By Chris Wagoner:
A lot of back and forth has occurred in various gun groups regarding the modifying or customizing of a firearm intended for use in self-defense. There are those that swear up and down that if you modify your firearm in any way including custom grips, quotations etched, or the good old “Punisher” skull on the slide, that these alterations will result in conviction at trial if you are involved in a self-defense shooting.
Well, I have to say I was interested in this outlook and asked several people why they believe this to be the case. Several said it was because of what was recommended by experts in various articles while others said it was because of what they were taught by their instructors and others they respected. Those may all be valid reasons to do or not do something, but why did those respected people push the notion that firearms cannot be modified or customized?
I have been carrying a firearm most of my waking hours for more than 37 years. The on-duty hours were a standard, non-modified issue firearm from my department. The off duty hours have been whatever I wanted to carry and most of the time were modified firearms of some kind, modifications I made myself or paid to have done. So what about all the problems modifications can cause you in court? Should I be worried about it? The short answer is no, I shouldn’t. You see I was involved in an on-duty shooting early on in my career, six months after getting out of the academy. And the firearm I used in that shooting was not an issued firearm, but my own that I had to buy to carry. I worked for a small department and they could not afford to buy firearms for all the officers so I had to provide my own. Being a fan of the semi-automatic handgun and of the .45 cal, I bought and carried a Colt Government Model .45. Funny thing is, this was during the days when revolvers were one of the most common carry guns by officers. Thus, my semi-auto was not a “standard” model. I had the trigger system smoothed and lightened to about 3.5 to 4 lbs. I had the grips customized, and carried my own ammunition which were jacketed hollow points. I had the feed ramp polished to work better with the JHP rounds and a couple of other minor modifications. After the shooting, my firearm was confiscated for a couple of days, and then returned to me.
After the investigation of the shooting was presented to the grand jury, no charges were filed on any of the officers involved, (afterall, the bad guy shot at us first, we just returned fire). As part of the investigation filed by the crime lab, every one of my firearms customizations was noted. When the case was presented to the grand jury, I had to explain the reasoning for customizing my firearm. I simply stated it made it work better and was more reliable. That was the end of the discussion and I never heard any more of it.
This debate has raged on for decades and I have followed it for just about that long. I keep looking for that court case where someone got convicted and the jury states it was because they modified their firearm, but I have yet to come across one. Whether you modify your firearm or not, it will make no difference in determining if your shooting is legal or not. Either you justifiably defend yourself, or you don’t, the modification on the firearm used has nothing to do with the answer to that question. I have researched and researched yet, I cannot find a case where the modifications of a firearm made any difference in the presentation to the jury or the court having any bearing on the outcome. If you, the reader, know of an actual court case (not an article about modification) that does, please post it in the remarks as I would love to read it.
Bottom line, if you want to modify your firearm to make it uniquely yours and make it different than others, then I personally see no issues with it. I do it to mine and will continue to do so. My concealed carry self-defense firearms are all heavily modified. New trigger systems, custom barrel and slide work, and of course the graphics on them like my Glock 30 which has Psalm 144:1 in the slide end cap. I would love to go to court and explain why I have a bible verse on the back of my firearm. My answer would be simple and to the point, “Because I believe in God and he is my rock” If the saying on the back of my firearm is the biggest issue the prosecution can bring up in court, I am happy to talk about them, and all the other mods I made to my firearms.
Chris Wagoner is an OpsLens Contributor and U.S. Army Veteran . He has been in law enforcement the last 35+ years. He specializes in LE Firearms Instruction, and is in charge of a large Police Academy in North Florida. In his spare time Chris is a free-lance Military Reporter and owner/founder of the Largest Military Videos Channel on YouTube “3rdID8487”.