Ask yourself the following question: How often do I go to the range just because I should? For the vast majority of police officers, the answer is “rarely”. As Law Enforcement Professionals, we rely on our duty weapons to save our lives should (god forbid) the need ever arise. Sadly, most agencies in today’s economy simply cannot afford to get their officers to the range nearly as often as they should. Our duty weapons are one of the least-frequently used pieces of gear on our belt, and due to ammunition costs it seems as though firearms training has been relegated to the back burner of the training roster. This is the sad reality of the world we live in. I strongly advise that ANYONE who carries a weapon on a daily basis devote some time and money to regular practice and maintaining your proficiency.

For those of us who do shoot frequently, we begin to see and feel the nuances of our guns. How they break in, how the trigger feels, how the cases eject, you name it. For the tinkerer in all of us, we start building curiosity about trying different doo-dads and making modifications to our guns to make them “better” for our personal needs, and in some cases more accurate. Everyone wants to maximize what they get out of their range time, and holding up targets with one ragged hole the size of a silver dollar is cool, right? Well, making modifications to a gun you use on duty is a bit of a slippery slope, and I’d like to offer my opinion as to why that is.

Before I get to the meat and potatoes here, let me preface EVERYTHING I’m about to say with the following:
Your department policy manual trumps pretty much everything. My opinion is just that – an opinion. Take it with a grain of salt, and never do ANYTHING that violates policy or you will likely find yourself in hot water.

Ok, now that my legal-beagle junk is out of the way, we can proceed. How many of you own a Glock? How about a 1911 varient? Or a Smith and Wesson M&P, or a Springfield XD, or an FNP45…you get the picture. Open up a Brownell’s or Midway USA catalog, and within the first few pages you will be bombarded with the latest and greatest gizmo to make your gun “better”. Breaking things down a little further, do these gadgets really make your gun “better”? Let’s discuss.

In my mind, gun modifications can be broken down into two categories: External and Internal.

External modifications are, just as the name suggests, modifications to the outside of the gun. This includes (but is certainly not limited to) the following:
– Grip modifications
– Sights
– Weapon mounted lights/lasers
– Magazine wells
– Extended magazine floor plates for increased capacity

Grip customization is especially popular (and as a LE Firearms instructor, I find it to sometimes be necessary). Add-on grips provide an easy way to customize the feel of your gun without compromising the structural integrity, and a gun that fits your hand well is one that you will shoot well with. This explains the huge number of firearm manufacturers who now offer their handguns with adjustable backstrap inserts.

Night sights are a given – if your duty weapon doesn’t have them, get some. There’s no reason to skimp here, as it’s almost always cheaper to get the gun with night sights installed from the factory as opposed to doing a refit later on (I won’t harp on the night sight debate here…perhaps in another article).

Weapon lights are another increasingly popular option. Some old-school guys don’t believe in hanging anything off of your gun, which is understandable given some of the Glock malfunction horror stories associated with weapon lights. However, those problems have by and large been completely worked out by the manufacturers, and until you’ve cleared a dark basement with a weapon mounted light during an in-progress burglary, you won’t have a full appreciation for the technology. They are a wonderful tool for keeping a hand free, but a measure of common sense needs to be applied when using one (boy do I have some stories about weapon mounted lights…remember, the gun points where the flashlight points!). Some agencies allow light/laser combos, some agencies only allow lights. Other agencies don’t allow weapon mounted lights at all due to lack of common sense on the part of a few people, which is unfortunate.

While these examples certainly aren’t all-inclusive, all of the external modifications I’ve mentioned here are pretty tame and generally accepted in one form or another by most agencies. Refer to your department’s approved equipment list, and if you don’t see what you’re looking for, talk to your agencies rangemaster or lead armorer to see why.

Where things start to get dicey is the topic of internal modifications. These modifications include trigger work, changing out springs, changing out barrels, etc. Take a Glock 17 for example. I’ve been a Glock armorer for many years now…I can detail strip one in about 15 seconds. Hand me any internal part for a glock, and I can probably find 2 or 3 aftermarket replacement versions of it. News flash folks – despite their very aggressive marketing, Glocks aren’t “perfect”. Such a gun doesn’t exist, which is probably why people have spent a whole lot of money coming up with parts that they think make the glock “more” perfect. Glocks may be imperfect, but in their out-of-the-box form they are excellent cop guns. They are easy to load, easy to clean, and easy to shoot. They are rugged, reliable, and pretty dang accurate. The triggers leave a lot to be desired and the grip angle is a little funky, but they go bang 99.999% of the time, which is a big deal.

If you are thinking about making an internal modification to your firearm, ask yourself WHY you think you need that modification made. Are you having a problem with the gun that you need to correct, or are you just looking to add the latest high-speed tactical component? Remember, guns are machines. The firing cycle is Feed, Fire, Extract, and Eject. If you mess with any part of that cycle, you could be setting yourself up for malfunctions or failures at the worst possible time. Don’t base the decision to modify your firearm off of a part ever. Many aftermarket parts are solutions looking for problems. If you have a legitimate concern about the way your gun is performing, take it to an armorer and have it checked out.

Written and Submitted by Officer J.B. Walters