Double Action or Double/Single Action Gun?

Double Action or Double/Single Action Gun?

Double Action or Double/Single Action Gun?

One of my favorite times of year will be here soon – the annual SHOT Show in Las Vegas. This year, like every other, there will be firearm manufacturers releasing dozens of new guns and I’ll walk through their booths wishing I were a billionaire, just like I do every year.

Some of these guns will be double action only (AKA striker-fired, safe action), while others will be double/single action. I know that a lot of folks, especially new shooters, aren’t exactly sure what the difference is so I’d like to try and make it a little clearer today.

The two guns that I use often for concealed carry are a Glock 19 and Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm. Both of these guns are double action only. This means there’s no exposed hammer and that the trigger pull is the same every single time you pull the trigger. Double action only is rather simplistic, as you can see.

An example of a double/single action gun is the Beretta 92FS.

The first time you fire the gun, the hammer is down so you’ll be firing the gun in double action mode. This means you will have a longer trigger pull for the first shot. Once you fire this first shot, the gun cycles, which causes the hammer to remain in the cocked position instead of going down again. So, when you fire your second shot you will have a much lighter and shorter trigger pull because the hammer is already cocked the majority of the way.

The critical thing to remember with double/single action guns is that every time you’re done firing and are getting ready to put the gun back in the holster, you need to use the decocking lever. This decocker lowers the hammer back down into double action mode. In other words, for safety purposes, you don’t want to have the gun in your holster in single action mode.

When it comes to the two types of guns, the huge debate between shooters centers around the trigger pull. You see, some shooters want to have their trigger pull be exactly the same every time, while other shooters don’t care that their first shot is a longer trigger pull because then they get to single action mode and a shorter trigger pull.

There is, of course, no right or wrong answer when it comes to which type of action is best. It all comes down to personal preference. If you do decide to carry a double/single, remember to practice shooting the gun the way you carry it. I know a lot of shooters who “cheat” and only fire in single action mode when they’re practicing. But you need to practice coming out of the holster and firing the first shot double action and the rest in single action, just as it would be in a real gunfight.

And again, be safe if you carry a double/single action gun and don’t forget to lower your decocking lever before you holster or when you’re done firing a string of shots.

If all this talk has you totally confused don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it seems. Simply try both double and double/single action guns to see which one you prefer. You just might surprise yourself.

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  • jonathanbartlett

    Even better are guns like Ruger’s SR-22 which have a safety that doubles as a decocking mechanism. Just flip the safety on, and it automatically decocks safely. I’ve found that, as a new shooter, the Ruger SR-22 has all of the features I would want. The only annoying thing is the magazine disconnect safety.

    • Ray Leete

      I like James Statement as a old para military Vet cocked and locked is the way to go the function is there and ready to go and fast on 1911 there other safety built in as will such as the back strap

      were you have to grip the frame at the grip firmly or the trigger will not move Etc, and meny double/singls are like that and are safe

      • Danielle K

        Just to clarify, the stryker type firearms are not a true double action they actually operate as a single action because the slide must be moved backward in order to activate the stryker mechanism you cannot pull the trigger cocking and dropping the hammer as a true DA would.

    • Dustin Tallent

      you get the same thing in the s&w 39-2 you don’t get much safer then the decocker / safety. but the magazine disconnect is a pain. if i have to do a mag change i don’t want to be unarmed during the process

  • James Van Valkenburg

    For carry purposes, I prefer to carry “cocked and locked”. I know some will say dangerous, some will say that the effort to swipe the thumb safety takes too long, but having done this for umpteen years, it is second nature. In this Condition One, the trigger pull is the same on each and every shot. The 1911 is the best example of this, so is the CZ-75 and a plethora of others. My preference is for the thumb safety to be on the frame and not the slide, that is why I purchased the Taurus PT-92 over the Beretta 92.

    • Treezoo

      There is a version of the CZ available with a decocker, though generally only by special order, as no one seems to keep them in stock. Now what they need to do is combine the CZ-75 BD with the CZ-85 so we can have an ambidextrous, decockable DA/SA gun.

  • William White

    Thanks I am a DA/SA Shooter THe Beretta 29FS 9mm and it is my preference, And as always My Preference in a Gun or its actions are just that my preference every one needs to have there own preference. As in I do not like Glocks they do not feel right in my hand I do not like the action but that is me if some one else likes it and it feels right then thats for them.
    Feel the Gun feel the action and SHoot the gun before you choose and try many types and stiles there is of cores the Locked and Cocked Single Action pistol too were its all single action the 1911, the Double action / Single action like the Beretta 92FS, and then Glock and others that are Double action only. and that is only the Pistols there are still some that may prefer a Revolver.
    So Choose wisely and shoot often and Enjoy the shooting sports.

