Thumb Safeties on Handguns

External safeties on a handgun used to be a real hot topic and they are still an issue that new shooters go over when purchasing their first handgun. This is a matter of safety vs no safety and I’m not talking about a trigger safety that is technically an external safety. Some believe that a safety will make the gun inoperable for precious seconds in a self defense situation while others believe an external safety makes your chances of a negligent discharge much less.

If you don’t follow the rules of gun safety, you’re very likely to have a negligent discharge with or without an external safety on your gun. And if you train to disengage a safety, it’s very unlikely you won’t disengage the safety in a self defense situation.

If an external safety is a requirement there are many things to consider. Is using the safety natural? In my opinion there isn’t a more well designed or placed safety than the 1911. The safety works well with a high tang grip and can be naturally disengaged by people with all different size hands. The safety is disengaged with a natural downward movement unlike the Ruger SR22.

Beside the 1911, Browning Hi Power and Smith and Wesson M&P Full Size/Compact safeties, most safeties are poorly designed. Guns such as the Smith and Wesson Shield, Ruger SR series and FN FNS all have the safeties placed in the right position but they are way too small to guarantee contact every time. When shooting a gun with a thumb safety, your thumb should rest on top of the disengaged safety. This isn’t a realistic option with any of these guns.

Then you have guns like Beretta’s that have awkward slide mounted safeties and are awkward to reach for, especially for people with smaller hands. They also often require 2 hands to engage.

Requirements for a Thumb Safety

  • Disengaged with a downward motion
  • Frame Mounted
  • Wide enough to rest the thumb on while shooting
  • Can be re-engaged with one hand
  • Ergonomic

If a gun’s external safety doesn’t meet the qualifications above then I don’t recommend using the gun for defensive use.

Another quirk of a safety is that you must train to use it. The safety should be disengaged as soon as the gun is pointed in the general direction of the target and before you start moving your finger to the trigger guard. The training is especially important if you are also shooting guns without a thumb safety like Glocks or HK VP9s. Be sure when you’re building your grip you keep your support hand thumb high so it can easily come down and disengage the safety.

If you demand a safety on your carry gun then train with it and carry on.

PS: If you carry and 1911 or Hi Power and know how to use it you get brownie points in my book!