Handgun question

In the book “Hannibal” there is a brief exchange between Clarice Starling and a policeman about how she wears her sidearm.

He looks at her warily and says, “Do you go around with that thing cocked all the time?” She says yes, and he says he thinks it’s dangerous. Starling offers to take him out to the range and demonstrate why she wears it that way. The pistol in question is supposed to be a .45 semi-automatic.

I know how a semi-automatic pistol works, but I don’t know what to think of the exchange between the two characters. Why would she wear it like that? I’m guessing it’s supposed to be a speed advantage, but would that outweight the possible safety concern of having a cocked pistol in your holster?

Thomas Harris is pretty good about his research, and I’m curious to know the reason behind this one. Any help?

I own a .45 M1911. It has two safeties; a grip safety that is released by the pressure of your hand, and a thumb safety. Some policemen carry the .45 “cocked and locked” the way you’re describing Starling doing, trusting to the two safeties to protect them. I believe it is supposed to be a speed advantage.

I can say personally that, from the draw, I can work the slide faster than I can thumb the safety off. On the rare occasions that I’ve worn a pistol, therefore, I have always kept the chamber empty. I will guarantee you that an empty chamber is much more reliable than any combination of safeties. Maybe if you train extensively you can work the safety quicker than the slide, but that’s never been my experience.

I have a Colt 1991 A1 (not 1911, but a “reissue” of the 1911).

One more thing about the safety: The thumb safety can only be engaged when the hammer is cocked. This usually means that there is a round in the chamber. Some people consider this unsafe because the thumb safety can inadvertantly be disengaged and if the grip safety fails for some reason the firearm could discharge.

You will notice that the replies you get will mirror the scene in the book. People who are comfortable with the use of the safety feel it is safe. People who are not, consider it unsafe.

It is unsafe if you are not used to it, at both extremes, releasing the safety before you should, and having trouble getting the safety off when you need it. The gun itself is safe either way, it’s the fumbling hands that are dangerous.

I’ve got a Colt Combat Commander. There’s absolutely nothing unsafe about carrying it ‘cocked and locked’.

However, one of the reasons many police forces will not carry the Colt and instead choose double-action automatics like the Beretta, Sig-Saur P220 or Glock is because the sight of a cocked-and-locked Colt in a holster scares civilians. Nothing like seeing the hammer thumbed back on a gun to make you quiver a little, especially if you don’t understand them.

The other advantage to the “cocked and locked” is that the first shot isn’t a double action pull. I know you train to breathe, squeeze and keep your eye on the front sight…but in the pulling and drawing down with the adrenalin going and maybe somebody shooting at you… easy pull on the first shot is nice. Try at the range to get off a “fast shot” and you’ll pull it low and towards the trigger hand. If you think of the sig(for example) the first shot is a double action pull then the other shots are from a single action. That’s why they have the “decocking” mechanism.

bottom line…whatever floats your boat…don’t pull it out unless you need to …aim at center of mass and don’t stop shooting till the threat is gone.

The NYPD offers two service 9mms, a S&W and a Glock. You can’t cock either, as they are both single action. And neither of them have safeties, like most law enforcement sidearms, because the last thing you wanna remember as you look at someone pointing a gun at you, is whether the safety is on or off.

On the old .38s, guys used to cock them before shooting because it made it feel easier to control. However this led to often firings of the hair trigger. But now with the semi-autos, not a problem.

I don’t have any experience with handguns - only heavier weapons - but I think you people are a bit too nervous about forgetting to flip the safety. Safety switch manipulation is one of the basics of competant firearm use, just like aiming and loading, and should be a completely automatic, reflexive action; I know, myself, that when I raise a rifle to my shoulder I open the safety, and close it when I lower it. After enough practice, you don’t even have to think about doing it.

DreamWorks, the Glocks and Sigma S&W pistols are DOUBLE action with non-exposed hammer/firing pin assemblies. Because many police agencies don’t allow or require their officers adequate range time to be truly proficient with their weapons, a DAO (doble action only) safetyless pistol is about as idiot-proof a gun as you can get.

