A Case for 1911’s Being “Safe” Without the Manual Safety in Competition

As many readers here know, I’ve been a long time Glock shooter in competition. My G34 in its various iterations has been showcased on TFB through reviews of various components as companies submit products for testing. That, or I take unilateral action and upgrade it. It has been a trusty weapon system, with only a single malfunction in the last three years of shooting.

However, I did not choose it for its reliability, instead opting for the platform as I was petrified of being disqualified during matches for failing to engage external safeties during abandoning a firearm. Having watched various 1911 shooters be DQ’d for failure to engage a safety or having actually seen it once be disengaged by the box itself, the Glock (or various other striker fired weapons for that matter) was a logical choice.

Still, it seems to be that they are logical choices only because of illogical thinking. Almost all competition circuits require that the external safety must be engaged on a 1911 despite the fact that the weapon is completely safe when the backstrap safety is in place. That backstrap is the functional equivalent of the “dingus” on almost all modern striker-fired semi autos. Engaging the manual safety just seems silly to me and a relic of antiquated thinking.

To me, the weapon must be safe (meaning unable to be fired without purposeful human intervention) and so long as it meets that requirement, the weapon should be deemed sufficiently “safe” for competition purposes.

The most common argument for requiring the 1911 to engage the safety is the often opined “but someone may pin that safety in place.” And yes, in those cases, the shooter must engage the safety to meet the intent of the rules. For anyone who does not pin it, why is there a requirement for all to suffer for the few who modify their weapons? Further, with all weapons subject to RO and/or MD evaluation at any time, why is this relevant when the intent of the rule can always be followed?

Further, various DA/SA guns are deemed “safe” just in a decocked position. Beretta 92 G’s and Sig P226 style handguns are perfectly OK to be abandoned with absolutely no safeties engaged, just a decocked hammer. To me, this seems like a double-standard created out of an absurd abundance of caution, not taking into account the actual mechanics of the weapon systems.

Instead, the rules should be modified to reflect that weapons shall be “safe” to a similar definition as above when abandoned, not just arbitrarily require that all safeties be engaged on a given weapon. Rules as currently written stifle innovation and otherwise send shooters away from great platforms that would otherwise be enjoyed in competition.



Nathan S.

One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

Nathan can be reached at Nathan.S@TheFirearmBlog.com

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


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  • HemingwaysBeard

    How does having a rule that you must engage the manual safety on a SAO platform from 1911 stifle innovation?

  • JSmath

    What happens when a shooter brings a modified 1911 that has a decocker in place of the safety or removes it altogether? Backstrap serves as the trigger dingus, no?

    • HemingwaysBeard

      That means you have no safety engaged on an SAO during your draw and reholster.

  • Stephan Koopmans

    So use a Springfield XD, then. Problem solved.

  • FOC Ewe

    I can see the merit in the idea. I keep the Zev in my G24 tuned to disable the trigger safety and it has yet to go on a murder-spree.

  • Gun Fu Guru

    I’ve always viewed the grip safety as similar to a drop safety. The external safety is a necessity for carry. Without that safety engaged, it is still equally as safe as a Glock so long as you don’t pull the trigger. That is also why I believe Glock made a fortune on deceptively advertising their product as “safe action.”

    • Well, that and the fact that the glock supposedly isn’t fully cocked until you pull the trigger, so theoretically the gun draws back the striker the final bit and then releases it to fire the gun.

      Again, supposedly.

      • Ralph Napier

        There is no “supposedly” to it. Coming from a Glock armorer, the striker is only 30-35% cocked at rest, and is behind the firing pin block safety until the trigger is completely to the rear.
        A Glock is a safe pistol.

        • iksnilol

          Until something pulls the trigger, which is basically every other pistol with its safety disengaged.

