1911: Unsuitable for Self-Defense?

Regular readers know I train under David Kenik. The rabbi is a self-effacing gun guy who’s quick to point out that his advice is his advice. He’s happy to explain why he holds his beliefs, listen to counter-arguments and let you decide whether or not you want to accept or ignore his dictates. In short, no flaming guys. Attack the philosophy, not the philosopher. (Offensive comments will be edited.) OK, so, the rabbi reckons 1911-style guns are unsuitable for daily carry. “They’re the easiest guns in the world to shoot someone with,” Kenik likes to say. “But the hardest guns NOT to shoot someone with.” In other words, it’s all about the trigger. The 1911-style gun’s trigger is too light for the stress of battle. Here’s the relevant section from his book Armed Response.

I had an accidental discharge at an IPSC match. During a particularly stressful fast reload, my finger pressed the trigger without my being aware of it until the round fired. It is commonly stated that ADs are caused by poor gun handling skills and you just need to keep your finger off the trigger. Well, I practiced keeping my finger off the trigger for 20 years. The difference at the match was the higher level of stress that I was experiencing for the first time affected my abilities and awareness.

A few weeks after my AD, I did a training class on a FATS (Firearm Training Simulation) system, which uses real handguns converted to shoot lasers at a movie screen displaying tactical scenarios. With the remembrance of my AD fresh in my mind, I specifically checked my finger during and after stressful encounters. I found my finger subconsciously on the trigger three times during the one hour session! This proved to me that even twenty years of shooting a 1911 and several seasons of action shooting competitions did not prepare me for the effects that higher levels of stress cause.

Coincidentally, a short time later, I cam across details of a law enforcement study that demonstrated that under high levels of stress, the trigger finger often subconsciously travels to the trigger to “confirm its position.” Lt. Dave Spaulding, of the Montgomery County, Ohio Sheriff’s Office, observed that 632 out of 674 officers tested periodically placed their fingers in the trigger guard during FATS training. This is astounding—94% of the trained police officers teste placed their finger on the trigger under stress! This number included many highly-skilled and motivated officers. The officer that he observed doing thse “trigger searches had no memory of doing so . . .

An accidental discharge is more likely with a single-action trigger than a double-action trigger because of its short, light trigger pull. Had I been using a single-action trigger during my FATS exercise, I might have had three ADs, because all it takes to fire a single-action gun is just a relatively light touch of the trigger . . .

My conclusion is that unless you train extensively under extreme stress, the double-action trigger would be a safer choice for self-defense.

In other words, 1911s are more dangerous for self-defense work than double-action combat handguns. Makes sense to me. While I’ve shot thousands of rounds through 1911s, I still get the occasional “Hey, I didn’t mean to fire that round” moment. And that’s without [more than my normal amount of] stress.

But then I’m a relative piker paying this guy cash money to learn how to safely defend myself and my loved ones with a firearm. What’s your take?


  1. avatar Patrick Carrube says:

    In my weekly matches, I often RO individual stages when needed. I have seen a few AD’s, but I would like to point out that they aren’t exclusive to 1911’s. They occur in all classes, even Grand Master, and in all divisions. Five, ten, and twenty years of practice means nothing unless it was proper practice. While it certainly will make you a better gun handler in the long term, action and competitive shooting does nothing to advance your basic fundamental skill-set in and of itself. I would argue that action shooting will actually amplify any fundamental flaw (such as trigger control) and will force you to become a better handler in order to be competitive. As an RO, we expect new shooters to make mistakes and have flaws in their matches. It is OK as long as there is a large enough safety margin. As they say, you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs. It may sound dangerous, but IPSC is in the top 5 of the safest sports in the world, most injuries coming from sprained ankles.

    To new readers of TTAG, let me be the first to say that ANY study showing how LEO reacts/acts under pressure isn't worth a damn. From the LEO's I've spoken with, and from what I have read on Federal/State reports, local LEO's only practice 4 times a year (on average, special groups and SWAT aren't included). I would point out that this is "practice" and not "real world shit my pants training". Practice in this scenario means shooting at a paper target to prepare for an upcoming qualification shoot. LEO officers are great people and I thank them all the time for their service (same goes for military and veterans). However, I do NOT consider them to be "experts" in firearms or firearm handling simply because their job requires them to handle/carry a gun. The guy standing on my neighbor’s roof with a hammer isn’t considered an architect or an expert carpenter because he is carrying a hammer. He’s just a guy nailing in new plywood.

  2. avatar Roy Hill says:

    What’s funny is that I have heard another very famous self-defense shooting instructor say the same thing about Glocks.

    This very famous instructor said something like, “The best thing about the Glock is that it’s very easy to shoot. The worst thing about the Glock is that it’s very easy to shoot.”

    I know, I know….It’s a “Glock action” not a “double-action.”

    But still…it’s a polymer pistol with a trigger design that makes its manual of arms a lot like the old double-action revolvers cops used for decades.

  3. avatar Brett Solomon says:

    You still gotta swipe that safety off on the 1911 (and it would be real foolish not to use it), unlike a Glock or other DAO pistol.

  4. avatar Sailorcurt says:

    "Is Gun…is not safe."

    This is sort of like the security dilemma: The best security in the world is a system that is impossible to access. The problem is that it isn't useable at all.

    The most useable system is the one with no security, no firewalls, no passwords…totally open access. The problem is that potentially sensitive information is available to anyone that wants it.

    Everything is a tradeoff.

    The only truly safe gun for any use is the plastic one that doesn't actually go "bang" when you pull the trigger…but that's not very useful in a self-defense situation.

  5. avatar ale440 says:

    the 1911 is one of the best hand guns ever designed, made , used… period i dont know dual safeties

  6. avatar John C says:

    You can keep your 1911 if you like it. Period.

  7. avatar Stephania says:

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  8. avatar michael s. rogers says:

    1911s are really a safe weapon they have a thumb safety, a half cock safety and a grip safety, how mant safetys do you need ? i never had a accidental dischargewith a pistol butonce and it was with a macarov. my friend had one discharge with his baretta , they both have that slide safety crap that caused the problem. i dont know if they are safeties are to lower the hammer, but i dont want my hammer resting on the firing pin under a live round. 1911 are fine weapons, another fine weapon is the browning hi-power , both single actions. its just comes to muscle memmory. what kind of stress can you get from shooting at targets, they cant shoot back.

  9. avatar Mike Carpenter says:

    Thumb safety on until you know you have to shoot somebody. That’s all you need to know.

  10. avatar michael harris says:

    I really get a kick out of all these internet “experts” lately spouting their views on the 1911 as an unsafe, unreliable, prone to negligent discharge firearm. I have been carrying 1911’s for 39 years now, as well as Glocks. Both are fine weapons, both are unforgiving of incompetence.
    My 1911’s are 100% reliable or i wouldn’t own them. I have one within reach at all times. Never had an “accidental” discharge with one, either.
    The fact that SOME people aren’t capable of maintaining or operating one safely doesn’t make it an inferior option for those that can.

  11. avatar John Baltes says:

    I’ve never had a AD on my full-size 1911. I conceal one every day. To me, it is one of the best pistol’s I have used for concealed carry. Of coarse, when I pick up any weapon, I always consider it loaded. That way nobody accidently gets a 230 gr surprise, unless they need one. Stay safe

  12. avatar Phil says:

    In 1977 when I joined the Mairne Corp the 1911 was the sidearm of choice, there were no competitors. Again the 1911 has a proven track record and was used in since the first World War.

    Do I think there are better conceal carry firearms today, why yes I do. It all comes down to what is best for you not the trigger pull.

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