Concealed Carry Hand Guns - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - By Leroy Thomp­son

Ham­mers, strik­ers, SA, DA—what do the dif­fer­ent pistol types have to of­fer?

Choos­ing a hand­gun can be a daunt­ing propo­si­tion, es­pe­cially for those new to firearms. It’s not just a mat­ter of choos­ing a brand. They have to con­sider dif­fer­ent ac­tion types and how they op­er­ate, too.

I’ve car­ried a lot of au­to­matic pis­tols and shot many more. Along the way, I’ve drawn some con­clu­sions about vi­a­bil­ity of dif­fer­ent auto types for dif­fer­ent mis­sions. Here’s a run­down on the most prom­i­nent pistol ac­tions out there.


Sin­gle-ac­tion (SA) au­tos—Colt 1911, Brown­ing High-Power or SIG P210— have been in use for more than a cen­tury. Typ­i­cally, the SA auto will have an ex­posed ham­mer and thumb safety. On the 1911, there is also a grip safety.

SA au­tos may be car­ried in var­i­ous modes—cham­ber empty/loaded magazine (con­di­tion 3); round cham­bered/safety-off/ham­mer down (con­di­tion 2); or round cham­bered/ ham­mer cocked/safety ap­plied (con­di­tion 1). Other modes are some­times rec­og­nized: empty cham­ber/loaded magazine out of the gun (con­di­tion 5) or loaded cham­ber/ham­mer cocked/ safety off (con­di­tion 0). Nor­mally, I carry an SA auto in con­di­tion 1.

Car­ry­ing an SA auto ready to go with ham­mer cocked and safety on is safe, though the user must al­ways be aware he is car­ry­ing a loaded weapon. It takes prac­tice to safely draw an SA pistol and flick off the thumb safety in one fluid mo­tion. But, all en­gage­ment skills take prac­tice.

A few find it dif­fi­cult to get a com­fort­able grip that de­presses the 1911 grip safety, but I have never found this to be the case. Sin­gle-ac­tion au­tos can have lighter, crisper trig­ger pulls than other types of au­tos, en­hanc­ing prac­ti­cal ac­cu­racy.

Most of my neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ences with SA au­tos re­late to hol­sters and cloth­ing: A cocked-and-locked auto’s ham­mer will of­ten snag on a jacket lin­ing dur­ing the draw and will also wear holes in the lin­ing. A leather guard sewn in a jacket helps to al­le­vi­ate these prob­lems.

When wear­ing some hol­sters, the safety will get flicked off by rub­bing against the body. A hol­ster de­signed with a flap that cov­ers the ham­mer will elim­i­nate this prob­lem. I use the model made by Rusty Sher­rick (­sters.html) for the LAPD SIS.

Law en­force­ment agen­cies that use SA au­tos have found that civil­ians some­times see the cocked pistol and “feel in­tim­i­dated.” A hol­ster that cov­ers the cocked ham­mer ad­dresses this is­sue.


When a pistol that al­lowed for a double-ac­tion first shot and sin­gle-ac­tion sub­se­quent shots (DA/SA) was de­vel­oped, it re­placed the SA auto for many users. Early ex­am­ples came from Walther, while the SIG P226 fam­ily, S&W 39 and de­scen­dants, and Ber­retta 92,

among oth­ers, made heavy in­roads into the law en­force­ment and military mar­kets.

The DA/SA auto pistol may be car­ried with a loaded cham­ber and the ham­mer down. Most DA/SA au­tos in­cor­po­rate a de-cocker to safely drop the ham­mer on the loaded cham­ber. In some cases, the de-cocker also func­tions as a safety to be ma­nip­u­lated be­fore the trig­ger may be pulled. Many law en­force­ment agen­cies like this fea­ture in case an as­sailant tries to snatch an of­fi­cer’s weapon.

The great­est ad­van­tage of the DA/ SA auto is that the gun is safe—and ap­pears safe to ob­servers—while al­low­ing quick en­gage­ment with a double ac­tion pull on the trig­ger.

On the neg­a­tive side, a heavy DA pull, fol­lowed by a lighter SA pull, ad­versely af­fects ac­cu­racy for many users. When I train with one of the DA/SA pis­tols I carry—nor­mally a S&W 4563 or a SIG P226 or 227—I al­ways fire at least 20 rounds in sin­gle DA en­gage­ments from the leather fol­lowed by 30 rounds DA/ SA double tap also from the leather. Prac­tic­ing DA then SA al­le­vi­ates hes­i­ta­tion dur­ing the tran­si­tion. Trig­ger pull is nor­mally not great on DA/SA au­tos, though I have found that SIGs and S&Ws are good.

As with the SA au­tos, I have had the same prob­lems with DA/SA auto ex­posed ham­mers snag­ging. I have also had the de-cocker/safety on S&W au­tos work into the safe po­si­tion from rub­bing against by body. That could be fa­tal in a com­bat sit­u­a­tion. A good hol­ster with leather be­tween the body and the de-cocker/safety will usu­ally solve this prob­lem.

