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Can Customizing Your CCW Get You in Legal Trouble?

Hang around the gun community a bit and you’ll hear plenty of folks dolling out advice.

But one of the most pervasive bits of info passed on from concealed carrier to concealed carrier is that tricking your gun out could lead to trouble down the road.

Glock Upgrades
All the upgrades!

But how?

Let’s say, you’ve carried a concealed weapon for years and trained with it consistently throughout that time — you’ve even entered some handgun competitions where you needed some modifications.

Soon, you’ve tweaked your gun with a lighter trigger, under-the-barrel mounted laser, and even threw in a Punisher skull logo for good measure. (I mean the Netflix series wasn’t terrible…)

Seecamp LWS 380 punisher skull
Aw yeah, that pulls it all together!

But one night, you must defend your life with that gun. Now you’ve landed in court. Will talks of your gun mods enter the opposing counsel’s argument?

objection
Hang on, we’ll show you.

Can modifying your weapon lead to future court issues?

Well lucky for you, I’m here to help answer that question. I’ve gathered a team of experts to get to the bottom of whether tricking out your Gat can land you in hot legal water.

So, keep reading to see what I dug up…

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The Hunt for Answers: The Courtroom

To navigate these legal waters, I contacted Paul Yen.

You might recognize him as a writer here at Pew Pew Tactical. He’s our resident lawyer and all-around legal expert.

(Seriously, check out some of his articles on the ATF’s Proposed Regulations on 80% Kits and Castle Doctrine!)

Paul Profile Pic
Paul Yen on the range.

Specifically, I wanted to know whether tricking out your weapon could lead the accustation of “looking for a fight.”

While Paul certainly didn’t offer any legal advice, he did shed light on where gun owners could run into some trouble.

“While those of us familiar with firearms may not think much of customizations like extended mags or lighter triggers, or even just cool visual customizations on our guns, in a jury trial, the average juror may not necessarily be as familiar with firearms. And any customizations could be seen as an additional ‘scary’ feature to make the firearm even more deadly.”

Modded AR-15s
Lots of scary here, folks.

In other words, you could potentially get stuck with a juror that might view your firearm as an “incredibly dangerous weapon.” 

That said, Yen clarified that certain features don’t automatically increase or decrease the amount of legal risk a CCW holder would face in a potential trial.

CCW Dark Shirt PPT
When in doubt, it never hurts to play it safe with a stock CCW.

So we can’t dismiss the notion that your customized weapon could be used against you — especially in anti-gun areas.  

Asking the Boots on the Ground

While Yen provided a glimpse into what a gun owner could face in the courtroom, I also wanted to talk to a firearm trainer and former law enforcement officer.

So, I contacted T4 Tactics. Here, Marko Galbreath, one of the premier active shooter response trainers and firearms instructors in the country, makes his home.

Marko Galbreath teaching firearms safety to kids
Marko Galbreath teaching firearms safety to kids

Marko worked for 22 years as an investigator in Daytona Beach, Florida. His roles included SWAT team member, Hostage Negotiations Team Commander, and Special Investigations Unit Supervisor where he investigated violent crime and homicide. 

I asked Galbreath, with his experience in the police force, had he seen a customized weapon come up in the following court case?

Concealed Carry AIWB Reholster Side
Carrying a gun does come with a lot of responsibility, but you shouldn’t have to be afraid that your gun’s appearance will be a danger.

His reply?

He’d never seen it be an issue once

Further, he added that many good reasons exist to modify a firearm. He cited countless times he’s taken clients out to the range, only to find that they aren’t strong enough to repeatedly engage the stock trigger on the weapon they purchased. 

Zastava Arms ZPAP92 Trigger Components
Trigger upgrades are one of the most common upgrades you’ll see on any type of gun — not just CCWs!

In such a case, the shooter has to modify their trigger pull or owning a gun proves a moot point!

Galbreath says the same could very easily apply to pistols with red dots or lasers mounted to them. 

