A friend recently saw a security video on television in Hawaii in which a jewelry store was being robbed (he didn’t know when or where it took place). The owner had been robbed before, and had gotten a gun, which to my friend’s untutored eye appeared to be a double action semiautomatic pistol.
On this occasion, the bad guy, looking suspicious and acting suspiciously, was moving around the store. The store owner drew his gun and waited. Eventually the bad guy pulled a gun from his pocket and turned to face the store owner. Seeing the store owner’s gun the robber started firing, emptying his gun into the store owner (who, by the way, apparently lived). And the store owner? Well, apparently in the stress of the moment he forgot to disengage the safety on his weapon, so it wouldn’t go bang.
The function of a gun safety on older semiautomatics was to insure that the gun would not discharge if dropped. The design of recent modern semi- automatics prevents that from happening. In addition, the safety also functions as a de-cocker, lowering the hammer safely when the gun is cocked. Glock has a safety built into the trigger, so that it won’t discharge unless you are, in fact, pulling the trigger. People who carry single-action semiautomatic pistols with a round in the chamber and cocked carry them with the safety engaged, as the light pressure needed to pull the trigger demands this. People who carry double action semiautomatic pistols carry them with the safety disengaged (and tend to have a gunsmith remove other unsafe safeties likely to get them killed, like a magazine disconnect).
People with modern revolvers don’t face this issue. Modern revolvers have a mechanism that will prevent discharge of the weapon if dropped.
The bottom line is that under stress you tend to act differently on the range than you will in a violent confrontation, and that we feel that a gun you carry should have as few impediments to going bang as possible.
On the other side, some make the case that you want a safety in case the gun is wrested from you, and your assailant doesn’t know enough about guns to disengage it. This is the basis for the enthusiasm of those not familiar with guns and their use for “smart” guns that will only fire if you are the one pulling the trigger of your gun. As an example, modifications can be made on Smith and Wesson revolvers that prevent them from firing unless you are wearing a magnetic ring. While “smart” guns appear to have some merit, we believe the risk outweighs the merit, and that “smart” guns increase the likelihood of your ending up dead. Because of this risk, you will see that police departments will reject use of “smart” guns, and so should you.
While this editor favors revolvers, if you carry a double action semiautomatic that has an external safety, and don’t want to find yourself wondering why it doesn’t go bang when bullets are whizzing your way, think long and hard before engaging it.