Grip Safeties - Threat or Menace?

Grip Safeties - Threat or Menace?

This is a discussion on Grip Safeties - Threat or Menace? within the Defensive Carry Guns forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; I've noticed a lot of threads here of the "Should I buy A or B?" variety. Another large group of threads seem to be the ...

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Thread: Grip Safeties - Threat or Menace?

  1. #1
    Member Array Optimistic Paranoid's Avatar
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    Grip Safeties - Threat or Menace?

    I've noticed a lot of threads here of the "Should I buy A or B?" variety. Another large group of threads seem to be the "I'm thinking of getting an XYZ, anyone here own one?"

    Being a thouroghly opinionated sob, who's been shooting and carrying for more than 30 years, I'd like to throw out some info that few people today seem to know about.

    It used to be fairly common knowledge that people with small to medium hands would have occasional trouble with the grip safety of 1911s - as in, the gun refused to fire if they didn't have it depressed all the way.

    Some of the old timers used to deal with this by 'pinning' the safety - that is, a gunsmith would remove the grip panels, clamp the safety all the way down, then drill a hole through the frame and safety and insert a pin, locking the safety down so it was permanently defeated.

    It was Massad Ayoob who first pointed out that this could bite you in the ass in court if you were facing a negligent manslaughter charge, since the prosecutor could point to the fact that you had deliberately disconnected a safety feature on the gun involved in the incident, which would be prima-facie evidence of willful negligence on your part.

    Not everyone agrees with Mas on this, of course, and at a class I took with a VERY well known instructor last summer, two of the other students suffered failure-to-fires which they attributed to not having the grip safety fully depressed. The instructor's response in each case was that if it happened again, they should get the safeties pinned.

    (I should add that I've done classes with several of the "big-name" instructors over the years, and it's not that uncommon to find them disagreeing about this or that. John Farnam is wildly enthusiastic about pepper spray and thinks everyone should carry it in addition to a gun. Louis Awerbuck thinks it's useless and a waste of time. Some of this stuff you just have to sort out for yourself.)

    Anyway, I'm a long time revolver shooter, who's only recently accepted the idea that these new-fangled flat guns aren't just a passing fancy after all. These days I carry Glocks or Kahrs.

    Grip safeties are an abomination. They are completely unnecessary and potentially dangerous, and the presence of one on a gun - like the presence of an internal lock - moves the gun into the "I'll buy it when Hell freezes over" category.

    Well, now you know why IMNPHO - In My Never Particularly Humble Opinion - appears in so many of my posts.

    I'm going to close this post out with some interesting info from John Farnam about these things. Bet most of you didn't know this stuff:

    18 Apr 05

    Kimber's grip-safety/firing-pin safety, from a department armorer whose department uses the Kimber 1911 pistol:

    "We have had grievous problems with Kimber's firing-pin safety. It came on some of our officers' new Kimbers. It is deactivated via the depression of the grip safety. When the grip safety is not fully depressed, the hammer falls when the trigger is pressed, but the gun does not fire! It creates a horrifying situation, as the officer does not know is he has a dud round or an
    incorrect grip. Accordingly, I've pulled all pistols equipped with this device out of service. Friends at Kimber indicated to me that we can thank LAPD for this undefendable 'safety,' that never should have seen the light of day!"

    Lesson: You can really put yourself in danger by having too many "safeties " on a serious gun. "Safety" devices that are particularly detrimental to your health are the ones, such as described above, which engender confusion in the mind of a desperate user. Any legitimate "safety" will forestall the entire ignition sequence. At least then the operator may have a clue as to what the problem is. A "safety" which allows the gun to “half operate" is nuts!

    /John


    14 Sept 05

    The 1911 Pistol and the Swartz system

    As originally designed and produced, John M Browning's 1911 pistol had no mechanical interlock that prevented the firing pin from going forward when the pistol was dropped on the muzzle or when the slide went forward in the normal loading procedure or during the normal cycle of operation. These two theoretical circumstances through which the pistol could conceivably fire unintentionally (or even go full auto) were considered so astronomically unlikely, Browning was unconcerned.

