For some reason my brain has been dredging the handgun world lately. I felt the need to understand some of the mechanics behind semi-automatic pistols, beyond what i already knew. I don’t presume to be a gun expert by any stretch, but I do enjoy shooting them- so it seems only natural to understand how they work- exactly. A while back I disassembled my 1913 colt, right down to every little spring and set screw.
While a 1911 colt is not the first semi-automatic handgun ever designed, it is about as basic as a semi-auto can be. It is considered a single action. Once set up with a round in the chamber and the hammer cocked, the trigger performs a single function: letting the hammer go. Once that happens, the same energy that launches the bullet forward propels the “slide” and hammer back, “resetting” the gun all by itself. This way you can fire off 7 rounds (in this guns case) as fast as you want, with a nice easy to pull trigger.
This firearm was designed by John Browning exactly 101 years ago, and it is still used today. It is also the basic “blowback” concept almost all semi-automatic pistols use.
The one thing I don’t like, and it may seem silly to most gun buffs, is that the only logical way to carry this gun is with the hammer cocked and a round chambered. If you carried it any other way your odds of surviving a gunfight would be slim because of the time it would take you to “rack” the slide. Now carrying a gun cocked may seem dangerous except for the fact that there are 2 safeties built into the 1911: a manual safety that holds the slide slightly rearward (preventing the hammer from being able to hit the firing pin), and a grip safety. The bottom line- it is not going to go off by accident if you have a brain.
Clearly my discomfort with the cocked hammer is my own personal problem, but it hasn’t stopped me from looking for something better. Enter the wide world of double action and single action semi-auto pistols. They are simply referred to as SA/DO. This means that the trigger performs at least 2 functions, usually cocking the hammer and letting it go. Generally this means that the user can rack the slide (loading a round into the chamber), but not have the hammer cocked. The first shot requires a heavy, long trigger pull because you are fighting the hammer’s return spring until it gets all the way back and drops. After that the gun essentially turns into a single action because the blowback action takes over, like before.
This is nice because you don’t have to walk around with the gun “cocked and locked”, making it, in theory, safer. Here are some common double action semi-autos you may recognize….
the classic Beretta. “putting all the holes in your sweata'” as Biggie would say…
The Browning “High Power”…
and a Smith and Wesson 39.
Here is what I found hard to understand: if you have a round in the chamber, and the hammer is down, isn’t the hammer essentially resting on the same firing pin it would otherwise hit when fired? I mean, what would happen if you dropped it and it landed on the hammer end? wouldn’t it fire? It seems that each gun manufacturer has addressed this with some little mechanism, like a “firing pin blocker” or a firing pin that moves out of the way slightly, etc. To me, it seems as if by solving one problem we run into more complication, and to me when it comes to things that will kill you, complication is a bad thing….
Perhaps if I could see the pin blocker (or similar safety) actually working it would easy my fears, but that is impossible because it is buried inside the rear end of the gun. You, once again, have to assume its functioning properly.
My research has uncovered a lot more info… stay tuned.
As a disclaimer, these are just my personal observations, and may not be entirely accurate frankly. Hopefully by the end I will know exactly how they all work, but until then be careful! These things are designed to kill people, and they don’t give a shit who.