USA –-(Ammoland.com)- I wonder if everyone who carries a concealed pistol goes through the same mental evolution? When I started to carry, I had a subconscious fear that my gun would go off inadvertently while carrying. While I thought about carrying with an empty chamber, I never went quite that far as I recognized that chambering a round in the heat of a self-defense encounter was not a realistic recipe for success. However, I was big on carrying a gun with a manual “safety” of sorts. At the time, my choice was a Beretta 92 FS. I just couldn’t wrap my logical brain around the idea of carrying a gun where a simple trigger movement was all it took to fire a shot.
Of course, with experience, I realized that modern pistols are perfectly safe to carry, with or without a manual safety lever. Whether one prefers an external safety on a pistol is a classic apples and oranges decision. Neither is right nor wrong; they’re just different.
So, what are the mechanical safety choices on the market for today’s concealed carrier? More importantly, what are some pros and cons? Let’s take a look.
The classic example of a true safety lies with the 1911 pistol. I would describe this design as a “hard” safety. When you engage it, by flipping the frame-mounted lever up, it locks everything. The trigger won’t move. Nor will the slide. The gun is essentially inoperable for both firing and administrative actions like chambering a round.
To me, this design represents the definition of manual operation that relies on the care and good habits of the user, kind of like a manual transmission in a car. You have absolute control, but you have to know what you’re doing to run it effectively. From a concealed carry point of view, it’s up to you to train to disengage it at the right time. Just as important, it’s up to you to train to re-engage at the appropriate time – especially before re-holstering.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a growing number of previously “pure” striker-fired pistols that have added safety-equipped models to their lineup. For example, the new Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 models offer a variant with a manual safety option. With most, you will notice a difference in the trigger press sensation. Sticking with our example case, the striker-fired M&P 2.0 model I have has a five-pound pull weight with about ½-inch of take-up followed by ¼ of an inch of constant pressure to the break. I also had a manual safety version of the same pistol in for review. The pull weight was heavier at six pounds and there was a detectable slightly gritty “shelf” during the final quarter inch of movement owing to the safety mechanism. Adding a separate safety to a pistol not originally designed for one carries a small cost in this case.
Double-action / single-action guns like the classic Sig Sauer P226 and P229 pistols are designed to be inherently “safe” due to their revolver-like heavy and long first trigger press. As with a revolver, there is no technical need for a separate safety device.
However, the double-action first shot feature didn’t squash market demand for a separate safety. For many decades, manufacturers like Beretta have offered double-action / single-action pistols with a safety device – of sorts. The de-cocking lever on the Beretta 92 FS and other similar models performs a “safe” function although it doesn’t lock the trigger and slide like safeties on a single-action pistol. In the Beretta's case, the trigger is disconnected and swings freely until you disengage the safety. The result is similar, it’s just a subtle difference in how the safe function is implemented.
All the Above
Other double-action / single-action pistols take a different approach that combines single-action and double / single attributes. The FN FNX 45 Tactical and Springfield Armory XD-E pistols operate as double-action / single actions but with a twist. The safety lever actually locks the hammer, sort of like a 1911. So, these pistols can be carried either with the hammer down and safety on or with the hammer cocked and safety engaged for “cocked and locked” operation. It sounds complex but the bottom line is simple. If you disengage the safety and press the trigger, the gun will fire. If the hammer is cocked, the press is light. If the hammer is down, the gun fires in double-action mode.
No External Safety
Ever heard of a company called Glock? Just kidding! But seriously, this pistol is the standard for “safety-less” design, at least in terms of an external lever that either locks or disconnects the trigger. Glocks, Springfield Armory XD series, Smith & Wesson M&Ps, Sig Sauer P320s, and plenty of other popular pistols are designed to be carried and used without an external safety lever. Of course, these pistols almost always have several internal safeties that prevent firing unless the trigger is pressed, the slide is fully in battery, and so on.
Most striker-fired pistols in this class split the difference with the trigger press weight. While double-actions require 10 to 12 pounds of pressure for the initial pull and single-action pistols are usually four pounds or fewer, striker-fired pistols normally operate in the five to six-pound trigger weight range. The thinking is that the internal safeties combined with a heavier than single-action press are adequate for carry safety.
So, what’s the right answer? That depends primarily on you and your comfort level and carry method. There’s nothing wrong with carrying a gun that has no manual safety provided it was designed to operate that way. In fact, most law enforcement officers do exactly that on a daily basis. If you choose a deeper concealment method without the rigidity of a firm leather or Kydex holster (think undershirt) you might want the peace of mind of an extra mechanical safety. If you carry in a purse or bag, you might want the same. Or maybe you just feel more comfortable with that extra step between holstered and firing.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve drifted to the “no manual levers” approach. While I love a good 1911 as much as the next guy, I’ve been favoring capacity and simplicity. While you can get a single-action design with a double-stack magazine, there are far more options on the market in striker-fired and double-action / single-action packages. For me, there’s a lot to be said for “simple, simple, simple…”
How about you? Let us know what style of mechanical gun safety you prefer to carry?
About Tom McHale
Tom McHale is the author of the Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.