People who carry firearms for self-defense seem to fall into one of two camps: those who like manual safeties and those who don’t. And the proliferation of firearms that fall somewhere in between these two extremes makes the issue even more confusing, especially for the first time gun owner.
If you intend to carry a gun, there are various options to consider. But first, the term “safety” is extremely misleading, particularly to those new to firearms. It gives the false impression that it renders the gun virtually impossible to fire unintentionally. It does not. There is an old engineering axiom that certainly applies to guns (and gun owners):
“There is no engineering defense against determined stupidity!”
Ironically, the revolver, considered one of the safest firearms ever invented, generally has no manual safety of any kind. And while a classic, single-action-only revolver (e.g. Colt Peacemaker or Ruger Blackhawk) requires cocking before firing, this extra step also makes it less than ideal for carry purposes.
The modern double-action revolver relies on the long, heavy trigger pull to ensure that the gun is fired only intentionally. A “hammerless” compact revolver like the Smith & Wesson 642 is a perfect example. It is expressly designed for carry, and is capable of being fired only in double-action mode. For this reason, it is an extremely popular firearm for self-defense—for novices and experienced shooters alike.
Early auto-pistols were typically equipped with manual safeties. The most successful auto-loading handgun in history, the Colt 1911 (and its seemingly endless number of copies), is a prime example of this design philosophy. Being a single-action-only gun, the preferred method of carry is with a round in the chamber, hammer cocked, and the slide-lock safety engaged.
Sounds simple, but experience has shown that, even after the sequence of drawing the gun is practiced literally thousands of times, there is still the risk of forgetting to click off the safety in the chaos of a violent encounter. Even experienced police and combat veterans will admit to this. Something to consider.
Today, there are numerous other auto-pistol options for carry. Double-Action/Single-Action guns (e.g. Sig Sauer P220 or Beretta 92), are generally carried with a round in the chamber and the hammer down. They have a long, heavy trigger pull on the first shot, making it difficult (though not impossible) to fire the gun unintentionally. The second and subsequent shots feature a shorter and lighter trigger pull. However, most require manual “de-cocking” after loading. There are also “double-action-only” versions of many guns, with or without safeties, as well as those available only with a long, double-action trigger pull (Kahr, Sig P250, etc.), usually without manual safeties.
Currently, the most popular auto-pistols for carry are “striker-fired” guns: Glocks, Springfield XDs, Smith and Wesson M&Ps, and others. Although these guns do have various “passive” safety features, they generally have no manual safeties (except on models required by some police departments).
The reasoning is simple: in a gun fight, the less complicated your gun, the less likely you are to make a (potentially fatal) mistake. The downside? Relatively short, light trigger pulls, even on the first shot. “Trigger Discipline” is crucial.
“Safeties” is a controversial subject, so before deciding, we strongly suggest you consult with a professional firearms instructor who specializes in self-defense. He/she will thoroughly explain, and demonstrate, the pros and cons (and limitations) of the various options. Then choose wisely. Your safety depends on it.