When selecting a handgun, whether for target shooting, home defense, or concealed carry, you’ll need to know about the types of safety features the gun has. Semi-automatic handguns are generally made with a manual safety, a decocker, or neither, and the way each style functions is quite different. Understanding these differences is crucial for purchasing a gun that fits your needs and is comfortable for you to handle.
For self defense and concealed carry, a decocker is the better choice. The gun will fire when the trigger is pulled intentionally without any button presses or lever pulls to slow you down. A striker-fired pistol with no safety or decocker is just as safe and effective of a choice.
In this article, we will break down some popular guns that have a manual safety and some that have a decocker, and discuss which type of weapon is best suited for certain uses. We will also consider the option of no safety on pistols and discuss why this may be a good choice for you.
Some people will refer to a decocker as a type of safety. This is made even more confusing for some by the term “safety decocker”, which describes a type of pistol decocker. It is important to understand that a decocker is not a safety; a decocker is simply a control (usually a type of lever), that will bring the hammer of a pistol down without firing the pistol.
This is not a type of safety, because after using the decocker, the gun is still fully capable of firing in double-action immediately afterward. This is most effective in a self-defense scenario, as it does not require remembering to disengage a manual safety in a high-pressure—life or death—situation.
The job of a decocker is simply to change the hammer position from single action to double action, making it harder to pull the trigger for the first shot and therefore safer to holster. For a gun that shoots its first shot double action and subsequent shots single action, in order to get one in the chamber, you will need to rack the slide. Once you do this, you can add an additional round to your magazine and have the weapons full capacity loaded. However, you will also have the hammer cocked to single action, making this a dangerous weapon to concealed carry; simply use the decocker in this scenario and you will have your gun at full capacity and safe to carry.
The Sig P226 is a popular gun with a decocker that firearms enthusiasts stand behind. The decocker is located above the mag release and in front of the slide release. Once loaded and decocked, it can be safely holstered and will fire when you pull the trigger.
Manual or External Safety
A safety disables the gun’s ability to do pretty much anything. It is simple and effective; a lever or button press will render your weapon a brick until further notice—as long as the safety is functioning.
For competition shooting or plinking, this may be a good choice. It’s arguably just as safe as a decocker, effectively, and it’s simple. However, If you want to go this route, you’ll have to train with this type of weapon for a long time. Disengaging the safety might slip your mind in the heat of a life or death situation, and your gun is not going to do you any good if it can’t do its job.
Arguably the most famous gun with a manual safety is the 1911. It has a thumb safety at the rear of the gun, in front of the hammer, and requires a downward thumb press before firing, assuming the gun was cocked before engaging the safety. Some people have spent years of training perfecting the art of shooting a 1911 pistol and for them, disengaging the safety is second nature. For the rest of us, a decocker is probably a safer, better option.
A safety decocker is different from a safety; when engaged, the mechanism both disables the gun’s ability to fire and decocks the hammer. In order to fire the gun, you will have to disengage the safety decocker and either pull a long trigger pull for double action, or manually cock the hammer with your thumb and shoot in single action.
The problem with this, along with a standard manual safety, is that you have to remember to disengage the safety in a high-stress self-defense scenario. Most professionals will tell you that this takes hundreds of hours of training to get it engrained, and that unless you’re already familiar with shooting this type of weapon through either police or military training, it isn’t the best choice for self defense or concealed carry.
The Beretta 92fs is a popular pistol with a safety decocker. Toward the back of the gun, you can engage the safety and decock the hammer at the same time. Once disengaged, the gun can be fired.
It’s not uncommon, especially for striker-fired, compact pistols that are readily available on today’s market, to have no manual safety. It’s important to understand that this by no means implies that they are not safe.
Most of these guns have enough trigger pull weight to prevent accidental discharge. On top of that, they usually have a trigger safety of some type. This is a special joint in the trigger that will usually prevent the gun from firing unless pulled by a human finger, deliberately.
In terms of concealed carry, a gun with no manual safety is just as safe and effective as a gun with a decocker.
When choosing between a decocker or a safety, a gun with a decocker is a better choice for concealed carry and self defense for most people. A gun with neither option is also an effective choice.
When going to your firearms dealer to try out different pistols for fit, try one of each. The more you understand firearms controls, the more you may be of the opinion that the simpler method is the better method. Above all, having a weapon that is safe and will fire when you need it most is your ultimate goal, and by keeping a weapon holstered that requires nothing more than an intentional trigger pull, you are more likely to be able to use the weapon as needed.
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