Merriam-Webster defines Analysis as “a careful study of something to learn about its parts, what they do, and how they are related to each other.” In reality, most people conduct analysis on a daily, probably hourly, basis. To thinking, functioning adults, analysis becomes an almost unconscious process that assists them in everything from building a budget, to planning the most efficient way to complete an errand run.
In the firearms world, equipment manufacturers develop products that they advertise to give some sort of “edge.” Examples include extended magazine releases, extended safeties, enhanced sights, enhanced triggers, and other enhancement products with a price range from relatively inexpensive to hundreds or thousands of dollars. These products may legitimately provide a solution to a validated problem, however, new shooters purchasing a firearm for the first time (and some old shooters who just really like gear) often fall “under the spell” of these advertisements, and spend thousands of dollars customizing their firearms to the specifications of an individual who endorses the products without conducting any sort of analysis of their own needs. Usually, the end product meets all the criteria for “high speed, low drag,” but may provide little to no real improvement to the shooter. Conducting a simple analysis before cracking open the cool-guy firearm parts catalog remedies this situation.
First, ask the question: “How do I intend to utilize this firearm?” People utilize firearms for different reasons, including competition, self-defense outside the home, self-defense inside the home, and instruction of others in firearm usage. While a product designed for one category may provide benefits to another category, each product must be evaluated separately. For example, extended magazine releases enhance competition firearms by allowing for faster magazine changes, resulting in a lower time and possibly a higher ranking. In a defensive situation, they provide the same benefit, resulting in less time spent with an empty gun in the face of an armed criminal. However, a competition situation varies significantly from a defensive one. In a competition scenario, competitors usually carry specialized holsters outside the confines of their clothes and intentionally minimize the dangers of an accidental magazine release (or carry enough spare magazines that losing one does not represent a critical failure). In a defensive situation, the user frequently conceals the firearm underneath clothing, the firearm is subject to the bumps and bruises of daily life, and carrying copious amounts of extra ammunition is extremely impractical. In this case, the loss of a magazine due to accidental release represents a much greater danger and deserves additional scrutiny by the shooter to determine if the enhancement warrants the additional risk.
Next, ask “Can this firearm do the job without enhancements?” Although this question is highly subjective, many first-time purchasers buy a stock firearm and immediately begin customizing, without ever having taken the firearm out for a test fire to determine its baseline performance levels.
If the answer to the question to the above question is “no” or a qualified “yes,” the next question becomes “What specific performance enhancement does this product provide, and do I really need it (or, does the benefit gained from this enhancement outweigh possible risks or associated costs)?” Once again, each individual shooter’s needs vary, and what appears to be a need for one may not be for another. Going back to the magazine release example - my hands are very large, and I can easily reach the magazine release on all of my handguns with little to no difficulty, whereas a shooter with smaller hands may experience significant difficulty in reaching a magazine release, especially on firearms with double-stacked magazines. In their case, they may “need” an extended release, and I may not. If they elect to install the extended release, they should do so in light of question 1, and ensure their own willingness to accept the possible risks of the extended release. The “needs” analysis must be conducted for every firearm enhancement being considered.
After developing a list of their “needed” enhancements, shooters should ask, “How do these enhancements interact with each other, and can a single enhancement accomplish multiple tasks?” This question comes from personal experience. In an effort to improve my hands’ purchase on my handgun and speed up my magazine changes, I purchased an enhanced set of grips that included a “thumb scoop” and an extended magazine release. I installed both parts and conducted dry-fire drills to test the parts’ efficacy. I soon noticed that when I conducted a magazine change, my magazine release stuck. After testing with multiple firearm manufacturers and multiple parts manufacturers, I discovered the issue. The combination of the “thumb scoop” with the extended magazine release caused me to press the magazine release so far into the frame that it allowed the magazine catch lock to rotate out of position, locking the magazine release. I re-installed the original magazine release with the new grips and the problem ceased. The two enhancements, installed for two different reasons, actually addressed the same issue (easing access to the magazine release) and in my case, caused failures when installed together. As a result, I removed the extended releases from all of my copies of that firearm and kept the grips in place. This analysis saved me approximately $20 per firearm and provided greater reliability.
As the shooter adds each enhancement to the firearm, they must conduct dry-fire and live-fire drills under conditions as close to their intended use as possible. As they conduct these drills, they must continually analyze/assess with the question, “Is this enhancement performing the task for which I installed it, and is my firearm properly equipped for my expected situation?” Equipment changes, needs change, and people change. As a firearm’s mission evolves, enhancements that had been previously installed may progress into obsolescence, or new enhancements may be “required.” A constant state of evaluation and analysis is necessary to ensure that the firearm remains ready for service.
Although I focused on the magazine release here, this analysis holds true for any enhancement to be considered. A proper analysis conducted beforehand, followed by a systematic evaluation of the enhancements with a focus on analyzing interrelationships between the firearm, enhancements, and shooter present the best possibility of a creating a personalized firearm that meets the shooters needs while reducing the impact on a shooter’s budget.