Gun Grip Safety
Some firearms are designed to discharge with a minimal amount of pull on the trigger. This helps shooters improve accuracy by minimizing unwanted movement when squeezing the trigger. While it is possible to inadvertently discharge any firearm, weapons with lesser trigger resistance are particularly prone to going off accidentally. Grip safeties reduce this risk. Manufacturers situate these safeties so that, when the shooter’s hand wraps firmly around the back of the handle, the safety disengages and enables the weapon to fire.
Different firearms employ grip safeties in different ways. The M-1911 pistol design uses a grip safety to block the trigger. According to the M-1911 Pistol Organization, when the weapon is in the cocked position, a catch called the “sear” holds the hammer back. When the trigger moves rearward, it pushes the sear out of the hammer’s way, allowing it to fall on the firing pin and discharge the weapon. The grip safety includes a catch that remains inside the weapon and a spring-loaded butt that protrudes from the handle. The catch blocks the rear motion of the trigger to prevent it from moving the sear. The spring keeps the safety on until the shooter depresses it. Other designs prevent operation of the firing pin or the hammer, rather than the trigger.
Grip safeties disengage as a natural consequence of the shooter holding the weapon in a firing position. As such, operation of this type of safety does not add a step; this reduces the time needed to draw the weapon and fire. Grip safeties also minimize the risk of the weapon accidentally discharging due to the trigger catching on objects unintentionally.
In 1906, the U.S. Army conducted a series of firearm tests in order to select a standard-issue, large-caliber semiautomatic pistol. Up to that point, the Army used the M1892 .38 caliber revolver. On March 29, 1911, the Army adopted Colt’s .45 caliber pistol, invented by John Browning. The firearm was the first of its kind: a semiautomatic pistol that included both a thumb-activated safety and a grip safety. The manufacturer named the pistol after the year it went into service, calling it the Model 1911.
The standard grip safety is known as the A1 style. It runs from about halfway up the back of the handle to the top of the handle, then curves to a slight outward protrusion. Ducktail grip safeties extend and widen this protrusion to cover the web of the hand, where the thumb meets the forefinger. This helps prevent the hammer from nipping the web of the hand. Beaver tails are similar to ducktails, except they include an upward curve at the top of the handle. This design is more ergonomic and allows shooters to grip the weapon higher, reducing how much the weapon flips upward when fired.
A firearm with a grip safety can still fire even if the shooter is not holding the handle. Anything that can depress the safety can disable it and allow the weapon to discharge.