Updated: Jul 24, 2018
This week's blog theme focuses on common questions from students.
Some people think it is crazy to purchase a handgun without an external safety switch. Others will only purchase one that does not come with a manual safety. So are external safeties a good or bad idea? The answer is... It depends on what you want from the safety. Let's look at both sides of the argument.
You Need A Safety
This statement is often made by those that own guns with manual safeties. Many of these have simply come from old school training in the military or law enforcement where safeties were required on pistols. What they fail to realize is that for centuries there was no such thing as a safety on a handgun.
Look at a revolver. These were the original "standard" in pistol shooting. Where is the external safety? That's right. They do not have any safeties. If you would have asked your great great great grandpa where the safety was on his pistol, he would have looked at you like you were crazy and responded with something like, "Don't do anything stupid with the gun. That's the only safety you need."
However, with the advent of the semi-automatic pistol, things changed. While there were a handful of other designs, the Colt 1911 initially set the standard for semi-automatic handguns. These guns can only be fired if the hammer is cocked though. In this position, the trigger action is extremely light. Due to this, a safety was necessary to prevent the trigger from inadvertently being activated. Thus came the term "cocked and locked".
As semi-automatics evolved, many manufacturers simply adopted the external safety found on the 1911 model. But in the early 1980's, something happened. Glock began to take over the handgun market with something they referred to as a Safe Action System®. This utilized multiple levels of internal safeties, and no longer used a manual external safety.
You Don't Need A Safety
Many gun enthusiasts turned their noses up at Glock, claiming that a gun without a safety and one made of plastic (polymer frame), would never be good enough. Nearly 40 years later, Glock is used by a large majority of law enforcement and military agencies. At one point, Glock was the standard issue in over 75% of police departments in the United States. But isn't it dangerous to use a pistol without an external safety?
Newer models of semi-automatic pistols do not possess the light trigger action that was made common by the 1911. They have a trigger action that usually hovers somewhere in the 5 - 7 pounds of trigger pressure requirement. Most also require that your finger be firmly seated on the middle of the trigger in order to work properly. Because of this, a manual safety is not required as long as you keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready for a bullet to come out. Coincidentally, this is Rule #3 of the Universal Firearm Safety Rules (made easy to remember with the S.A.F.E. Rules©).
Some claim that external safeties make your gun safer. Is this the case? Potentially it could be. But there are two things that actually make external safeties more dangerous than not having them.
First of all, poorly educated firearm owners tend to rely on the safety to prevent accidents. I have seen this too many times as an instructor. These are mechanical devices. What happens to every single mechanical device? At some point it will fail. Relying on your manual safety to prevent an accident is begging for trouble.
Second, those with safeties on their firearms sometimes forget to train from the condition their handgun will be in when they need it. Many look at the safety as a something they need to deactivate before they begin training. In reality, disengaging the safety should be an active part of your practice routine so that you do not create "training scars". This is when you train a certain way because you are in a sterile environment, then go through those same exact motions during a deadly force encounter.
External safeties are not a good or bad thing on a handgun. Evaluate your own reasons for wanting one, then train the way you want to react regardless of your decision to have one or not.