          • Ralph Napier

            Okay… your point is..?
            My holsters all cover the trigger gaurd completely. If the pistol isn’t in the holster, it’s in my hand. If the trigger is pressed, it’s my finger pressing it. My Glock fires when I press the trigger.
            I’m not a fanboy. The Springfield XDm is a pretty good copy of a Glock and works well enough. The Smith M&P pistols are nice as long as they don’t have a safety. The Sig pistols are nice, if they don’t have a thumb safety.
            The ONLY thing a safety does to a responsible gun owner is prevents them from firing the pistol. Benchrest rifles are an exception, though.

          • iksnilol

            You do know that something else can also pull the trigger? Cops in Norway got Glock leg from criminals jamming their hand into the holster and catching onto the trigger (yes, the holster supposedly did cover the trigger guard, but holsters are a bit flexible).

            Then you’ve also got brush and whatnot that can also snag onto a trigger (don’t know if that’s an issue for you, but in my area it can be).

            My point is, a Glock isn’t any safer than any other pistol. In fact it is less safe due to never having an “off” mode (that is, a safety).

          • Stuki Moi

            One thing Glock has going for it, is their relatively tight, and wide, trigger guards combine with the center mounted trigger safety to reduce the risk of foreign objects being able to depress the trigger.

            Much better than the bottom hinged thingy on the M&P, and their larger trigger guard.

            For carrying in a soft holster (smart carry, belly bands, some chest rigs), this really matters. Ditto for temporarily stuffing it behind, or in, a mag carrier if you need your hands free for a second or two. Or in an old school biker jacket “gun pocket.” Or Mexican 🙂

            I’m sure there are other scenarios as well. None of them are ideal. A Glock should be carried with a hardside holster guarding the trigger. But when it’s not, it’s still more forgiving than some give it credit for.

          • A proper thumb safety is also akin to a ‘gas pedal’ thumb rest: the shooter should be employing it as a leverage point to draw the gun tightly into the hand. A good shooter should be training with their guns and the thumb safety disengaging should be part of the draw stroke and establishing a grip on the pistol.

          • coyotehunter

            Why were safeties invented in the first place?….Because not everyone is a “responsible” gun owner….Some people like blondes, some like brunettes…some even like those wired hot redheads…me, i’ll stick with my ol rattle barrel 1911, with the grip, and thumb safety, been working since….1911!

    • Sam Damiano

      The Glock trigger safety is a repositioned grip safety. The safest thing about the Glock trigger is a long heavy pull.

  • John Yossarian

    I don’t think the grip safety = dingus argument holds true. The 1911’s grip safety is engaged while gripping the pistol, which might be long before getting the weapon on target. Yet, one’s finger only engages the Glock dingus once the weapon is on target.

    • ostiariusalpha

      I’m not so sure about that, John. If you have engaged the grip safety, how is the gun going to go off without sticking something in the trigger area? And if something gets inserted inside a Glock trigger guard, how is the trigger safety going to make anymore of a difference in keeping the trigger from being actuated? They don’t seem to be all that functionally different in their ability to keep the trigger from being pressed in much the same circumstances.

    • Blake

      Yeah ostiariusalpha mentioned it already, but both are just different ways of getting to the same result. They’re both designed to make sure the gun doesn’t fire unless actually being held by a human. They use different means to get to that end, but they have the exact same purpose.

    • If it were as simple as “one’s finger only engages the Glock dingus once the weapon is on target“, we wouldn’t have the term “Glock Leg”. Stupid always finds a way.

      • Sam Damiano

        “Stupid always finds a way.” Have you been watching Jurassic Park? No matter what you design nature designs a better fool. 20 years of active duty proves that.

    • oldman

      The safety is or should be taken off as the weapon is drawn not as you point it at the target. So your point is spurious at best.

  • HemingwaysBeard

    I could understand if the argument was against engaging a manual safety that comes optional on some firearms that have other internal safeties (e.g. M&P and FNS). However, this argument is specific to 1911’s and more of complaint about being DQ’d for forgetting to take a general safety measure.
    If you DQ for forgetting to engage a 1911 safety during a course of fire, you are trying to go faster than your skill level, are not trained enough on that platform, or had a brain fart. Any one of these three reasons is a safety issue.
    Safety officers don’t DQ people to be jerks. They are just in charge of making sure that the random group of strangers with an assortment of non-standard firearms enjoy a safe environment.

