The Case Against Mechanical Safeties

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My M&P without mechanical safeties. Photo: author

Many people new to defensive shooting give me the “Are you crazy?” look when I say that one of my strongest recommendations for a defensive pistol is that it have no mechanical safety. One of these people was my wife when I bought a new M&P last year. At the local gun shop, as the guy behind the counter walked to the back to get me one, I stopped him and said “No safeties.” My wife looked at me as if I were insane. I had to explain to her not only why I did not want a mechanical safety on my defensive firearm but also why it’s ok to have any gun without a safety in a home with children.

How Safe Are “Safeties”?

Here’s why I don’t even like these devices being called “safeties.” I started shooting at a very young age and took my hunter’s safety course when I was eight years old. In that course we were taught that mechanical safeties are by definition “mechanical devices prone to failure.” We went on to learn the basic rules of firearms safety and that you should not rely on a mechanical safety. This has stuck with me throughout my years of shooting and even more so now that I am an instructor.

Many people have the misconception that these mechanical devices automatically make a gun “safe” and therefore you can let your guard down about the firearms safety rules once they are engaged. This leads to complacency and dangerous behavior, and goes even further when people question firearms not having these mechanical devices when children are around. The thought that this mechanical lever or button is going to prevent a child from firing a gun if they gain access to it is far from reality. But due to the name of these devices, uninformed people assume they instantly make a gun “safe.”

Due to these misconceptions, I believe that calling mechanical safeties a “safety” actually leads to firearms being more dangerous — the idea that once you “turn the safety on” you can ignore the standard rules of firearms handling. I have seen people get upset about being reprimanded for pointing a gun at someone, with the reasoning, “Well, the safety was on.” Some people have even been upset that anyone would question them about safety. Following the rules of safe gun handling does not end because you utilize a mechanical safety. Instead, if you choose to own or carry a firearm that requires the use of a mechanical safety, such as a single-action semi-automatic or double/single one in single-action mode, you should make an even greater effort to follow the basic safety rules of gun handling due to these firearms having more likelihood of an accidental discharge if you forget to engage the mechanical safety.

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Learning to keep your finger high and away from the trigger is much more important than learning to use a mechanical safety. Photo: author

There are many versions of the basic safety rules. To me, these two are the most fundamental:

1. ALWAYS KEEP THE GUN POINTED IN A SAFE DIRECTION. This is rule #1 for a reason. A safe direction means a direction in which, if the gun were to go off, it would likely not cause injury or damage. If you forget every other rule in the book and follow this one, even if the gun goes off, it will not hurt or kill anyone.

2. ALWAYS KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER UNTIL YOU ARE READY TO FIRE. Ready to fire means you are ready for the bullet to leave the gun. Even if the gun is pointed at the target, you do not place your finger on the trigger until you are ready for the bullet to come out of the muzzle.

Utilizing these two safety rules as the foundation for everything you do with firearms will keep you and others around you much safer than learning to use a mechanical safety.

Mechanical Safeties on Modern Firearms

There are very few types of firearms that actually require a mechanical safety to be carried safely. Single-action semi-automatics are really the only action type that requires a mechanical safety when carried. This is due to their being carried with the hammer back, creating a very short and light trigger press that would be dangerous without the mechanical safety.

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Single-action 1911 cocked and locked. Photo: author

When a pistol is in double-action mode, such as a double/single semi-automatic when the hammer is down or a double-action revolver with the hammer down, it is generally accepted that the firearm is safe to carry. The double-action trigger requires a longer and heavier press to fire. This means the pistol will not fire if the trigger is lightly touched or bumped. It would take a purposeful motion to fire the gun. Many double/single semi-automatics now come with no mechanical safety, and instead have a decocker that will safely place the pistol back in double-action mode.

This is made even safer with double-action-only, where the hammer is not exposed to be cocked. Both revolvers and semi-automatics come in this style, where every shot is a consistent, longer, and heavier trigger pull without needing to manually change the pistol back from single to double action.

Striker-fired pistols have become increasingly more popular for personal defense in the civilian, law enforcement, and military markets. They utilize actions that require the trigger to be pressed for a round to be fired, and have lighter triggers than double action.

Again I must stress that the two main safety rules apply regardless of the action type. Having a striker-fired pistol or a pistol in double-action mode does not mean you can violate those rules any more than using a mechanical safety does.

Why I Don’t Have Safeties on My Defensive Pistol

I teach my defensive pistol students that if they ever need to utilize lethal force, they will most likely be surprised by the attack. After all, if you are expecting to need to use deadly force, you will avoid the confrontation if at all possible rather than preparing for it. This means you will need to react quickly under severe mental and physical stress. Your body will react in many ways, including the loss of fine motor skills. Operating a mechanical safety is a fine motor skill that will be difficult even with training under this kind of stress.

Without the pressure of someone attacking, I see people fumble the operation of a mechanical safety during training. This delay could mean the difference between your attacker being on top of you or not. It is now an accepted fact that the average person can cover a distance of approximately 21 feet in the time it takes a trained individual to draw and fire their defensive handgun (approximately 1.5 seconds).

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Due to their long, heavy trigger, double-action revolvers do not include mechanical safeties. Photo: author

A paper by Dr. Martin J. Tovee of Newcastle University states that it takes .3 to .5 seconds to react to a stimulus. This means that when you begin to react to there being a threat, up to .5 seconds could have already passed. Imagine that this stimulus is someone coming at you with a knife and you have enough time to draw and fire to stop the threat. Now imagine as you press the trigger, the gun will not fire. This is a new stimulus your brain must interpret under an extreme amount of stress. To react to this stimulus will take you another .3 to .5 seconds under ideal conditions. Combine this with the original reaction time and .6 to 1 second of your time has been merely interpreting and reacting to stimuli rather than defending yourself.

I recently watched a video of an armed citizen who attempted to engage a robber at a store in Milwaukee. The armed citizen did not disengage the safety, and it took nearly three seconds for him to react to the mechanical safety being engaged, disengage the mechanical safety, and make a second attempt at engaging the robber.

