The Case Against Mechanical Safeties

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 9 months ago

PDN:

Here’s why I don’t even like these devices being called “safeties.” I started shooting at a very young age and took my hunter’s safety course when I was eight years old. In that course we were taught that mechanical safeties are by definition “mechanical devices prone to failure.” We went on to learn the basic rules of firearms safety and that you should not rely on a mechanical safety. This has stuck with me throughout my years of shooting and even more so now that I am an instructor.

Many people have the misconception that these mechanical devices automatically make a gun “safe” and therefore you can let your guard down about the firearms safety rules once they are engaged. This leads to complacency and dangerous behavior, and goes even further when people question firearms not having these mechanical devices when children are around. The thought that this mechanical lever or button is going to prevent a child from firing a gun if they gain access to it is far from reality. But due to the name of these devices, uninformed people assume they instantly make a gun “safe.”

Due to these misconceptions, I believe that calling mechanical safeties a “safety” actually leads to firearms being more dangerous – the idea that once you “turn the safety on” you can ignore the standard rules of firearms handling. I have seen people get upset about being reprimanded for pointing a gun at someone, with the reasoning, “Well, the safety was on.” Some people have even been upset that anyone would question them about safety. Following the rules of safe gun handling does not end because you utilize a mechanical safety. Instead, if you choose to own or carry a firearm that requires the use of a mechanical safety, such as a single-action semi-automatic or double/single one in single-action mode, you should make an even greater effort to follow the basic safety rules of gun handling due to these firearms having more likelihood of an accidental discharge if you forget to engage the mechanical safety.

This argument makes no sense to me.  It’s like telling an engineer that he shouldn’t perform his designs with margin, rather, just learn not ever to make any errors or simplifying assumptions or engineering judgments.  I’m with him on ensuring that having a “safety” doesn’t lead you to ignore the rules of gun safety.  But my emphasis would be to follow the rules of gun safety regardless of the various and sundry mechanical features of your firearm, and if you want a mechanical safety, then have one.

I’ll keep my traditional 1911, thank you very much.  To his credit he does address the light trigger when the hammer is cocked on the 1911 and seems, haltingly and begrudgingly, to accept the 1911 safety.  But what about striker fired pistols and their light trigger pull?  The author spends a lot of time on double-action semi-automatics and the heavy trigger pull for the first shot, but when he addresses the obvious question of the light trigger pull for single-action striker fired pistols, unlike with the 1911 (where he accepts the safety) he simply rehearses the rules of gun safety again.

I think he wants his cake and eat it too.  Or not to offend 1911 owners, or something else I don’t understand.  Like I said, I’ll stick with my 1911, or an internal hammer pistol (FN makes models that have internal hammers).  My FN 5.7 has a safety and is an internal hammer pistol.  As for reaching the safeties of either my 1911s or my FN, I don’t see it as a problem since it is right where one of my fingers (or thumb) is.  Sure, it’s something to practice, but I don’t see this as a reason to give up guns with safeties.


Comments

  1. On November 27, 2017 at 9:39 am, merlin said:

    “mechanical devices prone to failure.”
    and that nonsense has been around for years.
    the problem is … it is nonsense.
    the mechanical safety is no more “prone to failure” than any other part of the firearm.
    and guess what … firearms work.

  2. On November 27, 2017 at 9:45 am, merlin said:

    “mechanical devices prone to failure.”
    addendum.
    anyone teaching that is an idiot that should not be teaching firearms handling to anyone.
    true … you should not sacrifice proper gun handling because you have a manual safety.
    and you should not rely on the manual safety to substitute for properly handling the firearm.
    no more than saying “i have my seat belts on … therefore i do not have to drive my car safely.”
    but the safety is not the problem … the gun handling is.

  3. On November 27, 2017 at 11:55 am, Pat Hines said:

    None of my SIG pistols have a safety other than my finger. I like that.

  4. On November 27, 2017 at 6:10 pm, Archer said:

    My XD has the grip and trigger “safeties”. They work fine, but the real “safety” is between my ears and on my hip — in the form of a proper holster that completely obscures the trigger.

    I have minimal concerns about carrying, even with small children (complete with grabby hands) in tow.

  5. On November 27, 2017 at 6:20 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    @Archer,

    I understand. I once had an XDm (traded it in). It had a grip safety + a “brush-guard” for the trigger (technically, they refer to it only as a pseudo-safety).

    But some of the “I don’t like safeties” purists won’t even accept grip safeties (beaver tails) either. Because they may break or some such nonsense.

    My main point is that this whole argument is stupid and doesn’t give deference to the concept of defense in depth. The four rules of gun safety are themselves defense in depth. If you trust your finger enough that there shouldn’t be a need for anything else, then forget the concept of muzzle discipline.

    But they won’t, because they accept defense in depth for gun safety. And if you accept defense in depth, then there is no reason NOT to accept some forms of safeties for your guns (grips or brush guards). If you’re going to violate the rules of gun safety, then a brush guard won’t stop you from killing someone. I think they are just trying to make an article where there isn’t one.

  6. On November 27, 2017 at 9:01 pm, Henry said:

    I think his point is simply that naming that device a “safety” fairly begs the ignorant to misinterpret and misunderstand the limits to its value. I can’t argue with it.

  7. On November 28, 2017 at 6:26 am, BadBigdog said:

    I understand his sentiment and agree with it. I’ve always believed the four gun safety rules are inviolate–you never, ever violate them.

    (Incidentally, the gun safety rules need to be phrased properly so that it is reasonable never to violate them. As an example, people often assert one gun safety rule as “never point the gun at something you’re not willing to destroy” — really? How do you transport your gun to the range? Are you willing to destroy the inside of your car? Where do you keep the gun in your home? Are you willing to destroy the wall, ceiling, or inside of your safe? This rule should be phrased as, “Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.” What constitutes safe will depend on the circumstances, and in some cases, may even mean pointing it at someone if they are a threat.)

    If you never violate the gun safety rules, then you don’t need to worry about a mechanical safety device. It’s a bonus. If you rely on a mechanical safety device for safety, it can fail and that can suck. That’s his point–and I think it’s a valid one.

    Of course, these four gun safety rules aren’t the only rules that affect safety. Others are out there, but they aren’t the primary rules. These include: use mechanical safety devices, keep the gun unloaded (if not relying on it for self defense), keep the gun clean and well maintained to reduce the chance of something going wrong, etc.

  8. On November 28, 2017 at 9:33 pm, Ned said:

    Since when was a safety on a gun reason to violate gun handling rules? Who even believes that?

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You are currently reading "The Case Against Mechanical Safeties", entry #18112 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Firearms,Guns and was published November 26th, 2017 by Herschel Smith.

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