Do you have a safety on your EDC Everyday Carry Gun? Why or why not? Have you ever thought about why you choose to carry a firearm with or without a manual external safety on it?
If you haven't thought about why you chose the gun you carry, this is an important article that should get you thinking about your EDC everyday carry gun. This topic is sure to draw very polar opposite opinions from gun owners. That is fine, and I encourage all the readers to weigh in with their comments on all my articles. But first, let's start with the FACTS about your handgun's safety mechanisms:
All modern handguns have internal safeties. These consist of firing pin blocks, drop safeties, magazine disconnects, etc. So when I am speaking about a gun having or not having a safety, I am NOT talking about these internal safeties.
Safeties are a mechanical component of the firearm and should not be relied upon as making the gun “safe.” The ONLY “safe gun” is a gun handled safely by the one using it, regardless of how many safeties it has. Case in point – would you take a firearm, point it at your head and pull the trigger just because the safety was engaged? I sincerely hope your answer is an emphatic NO.
Now that we have the basics down let's talk about what a manual external safety is and its purpose on a handgun.
What Is a Manual External Safety?
Lever/Switch Safety –
When most people hear the term manual external safety, the image that comes to mind is a lever or switch style mechanism on the side of the frame. This type of safety is engaged in one of two positions, either on or off. If the safety is engaged, one can't fire the gun.
Some of these types of safeties can also serve a purpose as a de-cocker. Engaging the safety with this type of configuration places the gun on safe and releases the hammer forward. Guns sometimes have de-cockers only, but these are not considered true safeties.
Backstrap/Grip Safety –
These types of safeties integrate into the gun's backstrap. In the default position, they are not depressed. When the hand grips the gun, the grip gets squeezed, and it disengages the safety. You see this type of safety on popular 1911 handguns and even in some newer polymer guns. It is rare, but sometimes the grip safety is not on the backstrap but rather the front of the pistol grip, such as the HKP7.
Trigger Safety –
These safeties integrate into the trigger shoe itself. This mechanism requires the finger (or another object) to depress a ‘paddle' on the trigger to allow it to move entirely to the rear and fire the cartridge.
How Is The Safety Applied?
While you may focus on whether you should have a manual external safety on your EDC everyday carry gun, an equally important question you should be asking yourself is HOW is the safety engaged/disengaged. There are what I like to refer to as active safeties and passive safeties.
Active Safety –
This type is one that you must manipulate outside of the normal draw-stroke or grip of the gun. For example, the Lever/Switch type safety is one like this. The process to disengage the safety does not have anything to do with the natural gripping of the firearm.
You may be thinking, but I carry a 1911, and I have trained to sweep the safety off as I draw as part of my draw stroke. Yes, that is the proper thing to do, but notice you must train into your draw stroke the action of sweeping the safety to disengage it. While it is a trained movement, this is an example of an active safety because it must actively be engaged/disengaged through deliberate action.
Passive Safety –
This one disengages without performing any deliberate action besides what you would typically do to grip and fire the gun. Examples are your trigger safety and backstrap safety. The trigger safety is naturally disengaged when placing the trigger finger correctly on the trigger and rearward pressure is applied. Similarly, the grip/backstrap safety is disengaged when the shooter obtains a proper grip on the gun.
Note about grip safeties: A special note is you NEED to train with them and understand how they work. I have seen many students shoot their Springfields equipped with a backstrap safety exceptionally well and without malfunction during slow fire. The problem I have seen is while shooting under stress, from weak-handed, retention or unconventional positions, etc., the shooters sometimes don't get a high enough or firm enough grip on the backstrap. What happens is the gun's backstrap/grip safety doesn't disengage. The gun doesn't go bang when they want it to, which is not good in a self-defense incident.
I am not knocking grip safeties. However, except for a 1911, I wouldn't use a gun with one. The reason is the geometry found in the 1911's grip is different than modern striker-fired handguns. All that said, I think they are an acceptable passive safety system, but you absolutely HAVE to understand their vulnerability and train accordingly.
Is my Gun Unsafe?
Here are common questions I hear often:
Isn't it unsafe to carry a gun without a safety? I would answer, Yeah, sure it is. If you disable all the internal safeties built into your firearm and disable your trigger safety, that would be one gun I would not recommend carrying. But if you mean is it unsafe to carry a gun without a manual external lever/switch type safety, the answer is NO.
Isn't the gun more likely to accidentally go off if there is not a safety switch? Nope, because the safety or lack of a safety isn't what makes the gun fire. The USER makes the gun operate. If the user is competent, safe, and aware of what they are doing, they can be just as safe with a firearm without a lever safety, as they would be with one.
I have (and I am sure you have too) seen people with a 1911, which has 2 external safeties, do things that are completely dangerous and unsafe. Those safeties don't prevent negligence. Also, guns don't accidentally go off; someone has to make them go off.
People have accidents, not guns.
Guns sometimes a gun fires when it is not supposed to, and it's due to a mechanical problem. Often it is because someone did some improper gunsmithing work on it.
Sure guns have safety recalls. However, the incidents of these guns harming people are infrequent and usually caught by the company.
What About Drawing a Gun Without A Safety?
“Glock-Leg” it's a thing. I've looked it uplooked it up, and I hear this all the time. It is garbage. The fact that someone shoots themselves in the leg while drawing a firearm is nearly always a training issue and not a gun issue.
During your draw stroke WITH ANY GUN, your finger should never be on the trigger. I remember hearing something about: keeping your finger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard until you decide to shoot.
When someone shoots themselves in the leg, were they following this cardinal safety rule? I don't think so. The gun functioned as intended. However, the user's lack of training, attention, or safety created the problem.