When we discuss selecting a defensive pistol, functional reliability is the #1 factor. In the middle of a defensive encounter, we need the gun to fire when the trigger is pressed. This is important enough for a defensive firearm that we test it not only with our practice ammunition but also with expensive defensive ammunition. If we put this much effort into making sure our firearm will function when we need it to, why would we choose to have a device that could possibly cause the firearm to not fire when we need it to?

Conclusions

Although mechanical safeties are intended to prevent accidents and injury, they can actually lead to lapses in normal safety procedures and result in injury. Combine this with the fact that in a defensive encounter, safeties could cause a delay in being able to protect ourselves or our loved ones.

Many people say that they train to work their safety. Only being in a defensive encounter would let us know if that training worked. My suggestion is to utilize that time practicing the two main rules of safe gun handling and get a defensive firearm that does not require the extra steps.

Discussion
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93 Responses to “The Case Against Mechanical Safeties”
  1. Joseph

    Since I have a gun with a mechanical safety, I think as a general rule what you are saying is correct. Having a gun with a mechanical safety for those who do not consistently train with it can present a real problem. I have been mugged enough times in my life that I know what I do under stress and training is the only thing that will help me through a situation. My thought is training should be so thorough that you automatically do it without thinking. There is enough to be thinking about during a deadly encounter and it should not be how to use my gun.

    Not practicing the basic rules of gun safety regardless of what gun you use, well that person should not be using a gun. If I do dry fire in the house I think even then about what direction my gun is facing. I think if a bullet went through a wall could it hit a neighbor outside, so I even do my dry fire inside the house towards the hill in the backyard.

    I can counter what you are saying with I watched a video of a sheriff who was unholstering and caught his trigger on something from his jacket and shot himself ( I am sure many people have seen that video). He needed to depend perhaps a little on a mechanical safety that might have prevented that. If we carry a gun, concealed or not concealed, we should take some responsibility for thinking over our situation and developing a plan that will work.

    Reply
    • Brad Christie

      My friend out of the military shot himself.
      Where? In the hand while reloading. How do you do this?
      1. Cock it back, make sure the gun is loaded.
      2. Squeeze trigger just enough.
      3. Put hand over the front of the opening of the barrel.
      4. While cocking the gun back pull the trigger the rest of the way.
      5. Call 911

      Reply
      • resurrector

        You say this friend of was just out the military, and he shot him self in the hand while reloading. I would say this person either was B S.’ing about being in the military or he was a total moron not mentally fit to handle a fire arm of any type.

        Reply
        • Ron Binnie

          In 1970 I was just starting to train two men to run the arms room in Long Bin RVN and one of them picked up a 45 that someone had failed to clear and put one through the palm of his left hand. The slide was forward and a round was in the chamber and thee safety was off. Despite constant reminders to properly clear all weapons, he didn’t think and it cost him. I was less than 100 feet from him and bye the time I got there he was gone.
          Everyone in the company knew that I was a firearms instructor and I slowed everyone down when they would get in a rush to get to the mess hall after 12 to 14 hours on the road, but it only took one time. And this person that didn,t clear his weapon, had a year and a half of training and use of 45’s
          It can happen to anyone.

          Reply
    • artsbrew

      you are 100% correct. i think i saw that guy engaging a robber, he walked up in one of the check out aisles that was not being used. luckily he did not die. i also saw a small store owner try to shoot his gun 3 or 4 times while the robber was shooting him. both he and his son were killed.

      what you say should is correct, never and i mean never be pointed at anything you would not want destroyed. even a firearm you have just checked to make sure it is unloaded or just unloaded.

      a gun is always loaded as far as we are concerned. i have a friend that carries without a cartridge in the chamber feeling it is safer. chances are he will never need his gun but if he does he is going to be on the short end of the stick, probably with a few extra holes that he did not need. i have tried to talk to him but i cannot change his mind. ALL GUNS ARE ALWAYS LOADED NO MATER WHAT!

      Reply
    • artsbrew

      while drawing your firearm all the forces are in the opposite the direction of the pull of the trigger. it is hard for me to understand how you can catch something on the trigger while drawing and discharge your firearm. that is the reason i have no problems without a mechanical safety. now when re-holstering all the forces are in the direction of a trigger pull. that job should be taken very carefully.

      Reply
      • Chuck

        I have heard of an instance where an officers wearing a jacket with the little plastic devices that you squeeze to allow you to tighten draw strings around your waist getting the plastic device in the trigger guard and discharge the pistol while re-holstering. I have cut these devices off of all of my fleece jackets.

        Reply
  2. Jarrod Needs

    Joseph,
    I cannot for sure find the video you are mentioning but 2 come to mind. The first being the video of the DEA agent who shoots himself in the leg in a classroom while holstering his Glock. This is a prime example of keeping your finger off the trigger. I do not believe this is the video but since you said the person was in law enforcement I am not sure.

    The second being a video of a guy drawing at close quarters wearing a cowboy hat and what appears to possibly be a star on his chest. He is not law enforcement but I think this is actually the video you are speaking of. He is drawing the firearm and has a negligent discharge that strikes his leg then yells “I just #@%*#ing shot myself.”

    There is a slow motion of the incident on the video where you can clearly see his finger disappear into the trigger. This person was actually using a Kimber 1911 which does have a manual safety and a serpa style holster. I would say this person would have been much less likely to have had a negligent discharge had they been utilizing a modern striker-fired pistol or a double-action only style pistol.

    The video I am assuming you with the kimber can be seen at

    http://youtu.be/k-rGnMKszxg

    If it is a different video please let me know as I would love to see it.

    Reply
      • Jarrod Needs

        I have never seen a video of that incident but am familiar with it (from reading the news reports). He was holstering the pistol (not drawing) and the shirt was caught on the trigger. Rather than taking a second to correct the problem, he pressed the pistol harder. This is 100% user error and he even states so.

        Holstering any firearm should be done carefully regardless of a mechanical safety. The thought that he could get away with not following proper procedures and press down harder to holster a gun that was equipped with a mechanical safety is flawed.

        Reply
        • Joseph

          Yes I re-watched the video, it was when he was holstering, and yes definitely 100% user error.

          Having a mechanical safety does take committing it to muscle memory, so more training of course, and yes for sure “a person being shot at has enough complications without adding more.”

          Perhaps it should not be recommended to someone not committed to going the extra mile to practice, practice, practice.

          Lets hope that sheriff does some practicing too.

