This discussion has been through a number of iterations since I first drafted it, and this is the latest. Nothing of substance has changed, though, just some emphasis and how I expressed myself.
This discussion is not intended to convince anyone to purchase a DAK pistol or switch from something else. My purpose here is to provide some history about how the DAK system came to be and the reasons for its appeal to some people (including me), technical details about how the mechanism works, and some counterpoint to criticisms of the DAK trigger. As long as this discussion is, though, I have tried to keep it to a reasonable length. I could write much more about a number of things, including many issues that I don’t mention at all. If you have questions or comments of your own, feel free to post them here or to contact me directly.
None of my comments here are directed at anyone merely because he’s not a fan of the DAK trigger. The sarcasm, for example, was originally prompted by the silly and illogical comments that surfaced shortly after the DAK’s introduction.
Background: DAK is the abbreviation for “double action Kellerman”—the last being the name of its reportedly American designer. The DAK trigger system was announced by SIGARMS in 2004. Prior to that time, SIG handguns could be modified to a double action only (DAO) trigger by removing the decocking lever assembly and installing a DAO hammer in the Classic series guns or a DAO “fire control unit” in the Pro. (Another DAO SIG is the P250, but its trigger is more similar to the old style DAO than the DAK. There’s also the P290, but I don’t know anything about it other than that it’s DAO as well.)
“Double action” in reference to a trigger mechanism means that two things happen in succession when the trigger is pressed. In hammer-fired guns like SIGs the hammer is first rotated to the rear and the mainspring is compressed. Second, the hammer is released to strike the firing pin. In a single action system, the hammer is cocked independently of pulling the trigger, either manually or by automatic action of the pistol. When the trigger is pressed, only one thing happens: the hammer is released to strike the firing pin. In DAO, the hammer does not remain cocked after a shot, and another descriptive term for the system in an autoloading pistol is “self-decocking.”
Throughout most of the 20th century the double action revolver was the most common defensive handgun used in America by nonmilitary personnel. When referring to a double action revolver, it means that the gun is capable of being fired in the double action mode; most such handguns can also be cocked manually and fired single action. Actually shooting in the double action mode, however, was not common among serious handgunners in the early days and tended to be limited to close range, high speed work. This was true even among the few who actually studied and taught combat handgun techniques and tactics.
Ed McGivern, who was known for his amazing performances as an exhibition performer, was an exception who usually fired his revolvers in the double action mode. Despite his skill and successes, however, the prevailing belief of other authorities was that accurate double action shooting was simply impossible. Two examples from his 1938 book Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting were evidently typical of attitudes of the time:
“I quote from a noted writer—‘As such shooting [double-action] will ruin any shooter’s holding, and still more his scores, and make hitting or grouping of shots quite impossible.’”
“‘The use of double action in this work [fast drawing, pointing and shooting] is almost sure to throw the aim off.’”
(Brackets substituted for parentheses in the original.) Because bull’s-eye shooting was much more common and popular among law enforcement competitors and serious “civilian” handgunners of the era than anything resembling combat-style shooting, it was probably the basis for such opinions.
The true far-sighted pioneers in the art of combat handgun shooting such as Fairbairn and Sykes, and later the likes of Jeff Cooper, tended to shun revolvers entirely in favor of the single action only 1911 pistol.
All those factors supported the common assumption that accurate shooting required a single action trigger. That’s the reason, I’m convinced, that when defensive handgun users finally began moving in large numbers away from the revolver to autoloading pistols, the single action capability was deemed a necessity. That’s also why the assumption persists among many people to this day.
The first autoloading handgun widely adopted by US law enforcement agencies for uniformed duty use was the Smith & Wesson model 39, a double action/single action (DA/SA) pistol. As most members here know, when shooting a DA/SA pistol, the first shot can be fired double action, but the action of the slide leaves the hammer cocked so that subsequent shots are fired single action.
Other S&W DA/SA models later became popular with the public and law enforcement, including the FBI. The adoption by the US military of the Beretta DA/SA M9 pistol was another major step in the DA/SA direction. SIG models supported the DA/SA movement, as did other lesser-known brands. When the US Army CID sought a pistol to replace the revolvers its agents carried and which was more compact than the M9, it chose the SIG P228.
The current of resistance to any pistol that didn’t have a single action trigger was broad, deep, and swift.
