Handgun Safeties? Do you need one on your handgun of choice?
This is a question I get regularly from both new shooters looking to make a purchase and experienced shooters in class and out of class. It becomes more of a discussion because of a lack of knowledge about the handgun’s operation and safety requirements for each particular handgun action type.
Safety first and foremost! Always! The absolute best safety in the world is the one God put between your ears. That being the gray matter inside that thing you put your hat on. An extension of that is the trigger finger. “Keeping the finger somewhere other than the trigger until ready to shoot.” The finger should go to the trigger and prepare to fire only when we are certain we will have to shoot. This process can be stopped and reversed at any time depending on the dynamics of the situation. Another thought here, using gray matter, is to store your firearm where it is inaccessible to those who you don’t want to have access to the gun. Meaning children, criminals, mentally ill, and the untrained or the irresponsible people.
Take a look at the various actions and why manual safeties are required and why they are not. The guns action has a great deal to do with the need for a safety and the type of safety on the gun. Whether it is a de-cocker only, de-cocker/safety, thumb safety, grip safety, combination grip safety and thumb safety, or no safety other than the internal mechanism of the handgun. Wow, all those different safety mechanisms no wonder there is confusion. When looking at the safety always keep in mind. Safeties are mechanical devices and mechanical devices fail due to metal fatigue, poor metallurgy, wear, stress, and poor maintenance. Lots of factors can cause safety failure. Including the failures of the operator to use it when one is needed. Now to put the safety type with the action type.
Single action semi-auto (i.e. 1911). The description of the action tells us why we require a manual safety on this action. With the single action the hammer must be cocked on a loaded chamber before it can be fired. Simply pulling the trigger will not cock and release the hammer to impact the firing pin to fire the gun. Once the chamber is loaded and the hammer is cocked and readied to fire. The trigger manipulation or trigger press is relatively light and short. Also we have the drop factor. Looking at the 1911 as an example. There is the thumb safety and a back up grip safety. Two separate safeties on one gun. Not all single action handguns have a grip safety. The manner of carry here is; Loaded chamber, hammer cocked, safety locked on and holstered. Safety operated when leaving the holster (off) or ready to shoot and when returning to the holster (on) or when not ready to shoot. So with the single action type handgun and the manner of carry at a minimum we should have a thumb safety on this type of handgun action. Safety is required on a single action semi-auto!
Single/Double action (i.e. Baretta 92, Ruger 95DC). Here we have two different actions in one handgun. First the double action; Hammer down on a loaded chamber as the trigger is pulled, thus the hammer is cocked and releases to strike the firing pin and firing the gun. This trigger manipulation is long and often heavy. The second action is a single; Chamber is loaded and hammer is cocked by the energy of the first shot or the shooter. Trigger is often short and light but may have a lot of free travel before reaching the hard spot to the release of the hammer. This action is equipped with a de-cocker only or a de-cocker safety. The purpose of the de-cocker is to release the hammer from the cocked position without it hitting the firing pin by dropping it to a safe position. Allows for safer de-cock of the hammer. This is fine for the double action gun carried with the hammer down on a loaded chamber. Then the second position may be added as a safety lock which locks the hammer down so the trigger can not release it. It will lock in the hammer down position on a loaded chamber but the trigger will not operate without taking the safety off. The gun should be de-cocked prior to going to the holster (safety locked if so equipped). Safety, if a de-cocker safety, is taken off when leaving the holster. Because of the way the Single/Double action firing mechanism works the De-cocker Only or the De-cocker Safety are required.
Striker fired guns (i.e. Glock, Smith&Wesson M&P) These guns are often referred to as safe action triggers. They do not have external safeties or other safeties that must be operated by the shooter prior to firing. The trigger is part of the safety mechanism as you must place the finger on the trigger in a manner that releases the catch to allow the trigger to be pressed, releasing the striker and firing the gun. These guns also have internal drop safeties to remove the need for a manual safety. The addition of thumb safeties are adding redundant safeties and unwarranted. Handguns that can be added here are the Springfield XD which has a grip safety (not required). Another type that also fits here is the double action striker fired guns such as the KAHR (safety not required). These guns are safe to carry with a cambered round and placed in a holster. Keeping the finger somewhere other than the trigger is your safety. Back to the gray matter. Safeties are not required on safe action trigger better known as striker fired guns.