          Reply
          • Joseph

            Watched the video where you say the gun was a Kimber.
            ” I would say this person would have been much less likely to have had a negligent discharge had they been utilizing a modern striker-fired pistol or a double-action only style pistol.”
            Yes he probably was depending on the safety being on. Good point.

    • Wayne Clark

      Yeah, that was Tex Grubner, or Grunner or something like that. He blamed it on the holster because the release latch was over the trigger, not up on the frame, which put his finger right on the trigger as he drew his firearm. Not the sharpest tool in the shed but accidents DO happen.

      Reply
  3. Kbo

    One person I agree with when it comes to a manual safety is Massad Ayoob. After studying cases, he saw a trend in officers being disarmed that carrier something with a manual safety having a better chance at survival and less chance of injury. If i’m being surprised, the person probably has a jump on my reaction to draw my firearm. Which is better, having to remove the safety for an extra few milliseconds, or not doing so and if disarmed, being shot with my own firearm? it’s a tough question that while the answer seems obvious, is really not.

    Reply
    • Don

      You make an interesting point, but since you use the logic of likelihood, statistics would show many, many more people shot by negligence than by being disarmed and shot by someone else. Just sayin’.

      Reply
    • Infidel76251

      I carried (retired LEO) for over 21 years, always with the safety on and with Safariland level 3 holsters. Releasing the safety is just one of the things you do automatically as you are drawing, though moving from the 1911 to the S&W with the backwards safety, then to the H&K with the proper down for fire safety took some ectra practice. I never had a problem on the range or in the field. i was fortunate to be in a progressive department where we induced double feeds and stovepipes and loaded each other’s mags sometimes with dummy rounds so you never knew what was going to happen.

      Reply
  4. Rob Kovach

    I can’t disagree more about the author’s safety rules. Rule #1 should be “Always treat every firearm as if it is loaded”
    Rule #2 should be “Never point a firearm at anything you wouldn’t want to destroy”. THEN we can talk about leaving your finger off the trigger until ready to fire.
    I also disagree with the premise that inexperienced shooters should always use a striker fired or double action pistol.
    The hard trigger pull on those firearms makes it unlikely for the inexperienced shooter to fire it accurately. It’s much easier to train a shooter to operate a thumb safety on a single action gun than it is to train the trigger control to shoot a striker fired gun with precision. Here is the video about the problem with striker fired guns: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FrJMQupYxaw

    Reply
    • Jarrod Needs

      Your rule number 1 is flawed and impossible. Try cleaning a gun and “treating it as if it loaded” or even better try loading a gun and assuming the same.

      When people try to insert this rule it is actually trying to reinforce the 2 rules of keeping it pointed in a safe direction and keeping your finger off the trigger till ready to fire.

      Hard trigger press is indeed harder with a double action only but very easy for beginning students on a striker fired. In the world of target shooting trigger control matters much more than defensive and if teaching to shoot bulleseyes this may be an issue. I have yet to have a student who was unable to hit a defensive accurate area with a striker fired with very minimal coaching. I have however had many students who loved their mechanical safety and stated that they were very experienced shooters fumble it during drills.

      Reply
      • parabarbarian

        Thank you. The so-called “rule one” is a let’s pretend rule with too many obvious exceptions. It is those exception that lead to mistakes.

        Reply
  5. Ross

    So the author says that no one should ever carry a 1911 or Browning Hi Power? Or ANY single action semi automatic? Where do they find these writers?

    Reply
    • artsbrew

      the adrenaline dump does strange things to a person. you loose dexterity. functions that are no problem suddenly become a problem. yes you can train enough to over come forgetting to pull the safety off, but that takes a very long time and thousands of rounds. those guns you mentioned are for very experienced gun handlers. if you are going that route you had better not be confusing yourself by firing other types of firearms. i believe what he says and you disagree. i watched a video of a store owner trying to fire his weapon at a robber 3 or 4 times trying to pull the trigger and he was shot every time he tried to pull the trigger. not only did the robber kill him he killed his son also. when i started carrying i used the safety on a sig. i went to a glock and i know when i pull the trigger it will go bang. i guess everyone has to decide for themselves. i personally think the article was right on. you don’t, but it does not mean it should not be presented as a form of self defense. i am with him, and just because you disagree does not mean others have a chance to make their own mind up.

      Reply
  6. Tim

    As a former LEO, I offer the following:Towards the end of our Academy Training, a class demonstration was held with a variety of Duty Holsters available to us. I recall so many in my large class choosing cool looking cross draws and other holsters judged solely on the weapon accessibility and ease of draw. Now as I did then, I believed these reasons to be the worst possible reasons for choices in a holster. Similarly, I believe choosing a Handgun for the provision or lack of a manual safety to be flawed.Knowing I was far more likely to be engaged in numerous physical contests rather than shootouts, I wanted my weapon to be nearly impossible for an Attacker to remove and in turn I was willing to accept the delay and needed thought process necessary to properly withdraw the weapon. My point being, if you are confronted with a drawn and pointed weapon it is nearly impossible to find advantage over the situation in drawing your weapon and the option of talking your way out and or escaping is much more viable. However, if given a few seconds the weapon should be accessible and operable by memory from repeated training. I see nothing in this changed for civilians. If a person is more comfortable with a striker fired weapon, then train with it. Make it’s usage automatic in your mind. The same follows with a manual safety weapon…of which I would choose. Way too much emphasis is put upon trying to be a fast draw with a weapon in your defense….when your real true best weapon is a cool head and the ability to think a step ahead.

    Reply
  7. Phil

    Ross, WHY would anyone carry a single action semiauto? Why would he take a pistol with an extremely sensitive trigger, load it, cock it, strap it to his body, and then depend on a MECHANICAL device to keep him from blowing his (write body part here) off??? Jarrod is right — listen to him. 1911’s are pretty, but definitely obsolete. And Joseph, if somebody is taking your gun away from you, you’ve let him get WAY too close — maybe you’re in “condition white” …. good luck with that one.

