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There is a large contingent of gun users who are adamant that the only safety a gun needs is a little control over your booger hook. Well, I would like to present an alternative view.  Manual safeties are not the enemy of readiness that some would have you believe. We can probably agree that the highest state of readiness a gun owner can achieve is to have a gun in each hand, forward of your body, pointing at anyone who might possibly pose a threat to your or your family. Obviously, that’s not terribly safe or practical. So we have to start making a few concessions to bring our state of readiness into balance with practicality and safety. That means . . .

Instead of lasering everyone who comes near us, we could leave one gun in the safe and carry the other in a low-ready position with our pistol pointing downward at a 45° angle. Since that’s only a little less practical way to ward off an attack, we can then practice transitioning from low-ready to on-target. But if walking around in low-ready all day doesn’t work for you – and I’m fairly sure it won’t – you might consider carrying your firearm in (and I’m just blue-skying here) a leather holder thingy that attaches to your hip.

Now we’ve managed to increase the safety factor dramatically. At the same time, though, we’ve sacrificed a good amount of our state of readiness. So, as always, it comes back to training. That means you’ll have to practice drawing your gun and transitioning to your target. You can carry this logic all the way to keeping your pistol secured with a gun lock, in a case, in the trunk of your car with the ammo in the glove box. The safety of this condition is, naturally, through the roof. But your state of readiness and the practicality of being able to defend yourself will have disappeared almost completely.

Somewhere in the middle lies your particular personal state of balance. Everyone needs to find their own acceptable equilibrium between safety and readiness. For some, a manual safety is one tick too far toward the safety side and away from readiness.

For me, though, it’s the perfect compromise. I practice for my state of carry. I use a holster. I use a gun with a grip safety. I use a gun with a manual safety, too. I practice and train for this carry condition so that if and when I have to use my gun to defend myself, drawing, disengaging the safety and bringing the gun to bear are part of one continuous motion.

In my previous post, I recounted an instance when I had to draw my weapon in a high stress, adrenaline-dump situation. When I pulled my piece, I flipped off the safety automatically. Why? Because I had trained myself to lift my conceal garment, establish a proper grip, draw the gun, flick off the safety and bring the sights up to the target – all in one fluid motion.

Lo and behold, what I had trained for is exactly what happened when the time came to use it. Some say that in a high stress situation you’ll become all thumbs and “forget” to flip off the safety. I beg to differ. I believe that what you train for, what you rehearse, what you drill into muscle memory is what will happen when it’s needed most.

If the manual safety tips your particular scale too far to one side then by all means, don’t use one. For me, the benefits and peace of mind safety provides are perfectly balanced with the reduction in practicality and readiness. Whatever you do, find your balance.

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  1. Why? Because I had trained myself to lift my conceal garment, establish a proper grip, draw the gun, flick off the safety and bring the sights up to the target – all in one fluid motion.

    Me too. I can get my DA/SA pistol out of the holster, flip the safety, and onto the target in one fluid motion.

  2. It takes me half a day of practice with a handgun to become proficient with it. From the draw, to the reloading. I do not understand how a functional human cannot grasp the operation of these tools. If you cannot follow through a particular course of actions. to fulfill a certain task, you shouldn’t be using a firearm.

    You should create a program to compute (a mental check list) and run through it until it becomes instinctual. Then you run through scenarios (role play) of shoot or not to shoot. You do this so you don’t become a robot. In other words, shoot anything that appears to be a threat, like police have been trained to do.

    Have you ever draw a handgun from concealment? You would understand that it isn’t easy to do majority of the time. The gun has to clear every piece of clothing. It takes time, which gives you enough time to disengage the safety. How about one hand draws when someone is attacking you? A safety helps if the gun gets stuck on clothing.

    Would you rather have a gun with a heavier trigger and no safety or a gun with a lighter trigger and a safety?

    • Whether or not you understand it, it happens. Spend a day at the range watching the line, you’ll see it. On this season of Top Shot, we’ve seen it twice. And this is with supposedly seasoned shooters. Good habits can be developed, and should be developed, but remarkably few people bother to develop them.

  3. “I recounted an instance when I had to draw my weapon in a high stress, adrenaline-dump situation. When I pulled my piece, I flipped off the safety automatically. Why? Because I had trained myself to lift my conceal garment, establish a proper grip, draw the gun, flick off the safety and bring the sights up to the target – all in one fluid motion.”

    I’ve never doubted the ability to do what you describe. And, mind you, I don’t have a “dog in this fight,” because it’s not a “fight” or “debate,” IMO. It’s simply either personal preference or just what you’re used to.

    However, the fact that you snick off the safety in one fluid drawing motion begs the question: Then what is the purpose of the manual safety?

    Serious question. What is the safety ON for? To prevent the gun from “going off” in the holster? Surely not. If it has no purpose to be ON (while holstered), then logically there is no purpose for its existence when drawn (if automatically and reflexively switched OFF).