    History has proven him correct! I, for one, have been training people to carry and shoot 1911s since 1968 and have had thousands of 1911s come through classes, including many that were manufactured during and before WWII. My students have loaded them, unloaded them, performed chamber checks on them, shot them, and even dropped more times than I can count. In those thirty-seven years, I've never once personally witnessed a 1911 slam-fire, a 1911 go full-auto, or a 1911 discharge as the result of being dropped. Maybe these things happen, but they have never happened in front of me. Yes, like all of us, I've heard many third-hand stories, but my experience causes me to believe Browning was right, as we have discovered over the years that he usually is !

    Today, nearly all major manufacturers of pistols, other than the 1911, have trigger-activated firing-pin locks, standard on all their products, and have had this feature from the first gun they produced. In the 1980s, Colt added a trigger-activated system to their version of the 1911, and all Colt’s 1911s have come with it ever since. A trigger-activated firing-pin lock makes it
    mechanically unachievable for the firing pin to reach the primer of the chambered round without pressure being applied to the trigger.

    Other modern-day 1911 manufacturers, specifically Kimber and S&W, instead use a version of the "Swartz System," which is a grip-safety-activated firing-pin lock. The Swartz System was designed specifically to address the drop-safety issue only. It does not address the slam-fire issue, as the pistol is properly gripped (depressing the grip safety) when it is loaded. Since most pistols don't have grip safeties, the Swartz System is found only on 1911s.

    Kimber makes the "Warrior" model, which has neither a grip-safety nor a trigger-activated firing-pin lock, and that is the one currently being purchased by the USMC. My Detonics too has neither of the above.

    I became concerned with this system when I witnessed several female students shoot my S&W Scandium Commander one-handed last week. On several occasions, S&W's version of the Swartz System worked only too well! The hammer dropped all the way forward as the trigger was pressed, but the pistol, to the astonishment of the shooter, failed to fire. The primer on the chambered round, upon examination, was unmarked. I'm persuaded that this failure was due to the fact that the grip safety was not fully depressed. It was depressed far enough to allow the hammer to fall but not far enough to fully unblock the firing pin. The phenomenon was not observed with shooters with bigger hands, nor did it happen when my female students held the pistol with both hands.

    Upon examination of the firing-pin stop itself (a spring-loaded plunger), I could see that it had been battered by the firing pin hitting it. A friend who also owns a S&W 1911 observed that the firing-pin stop on his pistol was badly battered too. He sent his back to S&W, and they, of course, replaced the part, but he, and I, are concerned that eventually that part (the firing-pin stop) will batter itself into incompetence.

    S&W has a good product here, but I am concerned about these occasional failures to fire. When I get a chance to talk with gunsmiths at S&W, I'll report back.

    /John

    05 Oct 05

    The Word on firing-pin locking systems on 1911 pistols, from Master Pistolsmith, Jim Garthwaite:

    "Firing-pin locking systems on autoloading pistols are designed to prevent firing-pin-inertia-engendered, unintentional discharges as the result of three circumstances:

    (1) The pistol falls on a hard surface, striking directly on the muzzle
    (2) The pistol is loaded normally, and the slide springs forward, chambering a round
    (3) The pistol goes full-auto during normal firing

    In the early 1900s, it was the opinion of Browning himself that all of the forgoing events were so unlikely that the addition of a firing-pin-arrest system on his new pistol was unnecessary. However, in the intervening decades, trigger-deactivated, firing-pin-arrest systems have become standard on nearly all other reputable, modern, serious pistols. Some current makers of 1911 pistols have also decided to add such a system. Others have not. Some, like Colt, make the pistol both ways!

    Among current manufacturers, two firing-pin-arrest systems are employed, one trigger-deactivated (Colt System) and one grip-safety-deactivated (Swartz System). The Colt System addresses all three circumstances listed above. The Swartz System address only the first, as the grip safety is normally depressed when the pistol is loaded and when it is fired. In addition, the Swartz System will only work on 1911 slides with an external extractor.

    The Colt System employs two, trigger-activated levers that lift a spring-loaded, firing-pin block, thus allowing the firing pin to move forward. Problems with this system abound with the addition of an after-market, over-travel limiter that limits the rearward movement of the trigger. This can allow the hammer/sear to disengage (allowing the hammer to fall forward) but fail to provide enough lift to raise the block and release the firing pin. The effect is that the trigger is pulled; the hammer falls normally, but the pistol fails to discharge. Trigger over-travel limiters, of any kind, are thus not recommended on any 1911 pistol that is used for serious purposes.