But a sea change was coming in the form of an unlikely entrant to the field from an Austrian manufacturer of plastic housewares and other products. In 1982 Glock introduced the model 17.
In addition to its plastic frame and other innovative features, the Glock was the first widely successful autoloading pistol with a double action only trigger. Although some Glock fans are defensive about the fact and even flatly claim otherwise, it’s nevertheless true. Pressing the Glock trigger does two things: It first compresses the mainspring and then releases the firing pin/striker to discharge the pistol. As a consequence the ATF categorizes the gun as DAO, and it’s a characteristic that Glock sales representatives have pointed to when trying to convince agency heads to adopt their weapon: “Not only is our gun inexpensive, reliable, and durable, it has a double action only trigger and is therefore safer for novice shooters.” (I don’t agree that Glocks are always safer, but they do have DAO triggers.)
As we all know, the Glock family of pistols has been incredibly successful. One of the obvious reasons for its success is that no other defensive handgun is easier to operate. Glock’s nearly three decades of popularity has spawned numerous imitations that operate essentially the same: to fire the pistol, load it and pull the trigger. To fire it again, let the trigger reset and pull it again. Continue until the gun is out of ammunition or the shooter is finished. Nothing else is necessary to make the gun ready to fire, no adjustments in technique are necessary while firing, and nothing else is necessary to make the gun “safe” when finished. Some of Glock’s competitors may use somewhat different mechanisms and technically they may not all have double action triggers, but as far as the shooter is concerned they all function virtually the same.
Like Smith and Wesson, which also offered double action only pistols based on their DA/SA line, SIG recognized years ago that there was a demand for such guns, and designed a hammer that allowed the Classic-series pistols to be converted to double action only quickly and easily.
Old style SIG DAO pistols feature trigger pulls that are the same as the double action pull of a traditional DA/SA model. The pull weight of the DA mode is typically 10 pounds or more. The original DAO system also requires that the trigger must be allowed to move fully forward to reset for the next shot. Ten pounds and a long trigger reset for every shot were things that many shooters who were raised on DA/SA systems didn’t like, and therefore the old style SIG DAO system was never popular. Shooters like me who willingly trained and practiced with DAO SIG pistols were usually happy with them, but most of us no doubt had prior experience with double action revolvers.
Okay, but that’s history. This is supposed to be about the DAK trigger system. What about it?
The purpose of all the above preamble is to point out how the very popular Glock and similar pistols function. If several other gun manufacturers recognized that following Glock’s lead was likely to be profitable, it should be no surprise if SIG Sauer did the same. In SIG’s case, though, their immediate response was not to produce yet another Glock semi-clone, but rather to find a way to modify their successful Classic series to something whose trigger system was more Glock-like: the DAK.
(As an aside at this point, none of this is to suggest that the trigger characteristics of all DAO pistols are identical any more than that all single action triggers are the same. Triggers may be light or heavy, crisp or creepy, long stroke or short stroke. The pull weights of Glock triggers run from very light to quite heavy. Further, I find the Glock trigger to be somewhat spongy and its reset to be less distinct than a SIG’s. When I say that a one trigger is similar to another, I’m not necessarily claiming that they’re exactly the same.)
Like other double action systems, pressing the DAK trigger does two things. It compresses the mainspring by rotating the hammer to the rear and then releases the hammer to fire the gun. In that regard, therefore, the DAK system is like the original DAO system of SIGs and other manufacturers. There are, however, two major differences between the DAK and the old style DAO systems.
The trigger pull weight of the DAK system is significantly less than that of the Classic-series SIG DAO trigger. DAK pistols were originally equipped with standard DA/SA mainsprings (hammer springs), and typically had pull weights of about 6.5 pounds. Later, DAK models were equipped with a heavier “red paint” mainspring that increased average pull weights by about a pound to 7.5#. The change was evidently made to reduce problems with light primer-strike misfires. The DAK system is able to achieve a lower pull weight with the same mainspring power by improving the mechanical advantage of the trigger mechanism. Better mechanical advantage means that less force is required to do the same work. It’s the same principle that’s involved with using a longer lever to lift a heavy weight. A lighter trigger was one way that DAKs are more like Glocks than other SIGs.
