an uphill battle, as some of these “facts” are so ingrained that many readers who disagree with me will do so quite passionately – and that’s okay.

Disagree. So long as you have an objective leg to stand on, I support disagreement i the interest of improving our critical thinking and ultimate performance when things go bad.  However, if you disagree based on incomplete information or myths, I will be forced to question the grounds and content of your argument.  If you have read this far it’s because you were curious, objective, have not broken your computer screen, agree with me or are open minded. 

Whatever the reason, weigh the advantages and objective disadvantages presented by a lighter trigger and you may find that I am right (or at least not as wrong as some might have first assumed).  For anyone who wants clarification on anything or has a reasonable counter point, I am always willing to field e-mails. Note: if you type in all caps, I will assume you are yelling at me and will probably delete it.  You can contact me at sage(at) .  If you happen to be in the camp that does agree with me, feel free to mass email this to everyone who doesn’t.

The discussion should take place.

Aaron Cowan

Read more about Breach-Bang-COWAN! here. Follow Sage Dyamics on Facebook or pick up their training DVD.

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  1. Brett Leisy

    I know this is YEARS later after this article. however, Ive seen plenty of things with “awkward” trigger manipulation, some people even filing parts of their trigger safety in order to allow for full compression of the trigger even when pulled incorrectly from one side or another, now we know that even at 10 feet an incorrect finger placement or any lateral pressure of the trigger can cause 6-8 inches of horizontal error. keep in mind this is OUNCES of lateral pressure, that takes the shot from center mass to under their arm. this is under calm conditions, this will be amplified in two ways, first way is to increase stress upon the shooter as fine motor skills become… well.. less fine. the second is to increase the amount of rear ward pressure to make the firearm discharge. if a trigger requires say 6 lbs, and if there is equal side and rearward pressure then its also 6 lbs of torque being applied to the firearm pushing the shot. to heavy of a trigger can cause the barrel to also droop or rise in the hand depending on the grip and trigger.

    now defender is down one shot and they pushed a shot wide and didnt hit intended attacker…. where did the round go? who or what did they hit behind the attacker? now they have to make a follow up shot, even more stressed now. re-acquire target, alignment, and hopefully you havent been shot by then.

    you can preach remedial training all you want. the primary safety is between the ears. people should be taught not to place the finger into the trigger guard until they are sure they are going to be firing. not, you have to lift weights with your index finger to pull the trigger. take my aging mother for example, at 84 years old she has strength issues and has always been small, as she pulls back on a heavy trigger on her light handgun, the barrel will start to shake and wobble. on a lighter trigger she can get a smooth clean pull rearward.

    4 rules of gun safety and a few extra

    1. Treat all guns as if they are always loaded.
    2. Never let the muzzle point at anything that you are not willing to destroy.
    3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you have made the decision to shoot.
    4. Be sure of your target and what is behind it. (lets face it tho, if you are being attacked you cant ask an attacker “can you stand over here please?”
    5. any time you pick up a gun, always check and clear the firearm.
    6. don’t rely on your GUN’S safety

    I think this article points to 2, 3, and 6.

    the whole NY police trigger was horrible, they should have spent it doing muscle memory training, not making it harder for them to do their job. their actual range cost is super cheap with training ammo, and many drills can be done without even expending a single round. parts and labor to replace a trigger and associated parts to adjust the weight you are looking at 100-200 dollars per firearm. even during the rona scare can find practice ammunitions for 13 cents a round, thats 769-1,538 rounds at the range to make THE OFFICERS better and safer.

    all the heavy trigger did was make it less accurate specially under stress, and made it more dangerous to them and those around them they are meant to protect. now they are expected to do target qualifications, in the little town I lived at I was friends with one of the officers, they would have them fire x number of rounds, they would have them run a few blocks then run into the range and fire more rounds. they would have to score X time and X amount of hits. more range time and safety drills, would have helped them way more than a harder to manipulate trigger.

