Thursday, February 22, 2007

Your Guns - are they basic or modified?

If modified I put forth that maybe you best had reconsider those modifications. Mine, for the most part are pretty much of the basic sought (but this is within my own definitions of basic versus modified as I will soon explain). I have never before really seen a need to modify any of the guns I own with the exception of adding different grips to them (or one time I changed a stock), and until recent years needing to add optical sights to them as my eyes are not those of a teenager any longer. This has not been because I have striven to be a purist, but simply that I have not had the need to change any of the guns I own, nor have I seen the real benefit when others have made modifications, at least not in street carry type guns. As far as I have been concerned, all of my guns, the ones I have kept have worked just fine, for how I intend to use them; and that was/is just as they were made or came to me with the exception of the grips, stock (on one occasion, or the sights). If they did not work fine, then I either got them fixed (without modifications as in fixed to original specifications), am still fumbling with them trying to fix them, got rid of them and got another one to replace it.

Before I go further I guess I should explain the difference that I see between a basic (or as manufactured) and a modified firearm. To me there can be certain modifications made to a firearm whereby it still remains basically an as manufactured gun; in other words the mechanics of the gun have not been altered. These changes would include changing the grips (but note on some pistols the grips are integral to how the firearm functions so make sure your replacements work correctly), doing minor repair work to actually fix a fault (such as replacing a worn spring with an original spec spring, and so forth), changing the stock of a long arm, and possibly changing the sights such as adding night sights or an optical sight. Changes like the ones here do not change the way the actual firearm operates, but may enhance the shooter's ability to use that firearm proficiently. These changes usually do not have a great potential to cause the mechanical operation of the firearm to fail if good parts are used - especially if original manufacturer parts are used when available (same manufacturer as the ones who made the gun that is being changed).

As to modifying a firearm, I believe you are doing what I refer to as modifying a gun when you go pretty much beyond those things. For instance, when you file/grind down metal pieces such as a spring or a sear, when you remove springs and replace them with custom made springs that are not to original specs, when you add a different type of barrel, when you replace the trigger assembly with a custom made one, when you cut the length of a barrel, when you add a weight compensator, when you rechamber a firearm for a new caliber, when you change the finish, or even something as simple as using an aftermarket magazine, and other things like that. Doing things like these can change the actual performance of the firearm itself, and I consider such things to be modifications that go beyond the basic.

Now I realize that there are an awful lot of folks out there who love to modify there firearms, and they do so for various reasons. It is okay by me that they do so with their guns, but as I said I am not a big fan of such things. Let me tell you why, in my own round about way.

I have been a firearms enthusiast since I have been about 9 or 10 years old. It all started back in summer camp many years ago. I started with BB guns, graduated to .22LR's, then had a break of many years after camp, until I again found myself wanting to shoot while in my young 20s. I did not really pick up on the practical side of shooting again though until I was 24, just after I was hired to be a Border Patrol Agent. Until then it had been off and on again shooting guns of friends, or just bow hunting, and reading Outdoor Life and some gun mags. Once I was hired by the Border Patrol, or I should say, once they taught me how to shoot a revolver, I was hooked. I guess a lot of that had to do with the fact that I had moved out of New York City and buying guns became ever so easy for me; along those lines the federal creds helped too.

I worked for the BP for just over 4 years. In that time I bought about 3 revolvers, 5 or 6 pistols, 1 rifle, and a shotgun. Not many guns, but on the money I was making at the time, not bad. I enjoyed shooting sports a lot back then, and I shot at a few matches, and also hunted quite a bit. After that I moved back to NYC, and I worked for the US Customs Service. I continued to enjoy shooting sports, but mostly hunting and plinking, the matches were out, just too far to travel. I continued to buy guns, not all that many over all the years since I came back to the NY area, but enough for me. I have a few rifles, a few pistols, a revolver, and a shotgun. Most of my guns are in 22LR caliber.

In all I have been a federal agent for 27 plus years now, about 14 of them spent doing collateral duties as a firearms instructor in the Customs Service and later a short time in ICE. I have had a good amount of tactical training and actual experience, but thank the heavens I have never had to shoot anyone at work. I have fired shots but missed once (had broken glass in my eyes); but I did nonce shoot a guy, in self defense, while off duty. I was pretty happy my pistol worked that one time when I needed it, and I am pretty sure one of the reasons it that it had been more likely to work as it did, rather than fail on me, was because it was in its basic configuration except for the grips. I had never made any mechanical changes to it other than those made at the factory of the manufacturer when they changed a spring and the recoil guide rod. I never made those changes because of my training and because of my experiences observing the problems others had had with their 'modified ' guns.

