Is Cocked and Locked Carry Unsafe?

Conventional wisdom is that a cocked and locked 1911 – in other words a 1911 pistol that has been loaded, cocked and the manual safety engaged – is the best way to carry that particular gun. In fact, it’s one of the safest ways to carry one or indeed, any gun that has one.

Cocked and Locked 1911 Actually Safer Than Most Other Pistols

Is Cocked and Locked Carry Unsafe?
Cocked and locked carry gives some people trepidation, as the cocked hammer appears ready to strike at any time. Granted, a person can carry with an empty chamber but a loaded magazine, or can – carefully – manually decock the pistol after loading the chamber.

Safeties, as with any mechanical device, can fail or be inadvertently deactivated. That could lead to the potential for an accidental discharge such as a drop fire or slam fire.

Or can it?

Something like the above is one of the usual reasons a person might avoid carrying a 1911 pistol or eschew carrying theirs for a different make and model of firearm. The perception of danger, for such a person, is greater than the actual potential for danger, because cocked and locked carry is safer than most other pistols.

The 1911 Manual Safety


For a person to carry cocked and locked, the hammer is in the rearward position with the manual safety engaged. Thus, the safety has to be disengaged and the trigger must be pulled in order for a discharge to occur. As it happens, the 1911 manual safety is robust; more so than with many other pistols.

The 1911 manual safety acts as both a hammer and slide lock, in that the slide cannot be moved and the hammer cannot fall while the manual safety is engaged. The sear – the bar that moves out of the way so the hammer can fall – is completely locked by the manual safety by virtue of a cam that blocks the sear once engaged. When disengaged, the cam disengages from the sear and no longer blocks it. At that point, the trigger can actuate the sear, lifting the bar, dropping the hammer and firing the pistol.

Since the slide and the sear are locked with the safety engaged, the pistol is effectively seized until the safety is disengaged. A Glock, M&P, or any other pistol with only an integrated trigger safety, on the other hand, only requires a trigger be pulled.

However, more than just 1911 pistols feature a manual safety allowing for Condition One carry, including 1911-derived subcompacts (Colt Mustang, Sig Sauer 938 and 238) and Browning Hi-Power pistols. A good number of double/single action pistols have a manual safety as well; the safety on a CZ-75 can only be engaged whilst the hammer is cocked, making it specifically for cocked and locked carry.

Grip Safety Serves As Redundancy


At least with a 1911 pistol, a grip safety serves as a redundancy; the manual safety being engaged blocks the sear and thus won’t let the hammer fall. The grip safety puts an additional block in the firing mechanism by blocking the trigger bar from disconnecting the sear and thus allowing the hammer to fall.

A cocked and locked pistol that isn’t being held in the hand (thereby disengaging the grip safety) has two safety features engaged at once: the sear can’t be disconnected by the trigger as the trigger bow is not connected to the sear disconnect, and the sear is locked in place by the manual safety.

Additionally, the firing pin on Series 80 pistols is also blocked due to the firing pin block mechanism, thereby further preventing drop or slam fires.

Double/single action pistols capable of cocked and locked carry lack a grip safety, so that redundancy is not present in pistols of that design.

Pistols that lack any manual safeties, on the other hand, need only the trigger to be pulled in order to discharge. The act of pulling the trigger disengages the internal safety mechanisms and as has been observed, are susceptible to accidental discharge if anything – a finger, piece of clothing, etc – is allowed to enter the trigger guard. Granted, it isn’t that such pistols are unsafe, they aren’t – if handled properly.

However, on the basis of the safety mechanisms in place on a cocked and locked 1911…cocked and locked carry is actually one of the safest ways to carry a pistol.

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  • Green Hornet

    Good info
    I’ve been telling people that for years, many in disbelief

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  • Stephen Johnson

    A safety PREVENTS the trigger from being moved by ANY MEANS until the operated disengaged it. That is the WHOLE purpose of a safety. That thing on the trigger of other handguns is not a true safety. Anything can enter the trigger guard and discharge the weapon even though the operater did not intend for the weapon to be discharged.

    • Clark Kent

      Safety with a firearm resides BETWEEN YOUR EARS. It is NOT dependent upon the presence or lack of a manual ‘safety’.

      • coyotehunter

        Superman, safeties have been put on firearms for what? 200+ years, why? so they don’t accidentily go off, is there any data out there on how many ND’s have occurred on weapons with safeties, as opposed to “striker” fired weapons?

        • Mikial

          And yet, people still shoot themselves and other by ‘accident’ with gun equipped with safeties. No mechanical safety is ever going to replace common sense and gun handling skills. I’ve carried a Glock Condition Red since 2001 with no mishaps. Why, because I took the time to learn what I needed to know to carry it safely. Anyone who hasn’t got the brains to do that shouldn’t carry. Period.