    I “cut my teeth” on Glocks. So, I’m used to using my brain (with the help of Col. Cooper) and finger as the “safety.” My EDC is a G27. But, over the years, I’ve learned to love (and own) other types / brands and types of handguns and rifles. Many of them have manual safeties. I typically don’t use those safeties. I don’t see any reason to add the step of turning them off, if there’s no reason to turn them ON.

    I’m getting verklempt… talk amongst yourselves… 😉

    • For me it’s about (re)holstering. That one day a lanyard, a slipped finger or some other obstruction gets in the way of the trigger I’d rather have either a manual safety engaged or my thumb on an external hammer.

      I once managed to lock my keys inside my car. On a long enough time scale shit/human error happens. Luckily the car thing only cost me some money to get the lock popped and not a trip to the ER.

    • The purpose of a manual safety was so you could carry a single action pistol with a round in the chamber with the hammer up, and not worry about shooting yourself in the thigh. Before the invention of firing pin blocks, carrying in cocked and locked was much safer than carrying hammer down with a round in the chamber. A hard enough hit to the hammer in the latter condition could cause the gun to fire.

      I carry a striker-fired pistol, but the other system I’d consider is single action, and of course that means carrying cocked and locked.

    • I agree racer.

      For several years my wife carried a pistol with a manuel safety.
      At that time all guns except revolvers had them and using them was pretty much sop for everyone. In fact at that time one of the standard rules of gun safety was to never remove your safety untill ready to fire.

      I taught her to flip the safety off as the barrel came on target.
      This allows equally quick shots but keeps the safety on while the gun is in motion.
      Also removing the safety as the barrel came on target allowed her to have her gun in hand with the safety on. If a false alarm was determined, the gun was reholstered with the safety still on.

      I also taught her to keep the gun on target until certain it was no longer needed and then reapply the safety before taking the barrel off target.

      By applying this method the safety was never off unless the barrel was on target.

  4. Mr. Sprague, shame on you. We on this site should all know that safety is a matter of MINDSET. Not HARDWARE.

    Its why people can carry 1911’s for decades without an incident, but others cant seem to keep their Traditional Double Action hammer drop safety Berettas from firing without cause.

    Everyone has different needs, and thus different requirements of their hardware. Someone with kids might want a gun with a mag disconnect and external safety, just to go the extra mile to prevent a disaster. By contrast a single guy with only his Xbox to protect will do just fine with a Glock 22 or other safety-less pistol.

  5. I love the way DGUs are discussed in infinite detail by folks who have never seen the Elephant. Poor marksmanship in real-life confrontations is dismissed as “If it was Me I’d have Xringed his ass.”

    Maybe….try taking some in-coming rounds before making such judgements.

    • What I have a problem with are those who encourage others to fight when avoidance is possible.
      While there are a few John Wayne wannabes out there, you can pretty much bet the house anyone who tells you to fight when it’s not necessary never has.

  6. I don’t carry a firearm that needs to be “cocked and locked” in order to be reasonably ready for action. Therefore, a manual thumb-safety is superfluous. Its an unnecessary anachronism on anything but a single-action automatic. If that’s what you MUST have for your carry pistol, then fine. Ill take a design from sometime in the last 50 years.

    • ” Ill take a design from sometime in the last 50 years.”

      Right…. Because newer means better. Why can’t 1911 haters be honest with themselves and admit they don’t have enough money to buy one?

  7. I do not yet carry. I do not train frequently enough with guns. I am uncomfortable with the Glock style semi-auto that lacks real safeties (the trigger safety concept aside), and I am uncomfortable with semi-autos that employs other safety mechanisms such as the manual and decocker styles. Since I do not train enough I am also concerned about my reaction time to clear and re-load vs. a freeze-up in the event of a FtF. As a result, I have chosen to keep it simple stupid (me being stupid) and to use a revolver as my defense handgun.

    • Having never experienced the adrenalin dump of a real encounter I’m erring on the side of caution and had the “NY-1” trigger spring (10-11 lbs) installed in my Glock.

    • There is a great case to be made for the DA revolver. I was a revolver man until I spent enough time with striker fired pistols to feel as confident with them as I did with a wheelgun.
      Short of the capacity issue, it’s tough to argue with.

    • Very mature attitude .
      You didn’t say why you don’t train more often. I hope that situation changes soon and you feel comfortable enough to get your CHL.
      I carried a revolver EDC for seven (7) years and still use one as my home carry gun.

  8. Having used a 1911 for more years than many on this board have been alive I can second John’s assertion that enabling/disabling the safety is a matter of reflex. Some of you believe that safety is a matter of mindset and not hardware. True enough but we all have momentary mental lapses that can turn deadly to someone because your weapon is “ready to go”

    In a post that disappeared yesterday about a fatal ND in Spotsylvania, Virginia Robert made the assertion that if he the victim had an XD with its grip safety the ND wouldn’t have happened. What does that tell you about carrying a Glock? While I agree that safety is principally a mindset it helps to have a hardware backup.