    Reply
    • KGH

      There are lots of reasons people choose to carry a SA cocked & locked, just as there are lots of reasons people choose to carry or not carry a DAO or striker-fired pistol. To each his own. Training & following safety rules is what’s most important. As a new shooter, and 1st time pistol owner, I’m very happy with my Sig p938 choice. Despite having a manual safety & being SA, my trigger pull is still heavier than the several Glocks I used in class & rented (19 & 26); therefore, if the mechanical “safety” fails, it will still require a deliberate pull of the trigger for the gun to fire. No one brand or type of pistol is superior. All have strengths & weaknesses, so it’s incumbent on the owner carrier to train well, often, have a quality holster, & make sure there isn’t a failure between the ears.

      Reply
    • Lewis Haynes

      The same reason crew served weapons fire from an open bolt. SA pistols are not safer with the safety enguaged they are less understanding when the safety is off and bad gun handling is envolved.

      Reply
  8. Zach Pryor

    If you watch the report on that Aldi shooting, the guy did not struggle with the safety. He actually drew his pistol, took off the safety and chambered a round while he waited to get the best shot. Personally, I think the shooter was a moron for carrying with an empty chamber, but he did not struggle with the safety as this article claims.

    Reply
  9. Eric

    Jarred, I didn’t find the video, but what I think Joseph was talking about was an officer holstering his weapon and a zipper or some other part of his jacket got in the trigger well and as he pushed the gun into the holster, it went off.

    Reply
  10. TAC

    Jarrod, I’m 100% with you on this. I have personally experienced, numerous times, an individual “…pointing a gun at someone, with the reasoning, “Well, the safety was on.” It’s frustrating that people have the mistaken belief that just because a safety is “engaged” that the firearm is all of a sudden unable to discharge and injure or kill someone. I think in a defensive scenario the less to think about, the better. You’re already at a very heightened level of stress and to be fumbling with a manual safety can only cost time. Now I will admit that I’ve seen many “gun guys” who carry and PRACTICE with firearms with manual safeties but I believe they’re the exception (because they practice) rather than the rule.

    Reply
    • artsbrew

      the people i go shooting with never point the gun at me, because if they do it will be the last time they do, because i have a serious conversation with them. if it happens again we do not shoot together.

      Reply
  11. Chris Baker

    I think I’ll stick to my gp100. I picked the double action revolver for several reasons, all of which, together, add up to a better firearm for defense in the house than a semi auto of any particular brand. While I’ve only experienced 2 misfires in the many thousands of rounds I have fired the possibility still exists. IF that happens with a semi auto you have to rack the slide to get rid of the defective one and get a new one. I just pull the trigger again. That’s the main reason. Secondarily the 357 actually has the best one shot stop record statistically of any handgun (per the latest information I have) with the 125 JHP magnum load. While I reload, my gp has store bought ammo in it in case of lawsuit. I really like that it’s a super strong gun too. Able to take the hottest loads without strain. I did that for awhile while shooting bowling pins but found my redhawk better for that with light loads. Plus it fits my hand perfectly which is highly important, as much as any other feature.

    Reply
    • artsbrew

      what you say is correct about the 357, but that is not new. i read that in the late 80’s or early 90’s. plus, that 125 grain hollow point was before they had better bullets. i believe the reason it is so good is the speed, that is why while having 45’s i do not carry them. of course, any gun is better then no gun.

      Reply
  12. Free Man NOT

    When all is said and done, the first safety is the one between your ears.
    If you don’t use that one, the rest don’t matter.

    Reply
  13. Rod

    I agree with Jarrod. In fact, I teach that “A safety is a mechanical device that can fail”. The best safety we have is the one “Between our ears”. Mechanical safeties are NOT useless but you need to practice with them a lot. Muscle memory will undoubtedly determine how you react in a stressful engagement. I spent 36 years in law enforcement and saw this proven many times. But as Bill Jordan said that a person being shot at has enough complications without adding more.

    Reply
  14. Cameron

    I understand the point that he is making, however I believe I will keep my Kimber 1911 that I have carried in condition 1for the past 9 years. It all comes down to two things weapon safety properly applied and proper and continuous training. I have been a LEO for the eight years and I properly train with my Kimber and my issued Glock 22. I shoot both but prefer my 1911.

    Reply
    • artsbrew

      there in lies the problem. shooting 2 different types of weapons can confuse a person when the shtf. muscle memory can let you down if you use 2 different weapons.

      Reply
  15. Robert

    Why do you assume that” once you ‘turn the safety on’ the standard rules of firearms handling will be ignored?” That’s not the purpose of the mechanical safety. The reason that a mechanical safety is so important is for those instances, which hopefully never occur, when an error is made. Remember the NY Giants star receiver Plaxico Burress? He paid for not having a mechanical safety when the handgun he was carrying (OK, illegally, so he was stupid for doing it) slipped from his waistband, and he grabbed for it and accidentally pulled the trigger through his clothing and shot himself in the leg. He went to prison for two years, losing his multi-million dollar salary, was booted off of the team, and all but ruined his football career. What do you think he would do to re-live that event, choosing this time to have a safety that was set? Perhaps this is a bad example because of the circumstances, but the point remains a safety would have saved him a lot of financial pain. There are other examples, one recently of a police officer who’s handgun got tangled in his clothing with the same result – shot himself in the leg. Here is a case of a trained and careful officer, who always followed the standard safety rules, but made a mistake. How many people, awakened in the middle of the night by a noise in the house, reaches for his pistol and grabs the trigger by mistake in the dark and it discharges? It almost happened to me. Safety rules do not apply in these circumstances – they are just plain accidents; human error. I know it’s nice to talk big and say it will never happen to you because you follow the rules; but are you saying it will never happen? You will never make an error? If you think that , you are being egotistical and arrogant. I am not a firearms expert, but yes, I think you are crazy.
    If you follow all of the safety rules and have a mechanical safety, you are doubly protected. What’s wrong with redundancy?

    Reply
    • Ian Wolfe

      Your use of Mr. Burriss’ ND as an example is inherently flawed because his primary mistake had nothing to do with whether or not the gun had a safety and everything to do with how he was carrying the gun. Had he been carrying the weapon in a proper holster that covered the trigger area, it wouldn’t have slipped in the first place and there would have been no way to engage the trigger even if it had somehow done so.

