Handgun Safeties

Today, I want to talk briefly about the various types of safeties you’ll encounter in your dealings with handguns. Every pistol on the market today has at least one form of safety mechanism that inhibits the weapon’s ability to fire without deliberate input from the user.

There are two main categories: Internal Safeties and External Safeties. You’ll also see these described as “passive” and “active” safeties, or “automatic” and “manual” safeties, respectively.

Internal safeties are mechanisms like firing pin blocks or hammer blocks which do not require input from the user. By their design, they disengage just before the shot is fired, generally as consequence of a trigger pull.

External safeties, on the other hand, require user input, in the form of toggling a lever or gripping the handgun properly. We’re going to focus on the most common forms of external safety, as those are what you’ll be manipulating during your shooting.


I’ve mentioned grip safeties before in basic pistol anatomy. They are a form of active safety located on the grip of the pistol that disengage with a proper grip. Glock pistols have made these popular, as well as the Springfield XD line. Trigger safeties, small levers included on some triggers that must be depressed in order to fully pull the trigger, are included in this group as well.


These are levers mounted on the slide that must be toggled from “safe” to “fire”. Beretta 92 and M9 pistols have these types of active safety, and they also function as a decocker, which is a device that allows the hammer on these pistols to be lowered safely with a live round in the chamber.


Finally, we encounter frame mounted safeties, which, as their name suggests, are mounted on the frame. 1911 style pistols incorporate these safeties. Frame safeties have a couple of advantages over slide safeties, namely, that they are easier to reach and manipulate due to their enhanced ergonomics, and also that they cannot be inadvertently toggled while racking the slide.

In closing, let me again impress upon you the importance of training. All of these safety mechanisms are, in one way or another, designed to be switched off. They do not make a pistol more or less “safe”. A handgun is always capable of accidental discharge, and the most effective way to protect against this is through deliberate and constant training. Train until YOU are responsible and safe.

Until next time, have fun, stay safe, and shoot straight!


2 thoughts on “Handgun Safeties

  1. “The manual safety device may serve a useful purpose, but it does not make the gun safe. Only the trigger finger can make the gun safe, and then only by what goes on between the ears.” ~Jeff Cooper, Founder of Gunsite Academy

    Liked by 1 person

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