By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters
An oft-repeated trope is that modified triggers are a legal liability. You should never do that to a carry gun, people will say, because a lighter, crisper trigger pull can show that you wanted to be able to kill someone more easily! A prosecutor is going to eat you alive if you modify your trigger!
That’s why some people recommend that you never modify a gun, such as one you might place in a concealed carry holster and pack around on a daily basis, that’s intended as a defensive weapon. Competition guns, okay, hunting rifles, alright, but don’t touch your nightstand pistol or carry gun at all.
Is that necessarily true though? On paper it makes a certain amount of sense from a particular perspective that a lighter trigger might be evidence of someone looking or hoping to be involved in a shooting. (Granted, a delusional perspective.)
This isn’t legal advice, but it’s not likely to be much of an issue in proving self-defense. An eminent and immediate threat is an eminent and immediate threat; a 4-pound trigger pull makes as little difference as a 10-pound trigger pull. While this isn’t legal advice, the fact of the matter is a claim of justified shooting doesn’t hang on the gun that’s used – it hangs on the circumstances under which it was used.
Where it appears to make a difference is in cases that revolve around some sort of negligence. Usually it’s where a defendant argues that a discharge happened inadvertently due to a lightened trigger pull. Take, for instance, People v. Magliato, a 1985 case from New York. The defendant (one Frank Magliato) drew his snubnose revolver that had been modified for a lighter trigger pull – about 4 pounds in single-action mode – during a confrontation over a parking lot fender-bender.
Magliato cocked the pistol in case he had to fire and aimed it at his assailant, one Anthony Giani of New Jersey, who was about 15 yards away and holding a nightstick. A car passed between them, close to Magliato, whose pistol discharged and hit Giani in the head, killing him. Magliato contended that while he had drawn, cocked and aimed, he didn’t intend to fire; the car that passed by startled him and the hair trigger just went off.
Magliato’s defense stipulated that he had drawn and cocked the pistol and killed Giani. However, what they disputed was disregard for human life; since the gun was a “hair trigger,” barely any pressure nor length of pull was required to discharge the gun.
Magliato was initially convicted of second-degree homicide, but upon appeal had his sentence reduced to second-degree manslaughter. However, the trigger was not a factor in the reduction of sentence. The appellate court didn’t buy his explanation (having cocked the pistol meant he knowingly engaged the single-action trigger) and what got his conviction reduced was actually a procedural error by the jury.
You can read the decision on Leagle, in case you’re curious.
There are other cases where the gun “just went off” in a similar manner; you can look them up if you’re curious. (Leagle is a good resource.) Usually, the claim is something akin to “it just went off” or something to that effect and it’s almost always in the effort to plead down to or have a sentence reduced to that of a lesser offense.
In the court cases I’ve read so far the “it just went off” defense doesn’t work. Just like Magliato, procedural errors are far more likely to do the trick. It also seems to be common for people to claim a gun has a hair trigger only for a trigger gauge to find such claims wanting.
So, to sum up: don’t believe the old saw about modified triggers. A justified shooting will always be a justified shooting.
Sam Hoober is Contributing Editor for AlienGearHolsters.com, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit aliengearholsters.com.