Manual Safeties and Handguns

Let’s talk a bit today about manual safeties? Do we need them? Do they make sense?

Hammer Fired Handguns (DAO and SA/DA) and Manual Safeties

My Ruger SR1911
Yes the safety is off because I had just cleared it.

I’ll admit the 1911 and its Single Action Only trigger is probably my favorite platform for a handgun. While detractors may cry that it has underwhelming capacity, is too heavy, and is simply out classed by more modern polymer handguns I can’t tear myself completely away from the old 1911. This little beauty sits beside me as I type up this article.

Now one of the many things that someone who’s not inducted into the cult of Master Browning will point out is the manual safety. Why do you need it? Are you concerned about having an issue with taking it off in the heat of the moment?

Not really. Here’s why: I train for it. My natural gripping of the gun and draw will automatically disengage the safety. In fact a proper grip on a 1911 that’s the right size for your hands should naturally disengage both safeties, grip and thumb. I’ve done so much dry and range practice with my 1911 that it’s weirder not to have the safety around. Because I believe in the idea of reusability of training, that your training should be applicable on as many weapons platforms as possible, I spend more time on the 1911, so if there is a manual safety like on a CZ-75, it clicks off naturally and I don’t have to worry. If I switch to a gun with no safety, my grip stays the same and it does not matter.

The CZ 75 - Image via cz-usa.com
The CZ 75 – Image via cz-usa.com

I know there are many out there who look to the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle, talk about gross motor skills under stress and see a manual safety as just one more thing in the way between you and a working firearm. Yes, it is a valid point, but one that can be trained around. I made the decision to carry a handgun with a manual external safety and because of that choice I accept that I will need to train more with that safety. It’s a trade off, but I have found that the 1911 was the most accurate pistol for me out of the box when compared to longer triggers on striker fired handguns. I appreciate the light, short trigger and I accept that it requires dry practice to instil the necessary muscle memory to use the manual safety under stress. However, the way I train is to have the thumb safety off before the gun is fully drawn.

Striker Fired Handguns (DAO) and Manual Safeties

Ruger SR 40
Ruger SR 40: How not to add a manual safety – Image via ruger.com

So in a single action or double action handgun a manual safety make sense. A light trigger in single action needs to have some kind of safety, but what about striker fired, double action only, guns like the SR series, of which I own a SR40, or the recent Ruger American with a manual safety. What is the point? There’s no light trigger to “make safe” and the idea of “confusing” someone who just grabbed your gun with a safety is not something I’d put my money on.

In the case of the SR Series, I’ll admit, I don’t get it. The safety is undersized, poorly placed, and not in a spot where you can “ride” it to disengage it as you grip the gun. However the recent, Ruger American with a manual safety fixed the very issue I had with the safety of the SR Series. Look at it, it’s big and it’s going to disengage as you grip the pistol if you are training for one to be there. So despite it being “just one more safety” I don’t have a problem with it. It does not add anything to the functionality of the gun by making the trigger lighter or with a better reset. But it does dovetail nicely into my existing training.

Ruger American Manual Safety
Ruger figures out how to do a manual safety right – Image via ruger.com

What about Baretta’s?

Beretta’s M9 series and handguns such as the Smith and Wesson Model 39, 59, and the 5900 series of handguns present an interesting issue. Instead of mounting the safety in a position that can be naturally disengaged by gripping the gun with a “thumbs forward” grip it’s mounted on the slide. Admittedly is something that someone like myself, who has spent so much time with 1911 style safeties, might run into issues with. I don’t carry a M9 regularly but if I did, I would train for it, even if I elected to carry it with the safety off. Again spending time with the firearm that you are possibly going to be trusting your life to is the best thing you can do. While I see the Second Amendment as a right for all citizens, I’d strongly discourage people from just buying and handgun, getting a CCW, and never training with it. While the M9 series and other similar firearms are great weapons and have served the US Military the world over they are not something I’d carry every day because I’d have to switch up my training to accommodate for them.

So Do We Need Them?

Yes, and no. Manual safeties make sense on Single Action Only (SAO) and Single Action/Double Action (SA/DA) handguns because of the ability to carry such guns “cocked and locked”. Giving the gun a short, light, trigger. But not so much on Double Action Only (DAO) guns. However for someone like me who trains for a safety to be there, in an easy and natural to disengage position, it does not really matter much. At the end of the day, if you are going to have a safety on your handgun, train for it! If you are going to be carrying a firearm you should be familiar with it and training with it as often as possible. While I don’t think we all need to be high-speed, low drag, spec-ops gun fighters, you should be familiar with the manual of arms for your carry gun. Train often and train to be able to use the widest number of guns you can proficiently. Given the ubiquity of the 1911 platform and handguns with safeties in similar positions, such as the CZ-75 and Browning Hi Power it makes sense for me to be able to train in a way that allows me to be familiar with the largest number of firearms that I’m likely to come across. No one person can train to be 100% proficient with every gun out there. Even the top shooters have one set up that they favor and are the most familiar with.

At the end of the day I’m neither the end all be all of firearms knowledge, nor do I pretend to be, I’m a gun nerd who’s built up a sizeable bit of knowledge that’s all. It does not make me an expert, guru, or master, and I will never stop learning. If nothing else I’d encourage you to find what works for you and for what you own. For me the interchangeability of training on one platform to another is important to me so I train for a safety to be there. That way if a firearm I pick up does not have one like a Glock or a M&P, I can still be proficient with that gun. Because my every day carry has one and I made the decision because it worked for me. Your mileage may and probably will vary.

I’d like to hear from you in the comments below. What do you think of manual safeties? Do you have a gun with one? What kind of training do you do with your every day carry? Sound off below.