Saturday, June 27, 2009

Hair Trigger

by Ben Small

One of the first things the Tacti-ccol set buys for a pistol is a trigger job, usually defined as a smoothing out of the trigger action, shortening the stroke, taking up creep, and lightening the pull. But if this is for a self-defense gun, the owner's trigger job may result in a shot to the head, legally speaking.

The self defense claim is held to a fairly high standard in most states. To be proven, it must be shown that the force used was reasonable with regard to the threat and not an over-reaction. Whether you or the state has the burden of proof will depend on the state. But the last thing the potential defendant needs, are facts that may tend to show an eagerness to use deadly force.

To a prosecutor, a trigger job becomes a "hair-trigger," one intended to release a deadly missile with the least of a finger tug.

One more arrow in the prosecutor's quiver.

But jail-time or a possible death penalty aren't the only risks. Sooner or later, a civil lawsuit -- or several of them -- will be filed. And civil cases don't require a 'beyond a reasonable doubt" standard; the criteria, instead, is "more likely than not." You can imagine what fun a plaintiff's attorney will have with the term "hair-trigger." And since the shooting will be deemed an intentional act, more than likely, homeowner's insurance won't cover any liability and may not cover defense costs.

As O.J. showed, one can be acquitted in criminal court and be convicted in civil court. And punitive damages will be awarded with a verdict.

Defense costs alone, criminal and civil, will cost the defendant a million dollars or more. In the meantime, the defendant will have lost his or her job and will likely have sold most of his or her assets to cover expenses, fines and judgments.

Quite a price to pay for a simple trigger-job. And that's why seasoned veterans of the gun culture caution one to leave one's self-defense pistol alone. Don't use special hand-loads, don't mess with the trigger. The gun manufacturers provide trigger pull standards, and those standards and why they were set, as testified to by expert witnesses, will track the differential between factory triggers and production loads and trigger-jobs and hand-loaded ammo.

That's why cops use double action pistols with high weight trigger pulls. If they shoot, they have to justify the shooting. Special bullets and trigger jobs signal a trigger-happy officer. That's bad news. When a cop shoots, he goes on administrative leave while the shooting review board considers the circumstances. Handloads or trigger jobs will spell t-r-o-u-b-l-e; the cop may be brought up on disciplinary charges, and civil suits are sure to follow.

So if your protag is carrying a gun, make sure there's been no trigger job, and use production hollow-point ammo. Hollow-point bullets are standard police issue these days. What used to be called "dum-dums," a term used during the day when prosecutors and plaintiff's lawyers sought excessive force claims, is now considered the safer bullet. Ballistics tests have proven that hollow-point bullets are less likely than wadcutters or ball ammo to penetrate through a body and strike a bystander.

Funny thing that. Concern for bystanders. For it could also be claimed that a smoother, lighter trigger means a more accurate shot, less finger push or pull. And accuracy means less likelihood that bystanders will be hit.

But lawyers like how the term "hair trigger" plays to a jury.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Thanks for the information, Ben. I'm going to print this for future reference.


Morgan Mandel said...

You have an amazing store of knowledge. Thanks for sharing again.

Morgan Mandel

Mark Troy said...

One more way to heap grief on the protag--drop a lawyer on him/her. I like to give the bad guys the superior fire-power so my protag will have another disadvantage to overcome. I think I'll put hair triggers on their weapons. Come to think of it, that's not a bad idea for a clue--find the bad guys gun with a hair trigger.

Thanks for the info.