  2. Phil Wong

    Since my original comments got dumped after the change to the new blog format, I’m re-posting this from’s trackback:

    Phil Wong October 12, 2013 at 1:59 am #

    This is the rebuttal I just posted on Part II:

    Well, since Massad Ayoob has been mentioned so often in connection with this issue – I’ve taken 3 different classes with him, and assisted him with about 7 others, so I’ve heard what he has to say on the subject quite a few times. The cases Mas cites most often are the ones he’s worked on where a “hair trigger” was brought up as an issue(among many others in each case) are these:

    – New York V. Frank Magliato(…,…

    – Crown(Canada) V. Gosset(…

    – MI V. Chuck Chase(acquitted of Manslaughter at trial)

    – FL V. Alvarez(…,…

    – GA v. Crumbley(no true bill)

    – KY v. Rucker(acquitted of Manslaughter at trial)

    Other cases where Mas was not involved:…

    (in your neck of the woods)…

    Since I don’t happen to have access to Westlaw or Lexis/Nexis, I had to find these cases here:…


    You might choose to disregard most of these cases because they involve revolvers that were(allegedly) fired after being manually cocked(which any shooter who still uses a revolver for duty/defense should know better than to do), but I would note that a cocked revolver usually has a trigger pull of around 3-4.5 lbs – which is essentially the same as your off-duty Glock 19, yet I don’t believe that you or any other instructor would recommend that your students carry revolvers with the hammers cocked, relying only on trigger finger discipline and a holster that covers the trigger guard for safety…

    For all the heat that Mas gets for his stand on triggers, his position is pretty simple: as long as the pull weight meets or exceeds the minimum stipulated by the manufacturer for that model and for its intended use, it’s perfectly fine and defensible. The times I’ve trained with or assisted him, if he carried a M&P or an XD/XDM, the trigger was pretty much stock, with maybe some burnishing from dry-fire and live-fire. If he carried a 1911, its trigger would scale at least 4 lbs. If he carried a revolver, it would have a very smooth trigger job of around 8-9 lbs. DA, with factory-weight springs. And, if he carried a Glock, it would simply be fitted with a stock 5.5 lb. connector and the NY-1 trigger spring he prefers for durability and positive trigger reset, and shoots best with, possibly smoothed and polished a bit, but weighing right around 8 lbs.

    Thing is, most of the light-trigger fans that have spoken up on this and other threads(like this one, which I also spoke out on:… ) seem to carry on like a trigger weighing 6, 8, or 10+ lbs. is an insurmountable handicap, when it is clearly not – as you yourself pointed out in Part 1, “in 1991, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center conducted a study that found the human hand was capable of convulsing suddenly and involuntarily with up to 25 pounds of pressure under a startle response.” Obviously, that 25 lbs. of pressure is more than enough to stabilize a 2-3 lb. pistol against a 10-12 lb. trigger pull, with just one hand(let alone 50 lbs. pressure from both hands), as long as the shooter has been trained to exert a convulsive, max-force crush grip on the gun(which Mas also teaches, in his “StressFire” method). A week ago, I was in his MAG-120 class, where I shot his own qualification and the OPOTA pistol qualification at triple speed with my Glock 26, equipped with a NY-1 trigger spring and 3.5 lb. connector, which has been approved for duty/defense use by Glock and which weighs about 6 lbs. – that “heavy” trigger didn’t keep me from posting 90%+ scores on both qualifications, and it also let me put 3 out of 6 rounds on a B-27 silhouette at 100 yds., shooting two-handed standing. I also used the same gun to teach a 12-year -ld boy named Brandon how to shoot a pistol – good thing he didn’t know how hard it is to shoot such a “heavy” trigger, otherwise he might not have shot a ragged hole out of the bullseye like he did. Granted, he’s a healthy Hoosier boy every bit as big as me, but he had no prior experience with centerfire pistols before that day, and his targets after 100 rds would have made a lot of older, more experienced shooters proud.

