Firearms: Enhancing your service pistol
by Dave Spaulding
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A few modifications can optimize your handgun for you
No one handgun fits every police officer or shooter. Like height and waist size, hand size and individual finger length vary greatly. Hand strength is also inconsistent, so any agency that attempts to buy one gun to fit every member of the force will likely be met with frustration at the least. A better solution: Buy a family of guns in which the manual of arms are the same, but the grip configurations and trigger-reach length vary from model to model.
That sounds good, but what if your duty sidearm is a make that does not offer this variance? This is quite possible, because the Glock semi-automatic pistol is currently the official duty sidearm of between 60-80 percent (depending on who you talk to) of American law enforcement agencies and officers. The Glock is a proven weapon that's easy to shoot and train with, but as good as it is, it does not fit everyone. Modifications can enhance the Glock for individual officers, but this can prove problematic for agency-owned weapons.
While a large number of police administrators will not permit modifications to agency-owned guns, a growing number of enlightened chiefs look at this both as a morale booster and a liability. "If an officer wants to have the grip of their Glock pistol modified, I'm OK with it as long as it is done by a bona-fide gunsmith who specializes in this modification," one East Coast police chief told me. "If the officer leaves the department for any reason, I now have a small-grip gun that I can issue to another officer of small stature that did not cost me a dime. The officer who had the modification done will be more confident in [their] shooting ability and more likely to hit what [they are] shooting at in a gunfight. The way I see it, this reduces my liability. It's a win-win situation for me."
For this forward-thinking chief, it would be wise to approve any modification prior to securing written approval, and then allow the agency's armorer or firearms instructor to inspect the pistol upon its return. If the gun features modifications that were not approved, well, that's between the officer and the chief. If it's a personal gun, the problem is solved.
What type of modifications warrant approval? It's difficult to make a blanket statement that covers all possible alterations, but if the modification does not enhance the shooter's ability to use the firearm, don't permit it. Engraving, two-tone finishes or clip-on items may give the gun "cool points," but a pretty gun does not provide enhanced performance. I will discuss a few Glock modifications I think make it more user friendly, complete with reasons why. And although I'm talking specifically about the Glock, you can make similar modifications to other makes and models. Take careful note of the thought process behind such modifications and relate them accordingly.
Changing the Grip
The first thing I needed to do with my Glock was to change the grip configuration, which is probably the most popular modification made to the pistol because its fat grip and extreme grip angle do not work for everyone. The modification is offered by any number of custom gunsmiths, but the ones I am most familiar with are from the Robar Companies (the original gunsmith to perform the modification), Chestnut Mountain Sports, Aro-tek and Bowie Tactical Concepts. I can personally vouch for the quality of work performed by any of these companies. To go elsewhere, in my mind, is to venture into the unknown.
All of these companies will try to work with you on final grip configuration, but they can't read minds. If you provide no guidance, you will receive a gun with a straight backstrap and as much grip material removed as possible. If you want something other than this, give the gunsmith a make and model of a double-stack pistol that fits your hand well, and ask the company to recreate this configuration as closely as possible. This is about as close to a custom fit as you can get without traveling to the gunsmith and standing next to them while they work on your gun.
The Magazine-Release Button
Another modification I recommend: changing the magazine-release button. If your hand is small enough that you must change the Glock grip, the grip is also probably too big for your shooting-hand thumb to reach the magazine-release button without flipping it around. Although competition shooters commonly flip their guns in their hands to eject a spent magazine, it's not a wise move for the moderately trained individual (i.e., most cops), and even less wise for the moderately trained to attempt during a fight.
Competition shooters do not face return rounds, so if they drop their guns, they will lose nothing more than their place in the match. If an officer drops their gun in the middle of a gunfight, they could lose their life. Remember, loss of digital dexterity is quite common during times of high stress, so trying to flip the gun in one hand in a fight could certainly prove problematic.