    • Tommyboy13

      THIS. A summary of my post (posted after yours). That apparently did not get approved. Maybe it was too long…

  • gunsandrockets

    Very logical.

  • Gary Kirk

    THAT’S IT!!! Now we must unload, lock action open, and show clear before leaving the weapon..

    You know, safety first and all..

  • Joe

    I don’t understand why a blade safety on cocked Sig or Beretta’s isn’t the same thing as the typical striker, let alone a 1911. Semantics.

  • Nathan, one thing you might want to keep in mind with this, the rule exists because many open-class 1911s/2011s have had the grip safety disabled/pinned. So on those guns, there is no secondary safety, just the manual safety.

    The rule presumably exists for just such cases, where the gun is basically left live without any additional safeties being in play.

  • Is it even possible for a 1911– cocked or uncocked– to fire without the grip safety being engaged? As in, is it realistically likely to go off if dropped hard in the wrong direction, or would it have to be hurled at the ground by a silverback gorilla or something?

    • Gidge

      Yes, if it’s got no half cock notch and had a trigger job from someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Without enough tension from the sear spring or a sear that isn’t properly fitted it’ll release the hammer if dropped.

      Or dropped in a VERY specific manner from height onto solid ground so that it lands muzzle first.

    • Gary Kirk

      Realistically no, possibly yes.. But that would boil down to broken parts, operator error (aka home brewed bubba’ing), or as others have mentioned.. Pinning the damned grip safety!

  • Gidge

    I shoot IPSC in Australia where the majority of guns used are 1911s or 2011s. I’ve never seen anyone DQd like that. I shoot Classic division (a.k.a single stack) as well as production with a Tanfoglio where you start decocked and don’t use the safety. Transitioning between the two guns is a non issue.

    • Is 3-gun a thing down under?
      I thought Semi Auto shotguns and rifles were banned…

      This only applies to a 3 gun stage that starts wih a pistol and transitions to rifle or shotgun.

  • John

    I have seen it happen numerous times at USPSA matches. “Shooter ready!” *BEEEEEP*………..*sound of trigger being squeezed incredibly hard*………………….”oh damn!” *click*….*BANG*

    I makes me wonder what would happen if this were a self defense situation and panic was brought into the mix.

    I am of the mindset that gun safety is good trigger/muzzle discipline and a good holster.

    JMHO

    • If they’re having that issue, then they’re not properly training to employ the firearm in combat. The disengaging of the safety should be part of the draw stroke as the thumb uses the safety to draw the gun into the hand completely.

  • Tommyboy13

    Novel, inbound. Heck, think it’s longer than the article…

    “as I was petrified of being disqualified during matches for failing to engage external safeties during abandoning a firearm during stages.”

    This is where you lost me, pretty much at the start, though I finished the article. If you are unable to operate a firearm fully in all of it’s intricacies, let alone a safety mechanism for the gun, I believe the issue runs deeper. Among other firearms, I regularly choose 1911’s for competition and personal carry. I have never once been scared that I could not operate the safety, either to enable or disable it. I have made mistakes, sure. But that has never made me seek out a reason to justify making any scenario around firearms less safe than that specific situation can inherently be. If the gun has a safety, use the safety.

    For competition, the first aspect over all else should always be to make things safe. Not only do I not want myself or anyone else to be hurt do to mine or others lack of ability or safety discipline, but I want to keep shooting and having fun. A trend of avoidable mistakes in sports like ours would not do well for anyone in the long run. A match scenario is not the right place to learn if you can safely manipulate your firearm. If you are unsafe in general, or attempting to perform at a level past your ability to be safe, then you can’t be surprised if you get DQ’d, and you can’t get upset about it. These situations are the most common that leads to a DQ, and oftentimes right after, the only one who doesn’t get why they got told to go home was the shooter. I probably should not be allowed to drive a Formula One car in any race, let alone on a closed circuit, as I do not have the skill or knowledge to do so safely.