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      • Ian Wolfe

        Further, your assertion that someone discharging a firearm after being awoken in the night is an accidental rather than a negligent discharge is also flawed. Anyone choosing to keep a weapon in their bedroom while they sleep needs to take into account the time needed to wake up in how/where they store their weapon. If someone puts an unholstered Glock on the nightstand where they can grab at it while still half awake, then they are an idiot. That is the very definition of negligence, not an ‘accident.’

        Reply
        • artsbrew

          my glock is always in the holster unless i am cleaning it, which i should do more often… it is next to me when i sleep, i love my glock, that is why i take it to bed with me….

          Reply
    • artsbrew

      you bring up a good point. and i have to say if your firearm falls do not try and catch it, even if you have a mechanical safety. the action of catching it you could sweep the safety and pull the trigger. DO NOT TRY AND CATCH A FALLING FIREARM. try not to drop it in the future. have a good holster, not one of those elastic pieces of crap, they do not protect anything.

      Reply
  16. John

    Interesting series of comments coming off the original PDN article. My local gun shop owner (and seller of my SR9c) preaches the same reasoning.

    Reply
  17. Don

    I 1001% agree that safeties are unsafe. My best friend in High School fired a shot that barely missed me. He said the safety was on.

    I now teach hunter safety and tell my students that they are a fool if they don’t use the manual safety, but idiots if they depend on them.

    I further agree that RULE # 1 of gun safety is muzzle control. Putting any rule before that is a plan for disaster.

    Reply
    • Don

      I tell the students that an mechanical safety is only a failure-prone secondary idiot switch. The REAL and ONLY TRUE safety is the person holding the firearm.

      Reply
  18. Jenette

    I’ve also seen some older pistols with manual safeties where improper grip can accidentally reengage the safety after the first shot, which in a self defense scenario is likely to get you killed while you out of practice may do a tap and rack to clear a perceived jam to no avail.

    Ideally I prefer Glocks for CCing, their three integrated safeties make them inherently safe to carry, and all disengage smoothly with the pull of the trigger.

    Reply
    • Jenette

      Edit: To clarify by inherently safe, I mean safe from accidental discharges through dropping onto hard surfaces and the like, not “safe” as in “safety is on safe”

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    • Brad Christie

      I know that the part of the barrel while loading a self defense weapon, should have a safety on first. Unless like the black hawk, goes off at anytime because of a manufactures defect. I do not want a gun to recoil on me? Answer, safety.

      Reply
  19. Craig

    I teach my students, be they beginning shooters, or instructor candidates that a safety on a firearm “is a mechanical device that is designed to fail at the most inopportune time, and the only true safety is the individual operating the firearm.”

    Reply
  20. Mick

    A couple of different circumstances come to mind. In these present “trainer/trainee” settings we have folks whose minds slip from the Rule 1; and the ramifications are spelled out above. I come from a rural hunting background, and have seen the results of “the safety was on” and “it wasn’t loaded” firsthand via EMS and hunting (ONCE) with folks who thought as much. Our shooting society and the hunting groups/individuals both become lax about the rules at times, and the results can be anywhere from embarassing to tragic. I try to make it my goal to tactfully point out these incidents where I can, and leave the area when I can’t. Self-preservation must kick in somewhere.

    Reply
  21. Heinrich

    I absolutely concur with the article. I am a retired police officer with 27 years experience, coming from Switzerland. I am now a consultant in the security industry, working for government’s offices and private companies. Although there are more and more attempts from left wing politicians and bureaucrats to restrict the rights on privately hold arms, Switzerland has still a quite liberal gun control law. We have compulsory military service and every active member of the army keeps his assault rifle at home. After completing the military service every retiree with good repute can buy his SIG 550 assault rifle for about U$ 200.00. All swiss shooting associations and clubs rely on the following 4-point safety rules when it comes to contact with firearms. Even the Swiss Army uses these safety rules and no further safety instructions:
    1. Consider every firearm as loaded until personally assured that this is not the case.
    2. Always keep your firearm pointed in a safe direction.
    3. Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire.
    4. Be sure of your target.

    Reply
    • Brad Christie

      I would want a safety while loading. This is what I was taught growing up and it will always be that way. Guns without safety is a nono and should be illegal.

      Reply
      • artsbrew

        sorry Brad, i disagree with you. we are talking about manual safeties. almost every gun has has safeties built in. we just cannot take the safety off unless you pull the trigger.. we do not need any more gun laws and we need to get rid of some.

        Reply
  22. CrazyDave

    One of the best articles I have read on a fairly rare topic. I was raised with Baretta style safeties & struggling with a purchase decision Baretta Vs. Sig 226. I “get it” & you are so right as I do know a lot about “fight or flight physiology” as fine motor skills go out the window due to massive adrenalin dump into blood vascular system. Thanks so much~!

    Reply
  23. whw

    I like the idea of a safety when reholstering. Otherwise, it is something that just gets in the way.
    whw

    Reply
  24. john

    I own both a striker fire and double action semi automatics, I will take my Beretta or my KP-345 over the Glock 27 any day I can draw and squeeze off a round as fast with either had gun. the training and practice it takes is intense. I carry the Beretta as my weapon of choice for conceal carry the Kp-345 is my home defense weapon.

    Reply
  25. Jerry Bailey

    Most points have been covered really well here.

    The old 1911 45 auto was the best “war” pistol for a very long time. When in world war one, when Sgt York was being charged by several german soldiers with fixed bayonets his 45 auto saved the day. I believe his bolt action rifle was empty. That was not the only time that happened. Most of the rifles issued in the start of WW2 were probably bolt action.

    However modern police departments do not want light triggers. Back in the 1970’s I recall reading the numerous reports where a policeman said “it just went off”. Usually he had cocked his revolver during an arrest confrontation. At least one big city police department altered all their revolvers so they could not be cocked single action.

    Eventually most if not all police departments went to semi-auto’s. Then we began hearing about the heavy “New York Triggers”.

    I would rather skip ahead to a subject more important to me. In the old days police showed up for handgun training to shoot. They had a good range and good trainers and they always drew their weapons and shot them dry slowly.

    In my opinion one of the worst training mistakes of those days was always drawing and shooting, never drawing and not shooting. If a person then goes home eventually dry firing by drawing and clicking, his motor skills eventually almost demand it. I tend to think that half the practice time a person should draw and not fire.

