Decocker or Manual Safety: Which Is Best?

decocker or manual safety

Is a double-action gun better off with a decocker or manual safety?

Which is better to carry with?

A good number of double-action semi-autos are available with both, though some may require a special order to get one variant or the other. (The Beretta 92, for instance, can be had with a decocker only, a manual safety, or a safety/decocker; the latter is most common but the others can be purchased on order.) For those looking at getting a double-action pistol, they may wonder which is the better choice.

It comes down to preference, as each has pros and cons.

Demystify The Decocking Lever

A decocking lever or decocker is a mechanical device that safely de-cocks the pistol. The hammer is dropped whilst a firing pin block prevents said hammer from discharging the pistol.

They come in two flavors: decocking levers and safety/decockers. The latter device, first popularized on Walther pistols just before World War II, engages a manual safety, locking the pistol as well as decocking the hammer.

A number of other manufacturers would go on to replicate it, as this device can be found on pistols made by Beretta, Heckler and Koch and many more. Some are slide-mounted, some are frame-mounted; it depends on who makes it.

This feature gives a person the option to put the gun on “safe,” though it will require disengaging the safety should the gun need to be drawn. Doing so isn’t too much of a problem, but some people find slide-mounted safeties difficult to actuate, and smaller hands may have issues reaching the safety with their thumb on the larger pistols with this feature.

A person can also decock the pistol and deactivate the safety, putting the pistol in double-action mode.

However, a number of companies also make pistols with decocking levers only. While the lever decocks the pistol, it doesn’t put the pistol on “safe;” the double-action trigger pull acts as a hedge against accidental discharges. Sig Sauer’s double-action service pistols all feature decockers, and decocker-only models are available from Beretta, H&K and CZ.

Since the latter doesn’t require the safety to be deactivated after decocking, no additional steps are necessary to get the gun into the fight.

Manual Safeties

A good number of double-action semi-auto pistols are equipped with manual safeties, much like single-action semi-auto pistols. Just like a single-action pistol, they must be deactivated in order to fire the pistol but can be lowered to double-action mode – which is a benefit of the safety in deciding between a pistol with a decocker or manual safety.

With a double-action pistol, it may seem counterintuitive to have a manual safety. However, for those that prefer to HAVE a manual safety, having one confers certain benefits.

Obviously, when the slide is racked on a DA semi-auto, the hammer is cocked. If a person prefers, the pistol can then be carried cocked-and-locked like a 1911 or BHP. If they desire, the hammer can be manually lowered and the pistol placed on safe in double-action mode – much like with a decocking safety.

For the person who desires having a manual safety, or the person who likes a DA pistol but wants to carry in Condition One, the manual safety obviously allows for that. In fact, the manual safety on the CZ-75B can only be engaged when the hammer is cocked; the pistol was offered with one for precisely this reason.

Which Is Better?

Which is better to have, a DA pistol with a decocker or manual safety? Truth be told, there are lots of DA guns out there that are fantastic firearms that have one or the other. You generally won’t go wrong with a Sig P226 and it’s decocker, a Beretta 92 with the decocking safety, or a CZ-75 with the single-action-only manual safety. Ditto a great many other pistols from H&K, Walther, Tanfoglio and many more.

A decocker or decocking safety requires a double-action first shot, unless you’re going to cock the pistol before shooting – which you may not have time to do before having to shoot in an emergency. If you aren’t good with a DA trigger or aren’t willing to put in the time to learn, then a decocking pistol is probably not the best option for you.

If that’s the case, a manual safety is the better choice, as you can carry cocked and locked and won’t have to worry about it.

However, if you don’t mind the DA trigger…the question is how much safety device you feel comfortable with. Some people like having a safety device, and others don’t want to take the chance that they’ll be slowed down by one if it becomes necessary to draw their gun.

So it’s not that one is better; it’s more that each comes with their own benefits and drawbacks. The question is what you’re comfortable with or want from a handgun.

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  • James Van Valkenburg

    you did not touch on the pistols that do not have either, i.e. Glock.

    • Bdpenn

      and the title is?
      Decocker or manual safety. Which is best?

      Decocker, manual safety or Glock with no fire control safety. Which is best? Is still waiting to be written.
      Trigger and fireing pin block safeties are also another story waiting to be written.
      Stay tuned!

    • MikeCWeld

      That’s because Glocks AREN’T double action. The article was specifically comparing the options available on double action pistols and providing an overview of each option’s pros and cons. Glocks are considered single action because they use the slide, rather than the trigger, to tension the striker.

      • Mikial

        Correct!

    • Mikial

      That’s not what the article was about.

  • ImOffendedTreatMeSpecial

    On my exposed duty pistol I always like the safety but for concealed I carry the SIG 229 which is decocker only. No striker fired without a safety ever.

    • Ralph

      I added a manual safety to my Glock 17. I would not carry a round in the chamber without one.

  • Bdpenn

    Well done article. Thanks for taking out all the confusion. You did it without the use of actual examples as I have to do it. Impressive, great job!
    Going to make a couple of copies.

  • burns

    It all depends on which one you like better. There is no magic here.

  • tom.55350

    What I like about this article is that it just informs and doesn’t pick a side.
    I’m old school and don’t care for striker fired guns, especially when they are carried with one in the chamber. This might come from having a 22 rifle discharging with my finger off the trigger and safety engaged when I was a kid. I know that most modern, striker fired guns have much improved systems to prevent that and will only say one word on this… Sig. I also don’t personally like composite guns but the only reason I can give for that is I don’t care for the appearance.
    Personally, I find Beretta’s to be the sexiest guns on the planet but that alone certainly wouldn’t get me to chose them for self defence. I find them to be as reliable as any quality pistol on the market and want a gun with a decocker/safety. I do dry fire exercises a couple times a week so the double action trigger pull feels very natural to me and I can quickly disengage the safety, before the gun is in position to fire.
    I can very comfortably carry my 84fs, 92fs and 96A1 in a Clinger No Print Wonder. On the rare occasion they are not small enough I do have a Bodyguard I carry with the safety on.
    I don’t live in a war zone so I will likely never need my carry but also wouldn’t carry be carrying if I didn’t also know that I might need it anywhere at any time. I think my choices work a really good balance between ready seriously considering the safety of myself and others.
    A lot of you will poke holes in my choices but that’s what I feel ok with morally balancing the safety of others and the need to protect myself, family and friends…

    • Sir TuberKopf

      I like the Baretta PX Storm sub compact. It’s available in four variants. Two of those are
      Type F: Single and double-action trigger. Decocker. Manual safety.
      Type G: Single and double-action trigger. Decocker. No manual safety.

      If you have a type F there are videos on YouTube that will show you how to convert it to a type G though Baretta frowns on it. You can also buy a type G decocker which is simply the type F part without the detent spring and ball. The conversion takes about an hour if your are slow and methodical and don’t want to scratch or ding your pistol.

      Just my opinion but I really like a “Single and double-action. Decocker. No manual safety” that is standard on many SIGs and some Beretta’s.

      The one thing I do feel strongly about is once you decide on one operating type, stick to it and don’t mix pistols of different operating types. You can have several sizes and calibers, but they will all operate the same without you needing to remember which pistol is in your hand. And whether the safety is on or off.

  • James Van Valkenburg

    my comments were related to safeties or decockers. The subject of safeties is broad and many sided. I thought the issue of safeties, as the author said were coming to be explored later, there are many types and forms, and some that have a lack of safeties or decockers.

  • TimOzzyCzernik

    I guess… it’s “ME”? I chamber, drop mag…add to the 18 capacity, and de-cock…. I don’t see any challenges carrying that way.

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