When does one engage the safety on a weapon and when does one disengage the weapon safety while encountering a threat?
First, one needs to clarify just what a weapon’s safety is. As a general rule of thumb, it would be any mechanical device that must be physically disengaged by the shooter and that then allows the weapon to fire. Failure to disengage said device would disallow the weapon to fire. Simple and straight to the point.
Decocking levers are not safeties. They are decocking levers. Some departments still dictate that officers carry their sidearms with the decocking levers in a downward position. When I see a revolver with a physical safety, then I might give this protocol some merit, but until then, it is a rather flawed policy. If you fail to disengage the decocking lever on the draw, then the pistol will not fire, which could potentially be fatal.
The fact that the first shot of the double-action semi-auto is double-action means that it necessitates a long and fairly substantial rearward trigger press to cause the weapon to fire, much the same as the traditional revolver trigger which, once again, does not utilize a physical safety.
A weapon’s safety should be properly engaged, thereby disallowing the weapon to discharge either at the low ready or other similar position wherein the active intent to fire has not yet been formulated. This policy, by the way, is directly applicable to shotguns, pistols and rifles.
This makes perfect sense and circumvents the potential for an unintentional or negligent discharge of the weapon when one does not intend for this to happen. For example, if one were to draw from the holster into an immediate threat, the safety would be disengaged only when the hands have joined together while coming on target. This averts the potential for the shooter to cause a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the support hand. Which has happened many times….
The application of the trigger finger to the trigger in this instance, although a separate physical motion, occurs simultaneously after the hands have joined and as the weapon is finally brought to bear on the target.
Herein lies the very real problem that is applicable to all weapon safeties. Failure to train properly on the disengagement of weapon safeties results in shooters disengaging the safety altogether when it is inappropriate to do so. Since they have not been trained properly, shooters do away with or disengage the weapon safety altogether when moving or working with it.
Now, under the stress of the moment and in the midst of an actual field encounter, shooters inadvertently press the trigger, and the results are usually catastrophic. This creates a substantial problem. Partners or innocent victims are shot, and shooters even shoot themselves. Any of these foregoing events are not especially good.
Proper and well-thought-out protocols circumvent all of this. There are proper manipulative techniques for all weapon safeties, and they should be adhered to. There are reasons for this. It is safe, practical and ensures that nothing occurs that you do not wish to occur.
Nothing in terms of speed in engaging the target is lost, yet everything in terms of safety is gained. This problem will continue to happen as long as individuals inappropriately manipulate safeties. It really doesn’t have to be this way.