    Skipping ahead, the short stroke trigger of a single action .22 rim fire is wonderful. Some great inexpensive and reliable .22 rim fire target pistols out there. At one time or another we all shot bursts of two or three. Which I believe contributes to someone later “short stroking” his trigger on his regular carry gun. If you do not let the trigger return all the way it seems like the gun is locked up. Easy to short stroke it again and again. I did it once with a glock, when it was new to me. I watched a friend do it with a .357 revolver. No statistics on gunfights because they either died, was too embarrassed to speak up, or assumed it was the handgun malfunctioning. Making mistakes at the range is a good thing. That is where you learn from your mistakes, and get past them.

    Reply
  26. Papa Lione

    When you say “mechanical safety”, I assume you are referring to the thumb safety.
    I’m interested to hear your opinion on grip safeties, though.

    Reply
    • artsbrew

      for me no. lets say you and a perp are fighting over the gun. you do not have a good grip but you have the barrel lined up and access to the trigger. i would want it to go off. i also hate the mag disconnect. if the mag is not in the gun and there is a round in the chamber, i want it to go bang. just my views.

      Reply
  27. Papa Lione

    “Many people have the misconception that these mechanical devices automatically make a gun “safe””
    These ‘people’ include the ignorant idiots who passed the insane firearm legislation in California.
    “There are very few types of firearms that actually require a mechanical safety…”
    Namely any handgun that is legal in California, (for those lucky and connected few who are able to obtain a CCW permit in the People’s Democratic Republic of Kalifornia).

    Reply
  28. DL

    Amen and Amen. My best friend in High School fired a bullet that landed inches from my foot. He said the safety was on. On or off, he depended on the safety and didn’t follow the Safety Rules. Don’t be that guy!!

    Reply
  29. Kevin

    The rules to gun safety should be taught early on but unfortunately are not these days. The gun safety mechanism has probably saved more lives than not. Put in another way; if someone doesn’t know the rules or doesn’t adhere to them, would you rather them have a safety on their gun or not.

    Reply
  30. John Cottrell

    Your argument against safeties is that they will inevitably turn the gun owner into an idiot. My argument for safeties is that it is a reasonable last resort of insurance against Murphy’s law overcoming the best possible planning and training, and anyone so incompetent that they cannot manage the safety properly under the circumstances that they are drawing their weapon should not be carrying a weapon.

    Reply
    • artsbrew

      the first time i am muzzled i explain it to him. the second is the last time we go shooting together.

      Reply
  31. Richard Cutie

    Sorry if you can’t see the advantage of manual safties and manipulate your handgun with a safety than you shouldn’t have a weapon in first place. Your preference is understood but to use your experience to talk people out of having a safety is out of line on My humble opinion

    Reply
    • artsbrew

      everything added to any mechanism is more things that can go wrong. we all have opinions and we all have the ability to disagree with others. i do not believe it is out of line and i believe it is correct. i guess it is like 9 versus 40. we all live with our choices or not. a lot of people do not want us to have guns. the sensible gun control like a national data base, sounds reasonable until you realize that is the first step before outlawing guns. you need to know where they are. we can disagree but in the end we need to stick together or we will all hang separately.

      Reply
  32. Paul

    This is absolute rubbish and demonstrates incomplete thought. What is possibly wrong with options? If you don’t want a safety, leave it the hell off!!! There may be times when you want to fully neuter the gun, such as camping or in any other nonthreatening environment where you still want the gun on your side, or putting it to bed in the drawer at night. It can protect a child, for example, from discharging a gun that he chances upon. Sadly this has happened with police Glocks, resulting in death. It is pointless to say the gun shouldn’t be available for the child to find. Of course it shouldn’t, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be. Striker fired guns are just too easy to fire unintentionally. Though I have a Glock, and I love it and carry it, for maximum safety I’ll take my Beretta 92. And to say that people can’t train themselves to deactivate a safety during their presentation routine is simply patronizing. I have long trained my self to do so. The result is that I can carry and use any one of my many pistols effectively. I have 1911s and I carry them condition II for added safety. That’s an added step. So what? I’ve trained myself to cock it when needed. To say that a gun shouldn’t have an optional safety because it generates dangerous thought patterns is also patronizing. In all of life, I prefer options. What is wrong with options?

    Reply
  33. Arthur L. Brown Sr.

    This is an argument that has gone on a long time in my own house as my son is a glock fan and I am a 1911 addict. As joseph pointed out that IF YOU TRAIN with it it will have the muscle memory. This is also the reason ALL my future handguns shall be 1911 styles for the same function every time.
    NO ARGUMENT on the rules EXCEPT I put the gun is ALWAYS loaded until you unload it, as the first rule.

    Reply
  34. Jim

    Safety or no safety still requires the gun owner to practice and know his gun.

    Personally, only my 1911s have a safety and of course the long guns (some) and shotguns. Problem with safeties is what has already been discussed. People become complacent with them. At a Boy Scout event this year, I was working with scouts working on their rifle merit badge. Using bolt action .22s by Ruger and Savage, I had a rifle fail to fire for one of the boys. After having him go through malfunction drills with a bolt that wouldn’t open, I took the rifle from him on “safe.” Once I had the rifle, pointing down range, I worked the bolt. As I opened the bolt, the rifle fired. This was with the safety on and no pull on the trigger. It was a great safety lesson for the scouts and the other adults there. Safeties should not be depended on to prevent discharges.

    Reply
  35. H. Vernon Keith Jr.

    I agree 100% after 20 +years in the Military (Combat arms) and other shooting training & Classes have I saw this Kind of Fear Factor increasing reaction time Long enough to become Fatal for them

    Reply
  36. steve

    In my area, a women was in a Walmart and her young son reached in her purse and grabbed her M&P shield, without a safety, shot mom the gun owner in the head and killed her. If the gun would have had a safety or heavy trigger like a revolver, this mom would have still bin alive. Get a clue rambo guys.

    Reply
  37. EGM

    If you train well and ofren with a gun that has a safety, a safety shouldn’t be an impediment. One of my semiautomatics has a safety but the other one doesn’t. So I do not use my safety on the gun that has one. Otherwise it would be confusing when having to reach for either one during, for example, a home invasion. Even if I used only one gun for certain events and the other for different purposes, the potential for confusion still exists. Better to be proficient with one type of gun rather than create the potential for confinson, which could them lead to a horrible situation where someone accidentally dies due to negligence or an accident. So I choose to ignore the safety on my gun that has one.