Note that some DA/SA au­tos have a bobbed ham­mer that does not pro­trude past the slide, while oth­ers have an in­ter­nal ham­mer. These will not be likely to snag. Al­though it seems ob­vi­ous, it should be stressed that those us­ing a DA/SA auto with de-cocker must re­mem­ber to safely drop the ham­mer us­ing the de-cocker af­ter load­ing a round and make sure the de-cocker lever/safety is re­turned to the fire po­si­tion.


An­other type of ac­tion worth men­tion­ing is a hy­brid be­tween SA and DA/SA auto. The CZ75 func­tions as a stan­dard DA/SA pistol with two ex­cep­tions. First, it lacks a de-cocker so it is nec­es­sary to de-cock it by pulling the trig­ger and man­u­ally low­er­ing the ham­mer. This can be a safety is­sue un­less care is taken. The other dif­fer­ence with the CZ75 ac­tion is that a thumb safety is in­cor­po­rated al­low­ing the pistol to be car­ried in con­di­tion 1.

When I worked over­seas, I of­ten car­ried a CZ75 and nor­mally used it in


DA/SA mode. How­ever, if I had fired a round I could flick on the safety while scan­ning the area, ready for a fast SA fol­low-up.

An­other vari­a­tion rarely en­coun­tered is the FN High-Power SFS (Safe Fast Shooting). With this sys­tem, af­ter a round is cham­bered, the ham­mer is pressed for­ward to the down po­si­tion, which also ac­ti­vates the safety. Flick­ing off the safety cocks the ham­mer al­low­ing a sin­gle-ac­tion first shot. I’ve tried the SFS, but have con­tin­ued to use the stan­dard SA High-Power.


Pri­mar­ily at the re­quest of law en­force­ment agen­cies for­merly us­ing double ac­tion re­volvers, double-ac­tion-only (DAO) auto pis­tols were de­vel­oped and have seen sub­stan­tial use. Ac­tu­ally, DAO pis­tols had ex­isted pre­vi­ously (i.e. the pre-World War II Vz38), but for this dis­cus­sion, DAO ver­sions of SIG, Beretta, S&W and other au­tos will be con­sid­ered.

The ad­van­tage of the DAO pistol is there is no need to op­er­ate a de-cocker af­ter a round is cham­bered, as the ham­mer automatically fol­lows the slide for­ward and re­mains in DA mode. And, af­ter a round has been fired, it is not nec­es­sary to op­er­ate a de-cocker to re­turn the pistol to safe con­di­tion. There is also no dif­fer­ence in trig­ger pull be­tween the first and sub­se­quent shots.

On the neg­a­tive side, the trig­ger pull is nor­mally rel­a­tively heavy, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for many shoot­ers to shoot the pistol ac­cu­rately. Prac­tice can al­le­vi­ate this prob­lem. In St. Louis, where I live, the SLPD has used a DAO Beretta 92D model for years, and I have friends who con­sis­tently shoot per­fect qual­i­fi­ca­tion scores with the pistol.

The DAO pistol is sim­ple and safe, but I nor­mally do not use pis­tols of this type. My wife does, how­ever, as her fa­vorite carry pistol is a DAO Kel-Tec P-32. She is used to the trig­ger pull and shoots well with it at 10 to 15 yards. She likes that she doesn’t have to worry about a safety and can just point and en­gage.

Other pis­tols func­tion much as DAO mod­els, but are sub­stan­tially eas­ier to shoot. The HK LEM (Law En­force­ment Mod­i­fi­ca­tion) uses a ham­mer spring that is com­pressed when the slide is pulled back, but the ham­mer re­sets in the for­ward po­si­tion. The DA pull to fire a round cocks the ham­mer but not against the weight of the ham­mer spring, thus the trig­ger pull is a light DA.

Among LEM ad­van­tages are shorter re-set when fir­ing mul­ti­ple rounds quickly, as the trig­ger does not have to re­turn to the full for­ward po­si­tion. The trig­ger pull it­self is quite good once the shooter gets used to it. It is ini­tially like a long-DA pull but lighter, and then it func­tions like an SA pull just be­fore break­ing. HK pis­tols are ac­cu­rate and with prac­tice the LEM helps en­hance that ac­cu­racy.

As the ham­mer fits flush to the frame, snag­ging is elim­i­nated. My pri­mary pocket gun is an HK P30SK with LEM, with which I reg­u­larly train to 25 yards and pe­ri­od­i­cally to 50 yards.


An­other ad­van­tage of­ten sited is that the LEM al­lows the trig­ger to be pulled a sec­ond time, al­beit with a heav­ier pull, should there be a fail­ure to fire. That is true, though I still nor­mally would go into a mal­func­tion drill and clear the round, thus cham­ber­ing a new one.

The SIG DAK (Double Ac­tion Keller­man) trig­ger is ac­tu­ally a DAO, but with a trig­ger sys­tem de­signed to give a lighter pull (usu­ally given as

6.5 pounds). Com­ments al­ready made about DAO au­tos ap­ply, but with the stip­u­la­tion that the DAK is usu­ally eas­ier for most users to shoot ac­cu­rately.


