Trigger Tech: Are Light Triggers Safe & Heavy Triggers Deadly? Clay’s Take.

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A few months ago, I received an invite to the Smith and Wesson factory, which tells me they don’t have much of a background check. I was required to keep my hands in my pockets for the duration of the factory tour, which also tells me they aren’t totally behind the curve. At some point, I was mocking my hosts for building products that they aren’t even allowed to buy in their home state, because 1.) I’m an asshole and 2.) Now that I live in the free states of America, not the People’s Republic of Taxachussets (or Californistan, or the Democratic Republic People’s Workers Paradise of New York), I like to rub that in at every opportunity. Much to my surprise, I was told you can, in fact, own a handgun in Massachusetts, it just requires a bunch of blah blah blah, and it has to have a 10.5-pound trigger. After I recovered from a paralyzing fit of laughter, I of course inquired “Does Smith and Wesson build Mass-compliant handguns for this market?”. And they answer is “Yes, Yes they do.”

The M&P series pistols is offered with both standard pull weight triggers as well as Massachusetts-legal models with heavier trigger pulls.

Now I am something of an evolutionist when it relates to firearms and training. I like the idea that we constantly evolve and get better. Our hardware gets better. Our training becomes more suited to the task. I embrace my heritage as a warrior, and I honor my lineage of Raiders, MACV-SOG, Blue Light, Project Omega, and the Berlin Brigade to name but a few. Those were better and harder men than us, and they paved the way for what we are. We stand on their shoulders for all that Special Operations is today. But the one thing we unquestionably do better today is shoot. And our toys are much superior. Thank you grandfather. This is just as it should be, and if we couldn’t perform as such, we would be disgraceful. Every next generation is duty bound to build forward. This is a long way of saying I hate stupidity, and the idea that someone would have to take a modern firearm and intentionally make it suck due to stupid laws induces a rage to break the machine and piss in its ashes.

The idea of forcing a firearm to have a heavy trigger clearly is the brainchild of lawyers. This from the same no-talent ass clowns that made an industry of medical malpractice and can debate for hours “What the definition of is, is” directly related to perjury. Yes, I’m looking at you William Jefferson. Anyway, my belief is that only a complete moron would think a trigger that is harder to pull makes anyone safer. Also, coffee tends to be served hot. You’re welcome.

I have shot “mil-spec” AR-15 triggers against good triggers, and I know the result there. You can do magic with a sub-optimal military trigger, but it takes a lot of practice and skill. Putting a high-quality trigger in reduces the needed training time, and results in higher scored efficiency across the board. I know this because I have tested it. I have never had the opportunity to try the same thing with a pistol though, so I jumped at the chance. Hopefully, this provides some ammo to anyone in a department that forces you to have a heavy trigger, or any poor bastard that lives in a state that forces this on its citizens. Or serfs. Probably subjects is the right word. Let’s use that one.

the author ran matching 9mm M&P pistols — one with the standard trigger and one with the heavier Massachusetts-legal trigger. He used Freedom Munitions ammo during the testing.

Hands On

First off, I would like to thank Smith and Wesson for supporting me in this test. They sent me an M&P built for Massachusetts and one built for the free world without even blinking. Apples to Apples, the only difference is the trigger. I hate that a company like this with such great products has to modify them like this to address stupid laws, but it is what it is. And, I want to specify that I am talking about duty-style, semi-auto, striker-fired pistols. I know that there are a lot of great revolvers out there with “heavy” trigger pulls.

Also, for our readers, a bit about me so you know my opinion comes from an informed place. I am a USPSA Master-rated shooter in Production, which is a class of competitive shooting that requires use of firearms that are basically out of the box factory. Single-action triggers are specifically prohibited in this class, so no 1911s. Glock, M&P, and other striker-fired plastic wonders make up the bulk of the weapons competitors use in this shooting. I made my Master rating with a Glock 34.  I am also a retired Special Forces Veteran, and I spent the bulk of my career in a counter-terrorism unit. My last three years of service, I ran a Close Quarters Battle school training other assaulters. I have been tested and certified at the highest levels of pistol shooting demand by USSOCOM, and that is a pretty high bar. My point here is not that I’m a bad ass and my way is the only way, but merely to state that I do at least sorta know what I am doing with a pistol. There is some weight and experience behind my opinion.

