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Friday, April 17, 2009

"Safety" features on firearms

I read a blog this morning and the author had just bought a new Springfield XD and was going on about it. They are fine handguns from what I've seen and heard. Then the author got around to listing the "features" on this handgun. Among many fine attributes were 1. a "loaded chamber indicator", 2. a "cocking indicator" and 3. a "grip safety". Oh boy.

I understand that manufacturers have lawyers on staff that tell them to add all sorts of things to their products to reduce the companies liability. Great. We all suffer.

I'll attack these things in order.

A "loaded chamber indicator" is one of the worst things I can think of to add to any firearm. Have the people at Springfield forgotten about the Four Rules? How about Rule Number One: All firearms are always loaded. Let me repeat that for the liability lawyers:

ALL firearms are ALWAYS loaded.

Am I supposed to start being stupid because a little bump of metal on the side of a handgun told me that the gun isn't loaded?

Would you really pick up an XD, feel to see if the little bump is sticking out, and if it isn't then point the handgun at your spouse or child and press the trigger? Do you trust a mechanical device that much? I don't.

Is a chamber check that hard to perform? If you don't have the strength in your hands and arms to do a chamber check then maybe you should find a good training class and learn a different method of performing the check, or maybe you should carry a different kind of handgun that you can check.

I realize that the "loaded chamber indicator" is just a little bump of metal on the extractor that is painted red and supposed to stick out when a cartridge (or empty case) is in the chamber and supposed to not stick out when the chamber is empty. That strikes me as particularly dangerous to inexperienced and untrained/inadequately trained shooters. Well trained and experienced users will ignore it, but the inexperienced may think it is proof that the handgun is safe.

Far better would be a bump of metal painted red and permanently attached to the gun so it always sticks out indicating that the handgun is always loaded.


A "cocking indicator" is just silly. What purpose does it serve? Really, what does it do? If you believe that all firearms are always loaded then it really doesn't matter what the little button on the back tells you and it really doesn't matter if it is cocked or not. Would you pick up a firearm, check that the cocking indicator shows it isn't cocked, and then think it is ok to point it at your foot and press the trigger? I wouldn't.

My understanding is that on this particular handgun the indicator is a hole in the back of the slide that is supposed to let the back of the striker stick out when it is cocked. Seems to me a good place for dirt and sand and crud to get in and tie up the striker. That would be a bad thing.

I don't like having extra holes in my stuff that can let crud in. I took a Series 80 Colt to a class once and found out about that sort of thing. The Series 80 Colt has a cocking indicator in the form of an exposed hammer, but my problem was with the firing pin blocking thing built into the slide. It has two little levers that are driven off the trigger mechanism and the upper lever pushes up a plunger in the slide that blocks the firing pin. It is often criticized because all the extra linkages add drag and make the factory triggers on those handguns worse than they would be without the mechanism. My problem was that some fouling, sand, dirt, dust, or all of the above got in between the plunger and the slide and brought everything to a complete stop. The plunger was stuck in the down position and the gun could not be fired. Not the best thing to have on a device that you might have to bet your life on. I took it off the line and with the proper application of a Leatherman tool and some oil I got it going again. I don't like extra holes in stuff.

The real purpose for a firing pin blocker is to try and prevent an unintentional discharge if the firearm is dropped. Ok, but I'd rather just keep the a fresh firing pin spring in mine. I won't give you the "just don't drop it" line. If you haven't dropped a gun then you haven't used and handled them enough. There are two kinds of shooters in the world, those who have dropped a gun and those who will.


The grip safety is not needed any more than the other "safety features". I know the M1911 has one, but as I recall it was not on the original design. It was added later at the requist of the US Army. I remember reading that it was actually requested for the cavalry. Not the mechanised troops we think of today but the kind that rode horses. Someone got the bright idea that men on horseback needed a grip safety and that's why we have it today. I don't know if that is true, but I do know that the P-35 "Hi-Power" doesn't have a grip safety. (A side note on the P-35: most of them have an even sillier "safety" in the form of a magazine disconnector, which I'll get to in a momment.)

