Recently, there has been much rekindled and rehashed debate on whether striker-fired guns are the spawn of Satanic fire-breathing seahorses or the most effective self-defense technology ever to grace a holster.

Some folks remain convinced that striker-fired guns like Glocks have trigger-press motions that are too easy and too short. According to this view, negligent and unintended discharges are bound to happen, more so than with other designs. Under stress, your body does weird things, one of which is a sympathetic muscular response. For example, clenching one hand will cause the other to clench, although maybe to a lesser degree. If that “other” hand is holding a gun, then you just might fire it unintentionally. It’s happened before, but so have a lot of other things, like Clay Aiken running for Congress.

The opposing camp prefers long, double-action triggers like those on revolvers and pistols like Berettas, Sig Sauers, and the like. The first shot requires a very long and deliberate press of the trigger. On a Beretta 92FS, the base of the trigger moves over an inch before the shot breaks. The center portion of the trigger, where one’s finger will likely rest, moves over 5/8 of an inch. The double-action pull’s trigger weight can run over 10 pounds, compared to the five-pound range of many striker-fired pistols.

At first glance, it sounds like the single action vs double action crowd has the debate nailed, but there are downsides to consider. First, that long double-action trigger press is harder to master, so it takes some work to deliver an accurate shot, especially under stress. Then there’s the dreaded transition. With a double-action/single-action gun like the Beretta 92/M9, the first shot requires a long trigger press with over 10 pounds of pressure. Subsequent shots operate in single-action mode with a five-pound, and much shorter, trigger press. Getting off multiple accurate shots requires the shooter to master this transition from double-action to single-action between the first shot and second. A striker-fired (or single-action only) pistol has no such transition to conquer. Proponents of that design claim you can unleash two rapid-fire shots at a 300-yard-distant Willy Wonka Bottle Cap candy and hit it both times.

Like most debates, there is some truth on both sides. Personally, I have double-action/single-action, striker-fired, and single-action only guns and am comfortable carrying any of those styles. I’ve never been stressed out about the whole double-action/single-action transition thing. In fact, my first “real caliber” gun was a 9x19mm Beretta 92FS. I carried it as my only option for years and never worried much about it. I guess I didn’t know enough to know that it was the worst concealed carry choice ever and would cause not only my eventual demise, but the downfall of Bingo parlors and tanning salons everywhere. I simply shot it enough to feel comfortable with “the transition.” As a new concealed carrier, I liked the multiple layers of perceived safety. The safety/decocking lever provided one layer. The long, double-action trigger press offered another. I still like those layers and carry double-action pistols frequently.

Until a recent training class I never really knew exactly why I was so comfortable with a double-action/single-action design for concealed carry. Then I found out why I like it. I took an abbreviated class with Ernie Langdon. You might have heard of him, as he’s one of the premier pistol instructors anywhere.

During the class, Ernie taught us the real value of using a double-action gun as a fighting pistol. In short, the idea is to develop a fluid motion of drawing, acquiring a sight picture, and making a fire/no-fire decision, all while starting that long and heavy double-action trigger press. By the time your front sight rises into the perfect sight picture, you’ve already made the decision to shoot (or not) and have fired the shot (or not). It’s exceptionally smooth and fast once you practice and get the hang of it.

I decided to give Ernie’s method a thorough try—and I don’t mean that I took a few shots at the range to see how it felt. Well, yeah, I did that, but more importantly, I allocated a lot of dry and live fire training time to honing the technique to see how it would work out for me.

Step one was to burn in the timing and sequence of the technique. Using my Beretta 92FS at home, double- and triple-checked for safe, dry-fire practice conditions, I started some slow drills. When I say slow, I mean glacially slow, as in the speed at which my dog walks himself to the bathtub. The reason I did these drills so slowly was to “burn” the exact sequence I wanted into my brain. I wanted every practice motion to be perfect and identical. With enough repetitions, speed will eventually take care of itself.

This is the drill:

  1. Move firing hand to gun grip and move support hand to chest (to keep it out of the way and position it for assuming a support grip).
  2. Lift the gun from the holster and rotate towards the target, while bringing it to my support hand.
  3. Assume two-handed grip with the gun still pressed close to my body.
  4. Flip the safety/decocking lever down.*
  5. Press the gun forward while raising the front sight into my field of view.
  6. Apply pressure to the (double-action mode) trigger while raising the pistol and acquiring a sight picture.
  7. Evaluate during this process as to whether it is appropriate to continue trigger pressure to fire or release pressure and stop the firing sequence.

* Yes, I said press down on the safety/decocking lever. You may know that the safety/decocking lever on a Beretta 92, M9 or PX4 is frame-mounted and moves up, not down. That’s correct, but here’s a nifty little trick that’s really a design feature. As Ernie Langdon demonstrated to the class, one of the purposes for the spring and detent motion of the safety decock lever is that you can press it down just a bit and the spring will cause it to continue circling until it moves into the up (fire) position. Trust me on this one and give it a try—it works like a champ.