One of the first problems I ever saw first hand, with a modified firearm, was a pretty serious one - or at least would have been very serious had the gun's owner ever needed to use it in any sort of defense situation. A guy I knew, way back in the days of yesteryear, went out and bought himself a brand news, shiny blue steel, Dan Wesson revolver. It was a nice revolver and it came in a fancy box, and if I remember correctly it even had interchangeable barrels (but maybe that is my imagination). What I do remember for sure is that my friend thought the amount of force required to squeeze the trigger was excessive. He talked to some of the other gun guys about it, then he brought his gun to a gunschmidt for a trigger and spring job. Well the gunschmidt, in his infinitely greater wisdom than the gun design engineers at the Dan Wesson facility, decided to either file a bit here and to grind a bit there or change the springs to aftermarket. (I seem to recall he may actually have done both, that is if I have it right after about 25 years; so I'll write it as I remember it.) I do know that my friend was ecstatic with the results. He loved it. He showed it to me at his place, and told me to go ahead and dry fire it. It was, I will admit, smooth and crisp, and probably had about a 4 pound let off or whatever you call it. In single action it was like 2 pounds, if that much. My buddy paid good money for that job and he figured it was money well spent.

Well, he figured it was money well spent until he went to the range. As it turned out the beautiful Dan Wesson revolver fired a few rounds, and failed to fire a few others. That was in just one cylinder of rounds. Yes that means that the 6 shot revolver failed to fire 50% of the rounds in the gun. He figured it was a fluke and tried again. The next time around it failed to fire at least a couple of rounds. Once or twice though a few boxes of ammo, it may have fired all the rounds in the cylinder. All the other times there were failures to fire, the primers on the unfired rounds being barely dimpled. He was lucky because this happened at the range. Now while you may think, oh heck anyone would test fire the revolver at the range after a spring and trigger job, well maybe and maybe not. Even in that case, the gun could have worked at the range and failed later. You see a couple of days later, my friend hosted the gunschmidt, remember he is the one who knew better than the folks at the Dan Wesson factory, to a day at the range to demonstrate the failures. The revolver did not fire more than once or twice that day out of many more tries. So what if it had worked well on day one after the 'gunschmidt job', then failed to fire 50% of the time in a defense situation. My guess is it would have been possible. Anyway, the gunschmidt refunded my buddy's money, then gave him a set of new aftermarket springs. Those aftermarket springs seemed to do the trick. They were smooth and crisp and fired the revolver every time - that is for about a few months. Then the Dan Wesson started to have more failure to fire problems. It seems those wonder springs gave out. Bottom line - new springs had to be ordered from the factory to solve the problem.

A pal of mine in the Border Patrol liked to shoot 45's. He was a big fan of the Colt 1911. He was always tinkering with his guns. He was a certified (trained somewhere or another) 'Colt' gunschmidt, and I should also point out he was also a certifiable gun nut. He grinded and filed this and that, and polished here and there. He fixed up original parts, and also replaced some of the parts with aftermarket ones. He had a couple of .45's that were his favorites and worked on them incessantly. Look up the meaning of incessant - please. The reason he worked on them in that manner was because he apparently never got them just right to his liking or to the point were it was pretty much 100% reliable; yet he carried them while off duty. He is not alone, there are plenty of other folks who do just like him including carrying a weapon which they constantly have to repair or work on to make it function better. Now I have to wonder why anyone who did not like the way a firearm functioned so much as to have to incessantly tinker with it would ever decide to carry that particular firearm as a self defense weapon on which his or her life might depend.

All throughout the years, since those days long ago, I have known quite a few other firearms enthusiasts who decided that their guns, as they were, were not good enough, and that they needed mechanical modifications. I could give a lot of other examples other than those first two (from my experience), but they are sufficient to illustrate the fact that some guys just have to make them better - instead of going with something that is already good enough. Now while a lot of those modifications proved to be great and many of the modified guns worked fine, there were an awfully high percentage of those modified firearms, as witnessed by me personally, to have had failures to feed, fire, extract, and or eject; this of course includes revolvers having such failures too. A very important thing that seemed very apparent to me was that the amount of failures in modified guns far outnumbered the failure in factory spec guns. I saw this time and time again when I performed collateral duties as a firearms instructor.

While any firearm can have a failure that leads to catastrophe, it seems evident, at least to me, that such is much more likely if you have first tinkered with a gun's mechanical operation to change it from factory specifications. You can even make modifications that do not change the factory specifications of the mechanics, such as changing the grips, that can lead to such failures, but usually only when you don't use a high quality replacement. Now while you may that sticking with quality always prevents FUBAR, such as by using the services of high quality gunsmiths, and using only high quality replacement parts, for mechanical modifications, the chances evidently still seem to be higher that you will risk failure of your firearm if mechanical changes have been made, and I base this on personal experience over the years I was an instructor.

I am not saying that my personal thoughts on this matter should have you stop using your favorite self defense firearm if it has been modified outside of the original makers facilities, but rather that you think about what can and often does happen with mechanically modified firearms, at least apparently more so that factory spec firearms that are from a reliable manufacturer and of a reliable design. Think about that before you get all gung ho about mechanical modifications, think about the implications for a shootout situation and your survival. Then, if you have not already done so, take your modified gun to the range, and put it through at least a 500 round test.

Shoot safely.

All the best,

Glenn B
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