So far I've never missed pressing the grip safety on a M1911, which proves nothing. Surely nobody has ever been in a fight and gotten a poor grip on their handgun!!! Say it ain't so! I prefer not having one. If you follow the Four Rules then you really don't need ANY safety.

Safety is between your ears, not between your hands.

Show me a tool that is foolproof and I'll show you a tool that only a fool would want. I'll also give you good odds that the "features" that make it "foolproof" will mess up when you most need it and it won't work.


Just to show that I'm not picking on SA or the XD in particular I'll add a couple of other "safety features" that should never be put on any firearm.

A magazine disconnector is one of the worst things in the world.

Why would I want to fire a gun without the magazine in it? Well, maybe I lost all my magazines and a single shot is better than no shot at all. Maybe I thought the fight was over and I was in the middle of recharging my firearm when the bad guy gets back up and starts to attack again (that happened to me in a training class and could happen on the street). Maybe when I drew my handgun I accidentally hit the mag release and that lovely scraping sound is my mag moving down the sidewalk (that happened to an LEO I met and he was suddenly trying to arrest a felon with a single shot handgun. Good thing for him he didn't have a magazine disconnector). I was in another training class and when I was moving through a tight doorway I banged into the frame with my hand and the impact pushed my finger from it's normal position to a new spot on the mag release, which worked as intended. At that point the bad guy made his appearance. I hit him with the round in the chamber, then reloaded. The sound of a loaded mag clunking on the floor is scary.

Built in key locks should be banned. There is no excuse for allowing that sort of thing to be built into any firearm. In the best case they do no harm. In the worst case they can tie up a tool that you need to work and you may not be able to fix it in the time you have. Google up "keylock failure" or some variation of that and you will start to get examples. Not a high proportion of the total firearms out there with built in locks, but if you are going to live by probability then you don't even need to carry a handgun because it is statistically unlikely you will ever need it.

Crossbolt and tang safeties on lever action rifles. Some idiot came up with this idea. Or maybe it was a guy with a bunch of leverguns and he wanted to increase the value of them by making newer leverguns less desireable. Sure it is a little dangerous lowering the hammer from full cock to half cock. That's why you follow Rule Number Two. If it is pointed in a safe direction it won't hurt anyone if the hammer slips out from under your thumb.

There is a difference between an unintentional discharge and a negligent discharge and it usually has to do with where the firearm is pointing.

I don't really have a problem with the little cable locks that are not actually part of the firearm. If you have several firearms that you are not going to use for a while, especially ones that you wouldn't normally use for emergencies, like target guns and skeet shooting guns, then I don't have a problem with them. If you lose the key then you will have time to go get a bolt cutter and remove the offending thing.

I want my tools to work. The one's like my lawn mower, that are not for use in emergencies, I don't care so much about the silly "safety" things added to them. If they fail I can probably fix them and if it takes 15 minutes or 2 hours then probably nobody will die because of it. However, I don't want to be messing around with my defensive tools for 15 minutes if I need one.

What about children at home? Well, for one thing, if your handgun is on your belt then it won't be where kids can play with it, right? There are two problems with having your defensive firearm on the nightstand or in a drawer. 1. Your kids can find it and if they don't follow your training there will be trouble and 2. You have to go and get it if you need it. The advantage to handguns is that they are handy and you can carry them around. If you have to go get it then it isn't handy. If I have to go get a firearm then I will get a rifle. The handgun is for when I don't have time to go get a rifle.

Another thing: all children should be well aquainted with firearms and firearm safety. As a parent you can best judge when yours are mature enough to go shooting and you should take them as soon as they are ready. You should be willing to show them your firearms and let them handle them under your watchful eye. That will take the mystery away and it gives you a chance to teach and reinforce the safety rules. One extra rule for kids should be "You can look at and handle firearms when Mom or Dad is there to help, but you cannot look at or handle firearms when Mom or Dad is not there." You also ought to have some type of locking cabinet.

1 comment:

Paladin said...

+1 all the above.

I'd also add that magazine disconnects can be a pain in older guns when it comes to simply changing mags. My Star BM wouldn't drop full or empty mags freely until I removed the disconnect entirely. I would have to push the magazine release button, and then manually pull the magazine out. The disconnect added enough friction to the magazine to cause it to hang.


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