Now back to the details. The motions taking the gun from your sternum area up to your sight picture are the key ones, hence my very slow and deliberate practice. I prefer to raise the pistol while keeping the barrel horizontal to the ground. If you raise it in a pendulum motion, with the muzzle pointed toward the ground at the start and finishing horizontal, you won’t get a decent sight picture until the very end of the movement. You also don’t want to bring your gun up in such a way that the muzzle points up and you eventually need to bring it back down. The parallel-to-ground method works for me as the front sight naturally comes into view. If necessary, I can fire at virtually any point during the presentation stage.

Is this method right for you? Got me, you’ll have to try it. My practice routines are resulting in some pretty impressive draw and fire skills (for me anyway) so I’m going to keep at it. I followed Ernie’s method during the class, then came home and gave it an extended trial. When a trainer of that caliber teaches me a new method, I may or may not adopt it, but I’m certainly going to give it a fair shot.

The important thing is test concepts on your own, fair and square, then make a decision. Don’t fall for the internet myths about striker-fired guns being too dangerous or double-action pistols being too hard to shoot accurately. Absorb the most credible information you can, preferably in person from a quality instructor, then go to work testing the principles you learn on your own.

Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon.

Image by Tom McHale

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16 thoughts on “Concealed Carry Myths: Double-action Handguns Suck for Self-defense

  1. I prefer the single action 45 ACP. I use be be a revolver guy for the inherent reliability factored in, but my PARA has never failed to fire or jam, and gave me complete confidence, and just feel more comfortable than any of my revolvers.

  2. All my concealed carry weapons are DA/SA, and my favorite of the bunch is also striker-fired — a Walther P99c AS. It never ceases to amaze me that light-trigger, partially-cocked striker fans will on one hand say, “Adequate training is all that’s needed to make you safe with a Glock-style trigger,” (totally ignoring the human propensity to err and the effects of stress), then turn right around and say that they don’t want to spend the time necessary to train for something as simple as DA-to-SA transition.

    You simply cannot have that training argument both ways. If you’re training enough to safely carry a Glock-style trigger, then you’re also training enough to overcome DA-to-SA transition and the added layer of safety such a trigger provides.

    And if it comes time to draw and shoot, I guarantee that there is not two people in a hundred who will be able to swear under oath afterward if their first shot was DA or SA anyway.

  3. I think that finding the gun and/or guns that fit your hand best and then practicing is the key. I never ad an issue qualifying with the M9/M92F but its grip was definitely not the most comfortable for me. I have carried striker-fired (S&W M&P40), DA/SA (SIG P225), SA (M1911’s in Commander & Full-sized) and revolvers and never had an issue with any of them as long as I took them to the range and got used to them.

  4. I personally prefer either the Glock “Safe Action” or a DAO action. As long as the wight is not too bad (7# max) and it breaks cleanly, I can shoot it well.

  5. I usually carry a 1911, but I shot an IDPA match with my wife’s PX4 when my Kimber was in the shop and never noticed the “transition.” Apply smooth steady pressure until the gun fires and you can shoot anything. I did recently notice that after a month of training with a DA revolver I took my 1911 to a three gun match and had a tendancy to fire prematurely. Nothing dangerous; the weapon was pointed at the target before my finger touched the trigger, but I did miss a few shots. The lesson learned was if you are going to carry a light single action; whether it’s hammer or striker fired, you’d better practice with it and have solid trigger finger discipline.

  6. The 2 best safeties in the world, and the ones that you should always use, are your trigger finger and your brain. Anything more and you just confuse the issue.

    When I am not training with one of my Gen3 Glocks, I do an operational check, then remove the safeties before going to “work”. This goes for my black rifles as well.

    All safeties of course should be activated while carrying and holsters that cover/block the trigger guard should ALWAYS be used with all handguns.

  7. WHAT ?….The Safety on the 92/M9/PX4 is NOT frame mounted it is Slide Mounted…one of its biggest downfalls…the 92 early editions were Frame Mounted. Being Slide mounted requires it to be “:Pushed Up ” to fire. And “Pulled down” to decock/engage to safety which is where it should be when in holster…

    1. I have a PX4 and carry it nearly every day, I never leave it in the decock/safety position. I’m comfortable with just the long DA trigger pull as a safety.

      1. Missing the point bud…the safety on
        .the Px-4 as well as the 92/M9/is not frame mounted …it is slide mounted. The article is not telling the truth…

  8. Mr. Hale have you been drinking or never looked at your Berretta 92, as your on picture shows the safety is mounted on the slide, not the frame.

  9. I own both types in .45, Single action Colt and double action Ruger. I can’t say that I prefer one over the other as far as the trigger action goes. The double action Ruger does have other advantages over the Colt 1911, but really, mag capacity is about it. Buy what feels best in your hand. The one pistol that does give me fits is my Ruger .380. The first trigger pull is long and hard but the following shots are fired with an easy short pull. It’s never fails to shoot though. It is just something you need to learn to expect.

  10. People stressfire 12lb long stroke double action triggers too, and it’s not a rare thing.

    Like many other things, it comes down to training. If you keep your finger off the trigger until you decide to shoot, it doesn’t matter.

    Also the downswipe method absolutely does not work on the M9 and PX4 I’ve got here. I have to break my grip and jab forward with my thumb.

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