    Reply
  38. David

    This is in the main, a training issue, and also an ergonomic one. I would not want to engage the safety on a traditional DA/SA auto pistol such as a Beretta 92 or a 3rd Gen S&W. For that matter, the British SAS carried their single-action Hi-Power pistols “Cocked and Unlocked” for several decades as far as I am aware.

    The Browning pattern 1911 works well in Condition One, because the motion of taking the safety off matches the clenched fist one takes up naturally on grasping the piece. Others will not wish to be bothered, and they can and will carry a PFSF pistol. To each his own.

    Reply
  39. Scott

    I agree with your train of thought completely as to know and constantly being aware and practicing the safety rules. Especially in regards to muzzle discipline and trigger finger discipline.
    That being said, I carry every day and have for 40+ years and except for the times carrying a revolver the majority of the time was with a pistol having a manual safety and using it. I have trained many hundreds of police officers who were issued SA/DA and striker fired pistols. Negilent discharges have happened on occasion, even with these pistols which were without mechanical safeties. This is always due to carelessness and insufficient training. ( I say that as the one who was responsible for the training.) Those who carry a firearm and do not train constantly are prone to making errors in “procedure”. It happens. Whatever action type you decide on requires a committment to work at knowing your chosen firearm and training with it, in the broadest sense, so that should a situation arise to which you will be forced to defend yourself or your loved ones, your reactions are a well trained response.

    Reply
  40. Flemming

    This article confuses several different issues and blames them on mechanical safeties.

    First is complacency, we all grow complacent over time from Le’so to 25yr plus instructors. There is no indication this normal human issue is more prevalent with mechanical safeties.It happens to everyone with all different firearms.

    Secondly training, we can never have enough training. I don’t agree the mechanical safety requires more training – it’s just different training! If you used and trained without a thumb safety then have to use one – well yeah you need training. However if you trained from the beginning with a thumb safety you do not extra training is needed.

    Thirdly rules – the gun safety rules are meant to be carved in stone and be applied to all firearms and can be applied to other things like, automobiles, knives ect. You either follow them or you don’t! Again this author seems to a imply if they have a certain type of firearm makes you more unsafe, not true!!!.

    Fourthly, reaction time. Reaction time is a combination of factors- genetics, stress, training, ect.. Knowing how to use your firearm (training) is a factor, but the type of gun you have is very negligible – they all can shoot fast. A mechanical safety issue in a confrontation is a experience/training issue not a reaction issue. How we react to stress is something we have to train for as well

    Fifthly, failure. Most firearms have a mechanical safety whether it’s in the trigger, handle our a thumb lever. The author seems to be focused one one type – the thumb lever. There has been issues with all 3 types of safeties they can all fail! but at least the thumb lever can be shut off/disengaged, the other 2 can not!

    I could go on and on but think I made my point.

    This is a very disconcerting article and sad to see one so poorly written buy someone with so much knowledge. In the end most firearms have a mechanical safety – so pick one you know how to operate and can live with they all have their failures and plusses

    Reply
  41. Ralph Bosley

    You are correct in what was stated in this article. Even in high stress combat circumstances even the best trained and equiped individuals have fumbled with the safety’s on their firearm no matter what kind it is and if wearing gloves for cold weather this can and will impede the use of firearm safety’s.

    Reply
  42. Pete

    Unlike those of you with flawless minds that never make any mistakes or errors, I have, in my 70 years, had experiences where I’ve pushed the wrong button, flipped the wrong switch, moved the wrong way or swung too soon. At the moment that I was committing these errors I realized that if I just had had a few tenths of a second I could have realized what I was about to do and prevented my stupid action. Fortunately, none of my blunders resulted in permanent injury (although in some cases I did suffer some rather unpleasant wounds). As a result I’ve come to appreciate taking those few tenths of a second to ensure that my actions will not lead to an accident.

    It’s not uncommon to read or hear of incidents where someone (even those with years of training and experience) absentmindedly holsters their handgun with their finger on the trigger, leaves their handgun in a bathroom or leaves it unattended at home or work. In some cases these mistakes result in lost firearms, injury or death.

    To me the two or three tenths of a second taken in manipulating a safety will at least provide that slight interval for my brain to kick in and hopefully ensure that I’m not committing the wrong action.

    Reply
  43. Bob

    That is just the stupidest argument I’ve ever heard! There are waaay more “accident” stories of funs without manual safeties. TRUE, the DA trigger is a safety mechanism. The firing pin stop is a safety. Sounds more like you are just trying to justify your choice, so your wife will let you have what you want. I wonder how this even got into this publication.

    A rational article would point out that guns are extremely dangerous, and that there are different types of guns. A reasonable and prudent person would make sure he and his family are properly educated and trained on the type of firearms around the house. I can definitely see an argument keeping only the same types of defensive tools around, so that the manual of arms is consistent across the board. But, you have presented nothing but a biased opinion.

    Reply
  44. Paul Gresky

    The first safety rule by the USMC and some states Hunter Safety programs is to treat every gun as though it were a loaded gun. You are quoting the NRA 10 commandments. Some guns like the Beretta 84 have a frame safety and are DA/SA which allows the thumb to sweep the safety down to the fire position while bringing the gun up all in one movement. That can be done without delaying to think as if one is drawing it is to shoot period. I concur with you that the 1911 is carried “cocked and unlocked”
    by most officers which is why they shoot themselves in various body parts. I instruct all of my students about the problems with Glocks and why the triangular trigger leads to problems with both safety and shooting errors. Having been at Fort Campbell and run ranges there it is no surprise that General Petraeus was shot because of his “Tiger Grip” with fingers always positioned in the trigger guard.

    Reply
  45. Robert Law

    You are 100% correct. This is why I carry Glocks. There is only one exception, I also carry 1911.