Danimal, you’re saying that you can draw, grab the slide, rack it back, release it and then aim faster than you can flip off the thumb safety as you draw and aim as the same motion? Please. Either something is wrong with your pistol, you have a rather weak thumb, or you need a LOT more practice. On a 1911, the firing pin ass. WILL NOT operate of its own accord unless both safeties are either released or defective. Cocked-and-locked is a perfectly safe way to carry a maintained 1911. If your 1911 is not maintained properly, there isn’t a safe way to carry it loaded.

My preferred pistol is a Browning Hi-Power. Its mechanical design is fairly similar to a 1911 (they were both designed by John Browning after all) except it lacks a grip safety and the ergonomics are a bit better. I ALWAYS carry with the hammer cocked, safety on, round chambered. It looks dangerous to people who know little or nothing about handguns, but only to them.

Hactually, Hand-and-a-half, the Glock/Sigma system is one of those ‘neither fish-nor-fowl’ things.

“Double action”, by definition, means there’s two ways to operate the striker/hammer- a long pull of the trigger which ‘cocks’ and then releases the hammer, or by cocking the hammer manually, and then using a short trigger throw to release it.

DAO is something of a misnomer- it should be more like “trigger cocking only”.

In the Glock/Sigma system, the striker is “partially” cocked by the cycling of the slide. The trigger then loads the striker the rest of the way- but without the long DA trigger pull- and then releases it.

It’s not really “double action” since there’s only one way to fire it, and it’s not really and truly “trigger cocking” since the action of the slide does partially cycle the firing mechanism.

And I agree with the rest- if your “software” isn’t working right, no safety in the world can make it totally safe.


DAO isn’t a literally accurate term. However, since it IS the term that the industry and hordes of afficionadoes use to describe the type of action used, it’s the correct one.

      • Totally unrelated to the OP, but fairly interesting to look at anyway: this fellow’s Springfield blew up.

“Ouch” I say. - MC

…had to read that again… I SWORE I thought it said,
“…don’t stop shooting till the thrill is gone.”


Well, either one works. They’re interchangable :smiley:

Well, not quite. I draw and rack all in one motion; when the right hand is coming to full extension, the left hand only has to grip the slide and the right hand’s forward momentum racks it automatically. I tried about twenty times to flip the safety as I drew, and always found myself unable to flip it until about half a second after coming to full extension. With practice, I’m sure I could learn to find the safety before coming to full extension, but I’m not sure I could do it faster. And in hunter safety course I was taught never to rely on a safety, so I concentrated on learning to draw and rack at the same time rather than learning to use the safety quicker. It wasn’t until some time later that I learned that some people carry the 1911 cocked and locked.

And if something or someone has your left hand occupied…?

I used to work armed security for a living. Not the mall security guard kind of thing, but nightclub security and places where we made arrests and actually had the danger of having to use your weapon. I carried a 1911 (acutally the delta 10mm version), and I always carried it cocked and locked. If you notice, police syle holsters for these guns have the hold down strap that runs inbetween the hammer and the firing pin. So in case the other two safteys should fail, and magically the hammer tries to drop while it was still in the holster, It won’t go off.

I would never carry a glock or a revolver, or a gun that didn’t have a saftey, in an exposed holster. I used to practice with my colt, and the smith .40 cal I carried later, so I knew where the safety was. If someone grabs your gun out of the holster, while you are in a confrontation with someone else, they likely won’t have practiced with that gun, and will have to take a second to figure it out. That gives you time to take some sort of corrective action. The Smith was the best, cause in tests people who were unfamiliar with it would hit the mag release button, and drop the mag out. Smiths won’t fire without a magazine, so the gun is useless.

Concealed, is another story. I would prefer a glock for that.

You know I never once thought of that?

The next time I take the .45 down to the range, I will practice a cocked draw. Sometime thereafter you can expect to see me post a thread looking for pointers.

That’s why I carry a knife that can be opened with one hand. You can’t always count on being able to use both.

I have a S&W 469, 9MM and as Dick Vomer pointed out, the first shot is a very different animal from the second because of the difference in trigger pull and travel. Many years ago I owned a H&K VP70 which was a Glock style pistol. My wife could not even pull the trigger with one hand.

I think the story point was that Starling was a much more proficient shooter than the typical cop and felt comfortable with a 1911. It’s not that a 1911 is terribly complex or that a double action revolver or Glock auto is safe for a poorly trained shooter but the manual safety is one more thing to remember under stress. I feel perfectly competent with my Colt auto but carry a Sig P245 for defense.