  • John Caparatta

    Condition one..Kimber Pro Carry 45ACP. If it was good enough for the Texas Rangers then……

  • Reloader54

    When I carry my 1911 I have it locked and loaded with safety on. I also carry a LC9s and I also carry it locked and loaded with safety on. And I haven’t had any problems with either gun. But sometimes I’ve noticed that the manual safety on my 1911 has some how gotten released while it was in the holster. And my 1911 does have an ambeduqurist safety lever on it. And it might have gotten hit by something that took the safety off. But I’ve had no discharge when it’s happened.

    • CrazyEyedFred

      If your safety switch is disengaging I would send it back to the manufacturer. It may be due to the AMBO safety. But not likely. I carry mine and not one time have I found it to be disengaged. I would never carry my SIG if it did that.

  • Robert Thatwisefool Blair

    Carry everything, 1911, Springfield xd, S&W shield, and now the HK VP-40, all locked and loaded. Re-holster with care and use a holster that protects the trigger, and you will be fine either way.

    • Mikial

      Sound advice and spot on.

  • nicholsda

    Cocked, locked, and ready to rock is the only way to carry a 1911 for CCW use.

    • coyotehunter

      As long the carrier has trained extensively, if not, in a high stress situation they may forget to disengage and that 2 seconds to figure it out may be 1 second too long….But I agree, carried it that way as an m.p. in the military, much to the chagrin of my duty officer, still carry that way 46 years later….

      • nicholsda

        Most who carry 1911s for self defense have trained enough to flick the safety off right after the firearm has left the holster as it is coming up to the ready position. Dad as a senior NCO also had a 1911 nearby and as a CT back in the 50s carried one while on Guam if going to the antenna field. Or a 1903A3. Both were locked and loaded which normally was against Navy rules. But when a Jap soldier is still fighting the war, all is fair. His love of the 1911 got passed down to me. And in his 80s you still would not want to have him against you.

        Now I do have a disadvantage as in one state I carry a 1911 while in the other I carry a S&W CS40. The safety on it goes the other way. Up for fire compared to down for a 1911. As is typical for almost all S&W all metal pistols.

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  • AmericanBob

    it all boils down to the level of training you have received the quality of training you received how much you learned from your training and with the 1911 what type holster you choose to carry it in. the first 3 points are not in dispute with your readers (i hope) however some may not understand the holster comment. Im FAT and many holsters allow my fatness to knock off the safety. Then their is only the grip safety and my finger discipline. The grip safety is disengaged on the draw. Now sn eigth of an inch and 3 to 5 lbs of pressure is all that is keepng it from going bang. I will carry a 1911 cocked and locked but the only holster I trust is a level III Blackhawk holster and I’ve trained and trained and trained with that rig and set up. Ive met a student that admitted he has a hole in his scrotum from Mexican carry and poor primary safety discipline. Please people take a training class with a professional.

  • AmericanBob

    The 1911is the exception to this statement. “Safeties will get you killed if you have not trained” I see ccw students who cant make their partners go bang (pistol) why? Safety was on and they have had no training. ANY PISTOL IS DANGEROUS TO THE USER WITHOUT PROPER TRAINING.

  • dagunner

    I have had a 1911 safety fail – but – when it did I was pulling the trigger! It has happened only once with that particular firearm (and I still have and carry it today). The Safety itself was worn to a point that, when engaged, and you pulled the trigger, it would rotate down, disengage and the hammer would fall. Needless to say i had that replaced ASAP. That is the only time I had a 1911 safety fail. I always check the safety now – once was enough and that was in 1991 shortly after retiring from the Marines. I have never had a 1911 safety fail in any other manner, nor have I heard of one failing in any other manner. I always carry it cocked and locked (condition 1) – when drawing, finger off the trigger until target is engaged and decision to shoot has been made.

  • Wayne Clark

    The Berettas…in particular, the PX Storms, can be converted (or bought) to a type “G”, decocker only. With a D/A trigger pull of 9-10 lbs., the safety is not needed as it would be equivalent to a revolver’s action. That’s where holster & trigger control play a major part in safety…&, training.

  • Bill

    Good article. I don’t and won’t own a pistol with a safety. That’s a personal preference not a judgment.

  • Glenn Schantz

    Yep, cocked and locked is the only way to go and that phrase was coined by the 1911, and after 105 years is still one of the best guns ever developed and will continue to be a force all other guns will be judged by!!!! Yes I am a proud 1911 owner and will
    always have one cocked n locked and ready when needed!!!!