    • If it’s the incident I’m thinking of, I believe the authorities determined he was carrying in his waistband, without a holster.
      I think we can all agree that doing this, with ANY handgun, even one with a manual safety, is a terrible idea.

  9. I’d rather not have a safety on a handgun. For me, it only gets in the way, and adds time when I sincerely don’t want to finish second. Double action only 340 PD, Glock 27 or 35, or Smith 4006 (with safety off to remain consistent), and 4006 TSW are my carry pieces.

    I’ll never miss a shot because my safety is on, and I’ve responded to an incident where that happened under stress. Many police agencies don’t have safeties on their pistols for that same reason.

    I carry in leather holsters, and I carry hot. No fumbling for a safety unless I’m on a long gun. None of my first shot trigger pulls are lighter than 5.5 pounds on my handguns, and I train to keep my finger off the trigger until I’m on an identified target.

    I’m frankly surprised to see how many responses were pro-safeties given the popularity of DAO and striker pistols.

    Your mileage may vary, and training and mindset trump safety choices. Again, the beauty of freedom comes to mind. Happy Easter!

  10. I am very comfortable with the 1911 platform and have carried it for years. The safety came off when I chose it to do so. (We can do it with our ARs why not our secondarys? ) I now carry a Glock and nothing has really changed in my gun handling, I treat it as loaded, I don’t cover stuff I’m not willing to destroy, my finger is off the trigger until I choose to shoot and the big one I Assess the (potential) target, fore and background, and the possible results of “letting it fly.” A manual safety is just a tool to be applied to that process where the operator wants to apply it. I wish Glock would give me the option of the choice from the factory. (I’d also like a thin, small single stack 9mm Glock; but I don’t drive the gun industry…) Most rifles are carried “cocked and locked” and we don’t complain about them do we? Is it because “rifles are serious” and hand guns aren’t? I have seen several men who have survived gunfights with “cocked and locked” weapons mess up in competitions and pull on a blocked trigger. It’s stress, but it’s different stress. The argument over having or not having a mechanical safety lever as being a dangerous liability is tertiary to me. Far more important are developing competence at a subconscious level and situational awareness. People tend to train for the part that is the most fun or that they are most afraid of. Your personal training has to cover the whole spectrum. If not you are buying a Fender and calling yourself a guitarist.

    Sorry for the rambling post…


  11. I’ve always trained with DA/SA guns with no manual safety. Therefore, that is how I carry. Some people like the 1911 SA only with thumb safety. I don’t mind it, but I also don’t train with one so obviously I would carry one.

  12. Racer88 is right on target about the safety because that’s how I’ve trained for years. I’ve always loved 1911’s and they’re easy to use if practice, but I’ve also heard plenty of people complain about wasting time or screwing up while attempting to use the safety in a high stress situation. I still love my 1911’s, but I’ve finally caved and gone to the Glock side. I just need to point and shoot and there’s no messing around with the safety. I just completed the PPOH course and you’d be amazed by how many experinced shooters forgot to flick the safety down or accidenallty flicked it back up in the middle of a drill. The Glock guys just had to point and shoot while some of the others got all screwed up with the safety. I’ve made fun of Glocks for years and I still think they’re ugly, but now they’re my primary gun because they always work when you need them and they’re super easy to shoot.

  13. I definitely agree that with training the safety comes off fairly regularly. Most people that believe that they will become all thumbs and forget it are the same people that refuse to train in the first place.

    I personally carry a gun without an external safety only because half the guns that have them put them in the most god awful places that are hard to access. Safeties do present one more potential point of failure, even if it is a gun failure and not a training failure.

  14. Don’t forget John Moses Browning didn’t see the need for the manual safeties (grip and lever). They were mandated by the government during the acquisition process.

  15. I own Glocks and I own 1911s with firing pin blocks. But when I carry a 1911 the thumb safety is always in the off position because I prefer to K.I.S.S.

    The only reason I would ever engage it would be if the BG started trying to wrestle me for it.

    I read of a DGU incident on Arfcom where the criminal heard the guy flicking the safety off and it gave him away. Granted, that whole situation was a huge Charlie Foxtrot, but yeah.

  16. I don’t know how much more automatic you can get than the repetitions of driving. Most of us spend more time driving to the range than time with our gun, and that’s only a tiny fraction of our driving. In spite of all that practice, have you ever engaged your starter when the engine was already running? Ever forgotten whether your car was in forward or reverse gear when you started moving? Ever forgotten to release the parking brake before trying to drive away? In a sleep deprived state I once shifted a motorcycle the wrong way while accelerating. I had spent more time on that particular motorcycle than most people will spend shooting in a lifetime.

    So I think practice and muscle memory and automatic behaviors have their limitations. And to me, a manual safety offers very little actual safety benefit relative to the risk of preventing the bang when your life depends on it.


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