If you ask most folks, the best apparatus for gun safety is between your ears. I tend to agree. Using your head is certainly the best way to prevent a negligent discharge (or “ND”), that is, a discharge caused when the operator pulls the trigger, either deliberately or inadvertently, but does not intend to cause the gun to fire. But what about the accidental discharge?
Accidental discharges (“AD”) – discharges caused by mechanical failures or a foreign object pulling the trigger – have the potential to be far scarier. Libel be damned, Glocks are notorious for accidental discharges; usually when a shirt tail gets caught in the holster . While “Glocks don’t have safeties” is truly a misnomer (they have three), some of us would prefer a safety that is not disengaged simply because the trigger is pressed.
The manual safety is one alternative. For a single-action pistol like the 1911, the manual safety is practically essential for carrying “cocked and locked” (also known as Condition 1) . The 1911 also has a relatively unique feature called the “grip safety”.
The grip safety, featured on a variety of weapons from a variety of the aforementioned the 1911s to the Springfield XD series, is a lever located on the rear of the handgun grip. It’s design prevents the rearward travel of the trigger and slide unless the pistol is gripped properly. While no safety is foolproof (and, to belabor the issue as we gun owners often do, the best safety is using your brain) the grip safety substantially reduces the likelihood of an accidental discharge, especially if a foreign object becomes lodged around the trigger.
As with most things, this device is not without it’s critics. A colleague of mine hates the grip safety. He supports his theory with an anecdotal account of a man, who, while defending his home, was shot in the hand. This unfortunately-placed shot prevented the individual from depressing his grip safety. While there is an obvious connection between the grip safety and the mechanical failure of the weapon, this strikes me as a weakness not particular to any one safety design. Given a shot to the thumb (if a manual safety) or to the trigger finger (trigger safety), the individual in question would have been forced to take the same remedial measure as the gentleman in question (use the other hand and/or alter grip to compensate for the injury).
A more valid criticism I have heard about grip safeties is this: some individuals have great difficulty depressing the safety while maintaining their optimal grip form. For individuals with a large hand and a small grip, they may find that the web of their hand does not fully depress the grip safety. For those individuals set on a grip safety but find that their hands don’t seem to like it, there are several aftermarket products offered that extend the grip safety , thereby reducing the pressure required to depress the safety. To me, difficulty activating a grip safety simply stresses that no single gun will suit every individual. It also highlights a tip I (and any reputable firearms purveyor) give to every new handgun-buyer: try before you buy, and ensure that the weapon fits naturally in your hand. A better natural fit will lead to a more natural point of aim, a more enjoyable shooting experience, and over time, more accuracy. Follow this advice and you should also be able to tell whether or not the grip safety will work in your hands.