As anyone who’s read PTC for a while knows, I’m a huge fan of the Heckler & Koch LEM (“Law Enforcement Module”) trigger system.
The LEM As a Street Trigger
by Darryl “nyeti” Bolke (reprinted with permission)
I have been making the case for the last couple of years that I think the HK LEM (particularly the LEM variant popularized by firearms trainer Todd Louis Green that is essentially a Light LEM set up with a heavy trigger return spring for more positive reset of the trigger) trigger set up is the best “street trigger”. So, why the LEM over other systems?
Many years ago I came to the conclusion that the Colt 1911 was the finest close quarters gun-fighting pistol ever made, and if I had to take a pistol to a gunfight, the Colt 1911 would be my choice, and a lot of that is due to the trigger. Of course the issue was that my job involved taking a lot of people prisoner and capturing and detaining people at the end of a gun while working around a bunch of people who didn’t need to be shot. So being in the prisoner taking business and not the gun fighting business, I did well carrying a DA/SA pistol. I started on a big bore revolver, went to a SIG P220, carried a 1911 on a proactive crime suppression detail with using a HK P7 when work vice and for undercover stuff, went to the HK USP45 F for both patrol and SWAT, then moved to the Glock 9mm for Air Support and stayed with the Glock 9mm till the end of my career as a patrol duty pistol. I also carried a Glock or 1911 a lot in the private sector as well as a DA/SA HK45C.
I currently carry HK LEM guns almost exclusively. Essentially, I have carried pretty much all of the various trigger systems out there, and have investigated, been present at, or been in shootings with most of the systems as well. So I do not base my opinions on theories, but first hand observations.
The concept is to have a revolver like trigger pull for the first shot and then it functions like a single action auto for further rounds. They “can” be shot very well and far better than most “experts” think they can. They are forgiving of trigger checks when people are in fear. They have a hammer that can provide additional input to the user that they are actually pressing the trigger. I actually find this as a solid positive as I have found that during several near shooting situations I have been in that I have been able to “see” my trigger press. Visual input is greatly enhanced in these situations while tactile input is decreased. I have confirmed this with individuals who have been in multiple shootings with double action guns that they could see their press.
Another benefit is that after the first shot, if the shooter can master the transition, the following S/A trigger feel is usually very good with positive reset and good feel. It is why these guns can be shot well by those who spend a lot of time with them. The long trigger motion also gives the shooter a bunch of time to “stop” if the situation changes. I have had this happen on multiple occasions where the situation changed to a “non-shoot” during the trigger press on a “shoot” target. The biggest issue for most is that the tough to master trigger and transition is used as a supposed safety crutch and many have not addressed the additional training needed to manage the transition.
An additional positive is that shooters can pin the hammer with a thumb while holstering to ensure that there is no chance for a discharge due to an object getting into the trigger guard. The hammer also provides a visual reference to the condition of the firearm.
There are a few huge negatives to these guns when used in defensive pistol work. Post-shooting actions are the biggest. They must be de-cocked prior to holstering. I have found that after a “street” shooting, there is usually more chaos than before it. I have seen numerous issues with negligent discharges due to holstering non-de-cocked pistols with a finger still in the trigger guard, or while involved in other activities post-shooting with a now fully “cocked and un-locked” pistol. The location of the de-cocking devices is not always in an ergonomic and efficient location for use under stress. In the case of the slide mounted ones, they introduce a whole additional set of issues of putting a pistol into condition that is totally un-intended under high stress operation.
Unlike during a range situation or competition where there is somebody standing there to make sure you get de-cocked properly and you do not have the huge stress of post shooting activities (holding someone at the end of a gun, verbal confrontation, additional confrontations with other threats, physical confrontation, law enforcement confrontation, communications with authorities, family members of both you or the offender, communications with witnesses and by-standers, etc.). There is a ton going on to distract from de-cocking. I have found that to counter this, de-cocking has to be made a sub-conscious automatic response. I trained this with my people that the pistol is de-cocked every time it comes off a confirmed target, even if you do not shoot. I can attest that it worked very well for me in a shooting in which my pistol was de-cocked as the bad guy went down. This is very doable and works. It is not how people shoot these guns in competition or to their maximum. If shooters actually trained for engaging humans in a problem solving situation where “shooting” is a small piece of the problem, they would be de-cocking far more often than I have seen most people do in competition. Multiple targets in the real world need to all be fully assessed individually before being shot. The pistol should be de-cocked when this is happening. If you move on the street, the pistol needs to be de-cocked unless you are actually firing on the move. Automatic de-cocking also helps for those who “speed holster”, which I see a lot.