The author had a distinct preference for the pistol with the standard trigger. His hits were more accurate and thereby safer.

When we talk about using pistols for their intended purpose, that purpose is self-defense. I carry a pistol because it is more polite than carrying a rifle. When I was in the Army I carried a pistol in case my rifle stopped working, and for the very, very few times a pistol fit the job better. There aren’t many of those. Police officers don’t carry a pistol as a symbol of authority, they carry it in case they need to shoot someone. A pistol is a defensive tool in case lethal force is needed, and we didn’t have the foresight to be 50 yards away with a machine gun in our hands and a bunch of our friends for back up. Nothing more, nothing less. The two factors at play when we shoot another human being, besides caliber choice, are speed and accuracy. Accuracy—did we hit what we intended to hit. Speed—did we hit it enough times, in a short enough time frame, to not be killed ourselves. Use of lethal force almost always requires the counter threat of lethal force to be employed, outside of specialized military applications.

Now, down to my testing of the two pistols with the different triggers. So how did doubling the trigger weight on a pistol affect my speed and accuracy? More than I would have thought. Much more. In accuracy testing, my group was twice as big with the heavier trigger. Balance that with the fact that I have a lot of pistol experience. Most police officers get about 50 rounds a year to train. I’ve burned that testing a single magazine to see if it would malfunction. Having shot this trigger, I can absolutely see why NY cops are famous for shooting 70 rounds, missing the bad guy completely, and hitting 9 bystanders.

The author ran the pistols through several demanding drills during the testing.

How about speed? There was also a noticeable degrading of my ability to hit targets under a par time. For a speed test, I shot a modified el pres drill, two hits per target with a two second par time. I made it well under 2 seconds every time with the normal M&P 2.0. With the 10.5-pound trigger, not only did I go over the par time, I had misses from trying to shoot that fast. This is a pretty definitive conclusion to me that heavy triggers are a bad idea.

The counter argument here is that you can get enough skills to overcome a badly designed trigger. I don’t disagree. You can make 200 yard hits with a snub nose revolver with enough practice. The question is the time and commitment it takes to get that skill set, at the expense of every other task you are required to know and do. If we can find an off-the-shelf solution to making all of our people better shooters instantly, what kind of idiots are we to instead pay extra for an intentionally worse product?

I think we need to push back at Massachusetts ( and other similar states) for putting a dangerous product on the streets. This ultimately helps both our armed citizens and our police officers, it gets them a tool that will enhance their survivability in a gun fight.

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About the author: Clay Martin is a former Marine and Green Beret, retiring out of 3rd Special Forces Group. He is a multi-decade and -service sniper, as well as 3-Gun competitor and Master ranked shooter in USPSA Production. In addition to writing about guns, he is the author of “Last Son of The War God,” a novel about shooting people that deserve it. You can also follow him on twitter, @offthe_res or his website,

{ 19 comments… add one }
  • Charles May 6, 2019, 7:47 pm

    I was told you don’t put your finger on the trigger until a hole is needed. If these people are running around with their finger on the trigger, people will unnecessarily get hurt. Train with your finger along the side, and it happens without thinking. A light trigger is not a problem, if it won’t fire without a finger in the trigger guard.

    I tried to post a comment earlier, so this may be a repost, because I couldn’t find my comment from earlier.