  • Dave Rollhauser

    I’m another DA/SA shooter, I carry a Sig P229 .40 S&W, quick and easy to get into action as needed…
    Back when I carried a Beretta M9 as an army Medic I practiced a lot with cocking on the draw, the M9 wasn’t the best for that as it had the combined safety/decocker. The advantage with my Sig is that I have the option to fire on DA mode without doing much more than draw, aim and squeeze or cock while drawing for SA mode…
    As stated it all comes down to user experience and preference. Regardless, learn what works and feels best for you then practice, practice, practice until it becomes second (maybe first) nature to you, then practice more….

  • MSG L

    I carried the 1911 fo many years, C&L. I am not in the Army anymore and my every day carry is a CZ 82, openly carried in a Fobus paddle. A great little DA/SA with a smooth trigger and quick first shot recovery. Works for me.
    Like William White said, “every one needs to have their own preference.”

  • Buckshot

    I carried both during a 21 year LE career. 18 yrs with a S&W SA/DA and 3 wth the M&P. Training is the issue here as both systems work just fine. Those that say the DA/SA is too hard to train never carried one in harm’s way. As a LE Firearms Instructor I can tell you they both work fine if you have trained with what you carry. I say that as a shoot-out veteran that has had to employ deadly force on more than one occassion.

    I have both systems in carry guns that I use now in retirement, and I train with both. They key is to find what you are comfortable with, what you can safely and efficiently handle, and what you are willing to spend time and money training with.

  • groovie

    the glock and s&w m&p are both single action pistols you have to calk the slide to set the striker.

  • Some Rabbit

    The DA/SA decockers are the safest handguns. The so-called DA Glock style guns are in fact SA and unlike the 1911, don’t even have a grip or manual safety. The vast majority of accidental discharges (even by law enforcement officers) in recent years can laid at the feet of these firearms.

    • Sheesh

      And here I thought only anti-gunners blamed the inanimate object…

      • jkantor267

        Badly designed inanimate objects. How about this? Have a friend of yours face you from 5′ away and practice his quick draws with a loaded Glock.

      • EverettWilliams

        The guy was stating a fact, not a gun bash, but a fact that Glock is a SA (striker fired ) gun. There is no LONG heavy pull just a blade in the middle of the trigger that hits the frame to keep it form going off. And speaking of that trigger there is about 3/16 on each side of that blade safety that keeps you from shooting yourself in the leg or foot, they are not safe IMO.

  • Allen Benge

    Another excellent article by a recognized expert in the field and one who is not of the ‘You should carry what I carry, because I know more than you do’ school.,, Having been a deputy sheriff, and an admitted ‘gun nut,’ I have used, carried, shot and competed with just about every firearm available. I had friends who carried only the M1911A, and if you had the temerity of suggesting any other weapon, you were insane. I have seen a growth of Glock fanatics who believe that all other firearms should be destroyed, and only the Glock be made available anywhere. The Glock is a decent weapon, and will do the job it was intended to very well. After all, It was designed to be the primary sidearm of the Austrian Army, and now we pay about $700 a copy for what the Austrian Army spends about a hundred bucks for. My personal choice is the Springfield Armory XD or XD(M) series, and in my case, chambered in .40S&W. Some say it is not a novice’s gun. If not, Why do a lot of departments still issue and train with DA/SA revolvers? The grip safety, reminiscent of the 1911 .45 ACP, and the Glock-style trigger safety (made of metal, not plastic, Give me the same trigger pull every time I fire it. Out of the holster, the weapon functions almost identically the same as any quality DA revolver. and you cannot fire it SA. I am confident that I can take Joe Doe off the street, and in less than an hour, having him handle the XD series, or any identically set up semi auto like a pro. I prefer the SA DX or XD(M) line for myself, but am not going to tell you tabt if you use anything else, you are an idiot. Carry what you are comfortable and competent with.

    • BigDave IrreDeploraDeemable

      If I HAD to, I would use a DA/SA gun. I choose striker fired only guns. I prefer them on a very large scale.
      I like the XD’s and XDm’s,… sort of. They have fantastic grips and good grip angle. Terrible triggers that are overly complex to upgrade. I loathe the grip safety. I would eliminate mine if I bought another. I sold my XDm. I never did get a decent trigger on that gun.I tried. But, I actually hated the trigger, even after it was worked on by a gunsmith. I now do 100% of ALL my own work. That is why I prefer the Glock.

      The Glock is (SO) ugly with a horrible grip. But the simplicity and ease to work on it and the HUGE aftermarket makes it a winner in spite of its blocky, unattractive looks.
      The grip angle is 100% solved by building your own “Glock” starting with a TimberWolf frame. The Lone Wolf trigger is all metal and adjustable for pre travel AND over travel.

      A “Zero Percent” Glock using all Timber Wolf parts is my idea of the ideal handgun. Their new fluted and threaded line of barrels are amazing.
      So, you can say I am a custom Glock CLONE fan. The G19 I build from Lone Wolf (and Big Dot XS Sights which LW sells, BTW) is quite expensive but significantly less than what I would spend re doing a stock Glock and 10 times better.