Another issue is with those who due to improper training, or understanding of these pistols who will “de-cock” by holding the hammer and pressing the trigger to lower the hammer by hand and not mechanically using a de-cock lever. I am aware of two incidents of guns firing when dropped on a hard surface due to this, and I am sure there are several ND’s during “cleaning” that were a result of this practice as well. I am also aware of one high-level police executive dropping a magazine post shooting when he intended to de-cock. I have also stood, post-shooting, next to a very hard, tough, experienced street cop who was not a novice in dealing with stress. I had to literally talk him calmly though the de-cocking and post shooting process and get him holstered. He was dealing post pursuit, a shooting at a suspect with a shotgun who was still prone in front of him, calling for help, communicating with the bad guy, still had the original subject of the chase at large, and was alone. So I am not criticizing the fact that de-cocking his pistol was something he forgot to do, it is that he was overwhelmed with post shooting activity.
So, the DA/SA auto is viable and can be shot well. They are often issued because they are “hard to shoot accidently”. This is by police administrators who want a magic mechanical solution to a training problem, and then end up with something harder to shoot well and that has a complex motor operation that rears its ugly head during a time when stress and chaos is usually at its height-after the shooting.
“Safe Action” and other striker fired actions:
There is little to do with these. They are “easy to shoot”. Generally short trigger movements, a trigger in the same spot, and most have a “safety” on the trigger that does not require any deliberate action to remove. The reset and action of the trigger is short and easy to learn. All good things for shooting. There is nothing needed to get the gun into action or post action other than keeping the finger off the trigger.
This is the problem. Even the biggest advocates of “always keeping a finger off a trigger until a decision to shoot has been made” are caught regularly sub-consciously “touching” the trigger. We see this all the time in training, at matches, and it occurs all the time on the street. It is often a result of dealing with fear. Most people are not very experienced with dealing with extreme fear, and extreme stress (and it is not like a shooting match, it is like seeing a Tractor Trailer rig coming at you in your lane). Touching the trigger makes people feel better. Kind of like a child with their security blanket (we call this the “woobie” as a reference to this). This is a problem that requires significant training to overcome. Training that is often skimped on, due to the idea of (again) a mechanical solution to a software problem. It is hard to teach people to shoot at a high level and requires on-going dedicated training and resources…so we will give them a gun that is really easy to shoot. Unfortunately, often times they are too easy to shoot for many end users.
Another significant issue I have seen is that there is very little means to see what condition the pistol is in, and little visual input into what is going on with the pistol. The striker-fired pistol is a very tactile operation…, which may not be conducive to a lot of what is going on before, during, and after a fight (especially for those with either minimal training or minimal experience with dealing with high stress levels, or a combination of both).
Truthfully, I find these to be great pistols for well-trained solid shooters. They can be shot very well, very fast, and very efficiently and are very simple. With that said, they are very un-forgiving of “messing up”. Leave that finger on the trigger while holstering, get on the trigger too fast, getting something stuck in the trigger guard, typical sub-conscious responses to certain physical inputs, failing to properly clear a gun for disassembly or practice, etc. There are a lot of cases of un-intended discharges for a variety of reasons with these guns. It is why I don’t like seeing them handed out like candy with very little or no training to non-dedicated folks. I treat them like rattlesnakes….I am overly cautious when running them, and you really have to be “switched on” at all times with them. I will also add that I set mine up with extra take up in the trigger. I firmly believe that it is take up and not weight before the firearm starts into its firing process is an important feature to prevent un-intended firing and to better manage real world/street threats. Essentially, I run an “Anti-Skimmer” trigger, because I want some time and movement to really make sure I want to make that first shot. For those modifying their guns with less take up and “1911” ish triggers…I will just say that I think it is a recipe for disaster to run one of these while trying to manage typical street encounters with humans.
