Another popular question regarding selecting a defensive pistol or a concealed carry gun is “do I need an external safety?”. For the purposes of this post, when I mention external safety, I’m referring to a safety lever. Also, we are discussing handguns only in this post.
Most modern firearms are equipped with safety devices, at a minimum, such as drop safeties even if there is no external safety. No matter the firearm, a safety is a mechanism that can fail and no one should ever rely on it regardless of firearm or manufacturer.
I personally, do not recommend firearms with an external safety for a defensive pistol or for concealed carry. When I was first putting together this post I was thinking that there are several reasons why but it actually comes down to one and that is speed. You’re probably thinking, that with practice, you can become extremely fast with drawing, manipulating a safety, and firing accurately and you would be correct. The key to this is practice and a lot of it, just like anything else.
If you carry your firearm with the selector on safe and have not put in numerous repetitions you are most likely going to lose valuable time putting your gun into action. The reason why is that some will argue that it can take, training a particular drill, more than 1000 times before you will be able to replicate that same action under stress and without thinking about. If you are using your firearm for defense, I’m pretty sure we can all agree that you will be under a fair amount of stress.
An important factor that plays into taking your firearm from safe to fire, under stress, is that your body’s natural reaction is to go into, what I call, “cave man mode”. Basically you start thinking and acting like a clumsy and dumb Neanderthal. One of the things that happens in “cave man mode” is that you lose dexterity or the ability to perform task with your fingers. This is something critical to understand as we are now talking about manipulating something small, under extreme stress, and could require fine motor skills that you may not have. Again the best way to defeat this is by putting in a lot of repetitions so we don’t think and just do.
Now let’s look at the rare few who are putting in the repetitions and can overcome some of the obstacles that would occur under stress. Some may carry their firearm with the safety lever on fire in order to speed up their engagement. The problem with this is that it is possible for the lever to get moved onto safe. Now you have someone drawing, aiming, pulling the trigger, and no bang. You now see where this can again eat up time. I have seen this situation occur and the individual may think it’s a misfire and eject several rounds before they realize the gun is on safety. Or they are now pulling the gun back in their workspace to assess the issue. Either way it is eating valuable time. Let’s look at the opposite of someone carrying on safe and the lever has been moved to fire accidentally. When they draw a finger is going to be searching for a lever to manipulate that’s not in the place it’s expected to be which is slowing the process of engagement.
A firearm with an external safety lever, in the proper holster, is no safer than a firearm without one. Both firearms should be treated no differently as they both have a deadly capability. One of the keys to speed in competition is reducing movement or the number of steps it takes to be able to put rounds on target. If we can eliminate or simplify our ability to engage a target it’s going to result in faster shots. Gaining time in a gun fight can truly be the difference between life or death.
Remember whether you choose to rock a firearm with an external safety or not safeties can fail and should never be relied upon.