    Reply
  46. Roy

    The only reason I now buy my guns with a safety is because of holstering the weapon. The gun I was carrying did not have a safety and when I was holstering the gun the draw string from my vest got caught in the trigger and fired. I was very lucky that it just brazed my leg. That was a wake up call for me. I know a lot of you will say that should never happen and will never happen to you. Just be careful what you say, it could happen to you. Once the gun is holstered you can always turn off the safety. I know this would mean remembering another step but at least you wouldn’t have to worry about the safety when the weapon is drawn. Just some thoughts.

    Reply
  47. Bernie

    I’ve been a shooter for more than half a century. From the .22 I used on the farm to the military arms I used as a Navy Gunner’s Mate in the 70s there were very, very few semi-auto weapons that I trained and shot with that did not have a manual safety. That safety got used, every time, not as a “negligence enabler”, allowing unsafe handling and operation of the weapon, but as a “Murphy defense”. Murphy says that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and when things go wrong with a loaded firearm they usually go badly wrong. Using a mechanical safety then is second nature to me. Engaging and disengaging it is something I no longer consciously think about, it is automatic. Trying to automatically disengage one that isn’t there would probably hinder me as much as having one unexpectedly left on would hinder another shooter. All of my currently owned firearms have mechanical safeties, including those I regularly carry. They add one more layer, one more tiny bit of insurance against today being one of the worst days of your life. There are all too many statistics detailing and quantifying the often horrific results of accidental discharges, but there are no statistics detailing and quantifying the times when an engaged safety prevented one. I firmly believe that the latter far outweigh the former and that’s more than enough reason for me to continue insisting on one and using it.

    Reply
  48. Lewis

    It’s a valid point. You can’t idiot-proof the world, and often supposedly automated safety measures just make people careless. I caught on several occasions myself forgetting turn the headlights in the old Jeep Cherokee on after spending a while using my brother’s newer car, because that car turns its headlights on by itself when it needs to. Complacency makes your mental process lazy unless you remind yourself to do it anyway, even if it’s not needed. So, too, with the safety on a gun. You have to remember to treat the gun like it’s always loaded; I would add to that old rule “treat the gun as if it is always capable of firing a round.”

    The issue of a delay is another matter, and well worth taking into account. I suppose my compromise there would probably be to decide which guns are which action type (and thus which ones have safeties) based on the likelihood of that weapon needing to be deployed. If I know I can trust myself to follow gun safety rules, any guns that I carry on my person would probably be safety-free unless the action type requires it. A gun staged around the house might have a safety on it, under the assumption that someone else in my home might need to use it and might not have the habits so ingrained that they wouldn’t slip in a high-stress situation.

    I’m just spitballing there, of course. I live in New Jersey, one of the states with the most strict gun regulation law sets in the country, so I’m unlikely to have guns either on my person OR staged around my home.

    Reply
  49. barrett weinberger

    Yes. If you are 75 years old and just learning to shoot, you bring up some interesting possibilities. However, for an experience shooter that has spent 20-45 years developing the muscle memory of learning to shoot the most prolific guns in the world, that helped the world vanquish ,Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito, N. Korea, B. Vietnam etc. Your article is just plain psychobabble from a brain made of mush, completely unfamiliar with safe gun handling. It’s interesting that after 116 years our finest of the best, Marine Expeditionary units are once again using Colts, specifically 1911’s with manual safeties, the best of the best proves that the easier softer way you espouse is exactly contrary to proper training, practice, muscle memory and protecting the ignorant from the negligent discharges cause by Glocks and others due to lack of proper training on firearms. I suppose the same reason that no one jnows what to do when an emergency vehicle nears them, ie; lack of proper education
    Why do you suppose the finest fighting force in the world DEMANDS manual safeties on ALL of their weapons. Meaning no disrespect, I am assuming that you were taught American history, U.S. history, Social Studies and cursive writing by the teachers unions.

    Reply
    • Gary

      Wow! Your sarcasm is a little over the top. When I decided to buy a defensive handgun I considered this question a lot and I came to the same conclusion as J.N. Very few of the people carrying defensive firearms have spent 20 or more years developing muscle memory and it is a near certainty that in a high stress situation they will have difficulty performing the fine motor skill of deactivating the safety. The inability to actually use the gun could be fatal. Doesn’t it make sense to make self defense as simple as possible? I have studied this a lot and even experienced police officers who train regularly and deal with high-stress situations frequently are known to have trouble executing fine motor skills under high stress. Comparing military use to civilian use is, to be blunt, stupid. The two are vastly different and call for different tools. This is not a one-size-fits-all matter.

      Reply
  50. RIch

    As a firearms/CCW instructor I have preached the exact same story to my students – nearly word for word – for many years. For all the reason you cited, I am a firm believer that self defense firearms should shoot when you pull the trigger… nothing more, nothing less.

    Reply
  51. Jerry

    I’m there an advocate over mechanical safety for a long long time ago I’m old school I go back to the 1911 Marine 6 years but being in the Firearms industry and seeing how things have evolved I’ve been converted especially by the argument I just read and while I do love by 45 I do carry weapons that do not have mechanical safe to use when I am carrying concealed and they’re very reliable I like Springfield I like Beretta and there are quite a few others out there so I agree with the author of this discussion and I look forward to reading more

    Reply
  52. James Russell

    The bottom line is that you are basing your premise on people being the stupidest animals on the face of the Earth when a mechanical safety is present, but when a mechanical safety is not present, all of a sudden that same human-animal gets smart for some reason!

    The entire Foundation of your argument is absurd in the extreme! If training for firing a weapon without a mechanical safety works, then training with a mechanical safety Works, simply because of the human involved!

    Muscle memory is a key aspect in any repetitive training process, including operating side arms and long guns with mechanical safeties.

    The rest of the article has similar flaws because they flow from your original flaw, that the human cannot be trained to operate a mechanical safety properly, but can with no safety!

    It just doesn’t wash.

    The bottom line is this, if you don’t like sidearms with mechanical safeties, then don’t carry one.

    Reply
  53. Kaipo Seabury

    True. I started my sons out at 5 years old on gun safety. Reason being that I have a few firearms and wanted my sons to “appreciate” my hobby and to respect the severity of the responsibilities of owning firearms. I never bought them “toy” guns for fear of them having the bad habit of pointing them at people or something else that shouldn’t be aimed at. They were taught at a very young age the importance of firearm safety and their commanded respect. Thank you for your constant support and instruction!

    Reply