In the last few years, there has been a giant wave of striker-fired mostly polymer pistols entering the handgun market. Why is this? What are the reasons? Does this striker-fired mechanism have clear advantages over the hammer-fired models? Some say the striker-fired mechanism is not a new mechanism phenomenon, since Iver Johnson had this type of trigger action in the 1890s and then Glock followed in 1982 in Austria with its 17th patent pistol, the Glock 17.
Striker-Fired vs Hammer-Fired pistols
What are their mechanisms and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each? Are there key features that differ among them? Does one have significant advantages over the other? Are all striker-fired guns really “Double Action Only?” What are the characteristics and pros and cons of a striker-fired pistol? Are they safe? Do I recommend a striker-fired pistol?
Most of us know that the “action” of a gun is about the relationship among the trigger, hammer, and cocking and firing the gun. About the mechanism and what makes it go bang. We know that a single-action (SA) trigger performs only one action of releasing the hammer when the trigger is pressed. On a double-action only (DA), when the trigger is pressed it both cocks and releases the hammer to fire the gun. A single-action/double-action semi-automatic allows you to cock the hammer manually or to press the trigger which cocks the hammer AND releases it to fire. Two different actions are involved. But what about a striker-fired pistol? How does its design mechanism work? Is it really an optimal mechanism to help defend your life and does it as an action design really contribute more to accuracy?
The Striker-Fired Design
A striker-fired gun does not have a hammer. Instead, it has an internal bar or long rod called a “Striker Bar”. Really it is a spring-loaded firing pin which looks like a pointed rod with a spring wrapped around it. Here is an example.
The pointed end of the striker bar acts as a firing pin and contacts the casing’s primer, ignites it, and causes a round to fire. Then comes the somewhat unique part. There are two stages to cocking with the usual striker-fired design. When most striker-fired pistols are charged, the firing pin striker bar is in the half-cock or partially-cocked position and as the trigger is pressed, the firing pin striker bar is then fully cocked for firing. Then it returns to a pre-cocked position for the next firing. The trigger bar is tilted downward by the connector which releases the firing pin striker bar to discharge the gun (for some striker-fired’s.) Then the connector resets the trigger bar so the firing pin is captured in half-cock or a partially-cocked position after firing. Thus, a pre-set trigger mechanism which some say simplifies things and gives you much less to think about when firing it.
Some prefer their striker-fired gun WITH an external manual safety and some prefer it WITHOUT a manual safety. So some striker-fired handguns have external manual safeties and some do not. Some question the striker-fired mechanism and its safety, but remember to focus on following the safety rules and developing the muscle memory actions in your training and practice for your particular handgun. Trigger finger discipline is very important, so your brain is really the best safety on any handgun. Remember, the safety on a handgun is simply a mechanical device and it can malfunction. Know your gun and the type of safeties it has. There are many types of handgun safeties, so see my article on this website “Handgun Safeties” posted on 2/20/15.
Modern striker-fired handguns without an active external manual safety utilize internal safety mechanisms to prevent the gun from firing. So if you do not see an external safety on your striker-fired pistol, it probably has some sort of safety mechanism. For example, striker-fired Springfields XD/XDm/XDs have a grip safety. If it does have an external manual safety,TRAIN and PRACTICE with it until disengaging the safety becomes a second nature habit for an automatic muscle memory response. Today’s striker-fired pistols like Springfield XDs, Smith and Wesson M&Ps, Sig Sauers, Glocks, Kahrs, and others do have various “passive” (usually internal) safety features WITHOUT external manual safeties (except on some law enforcement models, etc.) The modern striker-fired “passive” safeties might include a trigger safety, a drop safety, a grip safety, and/or a firing pin block, rather than an external “active” manual safety. Again, some striker-fired handguns are available with or without an external manual safety, e.g. Smith & Wesson M&Ps. Just some striker-fired handguns available WITH a manual safety include Ruger SR9, 9C & LC9S; Smith & Wesson M&P Series like the Shield; Taurus G2; FNS-9 & 9C; and Springfield XD. Just some striker-fired handguns available with NO manual safety include: Glocks- 19; Sig Sauers- P320; Kahr- CM9; H&K -VP9.
Some say the only way to decock the typical striker-fired pistol is to press the trigger, but there are considerations and other striker-fired pistols with decockers. For example, the Walther P99C has a decocker and 2 drop safeties and a firing pin block safety. While it is true several striker-fired pistols do not have external manual safeties, some do.
So with a striker-fired handgun, the striker bar is partially cocked to some degree by the movement of the slide; in some brands/models the striker bar is more pre/partially-cocked than in others. Some systems partially or even fully pre-cock the striker bar to reduce press length and weight. The trigger’s press distance and weight are close to that of a single-action gun, while they still operate like a DAO revolver since all that is required to fire is to press the trigger. There really is no single universal striker-fired system. In fact there is considerable debate if the striker-fired system is a DAO or SA or DA/SA system or its own unique Hybrid. The striker-fired guns are all NOT designed the same way and there are differences among striker-fired guns. Really, I guess you could say a striker-fired gun is a hybrid, depending on how you define certain mechanisms and the way it is built. A Canik TP9 version, for example, is a striker-fired pistol in DA/SA with a second strike capability. The Walther P99 is a striker-fired DA/SA gun with a decocker.
Striker-Fired Mechanism Characteristics and Considerations
There are several advantages and disadvantages to a striker-fired system. In fact what are advantages to one shooter may even be disadvantages to another shooter. Remember, there are many different striker-fired designs and mechanisms and features vary a lot. This affects your evaluation and use. So, what are your thoughts about the following usual striker-fired characteristics? Are they advantages or disadvantages for YOU?
Striker-Fired Advantage or Disadvantage?
- No hammer to cock.
- Short and light initial trigger press.
- Same consistent trigger press each time.
- No manual safety to engage (usually.)
- Striker does not have to be fully cocked, so quick follow-up shots.
- No protruding hammer makes them easier to conceal without draw hamper from deep concealment.
- Have trigger, firing pin, drop, and/or grip safeties for passive safety and peace of mind, without having to actively engage external safety.
- Short reset due to pre-cocked and partial-cocked mechanisms.
- Polymer material construction makes gun lighter for concealed carry.
- New shooters can start shooting quicker & less time involved in learning to shoot it.
Well, given the many types and versions of striker-fired handguns and what one considers an advantage can be a disadvantage to another, what is the optimal striker-fired handgun? You have probably guessed the answer: IT DEPENDS ON YOUR PREFERENCES. So understand the different models, features, and mechanisms and decide for yourself. Hopefully, this brief article has caused you to think about your preferences and whether or not a striker-fired handgun is best for yourself. I would really like your comments about what works for you.
Photos by Author.
* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.