  • Mikial

    Carrying a gun with an empty chamber is putting everything to the hope that you will have lots of time to rack a round. Sorry, but not my idea of being prepared.

    • Ed

      Those extra moments you take to ready your sidearm for business will a) give your assailant a chance to de-escalate the situation, and b) harden your legal case for self-defense if you have to follow through with using your sidearm to drop the threat. Carrying “cocked & locked” strengthens the argument that you’re a person who was looking for an excuse to end someone’s life with your sidearm.

      • KUETSA

        If you are pulling your handgun on an assailant, a) you are past the point of hoping that your assailant will “deescalate”, and b) better be sure you are on FIRM legal ground.
        TRUTH IS – you can not pull a gun on an approaching person – your attacker will not attack until he is grabbing you – you will probably be fending him off with one arm and pulling your handgun with the other – at which point you better have a round in the chamber – IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO – YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT!
        As far as strengthening arguments – EVERY law enforcement official in America carries WITH a round in the chamber – so should every citizen, it has no bearing on “intent”. (Most, to close to all, nowadays, law enforcement handguns have NO safety – a 1911 does – because you are a safety conscience citizen.)
        You do not know what you are talking about.
        Your a) & b) will lead to c) make you dead.

  • Dr Duke (not David)

    What gun is that in the 3rd pic?
    It has a slide mounted safety like a Beretta but I don’t recognize it.

  • Chuddox

    My safety has a decocker. So I just keep it hot and know the first pull is long.

  • Mikial

    You know, all this talk and these articles about whether it’s safe to carry your gun in Condition Red is getting old. If you choose to carry, you need to learn how to do it safely. If you don’t do that, no mechanical safety is going to keep you safe, and no gun without a round in the chamber is going to do you any good in a crisis situation.

    • ccw1911

      One of the best comments made yet.

      • Mikial

        Thank you very much.

  • Joel Goodman

    Carrying the 1911 with hammer cocked and the thumb safety
    engaged is unnecessary and detracts from the gun being brought into action
    quickly and safely. It is for people who are unwilling to learn to cock the gun
    on the draw with a properly configured carry gun.

    “Locked” refers to the slide being completely forward and in battery – not the
    thumb safety being engaged. The author to his credit references this, although
    somewhat obliquely.

    This misnomer is ignorance on the part of many users and intentional deception
    by the macho morons who won’t listen to John Browning’s advice as stated in the
    US Army training manual about never carrying a standard issue 1911 with the
    hammer cocked and the thumb safety engaged for anything but short intervals
    until the hammer can be safely lowered.

    The thumb safety was an after thought demanded by the US
    Cavalry in order to temporarily make the gun safe until a soldier was able to
    lower the hammer when mounted on an unruly horse, etc.

    The 1911 as designed is not a carry gun. It was carried with
    hammer down on an empty chamber – much like the old gun fighter did with their
    six guns. The 1911 is an absolutely magnificent combat weapon; and as any
    soldier who used it in combat will tell you, they had sufficient time “cock and
    lock” their gun before needing it.

    Putting target sights, memory bumps, extended releases,
    beaver tails, skeletonized triggers and tighter bushings detract from the gun’s
    use as a carry gun. It is like putting racing mirrors on a Ford Pinto. A good
    competition gun costs thousands, and is not really suited for carry –
    regardless of how incredibly accurate they can be at 25 yards.

    The solution to making the gun more efficient for carry and
    quick draw is to machine a shelf at the rear of the slide, use a rowel hammer,
    brought to the half cock (hammer drop safety position) position and PRACTICE.
    The practice should utilize the first joint of the thumb to cock the hammer,
    leaving the trigger finger at the side of the trigger guard. When the moment
    comes to shoot, the trigger should be pulled quickly to the rear – not
    squeezing it.

    My carry 1911’s do not have traditional sights. They utilize
    a gutter sight with an additional configuration manufacturing by a small gun
    shop.

    The sights on my guns are used for peripheral reference
    target acquisition and only rarely is using the sights for shooting at targets beyond
    20 feet practiced for a carry situation.

    I am able to get on target extremely quickly, only occasionally
    adjusting elevation, which at the short distance my man sized target is placed
    is almost irrelevant – meaning I may hit three or four inches high or low
    during a very quick draw and fire – usually low.

    I am not of the impression that the “believers” will be open
    to changing their minds about carrying the gun on half cock with over a loaded
    chamber. The way that the “believers” carry their guns is no reflection on the
    safety of my life. So, please keep the hate mail to a minimum or nothing.

    If you want to carry your gun the way Jeff Cooper the NRA and
    Springfield Armory want you to carry it – that is your choice.

    I don’t like cocked guns on my person.

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