Story and photos by Mike Searson
Your personal self defense gun might be good out of the box, but why not make it better with these easy tweaks and accessories.
To us, that was the Sears catalog of gun parts. We would ogle the new 1911 components and dream up custom Wildcats for different rifles to see if we could find the perfect barrel at Brownells.
If we were restoring an old rifle we picked up on the cheap, we knew we could find replacement parts at Brownells.
Over the years we saw more accessories make their way into the big book (and now the website).
Not surprisingly there has been a lot of crossover from competitive shooting sphere to the tactical and defensive sides, too.
Personal Self Defense Gun
For a personal protection firearm, we generally tend toward leaving our firearms fairly close to the way they came from the factory if only for a legality standpoint. Chances are, if you should happen to use a firearm in self-defense you will be subject to a type of scrutiny that you probably thought was reserved for criminals or Republican presidential Supreme Court nominees.
With that in mind, there are very few firearms completely ready to go from the factory for that purpose. For those on a budget, a personal-protection-ready firearm may mean the difference between making the mortgage payment that month and finding a couch to crash on.
As a result, many of us tend to pay as we go. Usually we buy the firearm we want and some ammunition with which to practice, then find our parts or accessories down the line as we can afford them.
Fortunately, companies like Brownells have just about everything we would want or need all in one place to get our gear running in an ideal fashion.
Personal Self Defense Gun – Pistols
Handguns are unique when prepping as a personal self defense gun. There are so many schools of thought and non-trivial pissing contests between different camps we decided to take something that we had no particular loyalty to (and maybe a touch of antipathy) and show you how to get it “fighting fit.”
personal self defense gun
The S&W M&P has a large following, but could stand to be improved with some upgraded parts. We love the ergonomics and the construction, but we’re not fond of the way they designed the trigger — there is creep, slop, and mush. Shooting is all about consistency, and the M&P’s factory trigger is anything but that.
Thankfully there’s the Apex Tactical S&W M&P Forward Set Sear & Trigger Kit. Not merely a drop-in-trigger, this Apex Tactical kit includes a forward set sear, trigger, striker block kit, and spring kit.
Apex’s striker block kit includes the striker block, spring, and talon tactical tool. You get a sear spring, ram spring, and two trigger return springs in the spring kit — a 4- and a 5.5-pound. Additionally, there’s a trigger return spring installation tool that takes the headache out of trying to install the return spring.
The forward set trigger eliminates the slop or mushiness in the trigger by eliminating pre-travel and over-travel. It’s equipped with a center-mounted pivoting safety bar that prevents unintended operation by creating a trigger block that will not disengage unless the shooter places their finger on the center of the trigger. It also encourages trigger manipulation directly in line with the bore axis.
By setting the sear in a forward position, Apex shortens the stroke of the trigger pull by dropping the striker at a point farther forward than the factory sear. Coupled with the forward-set striker block that has an improved radius on the striker block face, the shooter gets a smoother trigger pull and a positive reset. Total trigger travel is reduced to 0.12 inch.
Depending upon which return spring you go with, you can go as light as 4 pounds (recommended for competitive use) or up to 5.5 pounds (for carry use). Regardless of which spring you use, the uptake and reset become as smooth as silk.
All those little parts may sound intimidating, but fortunately these pistols have a virtue of being very easy to disassemble. You’ll need an assortment of punches and roll pin punches, and we recommend the Apex Armorer’s Block.
Unfortunately, Apex includes no written instructions and we found none online. However, there’s a video with Apex CEO Randy Lee performing an installation of the kit. Be advised that watching it via smartphone will prove challenging. Resolution is not the best and to actually see the proper installation you need a larger screen.
Three things to be mindful of when completely breaking down your M&P for this type of installation:
- The Apex Tactical Trigger is aluminum and must be installed on your existing trigger bar. If you miss the hole when driving the trigger retention pin through the trigger and need to drive it back from the reverse side, do it slowly or the punch may slip and go through the trigger body, potentially destroying it.
- The loop on the coil of the trigger return spring must go around the trigger pin set in the frame. Our Apex kit came with a plastic slave pin, but we’ve heard of some of these kits not coming with one. If you don’t have one, make one.
- When installing or removing the takedown lever, there’s a retaining wire that fits in the breech block that resembles a crooked staple. Do not lose this wire!
Depending on your mechanical aptitude, you can have this installed in between 20 minutes and an hour. After installing ours we ran out to the range, and the difference in the stock trigger and the Apex was like night and day. Besides being smooth, crisp, and light, it was positioned in a superior manner, giving a shorter reach and a quicker reset.
If Smith & Wesson M&Ps came from the factory with this type of trigger installed, there would be much fewer complaints about that pistol from shooters.
The only necessity we see in a defensive handgun is a weapon-mounted light. Night sights may be fine for some folks, but they do nothing when it comes to identifying your target or determining threat assessment.