  • John P January 21, 2019, 9:07 am

    Is this about safety? A 10 + pound trigger pull in no way makes you safer. If it (and it will) make you less accurate how can this be safe? I have had long pull heavy triggers on some of my guns. I either fix them or replace them. As simple as that. If you are relying on a heavy trigger as your safety you should not have a gun!!! PERIOD!!! Practice will not fix a heavy trigger, It may improve but you will never be as good and accurate as you will be with the lighter trigger! The physics of the way your hand works and a long hard trigger will inherently cause you to pull the gun off target.

  • lee latham April 17, 2017, 11:01 pm

    I don’t think any experienced shooter would question the fact that a lighter trigger makes it easier to shoot accurately. But you simply haven’t addressed the other side of that equation–does a heavier trigger make a gun safer?

    One of my issues with modern gun culture (I’ve been shooting for 30 years) is a total lack of regard for the responsibility angle of gun ownership. Everyone’s all freaking out about how fast you can shoot. But as you yourself say, a pistol is a last resort defensive weapon. And 99.9999% of the time we handle or carry a pistol, we are not defending our lives with it. This is why safety matters.

    I adore my Walther PPQ because of it’s light trigger, but the idea of a child getting ahold of it when it’s loaded petrifies me. I keep it locked up. But this whole notion of “your safety is between your ears”, while true, also ignores the question of, “Have you met you? Have you met other people?” Even someone as conscious of gun safety as myself has occasionally come close to an unintentional disharge. Safety is important.

    If you’re a professional soldier in a war zone–yeah, you probably don’t need to be having a manual safety or a 10.5 lb. trigger pull. But for civilians in particular, this notion is delusional. Being safe when you’re not defending yourself or others is far more important than getting a shot of fastest–the numbers *do not lie*. Frankly, if you don’t have the mental wherewithal to flip off an ergonomic manual safety before shooting, I’m not sure you should be carrying a firearm at all. And that light trigger pull obviously means it’s easier to have an accidental discharge.

    Combine this with the fact that any yahoo can buy a Glock or it’s many imitators without having any knowledge of understanding of the importance of a holster covering the trigger: it’s a recipe for disaster. And it happens far more often than an extra quarter second of speed matters.

    • Al April 18, 2017, 11:41 am

      If you were to look at ND’s by cops through the ages, you will find that having a manual safety is no guarantee of safety.
      I think your point is off base, in light of the Glock’s history of no fewer nor more ND’s per ownership.
      It’s your opinion, I respect that, but I challenge your conclusions.

      • Lee Latham April 18, 2017, 12:47 pm

        Honestly, I don’t think the data really exists. I truly wish that every news article about unintentional dishcarges would include the make and model of the gun! But I am mostly talking about civilians, too. The police are a different case…but perhaps not so very different, in the end.

        I do agree a manual safety is no guarantee of safety. There is no such thing, after all :-). It’s a question of percentages…

    • James S March 23, 2018, 10:48 am

      Leaving a weapon accessible to any small child, no matter what the trigger pull weight, is irresponsible and prosecutable. Kids can easily find a way to pull the trigger even if their finger is not strong enough. The point is making the gun safer when used by hitting the right target.

  • Jack April 17, 2017, 9:22 pm

    Did local LE for 26 years in one of the major southern murder capitals. Wait until Wal Mart closes, the bottom falls out and they get hungry and start eating each other. All these “disarmed” places will literally disappear over night. God bless you for your service. Did you know that there have been about 280,000 B on B murders in 4 or 5 cities since 1980? I believe the cities were New Orleans, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Chicago and perhaps St Louis. I wonder if their trigger pull had been increased the numbers of intended targets would have been replaced by unintended targets? That 280K so called “murders” were perpetrated by about 6% of the US Population and account for about 75-79% of all homicides domestically. I like Jim’s idea of the M60 but perhaps a couple of B52’s and several 60K Ft 20MT air burst devices would be more practical at this point. Go Google Earth any of these cities and check out the condition of the housing and street life outside the business districts. You would never recognize it as home. I hope.
    Some of the places look like the bombs already went off!

