Do you have a safety on your Every Day Carry (EDC) firearm, why or why not? Have you ever thought about why you choose to carry a firearm with a manual external safety on it?
If you haven't, then this is an important article that should get you thinking about your EDC. 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 speaking about the internal safeties that keep the gun from firing without the trigger being squeezed.
Furthermore, safeties are a mechanical component of the firearm, and should not be relied upon as making the “gun safe.” The ONLY way a gun is safe, is if it is handled in a safe manner by the person who is using it, regardless of how many safeties are engaged. 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 emphatic NO.
Now that we have the basics down let's talk about what a manual external safety is and what its purpose is 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, the gun cannot be fired. Some of these types of safeties can also serve a purpose as a de-cocker. Engaging the safety with this type of configuration not only places the gun on safe but moves the hammer forward. Just to throw a little confusion into the mix, there are guns with de-cockers that do not engage any safety mechanism (but these are not considered safeties).
Backstrap/Grip Safety –
These types of safeties are integrated into the backstrap of the gun. In the default position, they are not depressed and need to be squeezed in order to disengage and allow the gun to function. This is what you see on the popular 1911 handgun, and even in some newer models of polymer guns. There are a few types of grip safeties that are not on the backstrap, but rather the front of the pistol grip, such as the HKP7.
Trigger Safety –
This safety is integrated into the trigger shoe itself. This mechanism requires the finger (or another object) to depress a ‘paddle' on the trigger in order to allow it to move fully to the rear and fire the cartridge.
How Is The Safety Applied?
While you may focus on the question, IF you should have a manual external safety on your 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 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, as part of my draw stroke, to sweep the safety off as I draw. 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 a deliberate action.
Passive Safety –
This is one that is disengaged without having to perform any deliberate action besides what you would normally do to grip and fire the gun. Examples are your trigger safety, and back strap safety. The trigger safety is naturally disengaged when the trigger finger is properly placed 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 I wanted to make about grip safeties, is that you NEED to train with them and understand how they work. I have seen many students shoot their Springfield's equipped with a with back strap safety exceptionally well and without malfunction during slow fire. The problem I have seen is while shooting under stress, from weak handed, retention or unorthodox positions, etc., the shooters sometimes don't get a high enough or strong enough grip on the backstrap. This causes the gun's backstrap/grip safety to engage and prevent them from firing the handgun. This usually occurs during the above-mentioned scenarios and especially during follow-up shots.
I am not knocking grip safeties, and think they are a great passive safety system, but you absolutely HAVE to understand their vulnerability and train accordingly.
Is my Gun Unsafe?
I have been asked the following questions many times:
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 that have a 1911 which has 2 external safeties, do things that are completely dangerous and unsafe. Those safeties don't prevent stupid and irresponsible actions. Also, guns don't accidentally go off.
People have accidents, not guns.
Guns that fire when they are not supposed to because of a mechanical problem, are usually guns that have been messed around with by an unqualified gunsmith. There are some guns that have had safety recalls, but the incidents of these guns harming people are extremely rare and usually caught by the company before causing a serious issue.
What About Drawing a Gun Without A Safety?
“Glock-Leg, it's a thing, look it up.” I hear this all the time and it is garbage. The fact that someone shoots themselves in the leg while drawing a firearm, is 99% an issue of training and 1% an issue of how that gun works.
During your draw stroke WITH ANY GUN, your finger should never be on the trigger. I remember hearing something about keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire, does anyone else remember that too? When someone shoots themselves in the leg, were they following this cardinal safety rule? I don't think so. The gun functioned exactly as it was intended to, but 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 right? 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?
Well, if their skills were such as they couldn't properly draw their firearm without having their finger off the trigger while it was pointed at themselves, what makes you think that they will suddenly follow all the other safety rules? What makes anyone think this person will train an additional step into that complicated movement of drawing their firearm, presenting it on a target and placing well-aimed shots into the attacker? The fact is they won't become a safer gun handler by putting a safety on their gun, and being a safer and more proficient gun handler is what we all should be training for.
So where does the 1% of liability fall on the fact that the firearm didn't have an active external safety? 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.
The Effects on Draw With/Without an Active Safety:
An EDC gun is carried for the unfortunate situation where death or serious bodily injury is imminent. For this reason, it is often being used under extreme circumstances, and the quicker it can be deployed the better. In other words … seconds count.
Also, these life-or-death situations are extremely high stress and often times chaotic. Unless you train your body to operate under stress and create muscle memory in your basic 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 awfully bad 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.' Totally acceptable, response as well. In fact, many companies make the same model gun with and without a manual external safety lever.
My Two Cents:
My opinion, I would prefer carrying a firearm for EDC without an active manual external safety. I have practiced my draw literally tens of thousands of times, and my trigger finger discipline is so ingrained, I keep my finger straight and along the frame whether the gun is loaded or not. 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 I carry a 1911 for my EDC. Great! If you like the 1911 you obviously are going to be carrying it ‘cocked and locked' or 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. Same thing goes for the Beretta 92, and other DA/SA owners. If you are always practicing single action shots with your safety off, but carry with the safety engaged and the hammer forward, what good is that going to do you in a real-life scenario when you draw your gun and it has its safety engaged and is in DA mode?
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, analyze your draw. See when your finger is moving to the trigger. Is it while you are muzzling yourself? Then work and work until it is an absolute, your finger is off the trigger until your firearm is pointed at the threat and you're deciding to pull 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 if you have one on your firearm, you spend extra training time getting used to how it functions. 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 completely 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 be accidentally engaged without your knowledge, could cause an issue when needing to fire shots immediately.
Additionally, having an active safety lever on your EDC 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 to not know the condition of your firearm, confuse the condition of your firearm 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 chose to carry a firearm with or without an active manual external safety, make sure you make the decision based on facts and not out of unjustified paranoia.
Above all – remember no safety, or number of safeties in the world is going to make that gun safe. It is YOU, your sober actions and thorough training that will allow you to safely deploy that firearm when you need to. 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. This is the video that a ton of people use to point out how important it is to have an active manual external safety on your firearm, or why Glock type firearms with only a trigger safety are dangerous. Yes, this is the video …
… 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, which is 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 the gun was oriented toward the target and he was going to squeeze the trigger.'
Keep training and stay safe.