Take that same poorly trained civilian or officer who shot themselves in the leg with their ‘ultra dangerous' Glock while drawing. Now put a firearm with an active, lever/switch type safety in their hand.
Problem solved; they are super safe now.
No need to train or fix the real problem of their finger being on the safety while it was pointed at their leg…right?
If they can't correctly draw their firearm and keep the finger off the trigger while pointing it at themselves, what makes you think that they will suddenly follow all the other safety rules?
We have also added an additional step to a complex draw process.
The fact is they won't become a safer gun handler by putting a safety on their gun. And isn't being a safer and more proficient gun handler what we are striving for?
I am a realist and will acknowledge that some people will not or cannot train enough to fully master a perfect draw stroke and deployment of a firearm. While this should always be the GOAL of everyone who carries a firearm, with tens of millions of firearm carriers in the United States, this will never be the REALITY of ALL carriers.
For these people having a lever-type manual external safety gives them one more layer of protection if they screw up. Again I don't have an issue with the manual safety for these people. However, I will again stress not trusting in the gun's manual safety to keep you safe.
The Effects on Draw With/Without an Active Safety:
We carry an everyday carry gun EDC for the unfortunate situation where death or serious bodily injury is imminent. For this reason, we use it under extreme circumstances. So the quicker it can be deployed, the better. In other words … seconds count.
These life-or-death situations are incredibly high stress and often times chaotic. Unless you train your body to operate under pressure and create muscle memory in your primary responses to an attack, your mind can quickly become over-stimulated and shut down. Call it ‘freezing up' or whatever you want, but the truth is, it is an awful place to be. The more things you ask your mind and body to do, the more opportunity there is for something to go wrong.
Sweeping a safety off is just one of these things. Is it a huge thing? No, but like everything in life, there is a balance of pros and cons. If you are confident in your trigger finger discipline and you have a good holster and draw stroke, introducing anything else into the equation may not be something you want to do.
Conversely, you may weigh your options and say, ‘I just don't feel comfortable carrying a firearm without a safety lever.' That is fine. In fact, many companies make the same model gun with and without a manual external safety lever.
My Two Cents:
I choose to carry a firearm for everyday carry EDC without an active manual external safety. I practice my draw continually, and my trigger finger discipline is ingrained, so my finger isn't accidentally on the trigger. My finger is on the frame of toy guns, nail guns, drills … pretty much anything that has a pistol grip. My subconscious default is – off the trigger. It takes a conscious decision to put my finger on the trigger.
What about if you carry a 1911 for your EDC. Great! If you like the 1911, you obviously will be carrying it ‘cocked and locked.' In other words, with a round in the chamber, hammer back and safety engaged.
Train sweeping your safety off as part of your draw stroke. Don't cheat yourself and leave the safety off when practicing drawing, merely for quickness sake. The same thing goes for the Beretta 92 and other DA/SA owners. If you constantly practice single-action shots with your safety off but carry with the safety engaged, you won't perform intuitively in a real-life scenario. You will draw your gun, with the safety engaged, and you will be thrown off.
Whichever type of gun you carry, dry fire and practice your draw thousands of times. Video record yourself drawing. Don't just try for quick times. Instead, analyze your draw. See when your finger is moving to the trigger. Is it while you are muzzling yourself? Then work until each time you draw, your finger stays off the trigger.
Again, as far as backstrap safeties are concerned, I like them. However, because of the issues I have seen on the range during close-quarters drills, I recommend that you spend extra training time getting used to how it functions if you have one on your firearm. One of the best things you can do is understand how the malfunction happens. In other words, create the situation where your grip slides down a bit too far, or your weak hand doesn't wholly depress the backstrap safety. This way, you can see exactly how this problem happens, and you can address it in your training.
What about carrying a gun that has an active external safety lever but just leaving it disengaged. While this is an option, I would, generally speaking, advise against it. For the simple reason that the possibility, however unlikely it may be, for that safety to accidentally engage without your knowledge could cause an issue when needing to fire shots immediately.
Additionally, having an active safety lever on your EDC everyday carry gun might start you down a road of sometimes carrying with the safety engaged, and sometimes not, which is similar to sometimes carrying with a round in the chamber and sometimes not. Both of these scenarios open the door for you not to know the condition of your firearm, confuse the condition of your gun under stress, and could cost you your life.
What you ultimately use for your EDC should be an extremely personal and well-educated choice. If you choose to carry a firearm with or without an active manual external safety, make sure you decide based on facts and not out of unjustified paranoia.
Above all – remember no safety or number of safeties in the world will make that gun safe. It is YOU, your sober actions, and thorough training that will allow you to deploy that firearm when you need to safely. If you need help finding a quality firearms instructor who can provide you the necessary training you need, look no further than this article that describes how to identify a good instructor.
Here Is a Bonus. Remember This Guy?
Most likely, you recognize the guy in the photo below. You have seen the video of the guy shooting himself in the leg while drawing from a holster and attempting to do some close-quarters retention shooting. Or maybe, you heard about him. Here is the video that many people use to point out how important it is to have an active manual external safety on your firearm or why Glock-type guns with only a trigger safety are dangerous. Yes, this is the video …
… the only problem is that the guy wasn't using a Glock or even a striker-fired gun with only a trigger safety. He was using a Kimber Pro Carry 1911. Equipped with … you guessed it, TWO external safeties. Here is a link to a follow-up video the ‘I just shot myself' guy posted one year after his incident. Instead of watching this video and saying, ‘if he had a safety on his gun that would not have happened,' you should be saying, ‘his finger should not have been on the trigger until he pointed the gun toward the target and he was going to squeeze the trigger.'
Keep training and stay safe.