CONTROVERSIAL MAG DISCONNECTOR

The Browning Hi-Power’s magazine disconnector safety is a point of…

The Browning Hi-Power’s magazine disconnector safety is a point of contention with many self-defense enthusiasts.

Since before recorded time, ancient artifacts show mankind has customized their weapons. Arms are something humans depend on for survival, and putting their personal mark on them and making them work exactly the way the individual user wants them to seems to be a part of human nature.

This holds true today, especially with firearms. As I write this, I’m on a road trip that will include teaching two classes, visiting two homicide scenes in connection with upcoming trials (one Wrongful Death suit, one Murder charge), and finally the national IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) Championships. I’ll be competing in the Stock Service Revolver division, and with me will be a pair of K-frame Smith & Wessons, one for the match and one as a spare. Both have been lightly modified. Each has grips that fit my hand better than the ones they left the factory with. Each has had its chambers chamfered slightly at the edges to allow faster reloading. One has had an action hone. I feel all these minor alterations would be court-defensible if they had to be pressed into service for defensive needs, since I naturally use them as carry guns while they’re with me. That’s because nothing has been done to either firearm to compromise their safety in any way.

I’ve been an expert witness for the courts for 30 years now, dealing primarily in shooting cases. One thing I’ve seen again and again is that attorneys who want to “hang” a shooter and are prepared to fabricate a case, will often base part of their case on some aspect of the involved weapon itself. It plays to a well-recognized fear of weapons on the part of the general public, and of course, it is from that general public that the jury pool is always drawn from.

Over the years, I’ve seen many cases where opposing counsel would demonize the ammunition used by the defendant, trying to convince the jury that it was “extra deadly” with designed to cause greater damage with more pain and suffering, and therefore was indicative of malicious intent on the part of the defendant who used it. I’ve also seen several cases where a light trigger pull—what a layperson might call a “hair trigger”—became the focus of the opposing counsel’s sometimes bogus argument that the defendant had recklessly, negligently shot the party in question by accident, and should therefore be found guilty of Manslaughter or found liable for Wrongful Death.

Another issue I’ve seen arise has been the deactivation of a safety device on the firearm that wound up being used in the shooting. Opposing counsel seems to truly love this one. That’s because it gives them a sound bite that’s incredibly powerful with the laypeople you can expect to find on a jury. That argument is, “Ladies and gentlemen, the defendant is so reckless that he deactivated the safety device on a lethal weapon!!!”

Accidental Discharge
A case in point is the removal of the magazine disconnector safety, a device that prevents the round in the chamber of an autopistol from being fired if the magazine has been removed.

The single pistol from which shooters are most likely to remove the magazine disconnector safety is the Browning Hi-Power, also known as the P35 and in Europe as the GP pistol, and its assorted clones. The gun has had this feature since its introduction in the year 1935, and the reason that it is the model that is most likely to have this feature removed by the end user is that the P35 is one of the few pistols that actually benefits from taking it out…

Wrong Hands
Of course, most autopistols today are made without a magazine disconnector. And, yes, their manufacturers have been sued over that. In Case Two, a child got hold of his father’s Beretta, removed the magazine, and pointed the gun at a playmate and fired, shooting him in the head with the chambered round. The plaintiffs sued Beretta, alleging that they were negligent in manufacturing this model without a magazine disconnector safety…

Final Notes
The history of it is clear. Even if you win the lawsuit you’re slapped with, or are acquitted of the negligence-alleging charge brought against you in criminal court, the case itself will be an ordeal…

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  • Folks,

    As a recreational pistol shooter, from time to time I pick up a copy of Combat Handguns along with the groceries. And I confess I’m often surprised at the silliness of some of the stories and cases illustrated (don’t get me wrong – I’m a 2nd Amendment supporter). But…

    Massad Ayoub’s ‘Controversial Mag Disconnecter’ article (June 2010, p8) misses the point. The technical modifications (or not, in Case IV) Mr Ayoub focuses on are irrelevant.

    In the 4 cases cited 3 factors are in play (none relate to pistol mechanics/modifications). Those 3 factors are: training, competence or stupidity:

    Case I: Poor training (negligent discharge): Killing innocent member of public – discharge whilst fumbling
    Case II: Stupidity: Child shoots playmate with father’s pistol.(‘…a child got hold of his father’s pistol…’)
    Case III: Stupidity/Poor training: Off-duty PO kills neighbor whilst cleaning pistol -(‘…cleaning his gun one night…discharged round left in chamber…’)
    Case IV: Stupidity: Child shoots playmate with father’s pistol (‘…child got hold of Dad’s ..pistol..)

    I have to express my personal disappointment at these four cases: people who should know better, and are charged with protecting the public, end up doing more harm than the criminals they’re supposed to protect us from.

    On a family level, the devastation caused to the those affected are 4 tragedies: 2 children and 2 adults turned into accidental killers. This truly f**cks up those involved (I don’t mean to be offensive, but the Anglo-Saxon word exactly describes the impact).

    This is an unacceptable price to pay: it behoves us as gun supporters to weed out these idiots.

    It means Police departments need to train – and pay POs better; it also means Police Departments need to stop hiring the brain-dead.

    If we don’t (fix these issues ourselves), we shouldn’t be be surprised – or disappointed – if someone else does.

    With best regards,

    Nigel Llewellyn-Smith

    Nigel@dropzone.com

    PS Keep up the good work – Combat Handguns is a great read.

  • lorddunsmore

    I bought a used BHP Practical 9mm several years ago. The previous owner had removed the magazine disconnector. I had a new one reinstalled. I believe in using all the weapon’s safety features. I’ve never had problems with the trigger pull and couldn’t be happier with it. I really don’t know what all the fuss is about. Can’t shoot with one in the chamber w/o a magazine inserted? Well, if its a problem, use a different pistol.