  • PreacherPauly

    Good article. Many don’t understand how the systems work, but hopefully they will learn more at the range and learn to handle either system well. What may work for one, may not always be for another. Some are so adamant on what they like, they will try to make others feel like ignoramises to do something different. If one system excelled over another we wouldn’t have so many types to choose from.

  • Steve

    The Beretta 92FS 9mm has been the std issue for the military and the national police here in Peru since 2010 replace the Navy 9mm revolver. I recently spoke with a couple of officers as one carried the Navy and the other had the new Beretta. As you might expect, neither would trade their own for the other.

  • Shipwreck

    For concealed carry,I rely only on my DAO Ruger LC9 or a trusty 642 S&W DAO Airweight. I love my Glock 23, and use it to qualify, but (for me) it doesn’t conceal as easily as the other two, and I wouldn’t carry the Glock with a round chambered, anyway. The Glock stays in a drawer by my easy chair; It’s my choice if something “goes bump in the night” and the 870 in the bedroom is too far away.

    Nonetheless, I ABSOLUTELY practice regularly with all 3 handguns. Can’t be sure which one I might have available in a pinch.I installed lasers on both pocket guns. They won’t’ let you quality here with laser sights, but I once read something to the effect that not seeking every possible advantage in a “life or death” confrontation is just plain dumb – and possibly fatal. If I were not confident & competent with any specific weapon, I would not bet my life by carrying & relying on it.

  • azsdft

    Sorry Jason, but I need to call you on the Glock and other similar firearms being designated as DA. They are not at all Double action firearms, because in order to fire the handgun initially you MUST rack the slide setting the striker in a SINGLE ACTION setup, then every time you pull the trigger the slide “cocks” the striker in preparation to fire the next round.

    • jeff

      The manufacturers of these striker guns themselves actually call them out as DA. Thing is I can actually understand how a Glock, Ruger SR, XDS would be considered a DA because the striker does advance to the rear further cocking the striker as the shooter pulls the trigger so technically, it would be a DA. But the M&P, XD, XDM for example, the striker is totally staged and all the sear does is release the striker… dont understand how these are still classified as DA. There must be some other reason that these guns are technically considered a DA. I would like to read the technical parameters that classify a DA or SA, I have always known them to be classified according to the number of functions the trigger performs:SA- drops hammer , DA- cocks and drops hammer. Anyone that knows what theyre talking about have any insight?

      • EverettWilliams

        I think they know better, but chose DA in an effort to make them sound safe, they are not at all safe, I don’t call a blade in the center of the trigger safe by any means, I KNOW keep your finger off the trigger, tell that to any object that might snag that blade.

  • Mark

    Having carried the 1911 in the US Army for 20+ years I am still partial to it but now I carry a FNX-9 which is DA/SA and I like it a lot because it is with a hammer and has a de-cock position on the safety. So my first shot is DA and then SA after that.. .

  • David

    I shoot a double/single Ruger P95 and I’m very comfortable with it. I do practice quick draw with the hammer down and like the feel of the first squeeze followed by a quick reset. I rarely use the manual safety and carry chambered always. When training, it’s easy to hit the decocker after a shot for double action training but it’s nice to have SA following for a double or triple tap. With all the new toys out there, it may be time to retire my P95 to home defense. They aren’t the best CC by any means but I would have to get used to a short barrel accuracy if I decide on a LC9s or S&W Shield. I also have become very accustomed to a 15+1 Mag. Thanks very much for the article. I was also confused when I first started getting back into shooting, you have done an excellent job of explaining the differences. Now, when watching the old western movies, I always watch to make sure they’re shooting single action weapons, ha.

  • EverettWilliams

    How can a Glock be a double action, it’s already cocked and all you have to do is pull the trigger and the firing pin slams forward, it was already cocked. This is a little confusing to me, I wouldn’t call a striker fired gun a double action. With a DA you have that long, heavy pull like on a revolver, DA/SA is the best of both worlds IMO, I feel extremely safe carrying my Sig, unlike the Glock 19 I had where I was always worried that trigger might somehow get snagged and go off. With a DA long and heavy 10 pound pull you don’t. Like other posters said, get what you feel safe with, but I don’t classify a Glock a DA, It’s more of a SA with a safe trigger block for a safety.

  • BigDave IrreDeploraDeemable

    I noticed in Season 3 of NCIS NOLA, that Bakula uses a Sig 228 DAO!! Why DAO semi auto?? That is so stupid. Even the oldest wheel gun guys transition well to a DA/SA semi auto. Why do they even make a DAO gun. It seems to me it a “legal liability hedge” gun. I think NY State is all about 10 lb triggers and DAO guns. They are just plain weird.

  • Repocraig

    News flash…. Striker guns are SINGLE ACTION. Not double action

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