Sunday, June 21, 2009

Your First Handgun: Safeties

As a firearms trainer, I meet a lot of people who have a desire to increase their knowledge about firearms. Invariably, I get a fair amount of questions about handgun safeties. This article will explore the topic of safeties and explain their role in safe gun handling.

What Are Handgun Safeties?
A handgun safety is a mechanical device that is designed to prevent a firearm from discharging until it is deactivated. A lot of people view safeties as a fail-safe method for preventing accidental discharges. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As mentioned earlier, safeties are mechanical devices. As such, it is possible that they could fail to operate as designed. If a handgun user incorrectly assumes that his safety is fully functional, a unfortunate accident can occur if basic safety rules are not followed.

Thus, you should continue to exercise fundamental safe gun handling even if the firearm you are carrying has one or more safeties activated. A defective safety on a handgun is an unacceptable excuse for having an accidental discharge of a firearm.

The fundamental safe gun handling rules are listed as the following:

  • Always Treat A Firearm As If It Is Loaded
  • Always Keep A Firearm Pointed In A Safe Direction
  • Always Keep Your Finger Off The Trigger Until Ready To Shoot
  • Always Keep Your Firearm Unloaded Until It Is Ready For Use
  • Always Be Sure Of Your Target And What Is Beyond It

Types Of Handgun Safeties
There are no universal standards for handgun safeties. In fact, safeties are not present on all handguns. For example, it is rare for safeties to be present on revolvers. So, if it is very important to you that your firearm has a safety, you should consider buying a semi-automatic handgun.

Some semi-automatic handgun models have only one safety and others may have several safeties present. One common safety, that most newer handgun models have, is an internal safety designed to prevent the firearm from discharging if it is dropped.

Another safety that may be present on a handgun is a grip safety. This particular safety, present along the grip's spine (i.e. backstrap), prevents the gun from discharging if it is not held correctly. Moreover, there may also be a safety on the handgun's slide, within the actual trigger, or both.

The best way to determine both the types of safeties present on your handgun and how to use them is to consult with your handgun's operators guide. All new handgun purchases from BATF regulated gun shops include these manuals. In the event that a buyer acquires a firearm second-hand from a private seller, he may have to utilize info from other sources: manufacturer's web site, Internet gun forums, knowledgeable users, or a professional firearms instructor.

Should Your Handgun Have Safeties?
There is no right or wrong position to take with respect to whether you should have safeties on your handgun. Quite simply, it is a personal preference. However, be mindful, that there are trade-offs that have to considered before making a final decision.

A handgun with safeties is slightly more complicated to use. All safeties present on your particular model will need to be disengaged before the firearm will be capable of firing - assuming none of the safeties are defective. One consequence of the added complexity is that you will have to invest the requisite time to effortlessly be able to fire the gun when needed.

Some people think that safeties on a handgun will mitigate carelessness. For example, I have had some students suggest to me that their handgun must have safeties just in case their children gain unauthorized access to their firearm.

Make no mistake about this - if a child gains access to your firearm with multiple safeties engaged, it is only a matter of time, perhaps minutes, before they figure out to discharge it. So, do not harbor any false illusions about safeties making your children safe from the firearm's unauthorized use. As a responsible gun owner, you will need to make whatever lifestyle changes that are necessary to keep your gun out of reach from your kids.

In contrast, a handgun without a safety is extremely easy to use. All the user literally has to do is point it at a target and pull the trigger. Exercising and practicing good finger placement in accordance with the aforementioned gun safety rules will make a revolver as safe to own and use as a semi-automatic model.

Bottom Line:
Safeties are an added design feature, present on some handguns, that should not be solely replied upon to make a firearm safe. The best safety is a gun owners brain: gun safety rules should be learned and used every single time that a firearm is handled.
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