No matter how much I liked carrying and shooting revolvers, I must admit that if anyone had ever disarmed me, the perpetrator could most likely have wounded or killed me on the spot simply by pulling the trigger. And as someone who s rolled on the ground with two perpetrators while trying to retain possession of my weapon, I find that a disturbing admission. However, my 9 mm Smith & Wesson Model 39 pistol with its hammer decocking device that could also be used as a safety offered some reassurance. I could carry my pistol in safe or ready-to-fire modes and have the ability to quickly engage the safety and deactivate the trigger mechanism whenever I needed to do so.
When I carried my Model 39 on safe, to make it impossible to fire, I would lower the hammer decocking lever as far as it would go and leave it in that position. Thus, the hammer was deactivated from the sear. If I had fired my 9 mm Model 39 and I wanted to drop the hammer so it was no longer cocked and ready to fire, I used my thumb to lower the decocking lever then bring it back up so the lever was horizontal with the slide. My pistol could then be fired in the double-action (DA) mode whenever I pulled the trigger. If I wanted to fire my pistol in the single-action (SA) mode, I would rack the slide or cock the hammer and pull the trigger, provided the pistol wasn t on safe.
Today, Smith & Wesson offers an optional, externally mounted slide safety lever on its new lineup of military and police (M&P) pistols. The safety lever on the new M&P pistols disengages the sear so the pistol won t fire. To engage the safety on the M&P pistol, simply raise the safety lever one notch so it extends at a slight angle above the frame and adjacent to the slide. When the M&P safety lever is lowered and horizontal with the slide, the safety is off and the pistol can be fired.
I m also told that M&P pistols can be purchased with a magazine disconnector that makes it impossible to fire a Smith & Wesson M&P pistol when the magazine button is engaged and the magazine is removed from the pistol. (Even if the magazine moves the slightest bit out of position, the pistol won t fire.) This means that if you intentionally dump your magazine on this type of M&P pistol, no one, including you, will be able to fire your pistol until a magazine is properly inserted and a round of ammunition is loaded in the chamber.
In the case of the Single Action 1911, when the hammer is cocked and the slide-mounted thumb safety is raised, the hammer is cocked and locked in a safe position and can t be lowered to fire the pistol no matter how hard you pull on the trigger. Certain pistols, like the 1911 and the Springfield Armory XD, also have a grip safety that must be depressed properly before these semiautomatics can be fired.
This means that if you re armed with a Smith & Wesson M&P pistol or an SA 1911 .45 that has the thumb safety activated and either of these pistols is taken away from you by someone who means you harm, they'll have to be familiar with the working mechanisms of both pistols in order to disengage the thumb safety or they won't be able to pull the trigger. Should this happen, you may have only a moment to retake possession of your pistol, draw your backup gun or use some other type of force to prevent the person who has your weapon from harming you or someone else.
Remember: Magazine disconnectors and slide mounted safety systems are a double-edge sword that can work for and against you, depending on the circumstances.
Even though I m still a fan of certain pistols that aren t designed to accommodate a slide-mounted safety system of any kind, I must admit there are certain advantages to using a pistol with a slide-mounted safety system and or a magazine disconnect. The reason: Situations can escalate in a matter of seconds. One moment you can be conducting a field interview, and seconds later you can be fighting for your life. Naturally, you must do everything possible to prevent an unauthorized individual from taking possession of your on- or off-duty handgun. But it s an excellent idea to carry a backup gun, even if you work in plainclothes.
Remember: You may not always be able to immediately use deadly force, even when you re authorized to do so. Clearly, carrying a handgun equipped with a slide safety or a magazine disconnect gives you two options that you don t have when you carry a pistol with no definitive safety system. As a result, if I were a law enforcement agency administrator, I d give serious thought to issuing and authorizing sworn personnel to carry pistols that feature slide safety mounts and magazine disconnects (e.g., certain model Smith & Wesson M&P pistols, the tried-and-true SA 1911, the FNP .45 Government Model and a few other designs).
If you use one or more pistols designed to accommodate any type of slide-mounted safety system, you must train to ensure you ll remember to disengage the safety when you must pull the trigger and use deadly force. Also, train to execute combat reloads if you use a pistol that has a magazine disconnect so you can get back into the fight quickly once you ve decided to eject your primary magazine in a close-quarters defense situation.
The bottom line: Train like it will go down in the street. This is not debatable.
Close Quarters Combat
U.S. Navy SEALs are trained in Close Quarters Defense (CQD) to use physical actions, including strikes, blocking actions, effective physical holds and verbal commands, to fend off an attack by a hostile individual or to control one or more prisoners. According to retired Naval officer, former Navy SEAL and author Dick Couch, the concept of CQD Full Circle Readiness was invented by Duane Dieter. CQD also provides critical training for law enforcement officers. For more information, visit www.cqd.net.
Nick Jacobellis is a medically retired U.S. Customs Agent and former N.Y. police officer who was physically disabled in the line if duty while working undercover as a federal agent.