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October 21, 2009
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Ron Avery The PoliceOne Firearms Corner
with Ron Avery

Trigger weight, performance, and safety

One of the questions I am often asked is what weight trigger is optimal for a law enforcement or CCW firearm for general purpose carry. Now, you folks do realize that you’ve given me a trick question, right?

The short answer is that it depends on your mission, your training, your life experience, your values, and your commitment to living those values each day.

I grew up with firearms. I have been shooting since I was five years old. Shooting is very much a part of my identity. I was raised with gun safety as a priority in my life.

Out here in the West, we shoot guns all the time. They are a normal part of our lives. During my tenure in law enforcement, we were very much into shooting, gunfighting and training as an everyday part of our daily lives. That continues to this day in my everyday life as a professional trainer and shooter. This is a positive “gun culture” if you will.

This culture was supported by the administration along with the values associated with responsible gun carry and there was a heavy penalty both administratively and by peers for those who failed to live up to the standard of care with their weapon.

Contrast this with a person who has never fired a gun until they came into the academy. No history with them, no set of values associated with them, no self identity associated with being skillful with them. Perhaps they don’t really care whether they are good or not with them — as long as they qualify they’re satisfied with their performance and their security needs are being met.

What makes a trigger unsafe is the way the person is handling it and their values, experience, and training or lack thereof. I have seen ADs with every trigger weight so the weight is not really the culprit in the rate of ADs.

What I do see as a problem is the lack of respect and awareness given to the gun and the way it is used in the field. There is no “gun culture” in the majority of departments where skill at arms was encouraged as a way of life. There are individuals or small groups who do participate in the lifestyle of shooting as a way of life but not as a department.

Too many times, in real world, tense situations, I’ve had officers and others behind me with the gun pointing at my back, finger on the trigger and no clue as to what they were doing. They do not live the safety rules as taught to them by the range staff. Many have an over inflated sense of their skill and awareness of gun safety in dynamic situations and are very unsafe in their gun handling. This represents a lack of commitment to safety on the part of the person concerned and is a very real problem in law enforcement as well as other gun carrying professions.

Then you have those who practice unsafe gun handling in patrol rooms and elsewhere and have negligent discharges.

Some administrative types have reasoned that if you make the triggers heavier, the problems will magically go away.

Not true.

This is a software problem, not a hardware problem. Recognize and reward firearms proficiency and safety as a value that is practiced, supported and enforced from the top down. Reward excellence and have meaningful consequences to those who are careless or reckless and your problems will largely go away.

Trigger Weight
From a technical performance perspective, lighter is better for performance. No question. You can isolate the trigger much better. However, going too light can be problematic in regards to the mission that you are engaged in. We are not just shooters.

As a law enforcement officer, I routinely carried a 3 to 3.5 lb. trigger on my 1911 Government Model. That is not a “competition trigger” as some would call them. Those are in the 1.5 – 2.0 lb. range.
4-5 lb. triggers are generally considered by my peers and I as being in the optimal range for most duty type usage. I would be perfectly content with a 3 - 3.5 lb. trigger and I have operated with this trigger in a law enforcement capacity from 35 below zero to 100 plus degrees in deadly force situations without having problems. This is with or without gloves on.

A 4 lb. trigger on a Glock or Springfield XD feels a lot lighter than a 4 lb. trigger on a single action pistol however, so some will feel the need to bump their triggers higher.

As you start to get much over 5 lbs. or so, you will start to see a general loss of precision in the ability to isolate the trigger finger at speed. You will start to squeeze your other fingers as you press the trigger at gunfight speeds and it takes a lot more training and practice to overcome this. The heavier you go, the harder it is to shoot fast and precisely.

You will also see a decrease in the rate of fire as some people simply cannot pull the trigger with enough speed. This can be measured on a shot timer. I see this with some of the double action only handguns as shooters struggle to perform with them at true gunfight speeds; particularly those who lack the necessary strength reserve to isolate the trigger effectively.

Some might see this as a good thing. I do not. It is my belief that one should never handicap a person who may have to fight for their life with the weapon in their hand by putting an unnecessary burden on them such as a too heavy trigger.

Also, it will decrease their precision and this could be a public safety issue if they cannot hit their mark reliably while under duress.

I recognize that there will be differences of opinion on this matter. What matters to me is performance.

We have seen a switch to striker fired weapon systems from the double/single trigger systems and double action only trigger systems. These systems are easier for the shooters to gain skill and retain skill when compared to other trigger systems.

The 1911 Government Model is also making a comeback due to the trigger system being among the easiest to shoot well.

One must decide on a trigger weight that is based on objective, performance testing by the shooters who will be using them.

In addition, encourage a cultural standard of proficiency and safety off the range as well as on the range that is practiced, supported and encouraged; by example, by the administration. This should be enforced and reinforced, both positively and negatively, as needed. I want cops to be real shooters again, like we used to be. Make it a value and it will be something they live, not just give lip service to.


About the author

Ron Avery is President and Director of Training for The Practical Shooting Academy, Inc. and Executive Director of the non-profit, Rocky Mountain Tactical Institute - both training institutions dedicated to professional firearms and tactics courses, higher police standards and training and use of force research. Train with Ron Avery. Visit his Course Calendar. Ron is a former police officer with many years of street experience, which he brings into the training environment. He is internationally recognized as a researcher, firearms trainer and world class shooter. His training methodology is currently being used by hundreds of agencies and thousands of individuals across the US and internationally. Ron has worked as a consultant and trainer for top level federal agencies, special operations military from all branches of the armed forces and law enforcement agencies across the US. He is a weapons and tactics trainer for handgun, carbine, select fire, precision rifle and shotgun, as well as advanced instructor schools, defensive tactics, team skills and tactics, low light tactics, arrest and control and officer survival. Contact Ron Avery





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