Normally, when we talk about single action versus double action, we automatically think of revolvers, but semi-auto pistols also embrace both of these actions as well. First, let’s get to the basics of what is a single-action or a double-action gun, because whether you’re talking about revolvers or pistols, the definitions are similar.
What is Single Action Only (SAO)?
Single-action-only guns indicate that you have to manually cock the hammer in order to fire. Think of the revolvers of the Old West, the ones used for cowboy action shooting, or the ones you see in Wild West movies. Those are single-action revolvers.
What is Double Action Only (DAO)?
In a double-action-only gun, the hammer is cocked and the gun is fired when you pull the trigger. Because two things happen when you take one action (pulling the trigger), it’s known as a double action. In most cases, you can also manually cock the hammer on a double-action revolver. Doing so will generally lighten the trigger pull when you’re ready to fire. It can be done, but it isn’t necessary.
For concealed carry purposes, there are advantages of one type over the other. But at the end of the day, you should be carrying what you’re the most comfortable and proficient with when shooting anyways.
What Is Double Action/Single Action?
For DA/SA firearms, the gun can be fired in either double-action or single-action mode. For semi-auto firearms that use a DA/SA feature, they often also include a decocker so you can safely place the firearm in double-action mode even after loading the gun.
The double-action trigger will then normally turn to a single-action trigger after you fire the first round in a DA/SA semi-auto handgun, which provides you with a shorter trigger pull for follow-up shots.
There are revolvers that can be fired in either double action or single action, but these guns also normally reset to a double-action trigger after every shot, which means you would need to manually cock the hammer to put one of these revolvers into single-action mode between each shot.
Pros and Cons of Double-Action Handguns for Concealed Carry
These guns can normally be fired when decocked. Some say this makes them safer for concealed carry. Double-action handguns tend to have a longer, more deliberate trigger pull. Because it’s a longer pull, some people think that the process of pulling the trigger puts less pressure on the trigger itself, reducing the chances of jerking the trigger and leading to a more accurate shot (think slow and steady).
With many double-action pistols, you can physically put your thumb on the hammer to stabilize it when you’re holstering, ensuring that the hammer cannot drop if you accidentally finger the trigger in the process. This could help reduce the chance of a negligent discharge when holstering. But there is no substitute for proper safety practices. However, a good deal of time and practice is required to get proficient with a double-action trigger.
If you look at a typical 1911, you can visually see the exposed hammer. In fact, 1911s are single-action handguns, but there are also striker-fired guns like the Glock 19 that are sing-action-only pistols as well. If you’re looking at a revolver, it’s also easy to spot the hammer. Think of the types of revolvers that the old cowboys used in Western movies. They’d have to thumb that hammer before each shot.
Pros and Cons of Single-Action-Only Guns for Concealed Carry
Because you must cock the hammer every time to make the gun fire, SAOs are often slightly slower to shoot. Good practice and muscle memory can help, but you need to know how to shoot a SAO before you conceal carry it. Once the slide is racked or the hammer is cocked, however, the gun will fire because the hammer will be cocked.
Single actions generally have a lighter trigger press once the hammer is cocked by either racking the slide or by cocking it with your thumb. Because of the lighter trigger press, many SA pistols have a manual safety. This is also why 1911s have the grip safety, because they’re generally carried “cocked and locked” and only require a very light trigger pull to fire.
An exposed hammer can rub your body during concealed carry, which many find uncomfortable. Still, there are many who believe that carrying a single-action pistol with the hammer cocked and a round in the chamber can increase the chances for a negligent discharge if you get bumped or jarred. There are various safety mechanisms in most modern firearms like this, but that’s not always true of older versions of some guns.
Whatever your choice for everyday concealed carry, you must know your gun. Whether you decide to carry a semi-auto pistol or a revolver – single action or double action – practice shooting it, drawing it, and knowing its ins and outs before deciding if it works for you for concealed carry. Proficiency is everything, and only you know what works best in your circumstances.
If you’d like more information on double-action and single-action handguns, you can read our in-depth breakdown here.