S/A “cocked and locked” pistols
These things are simply great to shoot with, as there is not a ton to go wrong on the trigger press. Not a lot of take-up, and not a lot of movement on the reset of the trigger mechanism. It is a very consistent trigger as well, which helps. The negative…you have to be very disciplined on the safety operation, both pre and post shooting. A failure to properly use the well placed mechanical safety both pre and post shooting can lead to disasters on both ends. I am pretty simple on these guns. They are for dedicated shooters when carried condition 1. The un-trained and un-practiced and non-dedicated have several opportunities to have a disaster-failure to remove the safety before the event, getting on a trigger with very little take up too early or when not intended, and a failure to mechanically safe the gun when it is coming off the threat, and a failure to safe the gun prior to holstering. That is a ton of places for something to go wrong. If you have a person who multi-tasks well, handles stress well, and is a disciplined person on their training and manipulations, they can do exceptional work with these guns. Duffers can get themselves into a ton of problems in a lot of places.
I like the L.E.M. Here is why. It is a consistent trigger. It has all of the take up of the DA, without the weight and effort. The trigger goes back to the same long take up location when the finger comes off the trigger. Essentially, it is like de-cocking without having to use a de-cocker, just a simple removal of the finger from the trigger to its register location. Lots of take up and both tactile feel that the trigger finger is on the trigger, and a visual input from the hammer. That same visual and tactile input is also there during the reset and every other movement of the trigger-you can always see the hammer moving with the trigger.
The negative, is there is a lot of trigger movement going on. This is an issue when pure speed is the goal. It is not an issue when you have to think and justify every single movement of the trigger when employing the gun against people. All that tactile and visual trigger input is a good thing for most people, and gives them a chance to “stop” when something is going on that should not be. I think the best example of what I like about the L.E.M can be summed up with a L.E.M shooting that involved one of my guys.
The officer was working evenings in patrol. He got a call of a domestic disturbance at a 7/11. When he arrived, the male suspect had left walking from the location down a wide main, residential and business, street that intersected the major thoroughfare that the 7/11 was on. The suspect was walking along the sidewalk opposite the flow of traffic carrying a box. The officer drove his marked cruiser up behind the suspect the wrong way in traffic in the #2 lane (closest to the sidewalk) with his window down and attempted to contact the young man. He took off running down the sidewalk and began digging in the box he was holding while the officer pursued in the car.
The officer got the indication that the suspect may be trying to obtain a weapon and began to draw his HK USP45F LEM pistol. The suspect began to withdraw a 6” barreled .357 magnum revolver. The officer (while steering with his knee) drew his pistol, rotated it over and around the steering wheel as a guide (exactly as taught from the ITTS curriculum on vehicle work) so he never crossed his own body, got a two handed grip coming out the window.
The suspect began to turn while still running and leveled the revolver at the officer. The officer planted the sights squarely on the center of the upper body and made a controlled single press of the trigger. The round hit dead center, and the suspect skidded face first into the pavement of the sidewalk “like the rhino in the 300 movie” (exact words of the officer-we had great success with the Federal 230 gr. +P HST).
The officer now had to regain control and stop his vehicle, call for assistance, holster, get out of the car, draw and regain control of the pistol and hold the suspect at gun point with a flashlight until help could arrive, while continuing to provide verbal information using his support hand to operate his radio, then holster again, after securing the suspect.
That is how this stuff happens. How many opportunities to maybe get a finger on the trigger early? Think about having to get a safety off during the draw while making a force decision and driving a vehicle with your knee? Think about having to consciously trying to de-cock or safe the pistol, while regaining control of that vehicle one handed , while you now have to safely holster at speed. Now thinking about exiting that vehicle and starting all over again with the stress and multi-tasking post shooting.
The LEM allows that officer to simply exercise the most basic of putting his finger on the trigger and off the trigger with no other action necessary, and there is some significant leeway built into that trigger for small errors due to distraction or other actions. If we look at the “shooting” part of the above problem, it was fairly simple and a very small portion of the equation, where the mindset and manipulations issues were huge.