If you lack the finger length necessary to reach the standard Glock magazine-release button, it's easiest to exchange the standard button with the manufacturer's slightly longer tactical version. If this does not solve your problem, the Aro-tek Sure Touch magazine button will. (I can't see any administrator who truly understands firearms withholding approval of this no-brainer modification.) Aro-tek must install this button because the hole on the left side of the grip frame must be enlarged. The oblong button protrudes slightly more than the factory Glock version, but it gives more bearing surface to the rear, enabling short thumbs to reach it without having to flip the gun. The button looks good and is every bit as tough as the Glock factory model.
This modification seems to be a "best-kept-secret" in our industry; I know a large number of personnel who experience trouble reaching the magazine-release button but forego this modification. The button, modification and shipping cost about $60.
The Magazine Well
You can do the next modification with fine-grit sandpaper or a Dremel (rotary) tool. Many personnel who use the Glock experience difficulty smoothly inserting the magazine due to the lip evident around the inside of the magazine well. This lip or step, a product of the mass production/molding of the polymer frame, helps minimize gun cost. Unfortunately, the step under the front strap can cause the magazine to snag during a rapid reload, and if the shooter doesn't hold the magazine firmly, they can drop it. I've witnessed this far more often than I like. The remedy: Spend about 10 minutes with a piece of sandpaper to reduce and smooth the lip so the magazine will slide easily into place. If you use a Dremel tool, take care not to remove more material than necessary. Just remove the sharp edge-nothing more. I know some folks who have removed this lip on both sides of the grip, which is acceptable, but not essential.
Glocks enjoy high approval and success rates primarily because it's easy to operate the trigger. Trigger control is more important than anything else for accurate shooting. You can practice excellent stance, grip and sight alignment, but if you mash the trigger, the shot will go awry. The smoother the trigger, the more likely you will press it straight to the rear without misaligning the muzzle.
Do not equate a smooth trigger with a light trigger-they are not the same. I believe there is such a thing as too light of a trigger on a personal defense gun, and exhibiting what jurors may consider a "hair trigger" could certainly come back to harm you in court. In my personal belief, any defensive gun should feature a 4-5-lb. trigger at a minimum; 8-10-lb. triggers are OK, but understand that no reasonable-weight trigger will resist the pressure applied by an involuntary hand contraction. The best way to keep any gun from firing involuntarily? Always keep your finger outside the trigger guard until the gun is on target and you've decided to shoot. Remain conscious of your trigger finger at all times when the gun is in your hand.
The best trigger setup I have found for the Glock pistol combines the Glock 8-lb. New York trigger spring and the 4.5-lb. Ranger trigger connector available from Ghost Inc. This combination gives me a very smooth 6-lb. trigger action without the very noticeable glitch felt when the trigger bar meets the connector and cams downward. The slick electro-plating of the Ghost connector offers a very smooth trigger transition. The New York spring also offers a very snappy reset that gives the shooter enhanced control over trigger travel.
To further enhance the Glock's trigger feel, eliminate over-travel. Lone Wolf Distributors offers an ejector housing that features an adjustable over-travel stop built in. The stop is just an Allen screw you can shorten or lengthen to remove any over-travel in the trigger. However, Lone Wolf does not recommend this modification for combat pistols because the company is concerned it could interfere with the trigger action during an armed confrontation. I understand this concern as Murphy is alive and well, but I removed this potential problem by setting the screw a bit shorter than I needed and Super Gluing it into place. This over-travel stop screw is not moving anywhere, and it makes my shot-to-shot times all the more rapid.
Keep it Simple
Again, if a modification will not enhance a gun's performance for you, you have no business having it done. I'm a firm believer in what I call the SIG principal, which stands for Simple Is Good. Keep it simple and reasonable, and you will likely end up with a gun that will serve you well and help you prevail when the chips are down.
Dave Spaulding is a 28-year law-enforcement veteran, retiring at the rank of lieutenant. He currently works for a federal security contractor. Having worked in all facets of law enforcement-corrections, communications, patrol, evidence collection, investigations, undercover operations, training and SWAT-he has authored more than 600 articles for various firearm and law enforcement periodicals. He is also the author of the best selling books Defensive Living and Handgun Combatives.
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