Brownells offers a variety of flashlights that can be mounted to a pistol via the framerail, and one of our favorites is the TLR-1 by Streamlight. There’s a trick to getting this longer light on a short-railed compact pistol by inserting a second rail key toward the rear and using it to actually hold the light. The TLR-1 gives you 300 lumens of pure white light.
We like how the controls are placed on the light so the shooter can control the output between momentary or constant-on.
There’s a strobe setting, which some folks like, but we find it pretty useless without associated techno music and Patrón shots.
Personal Self Defense Gun – Rifles
Without getting into specifics because everyone’s needs, training level, and comfort zone differ, there are only two accessories that we recommend as must-haves for any defensive or duty rifle: a sling and a visible white light.
That may sound overly simplistic, but that’s what you want at the end of the day. A sling allows you to comfortably carry and employ your rifle. Two-point, three-point, and single-point slings all have pros and cons that we don’t have enough space to cover here, but there’s a wide variety of products available to meet your particular needs. ( read AmmoLand's article Five Best AR15 Rifle Sling You Should Own )
When it comes to lights, again there are options. Consider that outfitting an AR with rails, optics, lights, and other accessories adds a considerable amount of weight to what was engineered originally as a 7-pound rifle. Most can get closer to 10 pounds if you start bolting parts on like you are building Legos.
Three pounds of extra weight does not sound like a lot, but you feel every ounce of it as you are moving and shooting, even if it’s slung or attached to a plate carrier. So we think of reducing that fighting weight in terms of ounces.
That’s why we like these lightweight lights by Inforce that Brownells keeps in stock. They're light weight (3 ounces) and low price makes them perfect for a home defense carbine.
We tried out two single-cell lights — a 200-lumen white LED and one with an infrared option. They weigh about 3 ounces each due to their fiberglass construction and the WML 200 boasts 200 lumens for 90 minutes of runtime. The LED/IR version gives you 175 lumens for 1.5 hours, 30 lumens for 10 hours, and provides an infrared light option with 75mW high (3.5 hours) and 25mW low (17 hours) modes.
If that lighting option sounds a bit mild, there’s always the Inforce WMLx White, which produces 500 lumens of concentrated white light with a generous peripheral beam. It runs off two batteries as opposed to the single-cell lights. You may have problems identifying targets at greater distances than 100 yards due to the throw and beam, but in those instances there are other choices to be had.
In keeping with something lightweight, but boasting a greater beam throw, we like the SureFire M300C Mini Scout Light. Weighing in at a scant 4.3 ounces, this versatile LED gives you 300 lumens for 1 hour and 20 minutes of runtime. Unlike the Inforce lights, SureFire allows you to equip their light with a tape switch to put the on/off capability right where you want it.
No matter the lumens rating, you need controls to activate or deactivate the light when you need to do so.
Personal Self Defense Gun – Shotguns
If you rely on a shotgun for a personal self defense gun, you’ll want to add a light as well. Lights that clamp to the magazine tube went out with the hula hoop, and railed forends can be overkill when you just want a single flashlight and nothing else.
We’re fans of SureFire’s dedicated weapon lights for shotguns and Brownells has them on hand for the big three: Remington, Mossberg, and Winchester. We’ve been running an older one on a Remington 1100 for close to 20 years, but wanted a newer version for our 870.
The latest shotgun specific light from SureFire features a recoil-proof LED illuminator that delivers 600 lumens of clean, white light in high mode, and 200 lumens in low mode. The buttons are built into the forend as well to let you switch modes and choose between constant-on or momentary operation. This light system is a completely sealed unit, and there are no tape switches or exposed wires.
Installation takes about five minutes. You remove your old forend via an included spanner wrench, slip on the new one, and tighten up the retaining nut with the same wrench.
If a dedicated personal self defense gun light sounds too expensive, the other option is to add a forend that accepts a rail mount, and any of the lights we looked at for rifles will make a fine fit.
We’ve probably only scratched the surface here with the many ways that you can upgrade your personal self defense gun.
Apart from bolt-on accessories like the lights we mentioned or drop-in parts like the Apex Tactical S&W M&P Forward Set Sear & Trigger Kit, there are many other parts that’ll improve the form and function of whichever weapon system you go with. Installation of some of these can be trickier or more complex than they sound. If the Brownell's description says: “Gunsmith Installation Recommended,” there’s probably a good reason to consider calling your local gun plumber instead of setting the Dremel tool in motion.
About Mike Searson
Mike Searson's career as a shooter began as a Marine Rifleman at age 17. He has worked in the firearms industry his entire adult life as a Gunsmith, Ballistician, Consultant, Salesman, Author and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1989.
Mike has written over 2000 articles for a number of magazines, websites and newsletters including Blade, RECOIL, OFF-GRID, Tactical Officer, SWAT, Tactical World, Gun Digest, Examiner.com and the US Concealed Carry Association as well as AmmoLand Shooting Sports News.
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