Gun Modifications - Vanity vs. Necessity

Modifications: The Spirit of Vanity and Necessity

There are perhaps few items that benefit from customization like that of a gun or rifle. With countless manufacturers, configurations, treatments and accessories, you can virtually design your own gun. A firearm to help you find your place in the world whether that place is on the range, while hunting, or defending your home.

Despite the variety of guns available, people often find that once they're broken it in it could benefit from some modifications.

Sometimes these changes are improvements like getting more accurate sights and sometimes these enhancements do little more than look good. It seems that modifying your gun is nearly as personal as which way you vote and can be almost as controversial! People can go overboard, take a look at our previous article here: Handgun Modifications - Tactical vs Practical

My dad, a USMC veteran of WWII and Korea, still has his M1 Garand rifle and remains proficient with it through regular use.

Asking him what modifications he'd make is usually met with a curse-laden admonishment since he maintains his rifle with little more than use, TLC and regular gun maintenance. Ask his grandson what mods he wants for his Smith and Wesson M&P9, however, and you're in for a play-by-play on the Tier 1 package with a Tier 2 slide from Salient Arms International.

“It's essentially my gun with all new internal components including match barrel, new guide rod, trigger components, sights, and stippling,” says Iain Alexander who is a rural firefighter with a goal of becoming an Air Force pararescueman. As much as he wants to modify his weapon, it's more important to him to be proficient so he studies videos of Chris Costa, Travis Haley and Pat McNamara and supplements it with the personal instruction given by his Marine Corps grandfather and SEAL uncle.

The allure of special operations has turned a number of operators into enterprising businessmen who've responded with their own brands of merchandise, apparel, training packages, and gun customization options that fuel a multi-million dollar a year after-market industry.

“Modifying a weapon basically comes down to two things,” Alexander notes,

"People can follow trends or leaders in the field, but if you're serious it gets down to what feels better in your hand, your own ergonomics and build and what makes you a better professional. Who cares if it looks good but your performance sucks.”

Most people I know are serious about their equipment even if one has a Swarovski crystal upper receiver and another a Kevlar hunting jeep. Estela Vaden is an award-winning Skeet competitor so her profile modification to the “pocket” of her shotgun was solely to enhance her performance, whereas one of my physician clients mounted a tac light on his Glock 19 mostly because he liked the way it looked.

While the doctor treats lots of law enforcement and undercover agents, most of his elderly patients would be unsettled with a gun-toting doctor so he conceal carries between his Ruger .38 and his Glock.

“I can go to yoga class and no one knows I'm carrying, but it's a real pain in the ass replacing batteries all the time so I'm going to get rid of it [light],” the doctor says acknowledging that he carries for personal protection.

Some modifications are encouraged by manufacturers. Remington has extended its Safety Modification Program through December 31 to remove the bolt-lock mechanism from certain bolt-action centerfire firearms that were made prior to March, 1982. This is an elective modification so that the gun can be loaded or unloaded without taking it out of “on safe” position and Remington is encouraging consumers with the low retrofit cost and throwing in a free hat.

Coatings and finishes are popular modifications that also reflect the owner's personality and are options my military and hunting friends most often opt for. The majority of them prefer the popular ceramic-based Cerakote and DuraCoat to traditional bluing, parkerizing and ion bonding but choices are often dictated by the revolver, pistol or rifle. You wouldn't be bluing polymer components any more than you should Cerakote my dad's classic M1.

Some would argue that putting a finish on a well-maintained gun is expensive overkill and others would say it's about protecting an investment's value through preservation or enhancing the tactile experience that leads to better performance. Some quickly point out that finish coatings should not be confused with cleaning or maintenance treatments though they can occasionally do the same thing.

Ceramic-based coatings options are popular since they come in a variety of colors and can be applied at-home using ambient or heat curing options. Decobond and Tribobond are ionbond finishes that impart a matte finish and also help keep weapons cool. Old school steel benefits from parkerizing, bluing, and hard chroming and really aren't considered enhancements, per se. As newer generation firearms are manufactured using composites that superior to most metals, techniques like parkerizing and bluing will become lost arts. They're already under threat of extinction thanks to the EPA.

The spectrum of customization is endless and includes configurable options as well.
The SIG MPX lets you change barrel length, caliber and stock configurations of your SIG submachine gun in the field. And if you want to attach your suppressor, you have a few choices on that too with the fully-, threat on- and integrally-suppressed configurable options. Sauer's MPX marries function and fashion, but to battle vets like former SF Bill Smithers, enhancements rarely impress him.

“I've shot 'em all, but nothing beats my Beretta,” Smithers says as he offers up his well worn and maintained M9. The only thing Smithers admits to changing is crisping up the trigger though I can see a tiny piece of what looks to be skateboard tape under the finger guard. When asked Smithers nods, “Reference.”

Smithers, like my dad, is a man of few words but plenty of opinions. And just like that tiny piece of tape marking his finger position, Smithers' place in the world doesn't really require any modifications. A simple acknowledgment will do. It occurs to me that his and my father's self-confidence is reflected in their virtually unmodified battle tools: Trusted. Reliable. Proven.

That's not to say that those who modify their pistols or rifles to improve aesthetics and/or function are lost. I prefer to think these folks are on a journey with a companion they're getting to know better. Sure it's a piece or metal or polymer, but it will be used in the course of putting food on the table, winning a prize, or defending the family. With such important personal functions it stands to reason that that revolver won't just reflect the passage of time, but the experiences along the way. And whether that's measured by a fully-railed and accessorized AR15 or a delicately engraved Golden Boy, it's a reflection of a person and the spirit of gun ownership.


Sharon Chayr  

About The Author


Sharon Chayra is an award-winning writer and producer whose work has appeared in national newspapers, magazines, books and TV. She is the founder of ChayraComm, a PR firm serving select clients in the firearms, TacMed, military and non-profit organization sectors. Chayra is well-acquainted with duty given her and her family's distinguished heritage in the military, law enforcement, EMS and fire services.