    People mess up, the best of us can make mistakes or a fluke can happen, but that doesn’t mean we should lower the safety standard because someone could potentially break that rule and get DQ’d. I’d wager shooting yourself in the foot hurts a ton, whether it happened ‘by the book’ and you screwed up, or you did not follow a safety rule and screwed up.

    As far as pinning the grip safety, you can’t have it both ways. Do you want to have an RO check every 1911 that comes to the firing line if the grip safety is not pinned, and then have an additional set of rules to govern the safety procedure for the gun? It’s much easier to have all 1911’s have to have the manual safety, than have the RO check the gun for a pinned grip safety, and mentally keep that in mind. What happens when he/she has 3 guys with a pinned safety, and the 4th doesn’t. But then forgets, and doesn’t make that shooter engage the safety? Maybe nothing, or maybe something bad. Too many hypotheticals and potential problems that may pop up just because some people can’t operate one of the easiest (in my opinion) safety mechanisms on any firearm. Sure, you could set it down in a box and it pop the safety off. Or, you know, you could set it down in a manner that it DOESN’T pop it off. Please reference the “if you are unsafe in general, or attempting to perform at a level past your ability to be safe” comment above. Setting a pistol down safely, no matter how rapidly that may be, will equal that pistol staying in the same condition. Haphazardly throwing it down on a table or at a speed you cannot make sure that the pistol stayed safe, and bumping the safety off, is a different situation. Now think about that situation with re-holstering. I like that my safety doctrine that I have burned into my brain has me turn on the manual safety before ever going to re-holster, and I’m honestly puzzled why anyone would try to make it so that situation could be handled in any way less safe than absolutely possible. Glocks do not have these safeties (another argument for another time) so this is not applicable. But on a gun that has another level of safety available, why NOT use it? Ask any top level shooter, all of which have probably been DQ’d at some point for this exact situation, who’s responsibility is it to leave a gun in a safe condition. It’s not the gun’s, or the table’s, or the box, or the…

    The other dangerous thing here is that even though you say “for competition”, many will read and some might think that you have a point for ALL aspects of handling a 1911. I could never carry a 1911, loaded and ready to fire, without the manual safety engaged, and not feel uneasy. Any part of a mechanism can fail, the manual or grip safety included, so why only use some of what is there to protect you? One of the reasons I will not carry a Glock is because the lack of a manual or grip safety. If you carry concealed a lot, you know that it is not unfeasible for a jacket string or shirt or whatever else to get in the way of a re-holster. That does not mix well with a 3-4 lb trigger pull and no safety, and we have all seen the pictures of that happening. With an XD or the like, you can at least finish a re-holster without the grip safety engaged. Why would I want to be less safe in competition than in my every day life? To be faster, or make it so I don’t get DQ’d because I can’t handle a platform to the highest level of safety? Boohoo, so you you are slower and didn’t do something stupid that may have hurt someone. This argument does not compute with me.

    Basically, learn to handle what you are working with. If you can’t do that, don’t shoot. There is no excuse, nor should anyone find a reason to justify being less safe than you can be within confines of the activity you are participating with (note: read that and understand it, so I don’t have to read the “then why don’t you just not shoot at all, that’s the MOST safe situation blah blah blah” comments). We all hate shooting around unsafe people. If you can’t remember or be bothered to ensure to make a loaded firearm safe, there is a deeper problem. I could go on and on, and have not even SCRATCHED this issue and why it obviously irks me. Do people that have this inability to safely manipulate a 1911 safety also have this issue with an AR-15 safety? In an exposed competition environment, is a loaded AR with safety off no less safe than a loaded Glock? Commence the hate…

  • CaptainBukkake

    It is my understanding, perhaps incorrectly, that many 1911’s (Series 70 style) are not drop safe unless the manual safety is engaged were the firearm to be loaded with a round in the chamber and fall on it’s muzzle. So perhaps the drop safety status of many 1911’s might have something to do with the safety rule requiring the manual safety be engaged?