Many of the most pop­u­lar con­cealed carry pis­tols are striker fired. Sim­ply, with a striker-fired pistol, when the trig­ger is pulled, in­line safety mech­a­nisms dis­en­gage, al­low­ing the striker to move rear­ward. This move­ment in­creases fir­ing pin spring ten­sion un­til the trig­ger bar re­leases the fir­ing pin lug. As ten­sion is re­leased on the fir­ing pin spring, the striker im­pacts the car­tridge primer and the round is fired.

Striker-fired pis­tols allow for a rel­a­tively light trig­ger pull, though with the Glock, chang­ing the spring and con­nec­tor can in­crease or de­crease trig­ger pull. Glock trig­ger pulls will gen­er­ally vary be­tween 3.5 pounds and 11 pounds, with 5.5 pounds the norm. I have fired Glocks with a va­ri­ety of pulls and found that with prac­tice good ac­cu­racy can be achieved with each. In fact, I have seen some who shoot bet­ter with the 11-pound pull than the 3.5-pound pull.

The Glock is one of the most widely used pis­tols in the world. The ac­tion is user friendly, as all that is re­quired is to present the pistol and fire. De­spite the fact that the Glock has a safety lever within the trig­ger, a hol­ster that cov­ers the trig­ger guard is ex­tremely im­por­tant. Purse-car­ried Glocks with­out a hol­ster are no­to­ri­ous for dis­charges when pens, lip­sticks, etc., get into the trig­ger guard.

Glocks are ex­cel­lent for con­cealed carry, as there are few pro­tru­sions to catch dur­ing the draw, es­pe­cially an ex­posed ham­mer. The Glock 43 works ex­tremely well for pocket carry, though a good pocket hol­ster is a ne­ces­sity as is train­ing to keep the fin­ger out of the trig­ger guard un­til on tar­get.

While the Glock par­tially ten­sions the fir­ing pin spring upon cham­ber­ing a round, the Spring­field Ar­mory XD se­ries pis­tols fully ten­sion the spring. I have found the trig­ger pull en­tirely us­able. A grip safety makes the XD-S a safer pistol for pocket carry. The lack of a ham­mer, the safety fea­tures, and the slim de­sign make the Spring­field XD-S 3.3 one of the bet­ter 9mm pocket pis­tols.

Un­like the DAO, SA/DA, LEM or DAK, if there is a fail­ure to fire with the Glock or other striker-fired pis­tols, the trig­ger can­not be pulled for a sec­ond hit as the pistol will not have cocked. As stated pre­vi­ously, though, train­ing should be to im­me­di­ately clear the round and cham­ber a new one.

Other pop­u­lar striker-fired pis­tols in­clude the Kahr PM9 and other P-se­ries pis­tols and Walther’s PPS M2, among oth­ers. Both the PM9 and PPS M2 make ex­cel­lent pocket pis­tols. The PM9 is known for its us­able trig­ger pull and ac­cu­racy, mak­ing it ef­fec­tive for en­gage­ment to 25 yards or fur­ther.


So many in­di­vid­u­als with­out ex­ten­sive prior shooting ex­pe­ri­ence have ob­tained con­cealed carry li­censes. For them, an im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion in ac­tion choice is sim­plic­ity of oper­a­tion un­der stress. For ex­am­ple, it takes prac­tice to op­er­ate a thumb safety automatically.

I would also rec­om­mend that once an ac­tion choice is made, it is best to stick with that type of ac­tion on the guns nor­mally used for self-de­fense. If a belt gun and pocket gun are used, the same ac­tion on both elim­i­nates one pos­si­ble point of hes­i­ta­tion un­der stress.

Above: The DA/SA SIG M11A1 con­ceals well, yet is quick to bring into ac­tion and is ac­cu­rate. Note that once the de-cock­ing lever is ac­ti­vated af­ter cham­ber­ing a round, it re­turns to the ready po­si­tion.

Right: The Spring­field Ar­mory SA pistol made for the FBI HRT in the DeSan­tis hol­ster de­signed for use with this pistol; the cocked ham­mer and the safety are pro­tected by the hol­ster.

Above: The Beretta CX4 Com­pact is a con­ven­tional DA/SA pistol that has an ex­posed ham­mer, which does not make it well suited for pocket carry.

Left: This SIG P227 is a DS/SA .45 auto that is about the same size as the P226 and car­ries well on the belt. Note, though, the ex­posed ham­mer.

Be­low: This Royal Cana­dian Mounted Po­lice is­sue 5946 is a DAO model with a bobbed ham­mer that makes it safe un­til the trig­ger is pulled and doesn’t re­quire a con­scious ef­fort to drop the ham­mer af­ter fir­ing a round.

Left: Spring­field Ar­mory XD-S 3.3 uses a sys­tem that fully ten­sions the fir­ing pin spring. It is a good pocket pistol with the ad­di­tional grip safety, but it is still im­por­tant to use a proper pocket hol­ster.

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