  • FirstStateMark April 17, 2017, 8:25 pm

    Good job Clay. I agree with your evaluation.

  • Vinny April 17, 2017, 5:17 pm

    I agree with your article.
    Your credentials are impressive and I respect them , and thanks for your service.
    I just take offense at the comment about
    The NYPD , most of the men and women in blue who are out on the streets do an exceptional job with the equipment they are given and take great pride in serving the people of New York. I think an apology is in order.

  • Jim April 17, 2017, 11:15 am

    Well written and makes the point about bogus “safety” add-ons. I also appreciated your comment on why we carry pistols: “A pistol is a defensive tool in case lethal force is needed, and we didn’t have the foresight to be 50 yards away with a machine gun in our hands and a bunch of our friends for back up.” I’m retired Army, 1/9th Cav, 1st Cav Division in 68/69. When I took a Utah CC class several years ago, the instructor wanted to know if “you have ever defended yourself with a firearm and, if so, what type?” I answered “yes, with an M-60 machine gun and an M-79 Grenade Launcher.” and added: “those remain my preferred options.”

  • Tripwire April 17, 2017, 10:26 am

    I agree with Clay, but! I bought a new CZ sports tactical from their custom shop. The first time I touched the trigger I was like “Holy Shit”!! it came out of the box at 2.5 lbs, I knew it would but still! So since it was going to be a match gun I started working slowly with the draw to make damn sure I wasn’t putting my finger in the guard before it was pointed well down range and yes I know that’s the way it’s supposed to be done regardless but I became every aware of it. CZ the best kept secret in the handgun world!
    As a LEO I carried one of the first S&W mod 66’s made, carried it for years but after the first year I got a friend to take it apart and I spent a day with super fine Emory cloth and a Arkansas fine hard stone, when I got done it was like snot on a glass door knob, before that it was like rubbing two pieces of sand paper together.
    And on a final note, Just stop buying guns from makers in places like Masshole, just say no! loud and clear, I heard Oklahoma had offered gun companies a great tax break to move there, don’t thing any did. I will only buy Magpul mags now. they stood up for gun owners. Smith are you listening?

  • Big John April 17, 2017, 9:57 am

    Nice work Clay, you’ve nicely documented an obvious issue that no one took the time to examine before in such depth. Don’t bash Mass. too much though, we don’t need more Massholes moving to New Hampshire and pulling the blue lever in our election booths.

    Besides S&W the last good thing I remember being from Massatwoshits was 10th Group…ever they were smart enough to high tail it out of there (not that Colorado is going to be much better down the road).

    Great job on the article…one tip from an old has been…buy bigger shirts. As much as you think you’re going to PT your way back into them it ain’t ever gonna happen (ask me how I know). Throw em in the cleaning patch pile and buy the XX, you’ll thank me later.

  • Cole April 17, 2017, 9:11 am

    I agree with Clay. Working as an LEO, I believe it is foolish and dangerous to disable an officer or citizen that much further.

  • Jay April 17, 2017, 8:20 am

    Clay, just throwing this thought out there, although I appreciate men such as yourself and thank you for your service, trigger pull is secondary to muscle training! A few years back, trained individuals and non trained individuals tested for involuntary discharge. A 12lb and 5lb pound trigger pull weapon was used. Even in trained police officers 20% involuntarily pulled the trigger (electronic sensors were used) in drills in which they used for training, Pounds of trigger pull had no effect. The study concluded that because of heart rate increase of 50% or more causes an uncontrollable, forceful spasmodic jerk that is associated with an abnormally high heart rate and involves unusually intense muscle activity in the forearm and wrist, resulting whats in the hand being gripped with increased force. Just drawing the weapon increased heart rate in all individuals. The body’s hands were even affected by other motions of other parts of the body such as kicking the led, jerking of the leg etc… carrying a flashlight in the other hand and or pushing a suspect around to cuff him. There was another study done that showed a minimum 25lb trigger pull would be needed to prevent accidental trigger pull in a stressful situation. Now for those who are using firearms in accuracy situations lighter trigger pull, to a certain degree, is a must I agree! I don;t know many people, officers included, that carry who can honestly say they train with their weapon to the extent I would call it safe to be carrying a weapon for self defense without being dangerous to others, so just how dangerous is that situation to everyone around them? Then think about being in the wrong place at the wrong time and someone pulling a gun knowing this information! I’m reminded of a phrase from Clint Eastwood movie, “A man’s got to know his limitations” Training is key, even training the mind to stay relaxed in stress is a hard thing to master for most, especially when so many can not even chew gum and walk at the same time!