    • Mark Horning

      Your understanding of the 1911 fire control system is more or less completely incorrect.

      The thumb safety on a 1911 does nothing as a drop safety. The firing pin is free floated, so if you drop it muzzle down, onto concrete, from high enough it can go off. 1911s with drop safeties (firing pin blocks) use ether the trigger (series 80 style) or a second safety on the grip safety (Swartz)

      • CaptainBukkake

        Thanks for the information, Mark.

        That leads me to another question then… If the series 80 style firing pin block is controlled by the trigger, if the series 80 1911 were to be loaded with a round in the chamber and dropped in any position with the manual thumb safety off, would it be possible for the 1911 to fire? Or will the thumb safety always have nothing to do with the drop safety of the 1911 in any style/configuration like you alluded to above?

  • Mark Horning

    I’d actually call a 1911 with the thumb lock off safer than a Glock. A Glock can still fire if the trigger is pulled (finger, retention strap, twig) while a 1911 must be gripped while the trigger is pulled.

    What I find far more obnoxious are rules that say one cannot disable or remove a magazine interlock.

  • USMC03Vet

    I’d take a grip safety over a tiny grip safety on the trigger any day.

  • If your gun is has the drop safety, then it should be safe without the manual safety engaged.

    If not, the sear could conceivably slip the hammer notch without the grip safety being actuated.

    • Anonymoose

      So that would disqualify all the Series 70-style 1911s and de-plungered Series 80s that seem to dominate the competition market…

  • Saint Stephen the Obvious
  • noob

    Get a custom 1911 with the thumb safety deleted and a blade safety in the trigger, and then put it beside a Springfield XD. at that point which is safer?

    • HemingwaysBeard

      Would that design be considered a 1911? I think it’d be a new type of pistol.

      • Will

        Not a new type. Forget that blade in the trigger, it already has the grip safety. What you would have is the 1910 Army Test gun. The “1911 type” has always had a grip safety. The thumb safety was requested by the Army after the gun passed all required tests. It’s not clear how much input JM Browning had in the design of that thumb piece. It may have been totally a Colt design. Grip safeties are a signature Browning design, he put them on nearly everything.

        Add the Series 80 firing pin lock setup, and that would be all the gun needs. Know why so many people get the grip safety pinned?

        Because they can’t depress it, even with a “memory bump” added to it. This sometimes occurs when people shoot with their thumb on top of that thumb safety. Get the gun cut to fit a beavertail safety, and nearly everyone needs to pin it at that point. This is due to the change in your palm profile when you lift your thumb up, and now back, to keep it on top of that paddle. If you look closely at your backstrap, you will see a gap there. Your recoil control is reduced to two spots of contact, the web between the thumb and first finger, and at the bottom of the palm, inline with the small finger. That’s it. And you wonder why gunsmiths add all sorts of checkering to various places on the gun after an undercut beavertail is added. When you shoot with the thumb on top of that safety, you no longer have good recoil control, and the gun chews you up during long training sessions. You added the beavertail to “enhance” your control, and got the opposite. You have been brainwashed into thinking it is the best thing to do, thumb on safety, and add a beavertail.
        The gun wasn’t designed to be shot with thumb on safety. It wasn’t even there! Know what the trainer who pushed for people to put their thumb on top did to try to fix his mistake? Had the thumb paddle moved closer to the bottom of the safety panel. This worked ok, as long as you never needed to shoot it with your left hand. As soon as you grasped it, it would apply the safety with contact by the first knuckle. It also made it impossible to make an ambidextrous safety.
        Shooting with the thumb on the safety was originally done by competitors long ago, to enable them to cause a malfunction to get a “do over”. Not an auspicious origin for something pushed as a “must do” for serious social use.