    Another shortcoming of this system is the location of the hole in the slide that accommodates the firing-pin block. It is located beside and to the rear of the disconnector hole and can allow the slide to peen from contact with the hammer. This is especially true in 9mm/.38 Super/9X23 slides that use a wide cut for the added width of the ejector.

    The version of the Swartz System employed by S&W is less complicated. It features only one lever in the frame. Pressure from the grip safety unlocks (lifts) the firing-pin-block in the slide, deactivating it. Kimber’s version uses a plunger in the frame and a collar that fits around the firing pin.

    The most common problem with the Swartz System is the fitting of the parts from the factory. Timing must be such that the firing-pin-block is deactivated BEFORE the grip safety releases the trigger bar, allowing the hammer/sear to disengage. If that sequence is reversed, the hammer may fall before the block is deactivated. The result is that, when the trigger is pressed, the hammer falls normally, but the pistol fails to fire.

    Both systems have obvious shortcomings. Many believe neither contributes positively to the original Browning design. However, I recommend, if you own a Kimber, S&W, or a Colt Series 80 1911 pistol, that you don't remove the firing-pin-block. Both the Colt and the Swartz Systems can be made reliable, when they are not that way already, with attention from a competent pistolsmith. Owning a pistol which is absolutely drop-safe is important to many gun carriers. When you want a drop-safe 1911 pistol, you have your choice!”

    Comment: Additional "features" invariably involve additional moving parts and other engineering compromises. All who carry the 1911 need to decide how important absolute drop-safety is to them.

    /John
    Regards
    John


    Life Member - American Society of Armed Political Malcontents

    Question Authority. Hang As Necessary!

    In God I Trust. Everybody Else Keep Your Hands Where I Can See Them!


  2. #2
    Distinguished Member Array lowflyer's Avatar
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    All of what you posted is completely moot if one will simply practice gripping the gun properly. In tens of thousands of rounds through my 1911s, I have never once had a failure of the grip safety. Nor have I ever felt the need to disable it for any reason.

    This is much ado about nothing IMEO.
    Whatever doesn't kill you postpones the inevitable.

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    Member Array cpmiv's Avatar
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    I can't say I've ever had a failure due to the grip saftey. I've shot my own full sized, my Warthog, and numerous other mfg's and have never had a problem. I might not be picturing it properly but I can't "see" how one could hold a 1911 and not depress the grip safey.
    There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation. That's one firearm for every twelve people on the planet. The only question is: How do we arm the other 11? (Yuri Orlov [Nicolas Cage] Lord of War)

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    Arrow YEP

    Quote Originally Posted by lowflyer View Post
    All of what you posted is completely moot if one will simply practice gripping the gun properly. In tens of thousands of rounds through my 1911s, I have never once had a failure of the grip safety. Nor have I ever felt the need to disable it for any reason.

    This is much ado about nothing IMEO.
    Agreed.

  5. #5
    Member Array Nate's Avatar
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    I agree with lowflyer, but then again, to each his own. Why have ANY safety at all then? In times of stress, unless you've trained to remove/deactivate ALL safeties, you might very well forget something and the gun won't go bang.

    Of all of them, the grip safety is the EASIEST, and the FIRST one to disengage, if you train correctly and know how to use your weapon.

    I see no problem whatsoever with them.

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    Distinguished Member Array AKsrule's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lowflyer View Post
    All of what you posted is completely moot if one will simply practice gripping the gun properly. In tens of thousands of rounds through my 1911s, I have never once had a failure of the grip safety. Nor have I ever felt the need to disable it for any reason.

    This is much ado about nothing IMEO.
    Double Ditto
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    Ex Member Array Glock 'em down's Avatar
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    As with a Revolver, a Glock, or a Sig, your FINGER is your primary safety. Grip safeties are a pain in the ass.

    Mas has also written about "Custom" guns (1911s) and how IF you shoot a BG with one, be prepared for the BG's defense attorney to CONVINCE a jury of your peers, that YOU made YOUR weapon MORE LETHAL by adding "custom" parts to it that were not installed at the factory!

    Oh yes...this CAN happen! That's why my duty/carry gun is a stock out of the box Glock 22. The only "custom" work done to this weapon is the instalation of a rubber grip sleeve and a plug!

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    VIP Member Array raevan's Avatar
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    There are some Magazine writers who say they experience the grip safety problem, also there are competition shooters that have problems, all are using the high thumb type shooting. The 1911 was designed for low thumb. Originally the pistol was shot with one hand (that was how the Military taught at that time). with one hand grip the Thumb is low and the grip safety is depressed.