Revolvers; double action, double/single action, and single action. Double action revolvers have a long heavy trigger manipulation to fire the gun or you may cock the hammer to make the trigger manipulation light and short. Double action only revolvers are concealed hammer revolvers in which the hammer can not be manually cocked before firing the trigger must be pressed to cock and release the hammer. Single action revolver the hammer must be cocked each time in order to be fired. Normal carry manner is loaded cylinder and hammer down. Not safe to carry with the hammer cocked on a loaded cylinder. Modern revolvers have a transfer bar safety the requires the full pressing and holding of the trigger in order to transfer energy from hammer to firing pin. This transfer bar also prevents drop fires. This allows you to fully load the cylinder. Older revolvers were carry hammer down on an empty chamber. Some single action revolvers have a cross bar safety that must be operated. Safety here; finger somewhere other than the trigger and again grey matter in use. No safeties required.
Finally. Double action semi-auto (i.e. Ruger LCP, LC9 or the Kahr). The double action semi-auto has a long trigger manipulation like that of the double action revolver. You must be deliberate on the trigger to fire the gun. Some are striker fired (Kahr)and others have a concealed hammer (Ruger LCP). With this type of action the trigger is pressed to cock and release the hammer to fire or pressed to cock and release the striker. Manner of carry is loaded chamber in holster. Because of the length of trigger manipulation a safety is not required.
No matter what action type of handgun you have. No matter whether it has a external safety or not. No matter what manner you carry it. A gun, if properly maintain and in good working condition, will NOT fire by itself. Something has to press the trigger fully to the rear in order to fire the gun. Keep your finger somewhere other than the trigger until ready to shoot! Don’t carry the gun in a manner where some foreign object can get into the trigger guard and create sufficient pressure to press the trigger causing it to fire unintentionally.
I recently saw a story where a person was handling and preparing to clean a double action revolver. This type of handgun has no external safeties and will not fire of it’s own accord. The revolver was a double action Smith&Wesson .357 magnum. The gun discharged. The bullet passed through the middle of the man’s hand causing very serious injury. A BIG HOLE IN THE MIDDLE IF THE HAND. Initially the man told investigators that he was handling the gun when it just went off. He stated he did not pull the trigger. After time passed and the injured party thought about it. He finally admitted that he had indeed pulled the trigger causing the gun to fire. Unintended discharge.
Another incident and I suspect happens more than reported. A competition shooter is finishing up with a day on the range, not in competition but in personal practice. He has removed the magazine from the gun and placed the handgun back in the holster. He leaves the shooting area and goes to his vehicle in preparation to leave the range. He removes the gun from holster to put it in a carry case. He notices the hammer is still cocked. He presses the rigger to de-cock the gun without even thinking about it. It discharges. Unintended discharge! Luckily no one is injured. This incident was caused by a training scar created by procedures of the competition setting. At the end of the course of fire the magazine is removed, the chamber cleared and the trigger is presses to perform, “Hammer Down” on empty chamber. Gun is considered safe. Remember where you are. While this procedure may be the rules of competition and good for that setting it is NOT good practice outside competition settings. Training scars like this follow you home.
If you choose a gun that has external safeties that’s fine by me. Nothing wrong with safeties if used and trained with appropriately. Whatever gives you peace of mind when it comes to firearm safety. Always keep in mind that mechanical safeties can and will fail. Do Not rely on them alone. Stay muzzle aware and keep it pointed in a safe direction whenever possible. Keep finger somewhere other than the trigger. Use great caution when clearing the weapon and check it multiple times to ensure its clear. Hell, don’t be afraid to ask another set of eyes look at it to confirm it.
Keep the booger picker off the bang switch until ready to shoot! Use your head for something besides a hat rack or just the storage place for mush between you ears! Always error on the side of caution! Understand how your equipment works and how to operate it safely and train with it! Safety is on you the handler not the equipment you are using. You, yourself have to ensure your equipment and you are safe where ever you are. See you on the in class. Be safe on the range!