As an aside, the pull weight of the P239 DAK trigger was originally somewhat greater than the other models’, evidently because there is physically less room inside the 239 and the mechanical advantage cannot be improved as much. After the introduction of the red mainspring use in other models, the differences in pull weights between the 239 and other models decreased. (The pull weights mentioned above all refer to those achieved with new factory springs. After a SIG mainspring has been compressed a couple of hundred times, there is usually a noticeable reduction in its power and therefore the trigger pull weight.)
The other major difference between the DAK and old style DAO systems is that after a shot is fired, it’s possible to reset the DAK trigger by letting it move forward about half the distance of the full reset. This feature addressed the many complaints about the long reset of SIG triggers as compared with Glocks and other brands. Whatever advantages there are to a shorter reset, using the optional short DAK reset provides them. Unlike the reset of most trigger systems, though, when the short DAK reset is used, the trigger pull weight increases by about 2 pounds. I and many other experienced DAK shooters have found that the increased pull weight is not noticeable during rapid fire strings, and I actually prefer the somewhat greater resistance of the short reset when shooting for accuracy.
Note, too, that I described the short reset as being optional. That means the shooter can use it or not use it as desired. Further, if the shooter intends to fully release the trigger for the long reset, a short stroke will still fire the gun (unlike short-stroking other triggers). If the short reset is being used, releasing it too far will simply result in the next trigger pull’s being somewhat longer and lighter. The DAK is therefore more forgiving of trigger manipulation errors than other systems.
And all this is pretty simple, right? Optional is optional; that means it’s not necessary to use it. As simple as the idea is, however, this one feature of the DAK system befuddles more people than everything else combined. Time and again I’ve read comments about the DAK’s “two trigger pulls” or something similar. To compound the weirdness, they are usually accompanied by comments relating to how it’s supposedly very difficult to learn to handle switching between the short and long resets.
The only explanation for such amazing statements is that the people who make the comments have no hands-on experience with the DAK system and can’t—or are unwilling to—understand the very simple concept that we refer to as “optional.” That, of course, doesn’t keep them from expressing an opinion on the matter. And to top the sundae with a very large scoop of nuts, very often the same people are perfectly happy with a traditional DA/SA trigger. They claim that no one should have any difficulty in making the transition between a long, heavy double action pull and a short, light single action pull.
So, lessee ….
On the one hand we have an optional DAK feature that most shooters don’t even notice during use.
On the other hand we have the cannot-be-ignored feature of DA/SA pistols that requires major trigger control adjustments when firing more than one shot. Supposedly, however, the first is a huge hindrance to good shooting, but the second is hardly worth mentioning.
I try to resist the notion that gun ownership should be limited to people of at least a minimum-level IQ, but this kind of thing really tests my principles. If you’ve been saying things like this, stop. Just stop. You’re only making yourself look foolish.
Thus far I’ve discussed the DAK and why I believe it’s a superior double action only trigger. But the question that some might ask at this point is, “Why double action only as opposed to some other trigger mechanism?”
The most noticeable feature of the DAO system is that there’s just one trigger pull to master. (The exception of the optional short reset stroke of the DAK trigger is too minor to be of significance during combat-style shooting.) Although I won’t deny that becoming accustomed to switching between double action and single action with the DA/SA system isn’t particularly difficult, it still requires that practice time and ammunition be split between the two modes. With DAO, however, no division of resources and effort is necessary.
What’s more, many DA/SA gun owners don’t even try to master the double action trigger, and limit most of their shooting to single action. According to an Internet poll I conducted, almost half of shooters fire two-thirds or more of their practice rounds in the single action mode when using DA/SA guns. Seventy percent fire over half of their practice shots in single action. This self-defeating practice is not restricted to ignorant novices, either. A few years ago I attended a course taught by the former head of training for a well-known firearms manufacturer. When demonstrating to the class, the instructor almost never fired his DA/SA pistol in the double action mode; he cocked it manually.
The reason why this matters is because virtually all DA/SA pistols are stored or carried for defensive purposes in the uncocked, hammer-down condition. If the gun must be employed in an emergency, the first shot will be fired in the double action mode. If the shooter has not mastered the double action trigger, he starts the gunfight at a severe disadvantage.