    With a two hand grip some people shoot with the firing hand thumb above the thumb of the support hand, thereby not allowing at times the palm to depress the grip safety.

    Grip it correctly and it will fire every time.

  9. #9
    Distinguished Member Array BIG E's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lowflyer View Post
    All of what you posted is completely moot if one will simply practice gripping the gun properly. In tens of thousands of rounds through my 1911s, I have never once had a failure of the grip safety. Nor have I ever felt the need to disable it for any reason.

    This is much ado about nothing IMEO.
    +3 on this one.

    I could not disagree more.

    I have been shooting 1911's for years and haven't ever had a FTF due to the grip safety not being engaged properly.

    Granted... I can see how this could happen for someone with small hands. However, the buyer should be aware of their limitations when buying a firearm. Wrap your hand around the grip. If it feels like you are trying to grip a tree trunk then the gun is too big for you. Buy a 380 or something you can operate in a safe manor. If the buyer can't figure this out then maybe they do need to carry the mace instead of a firearm.

    Pinning the safety may be a common practice and may be suggested by certain training professionals, but if it was suggested to me I would laugh my ass off and give you a lecture on safety. The safety is there for a reason. Would you take the seatbelt out your car because it wrinkles you clothes?

    If you can't properly handle your firearm then stay the hell away from me and mine. I want no part of it. IMHO
    Don't hit at all if it is honorably possible to avoid hitting; but never hit soft!

    -- Theodore Roosevelt --

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    I think training and practice is the most prominent issue with handguns, however In times of stress I want a simple reliable DAO handgun.
    Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything
    Wyatt Earp

    NRA Member

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    well I will say that on my XD, in nearly 5000 rounds I have never had any problems with the grip safety not being pushed in. The lightest grip on the gun will push it in. Drawing the gun quickly, it makes no difference. I see no way that you could not get the grip safety in, unless you choose to hold the gun so far down on the grip, that it would be uncontrollable.. which you wouldn't have your hand on the grip safety anyways.

    I don't know about the 1911 grip safety, I've never shot one. I will just say taht this is NOT something I worry about being a problem on my XD.

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    I have never had a problem with either the standard safety ,or the speed bump grip safety. Get what works best for you. Be it a 1911, or other quality pistol.
    "In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock." Thomas Jefferson


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    I didn't chime in earlier but will emphasize ........... to anyone ......... find the right firearm for YOU!

    Hell - there are many folks who should never try and sport a 1911, just ''because'' others say it's the cat's miaow!

    So - a 1911 in skilled hands (and let's not forget the importance of practice and training) - is fine and as testified already - NOT going to produce an instant failure! If hands are small then these days there are countless options, with or without grip safeties.

    I have no XD but one thing I like is the addition of a grip safety - just me, compared with Glock.

    Seems like a tried and tested feature is being slammed, unnecessarily.
    Chris - P95
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    is like owning a piano and assuming that you are a musician!."


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    The XD grip safety doesn't even come close to the 1911 grip safety. In all due respect to the 1911, if you had one installed with a big ol' speedbump on it - you should depress it everytime!

  15. #15
    whw
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    The XD grip safety has never been an issue with me. The gun seems to fit my hand perfectly. That said, I really don't know why the XD needs a grip safety. Anytime you hold the gun, the safety is disengaged. If I'm missing something, let me know.

    The 1911 is a different story. When I shoot, I hold the gun "high". The thumb is on top of the safety. Several times the gun wouldn't fire because my hand had ridden too high on the gun and the grip safety went to work.

    Shooting with a low thumb, or the thumb below the safety, isn't a great idea for self defense. Take the case of the narcotics officer sitting at a drug dealer's table. Things went bad and the officer draws his 1911 while seated. As he tries to bring the gun up, the top of the slide hits the bottom of the table. Upon contact, the low thumb moves the safety to the safe position. He presents the gun and it fails to fire because the low thumb has engaged the safety. No problems with the grip safety, but the narcotics officer died in his chair.

    Browning made the hi-power without a grip safety and it is a fine example of a top grade combat weapon. I can't confirm it, but I've heard that Browning was forced to add the grip safety to the 1911 by the government. He resisted, but in the end added the feature against his will.

    Interesting topic. Good thread.

    whw

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