Choosing A Carry Pistol Part II — The Double Action / Single Action Pistol

Choosing A Carry Pistol Part II — The Double Action / Single Action Pistol

The classic double action / single action pistol has some unique benefits, but at the cost of learning two distinct trigger pulls.

Sig Sauer P225-A1 -- A classic take on the double-action / single-action pistol

Sig Sauer P225-A1 — A classic take on the double-action / single-action pistol

If you’ve ever seen Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, or Jack Bauer in any of his escapades, you’ve seen a double action / single action (DA/SA) pistol.  John McClane used his police-issued Beretta 92FS in Die Hard, as did Riggs in Lethal Weapon.  Jack Bauer used, well… everything, but typically his CTU issued weapon was some sort of DA/SA from Sig Sauer or Heckler & Koch.  Not that Jack Bauer ever needed a gun…

Anyway, how about a quick recap on how a DA/SA pistol works? For the initial shot, the shooter has the choice of shooting in double action mode, in which pulling the trigger cocks and releases the hammer, or they can manually cock the hammer back and fire that first shot in single action mode, which results in a shorter, lighter trigger pull since the trigger is only releasing the hammer.  The reciprocation of the slide will recock the hammer after every shot, so all subsequent shots will be in single action mode, unless shooting stops or the hammer is manually let down.  Depending on the firearm, the hammer can be manually lowered via a decocker lever (Sig), a decocker/safety lever (Beretta, Smith & Wesson, Walther) or the concentration-required method of actually pulling the trigger while riding the hammer down slowly with your thumb (CZ 75B).  In general, the DA/SA pistol is meant to be carried with a round in the chamber and the hammer down, requiring a double action first shot.

Why would anyone choose this type of action (myself included)?  I break it down into three benefits: Ease of use, safety, and options of use.  Assuming you have a model without an external safety, or carry with the safety off, all you have to do for that first shot is pull the trigger.  Personally I’ve been migrating away from guns with external safeties, as I don’t honestly believe I’d remember to flip it off in a panic situation.  Since I prefer a gun with no manual safety, I like that the first trigger pull is heavier and longer.  Studies have shown that under panic, shooters tend to lose their fine motor control, and if not practicing good trigger finger discipline, have been known to unintentionally discharge their firearm if it has a particularly light trigger.  A double action first trigger pull will usually erase that possibility (that said, training with your carry weapon is king).  I also like that you have the option to manually cock the hammer for that first shot if you’d prefer. 

The downside to this type of action?  You’ve got to learn two distinct trigger pulls, and the nuances of transitioning from double action to single action for follow up shots.  In general it requires more training to master a DA/SA firearm compared to other actions with only one trigger pull.

While the world of firearms is getting taken over by the plastic fantastic striker fire guns, I feel there is still a viable use for the classic DA/SA pistol.  While not for everyone, I’d recommend trying one out the next time you’re at the range.  You may fall in love like I did.


Thanks for reading! Till next time…