  • Scott M. April 17, 2017, 8:07 am

    Also, the Massachusetts cops are not supplied with altered guns. They get the regular production guns. They can even buy non-altered guns through FFL’s in this state with their credentials for off-duty use. That applies to cops, sheriffs, F….ing Court-Officers and any other psuedo rent a cop types.

  • Scott M April 17, 2017, 7:59 am

    I live in the MassHole State. I have 17 non-compliant pistols that I bought upteen years ago. For some reason I decided to buy a 9mm Shield I saw on sale. Final price $260 plus tax. Great deal I thought till I took it to the range the next day. Didn’t even realize it had a 10.5 lb (feels like 15+) trigger. I hate this pistol. The trigger is useless. I can’t hit anything with it and I am not going to ever shoot it again. Smith & Wesson should just abandon the Massachusetts market instead of putting out this garbage.

  • Joseph April 11, 2017, 8:48 pm


    Hey everyone, let’s make a law in the name of safety, that makes a pistol harder to shoot accurately! That increases the likelihood of missing your intended target and hitting an unintended target! But what do you mean that doesn’t make sense?? But SAFETY!!! CHILDREN!!! Who’s with me?! Think of the children!!

  • Mark N. April 11, 2017, 8:45 pm

    Each to his own, and it’s what you are used to. Jerry Miculek can put rounds through a revolver with a double action trigger as fast as most people can do it with a single action or Glock style trigger. And with great accuracy. Police officers used double action revolvers for years, but I don’t seem to recall complaints about “heavy” triggers. But then there was my daughter’s firearms trainer, who claimed he was a retired SEAL, and an avowed Glock man, who couldn’t seem to overcome the double action mode of her FNX. I have never fired her gun, but in dry firing it, I preferred the firm double action pull to the mush of the single action mode. I’d bet it was around 10.5 pounds, much like the trigger on my Kahr (which, truth be told, is not a true double action trigger as the striker partially cocks on cycling). I have no issue with accuracy with my Kahr, only speed of firing, which has more to do with the long travel than the trigger weight (and the fact that the trigger is almost all the way back to the frame before the gun fires). I have had no trouble with the weight after shooting it for a while.

    So are heavy triggers “unsafe”? I don’t think so, it is just something you have to train for.

    But as all things, there are triggers that are too heavy and triggers that are too light. I wouldn’t even think of carrying a 1911 with a 2 or 2.5 pound trigger pull. Similarly, although it is not inappropriate to have an ultralight trigger on a target rifle, it would take me a bunch of training to get used to the super light trigger on my brother’s Anshutz; I found it hard to even put my finger on the trigger without firing before I was ready.

    • Rick April 17, 2017, 7:32 am

      Jerry is a Modern Wonder who spends many hours practicing. I believed that Clay’s point was that the majority of people carrying a handgun don’t have the resources to practice that much. As to the police of old, perhaps nobody complained as there wasn’t another pistol available to them for comparison. They also didn’t have mass media then to publicize their misses.

      NYPD had to increase their Glock trigger weight due to many NDs as their officers rested their fingers on their triggers like they did with their revolvers.

      Yes, to each his own. I much prefer the non-MA triggers now that I’m in NH.

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