If you find yourself in a stressful situation, potentially in low-light conditions, you want to make sure you identify and hit the target, nothing more.

Home Defense Glock G19 Light
A light can help with positive ID, which means you’re making certain that only threats are at the muzzle end of your gun.

Consequently, you could almost view these additions as a safety feature

That said, Galbreath said not every mod is the best idea.

A potential problem he saw? A “Born to kill” etching on the gun. That, you might want to stay away from.

The Final Word: US Law Shield

By this point, I felt that I had something of an answer, but nothing concrete. I wanted a definitive, “No, under no circumstances is that an issue,” Or something like that. 

I guess even this would have been an okay answer, if not the one I was looking for.

But I suppose guarantees don’t always exist, particularly when talking about court cases. (Something Yen mentioned when I spoke to him.)

And a court case is very likely to happen after you use your gun in self-defense. 

Supreme Court
I mean, your case probably won’t go to Supreme Court, but…

Still, I wanted to get one final perspective and that came from Gilbert Ambler, an attorney working for U.S. Law Shield.

Ambler defends American gun owners against these types of court attacks on a consistent basis. In short, if anyone can shed light on this topic, he can.

According to Ambler, any attorney will use every possible thing they can against you in court. It’s just what they do. 

Gilber Ambler, U.S. Law Shield
Gilber Ambler, U.S. Law Shield attorney and gun owner advocate!

So consider that before you start throwing mods around like confetti.

As a result, he doesn’t believe any type of purely cosmetic change to your firearm is a wise decision. 

For clarification, that doesn’t mean ditching your cool Cerakote paint job. But rather, adding symbolism or language to the firearm could come up in court. 

Cerakoted Glock
Color your gun all you want…just think carefully before adding any words to it.

Ambler said he was aware of one case in Nevada where the defendant had the words “you’re f*****” inscribed on the inside of the dust cover of the weapon — popping open after the gun fired.

However, the defense attorney successfully convinced the judge that those details were not relevant to the case, So, the opposing attorney wasn’t able to bring up that information in court.

You're F'd dust cover
Let’s maybe not do this…

However, that’s not to say that a judge where you live would do the same. Every judge, district, and juror is different.

As far as practical gun modifications go, Ambler said those wouldn’t likely be much of an issue in court. 

Tested Pistol Red Dots
Red dots are an upgrade you can make, though!

Red dots, lasers, triggers, and flashlights could all easily be argued as increased safety measures while in a state of duress.

What About Suppressors? 

If there’s one gun modification that is likely to cause problems in court, I figured it had to be suppressors.

.30 Cal and 5.56 Suppressors
.30 Cal and 5.56 Suppressors

Could a jury be led to believe that a suppressor makes you the bad guy? 

Ambler agreed that, yes, a suppressor could cause troubles in the courtroom. 

Nanuk 910 with 1911 and Suppressors
Nanuk 910 with 1911 and Suppressors

Unless you had very explicit documentation prior to the self-defense situation — such as in the form of a doctor’s note — that stated you had very sensitive hearing that would be severely damaged by not using a suppressor, you could very easily end up in something of a hot legal mess.

He said that a lot of jury members have a preconceived notion due to Hollywood that suppressors are used by spies, bad guys, and the like. 

Hans Gruber Die Hard Suppresor
Thanks, Hans Gruber…

The lack of information leads to a perspective you don’t want when someone decides your fate.

So, in short, best leave those packed away for range days and not on your CCW.

Conclusion

So, can a custom, tricked out pistol carry the potential of legal trouble in a self-defense shooting? I think we can conclusively say that it depends.

But the most practical piece of advice I received was this — attorneys will use everything against you they can. 

Sunny in Philadelphia Lawyering
Unless you’re a lawyer, leave the lawyering to the pros.

So, keep that in mind when making changes to your gun. 

Red dots, flashlights, triggers, extended magazines, lasers, and the like are absolutely fine, though. Rock on with those upgrades!

