To have a safety or not to have a safety, that is the question. Over the few weeks leading up to Christmas this year, I sold five S&W M&P9 Shields, and in each case, the customers wanted to discuss whether a safety was appropriate. Four out of five customers chose no thumb safety, but one customer was convinced they needed one. Interestingly enough, that same customer said, “I probably won’t use the safety when I’m carrying.” I recommended that they should not purchase a pistol with a thumb safety unless they were dedicated to practicing disengaging the safety and using it at all times to develop muscle memory. I sincerely doubt most civilians ability to practice that much. As you can probably tell, I’m against safeties on striker-fired, DA-only (DAO) pistols and DA/SA pistols. Here’s why.
Thumb safeties are not intended to be safety locks to keep children from accidentally discharging a round. Believe it or not, this is the #1 concern I get from customers wanting a safety. “I have kids in the house. I need a safety.” First of all, you should not have a loaded firearm sitting around that kids can find. Second, if you own a pistol and keep it loaded in your house, it should be locked in a safe. Third, the ONLY time a firearm should be loaded in a house with kids and not in a safe is when you are carrying it! Last, thumb safeties aren’t complicated; kids can easily figure them out. Don’t fool yourself into thinking a safety will prevent a child from firing a loaded gun. That’s a false sense of security.
Thumb safeties are not designed to keep you from shooting negligently. I shake my head on this one, but I get it all of the time, especially from guys buying a pistol for their wife. (Sorry ladies, sad but true. Blame your husband, not me.) They say, “She needs a safety because she can’t keep her finger off the trigger.” What?!?! First, if you can’t keep your finger off of the trigger unless you’re actively shooting at something, you shouldn’t carry! End of story. Second, all CCW pistols should be carried in a holster that covers the trigger. That goes for folks carrying in their pocket, like me, in their purse, or waistband carry. A properly-fitted holster will prevent anything from entering the trigger guard, eliminating the possibility of a negligent discharge. Proper forefinger placement on a firearm must be practiced at all times, and creating muscle memory for drawing with your index finger running down the slide is a fundamental skill. Only touch the trigger once you intend to shoot!
Without proper practice, a thumb safety can get you killed. That’s right. Killed. Many believe flicking off the safety while drawing a pistol is easy. So easy that they don’t need to practice it or think practicing every 3-4 months at the range is enough. Some think, “I’m a smart person, and I know my pistol has a safety. I will certainly remember to flick it off if I have to. It’s not at all difficult.” Watch this video by Hickok45. He is one of the most followed shooters on YouTube with over 1.75 million subscribers, and he is generally regarded as a pistol expert.
Hickok45 forgets that the Beretta 92FS has a safety. The Beretta’s safety is automatically engaged whenever it is de-cocked. Beware!
As you will note from the video, Hickok45 says, “There you go. See, I’m not used to a safety.” You will not be used to a safety either unless you practice on a weekly basis and flick the safety from on to off each and every time you shoot! I can’t stress this enough. Be very careful of overconfidence in this area. Disengaging a safety under stress is not as simple as it sounds. The extra second or two it takes you to disengage the safety can cost you your life.
Likewise, not having a round chambered while you carry is another big mistake. You may not have time to cycle the action under diress. Modern, striker-fired pistols have internal safeties preventing them from firing unless the trigger is pulled. As long as your pistol is in a holster, you absolutely do not have to worry about negligent discharges while the gun is holstered. One of Glock’s claims to fame is their “Safe Action” pistol, their take on why a thumb safety is unnecessary. S&W, Springfield, Walther, Sig Sauer, and most others with DAO pistols have similar “safe actions.” Your instruction manual or the manufacturer’s website can provide you with information specific to your model.
Manufacturers wouldn’t put a safety on a pistol unless it actually keeps you safe. Any salesperson will tell you that the customer is always right. In the case of pistol safeties, some people adamantly want them. That’s why they’re there. Don’t believe me? Consider this. Some manufacturers refuse to put a safety on their pistols. Read that again. Only a handful of manufacturers continue to provide optional thumb safeties on striker-fired pistols. Walther manufactured the first semi-auto pistol with no safety, the P38, way back in 1938 during WWII. Soon after, they developed the first DA/SA semi-auto with the PPK. Sig Sauer’s latest striker-fired pistol, the P320, has no safety and is a leading candidate for the Army’s new sidearm. Glock was the first to offer a polymer, DA-only, no safety semi-auto pistol in 1982 with the G17. To date, none of Glock’s pistols have safeties, and Glocks are the #1 pistol carried by law enforcement. While I’m disappointed in S&W for offering the M&P Shield with a safety, I understand that money talks. My point is semi-auto pistols without safeties have been around for a very long time and have proven to be safe for every day carry.
I’m not saying all pistol safeties are bad. What I’m saying is that they only belong on single-action pistols, like the 1911. After all, “Cocked and Locked” refers to having the safety on! Here’s the thing, even though SA pistols carried cocked and locked can be fired from a holster faster than a SA pistol which is uncocked, it isn’t faster than a DAO, striker-fired pistol. My mantra is to keep pistols with extra levers and buttons on the range for target practice. They’re fun to shoot and talk about, as well as marvel at how they are engineered, but when it comes to firing accurately and quickly under stress, you can’t beat a safety-less pistol for safety and speed.
I have an older 1911 that I’ve shot for over 30-years. A few years ago, I went to a tactical pistol class and decided to take my old 1911 carried in the cocked and locked condition. Needless to say, my friends shooting Glocks got shots off before me each an every time. You can read about it here in the last full paragraph of a post I wrote last year. That was a real turning point for me.
I have to have a safety or my spouse won’t let me own a gun. What do you do in this situation? No, don’t get a new spouse. If a safety is a deal-breaker, go ahead and buy one with a safety. However, I suggest you don’t engage it while you carry if the pistol is DAO and comes in alternate versions without a safety. When versions are offered without a safety, remember that versions with a safety have all of the safety mechanisms plus an external safety, so you don’t have to use it. (Think S&W M&P.) The problem is you might accidentally engage the safety somehow and face an “unable to fire” situation under stress and not be able to troubleshoot quickly enough. Not good. Of course, you can practice manipulating the safety, but as mentioned earlier, know that you will need to practice weekly at a minimum, even if it’s dry-firing at home. Final note: never carry a single-action pistol cocked and unlocked, that is with the safety disengaged.
Bottom line, choosing whether your CCW pistol has a safety is a big deal. Do not assume that it is easily manipulated because of its simplicity. Under stress, your fine motor skills and reasoning ability are severely impaired. My advice: simpler is better. No safety required, and avoid de-cockers, too.