        • HemingwaysBeard

          Thanks for the informative response. I didn’t know about the 1910 Army Test gun. However, I still tend to agree with the army’s decision back then, that the pistol should have a manual safety. Since it was just a prototype that wasn’t mass produced, I’d view that as just a step in Browning’s R&D.

          Looking up the test pistol, I came across John Browning’s FN M1910, which also had a manual safety. However, it looks small and not ergonomic.

          I have a hard time with the idea of someone holstering any SAO without a manual safety engaged. Especially, since some guys do shady competition trigger jobs to make them super light. However, I realize the similarity to holstering a modern striker fire (e.g. glock). It could just be personal bias, or that I don’t understand enough about the internal mechanics, but in that scenario I believe a striker fire is safer

          • Will

            “Since it was just a prototype that wasn’t mass produced, I’d view that as just a step in Browning’s R&D.”

            Not exactly. Colt supplied the Army with about 200+ for field trials, IIRC. This is the gun that ran 6000 rounds without failure to win the US Army acceptance tests. Afterwards, JMB kept one of them for personal use. It appears that JMB was a left-hander, which would explain his aversion to putting thumb safeties on his designs, unless the buyer/producer required it. A grip safety is automatically an ambi safety.

            Part of the problem that the author is running into with the 1911 is the cult that surrounds Col Cooper and Gunsite. A LOT of the big names in training worked as staff at Gunsite, or were taught by them. It makes them a fair bit ridged on that gun. Indoctrinated would be a good descriptor. If you dare to suggest that Cooper didn’t quite walk on water, and that his feet might have gotten a wee bit wet, expect to receive some flak in your direction 🙂

        • HemingwaysBeard

          I haven’t looked into the ergonomics of 1911’s as much as you have, and I will admit that I added one of wilson combat’s low ride manual safety on mine. With that safety I find it very comfortable to shoot, and I don’t have a problem with the grip safety. Also, I’m a righty, but don’t have a problem shooting it left handed when a IDPA course of fire requires that. However, I know everyone’s hands and bio mechanics are different.
          In the context of Nathan’s post, the ergonomic issue is irrelevant. If you have a problem handling a particular firearm, you shouldnt rely on it for a competition. 1911’s are fun to shoot, but a very old design. There are a ton of other firearms competitors can use.
          Even though I disagree with a few of your points, thanks again for your detailed response, I did learn a few things from it.

  • Sam Damiano

    Why is the 1911 considered unsafe but an AR-15 is considered safe? Ignoring the grip safety since it is either an extra part or an analog to the Glock safety and not applicable to the AR. The 1911 and AR are similar designs that are either cocked and locked or the Safety is off.
    The above rule is as relevant as the old CMP rule that said you couldn’t put Allen head screws on a Service Pistol grip.

    • HemingwaysBeard

      Not sure what your comparisson to an AR-15 is… Every competition circut I can think of requires you to engage the manual safety of an AR-15 prior to and after completing a course of fire. Also, from my understanding, the US military and law enforcement teaches service members to use the manual safety when they’re not in an engagement.

      • Sam Damiano

        More of a comparison of one safety being accepted as above reproach and one being borderline unsafe when they function the same way. The only difference is range of throw in the 1911. I am amazed by young shooters who will tell me horror stories about 1911’s and have never handled one.

  • Bruce

    The relevant section is 8.1.2. You’ll notice, that it specifically allows for the disabling of the grip safety. You’ll also notice that it specifically calls out actions that have a decocker/safety level. Safety must be engaged on Beretta set up with the decocker that is also a manual safety. I’d be just as disqualified if I failed to decock my P226 before placing it in the box. Ultimately this is a game. In a game, people will look for any advantage. I’m not interested in testing every gun that comes to the range for drop safety. It’s not a good use of the range officers time. An RO can clearly see if you fail to use the features of the gun and the required use of those features is clearly laid out in the rules. Grow up, play the game, be safe, and have fun.