Saturday, February 11, 2012

Handgun Selection: Part II Action

The action of a weapon is also critically important in selecting a handgun. The action determines how a weapon is fired and involves the trigger, safety(ies), and sometimes a de-cocker.

Many people will get confused when considering the action of a gun and assume that a gun that lacks external safeties is less safe. It is actually the operator who determines how safe a gun is and not the mechanics of the weapon. Alternatively, the presence of an external safety doesn’t make the gun safer either as many people have accidentally shot themselves with guns that have external safeties.

Once an action or “platform” is selected, users should try to stick to that platform. This decreases the need to train to different platforms which would increase confusion and decrease the effectiveness of muscle memory once the adrenalin kicks in. In short: keep it simple.

While there are advantages and disadvantages it is always the shooter who must train to that action and be safe with it. Here are my thoughts on the most popular actions available...


A Sig Sauer P226

Double Action / Single Action is an action where the weapon is carried with the hammer down and creates a heavy trigger pull, usually in the 10lbs range. Subsequent shots are in single action with the hammer back which creates a lighter trigger in the 3-5lbs range.

Since the weapon is safest in DA, most of these guns will have a de-cocker which allows the operator to de-cock the hammer without pulling the trigger. The de-cocker insures the internal safeties are still “on” when the weapon is being de-cocked which limits the possibility of negligent (unintentional) discharge.

Some of these weapons will also have a safety in addition to the de-cocker, and sometimes the safety is integrated into the de-cocker as in the Beretta 92F (M9).

While I am not a fan of external safeties, DA/SA without safeties is my favorite action. This is an intuitive action that is easy for any shooter learn…
  1. Point gun
  2. Pull trigger

DA/SA also gives the operator the ability to double-strike a round in the event of malfunction.

DAODouble Action Only is very similar to DA/SA except the gun does not have a single action. Each trigger pull is the same weight and vary by manufacturer/model.

DAO guns may or may not have external safeties.

The strength of this action is the predictability in trigger pull and weight.


The Glock G17, the most popular striker fired gun

The striker action is hammerless and most guns lack external safeties.

While this action provides the shooter with a consistent trigger pull and weight, the weapon must be charged to be ready and is generally in the 7-8lbs range. There is little/no mechanical feedback to the operator when the trigger is about to “break” (i.e. fire the round) as opposed to a double action where the operation can feel the trigger take up.

The striker action is great for new shooters but it creates some safety challenges.


A Sig Sauer version of the 1911

Single Action Only is the oldest action available in a handgun. It is the most simple and easiest to manufacturer as it lacks a mechanism to bring the hammer from the forward position to the back position—the operator must manually charge the weapon.

All SAO guns have external safeties as they must be carried “cocked and locked” (charged) to be ready. The 1911 traditionally has two safeties; a handgrip safety and a lever on the slide.

There is a lot of speculation that this platform is less safe because it must be carried “cocked and locked.” That simply is not true. Many people have carried SAO guns safely for decades without incident. Even more foolish are the shooter who carries this platform with the hammer down—requiring more time to be ready in a SD situation. Not to mention that the trigger must be “thumbed down” with a chambered round increasing the risk of negligent discharge.

SAO is my least favorite action for SD because of it’s complexity to new shooters.

1. Pick the action that works best for you
2. Stick to that platform if obtaining other weapons
3. The DA/SA action is, in my opinion, the best for SD

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