The shooter of a double action only gun—including Glocks and DAK SIGs—is equally proficient with all shots, including the first and most important one. Every round fired with a DAO handgun is practice for every other round. The strange practice of trying to turn a DA/SA gun into single action only illustrates the significance of all this. I have actually read statements by DA/SA pistol shooters stating that they “throw away” their first double action shot so they can get down to the serious business of shooting in the single action mode. Even more bizarre, it’s reported that famous professional trainers have recommended the same thing! And as everyone should recognize, manually cocking the pistol before deciding that shooting is necessary is very dangerous under most circumstances. (All this is certainly not true of every DA/SA pistol user, but it does illustrate a very real problem.)
Despite its specific advantages, some people who dislike the DAK trigger find great satisfaction in claiming that it was designed to satisfy liability-obsessed lawyers and desk-bound administrators. Comments like the stale, “Solution in search of a problem,” and the ridiculous, “Trying to solve training problems with hardware,” pop up like mushrooms in a French forest.
Strangely, though, such comments are never made about the Glock or its imitators. If the claims were valid they would apply equally as well to those guns as to a DAK SIG. To cite merely one of countless examples, when the Colorado State Patrol switched from its DA/SA S&W pistols to the M&P model, no one made any of the ridiculous statements we hear when an agency switches to DAK SIGs. All this indicates to me that some people are desperately searching for something bad to say about the DAK no matter how foolish it makes them appear.
If an issue is raised often enough, though, it should probably be addressed. So, what about the claim that the DAK appeals to administrators and lawyers? Is that a bad thing?
First, that argument is like saying, “Pelosi drinks Pepsi.” Does the claim—even if it were true—have any bearing on whether the rest of us should drink Pepsi or Coke? Of course not. The statement is nothing more than a logical fallacy that attempts to divert attention from the facts and merits of the case by focusing on the people who are involved. When we do look at the facts, it becomes clear that what the critics are ridiculing is the lawyers’ and administrators’ preference for triggers like the DAK because of their concern for safety. Horrors! Safety; why would any sensible person be concerned about firearms safety?! That’s just crazy talk.
To be serious, let’s look at what the real objection is that people probably have to the DAK trigger SIGs: They are already accustomed to shooting DA/SA pistols and don’t want to adapt to something different. I understand that because I’ve often been annoyed by having to change and become proficient with something new. Unfortunately, even the objectors realize that sounds like whining. But rather than just saying, “I don’t like change,” people seek excuses to support their position and deflect attention from the real reason for their opposition to change. I’m speculating a little here, though, so let’s look at the issues the DAK critics have actually raised on this forum and elsewhere.
The first issue that’s commonly mentioned is decocking. Fans of DA/SA pistols evidently feel they must defend the decocker because not having one is often cited as an advantage: If a pistol doesn’t have a decocker, shooters can’t forget to use it and holster or do other unsafe things with a cocked pistol. But rather than just ignoring it, we get into defenses that usually go something like this: “If you train your shooters properly, they won’t have a problem with decocking.” This defense evidently helps some people maintain appearances as serious commentators because it sounds like a sophisticated technical objection rather than a petulant personal preference relating to the double action trigger itself.
The defense is nevertheless odd because to make it DAK critics are forced to argue in favor of the manual decocker, a feature that’s unnecessary in an autoloading pistol. Glocks and their countless clones have managed to do without decockers for decades.
The arguments don’t, of course, admit that it’s unnecessary to manually decock a pistol. Most commonly they ignore the necessity part entirely and make the triple-negative assumption that there is no reason not to avoid the decocking issue. Okay. …
If that statement seems convoluted and confusing, it’s only because it is. To state the argument plainly and without three negatives, it becomes, “Of course we must learn and remember to decock; why wouldn’t we?” Alas, however, that form of the argument is likely to make us think about the question and to decide that there are indeed a number of good reasons why it shouldn’t be necessary to learn and remember to decock—not least to reduce the likelihood of shooting ourselves in the leg or foot.
To be fair, critics of DAO pistols are not unmindful of the dangers of holstering a cocked pistol. They just believe that the solution to failing to decock when appropriate is “More training.” Unfortunately, it’s a stark fact of life that very experienced and well-trained officers sometimes still make that mistake; and the more pressure they’re under, the more likely it is to occur. Nor are recruitment policies the answer. I’ve seen very smart and capable officers make the mistake as well as those with below-average IQs. The fact that people who holster cocked pistols don’t shoot themselves more often is a consequence of good holster design, not training.