    Yes, conventional wisdom on trigger weight has been formed to a great extent by tradition – Glock’s stock 5.5 lb. trigger was what they started with in the mid ’80′s, Jeff Cooper spec’ed his 1911 triggers to be “four pounds, crisp,” the U.S. Army spec’ed their 1911 triggers at 6-8 lbs. when they first accepted the design, S&W spec’ed the SA triggers on their revolvers to be no less than the loaded weight of the gun itself(for drop-safety). In the arena of the courtroom, “tradition” takes on a different name and meaning – “common custom and practice.” And, if one of the elements of the case against you is that a human being was allegedly injured or killed, due in part to your deviating from common custom and practice, you need to be able to articulate why you did so. As an experienced firearms instructor and highly proficient shooter, you can speak intelligently in court about the benefits of a lighter-than-stock trigger, but what about Joe Flincher the novice shooter? He’s gonna need an expert like yourself, who advocates lighter-than-stock triggers, to counter and offset a bunch of other instructors and expert witnesses, who will be testifying about why they concur with “common custom and practice” regarding trigger weight. In a perfect world, if Glock had standardized on the 3.5 lb. connector, and every Glock in the local gun stores and agency armories were so equipped, it would be simple to point that out as being “common custom and practice” – unfortunately, it is not, and will not be so unless and until you and everyone else who prefers 3.5 lb. connectors can convince Glock that they need to make it standard on ALL commercial, LE and military contract pistols. As matters stand now, any Glock armorer or engineer that provides a deposition or testimony about the design and specifications for such a trial, will have to answer honestly that the company only installs 3.5 lb. connectors in the G17L, G24, G34 and G35 pistols, and only recommends them for recreational target/competition use, rather than duty/defensive use – and the defense will have to convince the court that their lone expert(s) are more knowledgeable about the design and tactical use of Glock pistols than the company itself, which has built and sold millions of pistols over nearly 3 decades…

    Obviously, you prefer a 3.5 lb. trigger on your off-duty Glock 19 because you shoot better, faster and more accurately with it than you do with the stock trigger – otherwise, you wouldn’t have bothered with the 3.5 lb. trigger, and with your background in firearms training you can explain and articulate the difference. The question is, how much better does the 3.5 lb trigger let you shoot, and is it an incremental or a quantum improvement? As a prosecutor or plaintiff’s attorney, I might argue that the lighter trigger was not necessary, unless you could demonstrate that said trigger made such a difference in your shooting ability that with it, you could meet or exceed a necessary performance standard(e.g. department/POST qualification, SWAT qualification, etc.) that you could not meet or exceed with a stock trigger – only then might the higher risk of negligent discharge be outweighed by your need to qualify and be armed with your lighter-triggered gun. However, I strongly suspect that is not the case – the service pistol issued to you by your agency for ON-duty carry probably does not have the same light trigger as your OFF-duty G19(otherwise you would have also mentioned it in your argument), and in all probability is a stock M&P(without an Apex trigger) or a stock Glock(maybe a SIG or H&K, with 6-8 lb. DAK or LEM triggers). Obviously, you can and have qualified to your agency standard with your duty pistol and its stock trigger, otherwise you and that pistol would not be on duty on the street together – that being the case, the best argument you can put forward for the lighter trigger in your G19 is simply the incremental increase in your shooting performance, and the increased confidence it gives you.

    So, what about Joe Flincher the novice shooter who has turned to a lighter trigger because he DOES shoot sufficiently better with it to pass, say, his CCW or armed-guard qualification? Well, he can certainly articulate a need for it, because without it he would not have satisfied the marksmanship requirements needed for him to be armed in the first place. However, I would argue that such a novice is using the light trigger as a crutch to mask an underlying problem with anticipating recoil, trigger control, or some other flaw in their marksmanship basics, and he really ought to be properly re-trained before he learns to anticipate the lighter release weight and starts flinching again(which would send him chasing an even lighter trigger, etc. ad nauseam). That novice might have more confidence in his shooting with a lighter trigger, but without a solid command of the basics and fundamentals, how far is that false confidence really going to take him?

    I guess I’d have to summarize this long-winded rebuttal thusly: If a couple pounds of trigger weight truly make the difference between hitting and missing the vital zone of a human being(approx. 8” circle) within typical defensive-shooting ranges(under 10 yds), that shooter needs remedial training and practice more than a slightly lighter trigger. If a shooter has the skill to get good hits on target at speed, the

    y can probably do almost as well with a stock trigger as they can with a lighter trigger.

  3. Islandusa

    Thank you for not walking with the masses on this one. I have a lighter trigger for the purpose of accuracy. period. Your opinion is breath of fresh air.

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