Many people have the misconception that these mechanical devices automatically make a gun “safe” and therefore you can let your guard down about the firearms safety rules once they are engaged. This leads to complacency and dangerous behavior. The thought that this mechanical lever or button is going to prevent someone from firing a gun if they gain access to it is far from reality. But due to the name of these devices, uninformed people assume they instantly make a gun “safe.”
Due to these misconceptions, I believe that calling mechanical safeties a “safety” actually leads to firearms being more dangerous — the idea that once you “turn the safety on” you can ignore the standard rules of firearms handling. Following the rules of safe gun handling does not end because you utilize a mechanical safety. Instead, if you choose to own or carry a firearm that requires the use of a mechanical safety, you should make an even greater effort to follow the basic safety rules of gun handling due to these firearms having more likelihood of an accidental discharge if you forget to engage the mechanical safety.
There are many versions of the basic safety rules. To me, these three are the most fundamental:
1. ALWAYS KEEP THE GUN POINTED IN A SAFE DIRECTION. This is rule #1 for a reason. A safe direction means a direction in which, if the gun were to go off, it would likely not cause injury or damage. If you forget every other rule in the book and follow this one, even if the gun goes off, it will not hurt or kill anyone.
2. ALWAYS KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER UNTIL YOU ARE READY TO SHOOT. Ready to fire means you are ready for the bullet to leave the gun. Even if the gun is pointed at the target, you do not place your finger on the trigger until you are ready for the bullet to come out of the muzzle.
3. ALWAYS KEEP THE GUN UNLOADED UNTIL READY TO USE. This is the best safety for making a gun “safe.” Whenever you pick up a gun, always check to see if the gun is loaded, remove the ammunition source, open the action, visually and physically inspect the chamber and magazine area, which should be clear of ammunition. If you do not know how to open the action or inspect the chamber leave the gun alone and get help from someone who does.
Utilizing these safety rules as the foundation for everything you do with firearms and will keep you and others around you much safer than learning to use a mechanical safety.
Why I Don’t Have Safeties on My Defensive Pistol
I teach my defensive pistol students that if they ever need to utilize lethal force, they will most likely be surprised by the attack. After all, if you are expecting to need to use deadly force, you will avoid the confrontation if at all possible rather than preparing for it. This means you will need to react quickly under severe mental and physical stress. Your body will react in many ways, including the loss of fine motor skills. Operating a mechanical safety is a fine motor skill that will be difficult even with training under this kind of stress.
Without the pressure of someone attacking, I see people fumble the operation of a mechanical safety during training. This delay could mean the difference between your attacker being on top of you or not. It is now an accepted fact that the average person can cover a distance of approximately 21 feet in the time it takes a trained individual to draw and fire their defensive handgun (approximately 1.5 seconds).
Although mechanical safeties are intended to prevent accidents and injury, they can actually lead to lapses in normal safety procedures and result in injury. Combine this with the fact that in a defensive encounter, safeties could cause a delay in being able to protect ourselves or our loved ones.
Many people say that they train to work their safety. Only being in a defensive encounter would let us know if that training worked. My suggestion is to utilize that time practicing the two main rules of safe gun handling and get a defensive firearm that does not require the extra steps.