When you step back and consider the situation, there is almost a ridiculous amount of misconception, misunderstanding, and mythology surrounding firearms and how to handle them. Depending on your level of training and experience, you may or may not be well-equipped to wade through the mire of Bravo Sierra that permeates the gun culture.
Having been in this game for three decades now, I could probably fill a book with strange and outlandish myths and, I’m sorry, stupid things I’ve heard about shooting, carrying, and storing firearms. Come to think of it, that might be a good topic for my next book, but back to the topic.
I’m sure there is plenty of blame or culpability to go around on this subject, but from my experience, the U.S. Military is one of the worst offenders. Reflexive trigger snapping, as in pressing the trigger when there is no desire to actually fire said weapon, goes back as far as modern memory can comprehend. I’d go so far as to say that trigger-snapping goes back to the original cartridge firing rifles and sidearms.
Consider the 1873 Colt Single Action Army revolver. In order to load or unload the gun the hammer had to be partially cocked, thus allowing the cylinder to spin freely. After the loading/unloading process, the only way to put the hammer back to rest is to completely cock it and then release it. Men, being the creatures that they are, would just cock the hammer and then reflexively snap the trigger to release it. No big deal, the chamber is empty. That is, until the chamber is not empty.
When I became a U.S. Marine so many moons ago, the clearing barrel mentality was in full force and young recruits were taught to point their rifles into the clearing barrel, draw back the bolt of the M-16, release it, remove the safety and snap the trigger, then lock the bolt back and turn the gun in. Similarly, the M1911 was cleared by removing the magazine, racking the slide, snapping the hammer, locking the slide and turning the gun in. Why?
A rational and thoughtful person might look at the clearing barrel steps and say “What purpose does pressing the trigger have?” First off, when you are a Private, you don’t question the order you are given; you just follow orders. Secondly, and unfortunately, when that Private becomes a Sergeant, he’s been conditioned to simply do what he’s been doing for years; after all the procedure is written in a manual somewhere and we follow procedure to the letter.
This is where “institutional stupidity” raises its ugly head. Actions are repeated, instructions are reiterated over and over for years until no one actually knows why we do what we do or for what purpose. “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” is a favorite fallback or copout.
Supporting Myth with Misinformation
When challenged regarding the whole trigger snapping issue, yhe argument has been made that, when the gun is unloaded, the hammer/sear spring needs to be at rest in order to “prolong its useful life” or “prevent undo spring wear.” Therefore it is indeed proper to snap the trigger after the gun in cleared. To answer this question I sought out the opinion of an expert in the firearms manufacturing field: Bill Wilson, founder of Wilson Combat and Master Gunsmith.
“In all my years building and carrying firearms I’ve had one single coil spring, that I can remember, fail and that was an M1911 firing pin spring,” Bill related during our telephone conversation. “There are many schools of thought regarding coil springs and their life. There have been coil magazine springs compressed and loaded for years without any issue.”
Bill further advised that any part on a firearm could eventually wear out given enough use; springs being no exception. I would offer an addition that quality springs, as you would find in a high-dollar trap gun, should last for decades or more. If you fear spring wear or failure, spend the $5.00 once a year and replace the firing pin spring in your favorite fowling piece.