Further—we must ask—what is the purpose of spending time, money and effort to train people to do something that guns are capable of doing automatically? Generations of designers and engineers have striven to make devices from airplanes to household appliances more forgiving of mistakes; why is a firearm that’s more forgiving of mistakes such a bad thing? If we had no choice about putting up with the risks of handling a cocked pistol, that would be one thing, but we do have choices, including some very good choices like the Glock and SIG DAK systems.
Think about it for a minute. What the “too cheap to train” critics are truly arguing is this:
1. More effort and money should be spent on firearms training that doesn’t have anything to do with shooting and gunfighting skills, and
2. Agencies should increase their liability exposure by issuing guns that are inherently more likely to contribute to unintended discharges.
Really? I’m not a lawyer or police administrator, but I’m still having trouble with those arguments.
Another way of expressing the decocker defense is, “Because DAO guns don’t require manual decocking, instructors aren’t required to waste time and money teaching and enforcing the issue to ensure their students don’t shoot themselves or each other.” To be effective when stated that way, it must of course be expressed as a complaint and accusation.
Okay, it’s true: DAO guns do make it unnecessary to waste time and money on the decocking thing. Heck, it’s also true that they don’t make it necessary to waste time and money on learning to make the transition from double action for the first shot to single action for the rest.
So, now it’s their turn. Explain why it’s a bad thing to avoid wasting time and money on unnecessary training. (Sounds silly when put that way, doesn’t it?)
At this point, most DAO critics will ignore the question about unnecessary training and make another claim: Single action is supposedly faster and more accurate than double action. In other words, the disadvantages of remembering to decock and learning how to handle the transition from double action to single action are more than made up for by the supposed advantages of greater speed and accuracy.
One problem with this assumption is that it overlooks an obvious fact: what’s true of some handgunners is not necessarily true of everyone. If someone spends his handgun shooting career using single action triggers, we would expect him to be more proficient with that mode. It’s a type of self-fulfilling prophesy and says nothing about whether the shooter could have been more proficient with another system if he’d tried. There are plenty of excellent shooters who do use double action almost exclusively, and we don’t have to include the current grand masters like Jerry Miculek or look back in time to Ed McGivern. Many PPC competitors use DAO revolvers exclusively to shoot their courses of fire that require a high level of accuracy.
The fact that top shooters in combat-style gun games tend to limit themselves to single action triggers is also starting to change. In the past several years, major competitions have been won with Glocks and guns with similar triggers. This indicates to me that I’m correct in assuming that the reason why top shooters do so well with single action guns is because that’s all they use.
But there’s an even more important reason for the rest of us to consider DAO pistols: Rather than shooting only as well in the double action mode as with a single action trigger, many people do better, especially if the DA trigger pull weight is reasonable. I’ve personally witnessed this not only with myself, but also for average and above-average law enforcement shooters during controlled experiments. Many of the DAK shooters here on the forum have reported the same thing.
If we assume for the sake of argument that double action is slower and less accurate than single action, then why not rely on single action exclusively? Why risk missing our first, most important shot in a defensive situation by firing it double action? Why not rely on 1911 pistols or something similar for all law enforcement duty use and personal concealed carry? After all, manipulating the safety on a gun like the 1911 is no more difficult than using a SIG decocker.
The answer is obvious: Whether they admit it or not, most knowledgeable handgun shooters (including those who scorn DAK triggers in favor of the DA/SA system) believe that single action only is inherently less safe and is therefore appropriate only for people with more advanced training and skills. If someone suggested that the average police recruit or the student in the typical concealed carry permit class should venture forth with a cocked and more-or-less “locked” 1911 on his/her hip, most people reading this would turn a little pale at the thought. They would turn more than a little pale if one of those same people were holding them at gunpoint with a 1911 pistol.
The DAK trigger system doesn’t suit everyone. Not everyone likes Glocks or 1911s. Objections to the mechanism, however, should be based on facts and sensible arguments, though, not misunderstandings and illogic.
To close with a final observation, DAO pistols are becoming more popular all the time. The 2011 SHOT show is in progress as I write this and again this year we’re witnessing the introduction of another gaggle of DAO and DAO-like models. In fact, with the possible exception of a little old wine in new bottles, I’m not aware of any recent new DA/SA offerings, and I’ll make my prediction again: The DA/SA trigger system’s days are numbered. No one has to like these developments, but everyone should be aware of them when dismissing SIG DAK pistols.