And if you have Glock — check out list of Best Upgrades. Sig P365 fans, we have you covered too with your own list!)

Variety of CCW Handguns
Variety of CCW Handgun

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments! Want more CCW content? We recommend our review of CCW Safe Carry Insurance and the Best Concealed Carry Guns Under $400!

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7 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Happy go Lucky!

    Our IA ( Sheriff) gave us instructions that specifically state you can not modify a CCW gun that makes it deviate from manufacturer's original specifications. That means a SRT from Sig for your Sig P229 is ok since it's from the manufacturer. A SRT from Cajun Gunworks for your CZ P-01 is not. I wanted to do a full cajun defensive package to my P-01 , but just changed sights and grips. After 7500 rounds, the trigger pull weights are nearly identical to what they would have been with the CGW package, minus the SRT. This is in California where self defense is frowned upon and they throw the book at you. I have USCCA. I've been told repeatedly that even if you have a good shoot in CA. You will never get your gun back. I got a G19 to carry and think of it as disposable and replaceable in the event I use it. Trigger, sights and Talon grips and I'm good. No point in carrying a gun you can not easily replace if seized.

    June 16, 2021 9:24 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Monte Walsh

    You’re getting sued regardless, period. Any and every angle will be used against you, know that in advance. ( anybody remember the “racist” black talons”) If you use a weapon to defend yourself legally and justifiably, depending on the jurisdiction you may or may not be arrested but you will 9/10 be sued. Doesn’t matter if the weapon is completely stock or a 10k race gun. Instead of worrying, spend your extra time and money on gaining proficiency and having a legitimate legal defense plan in place in advance. If you can’t wrap your head around that, don’t carry.

    June 15, 2021 4:43 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    John Rollins

    The size of caliber can and did in one case I know of. It was a 10mm. But in liberal Colorado.

    June 14, 2021 7:56 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      David, PPT Editor

      This is really not accurate and the result of fudd lore that has spread across the internet. Even the state commonly cited is incorrect, this comes from AZ -- not CO. Harold Fish who shot and killed Grant Kuenzli in 2004, the case was a complete sham from start to finish. Fish's shooting was ruled self-defense by the first investigators but they were removed from the case and Fish charged by the DA anyways. During and before Fish's trial, everything was called into question. His past, his character, his presence in the forest, and yes -- his 10mm pistol. A lot of relevant evidence was suppressed by the trial judge and a lot of evidence ignored by the prosecutor. While Fish's use of a 10mm pistol was brought up as a factor against him, it was in no way related to why he was convicted. He was convicted due to gross prosecutorial misconduct and a trial judge that was absolutely bonkers. Soon after Fish was convicted, AZ passed a law that changed their self-defense laws shifting the burden of proof from the shooters to the DA, where it always should have been. The appeals court eventually overturned the conviction and granted Fish a new trial mostly due to the trial Judge's obviously biased and wrong rulings. The DA did not retrial Fish and the case was dropped.

      June 14, 2021 8:39 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        jack burton

        The Fish trial was a case study on how a out of control prosecutor with a willing judge can railroad an innocent man into jail. Any gun owner who thinks they will be guaranteed a "pass" because of a "good shoot" needs to read that case and see what may happen to them. Do you know of a resource that gives a comprehensive look at what happened to Mr. Fish?

        June 15, 2021 7:38 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    dsutton

    Interesting article. I wonder if the weapon itself can sway a court. Let's say the weapon involved is a Glock or an AR15, weapons that the press often describe in hyperbolic terms. Are they more likely to get you into trouble than a Ruger or Mossberg?

    June 14, 2021 5:09 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      David, PPT Editor

      In my research, there is absolutely no bearing on the case as long as the weapon is legal. If you modify an AR to be full auto, you're in for a bad time. If you cut a Mossberg down, you're in for a bad time. But legal weapons don't change the fact of a good shoot or not.

      June 14, 2021 5:18 pm