1911 Thumb Safety - Redundant?


Zak Smith
January 26, 2003, 12:20 AM
Several months ago on TFL, I posted a thread on TFL in which I asked if the grip safety on the 1911 was really needed (Why does the 1911 need a grip safety? (http://www.thefiringline.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=134575)).

Now let me pose the opposite question: Does the 1911 really need a thumb safety?

Browning himself seems to have thought, "no", since his models from 1905 - 1910 had none. The 1911 was a refinement of the model 1910, and, as far as I know, only added it because the Cavalry requested it:

Model 1905 (what a beaut!):

Model 1909:

Model 1910:

Finally, the model 1911 Government:

I argue that the 1911 without the thumb safety and with a sane trigger pull weight is as safe as a Glock.

Without the thumb safety, but retaining the grip safety, carrying "cocked and locked" is made no more dangerous while the pistol is in a holster since the trigger is covered and if the sear slips, the hammer will fall to half-cock. The only way the pistol can fire is if you're gripping it and you pull the trigger.

You sure wouldn't be able to shoot high-thumb, but the "need" to do so is gone: You can't forget to snick off the safety, since there isn't one.

Ideally, a pistol should fire - always - when I am holding it and I press the trigger, and not before then. Why do we have to put various manually-operated obstacles in the way to this potent condition? The HK P7 had a good solution to the problem. Wouldn't the Model 1910 - without the thumb safety - solve it an equivalent way?



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January 26, 2003, 12:42 AM
Browning and the cavalry men intended the 1911 to be carried hammer down, not cocked and locked. I imagine the rational behind the safety is that it allowed the gun to be secured quickly, if needed. The Radom used a decocker for the same reason. Condition 1 carry is a more modern invention, not the design rational.

Your comparison between the unlocked 1911 and Glock poses a bigger question mark for the Glock than anything else: IS it a good idea to have a safetyless pistol with a single action trigger pull? (Yes, everyone knows Glocks aren't SA, but the trigger pull isn't much different in use.)

I'm sure this topic will progress to the point where someone will insist that you can carry ANY gun cocked and unlocked. After all, you just have to keep your finger off the trigger. (Some of us know better.)

January 26, 2003, 01:46 AM
First, let us remember that pistols are inherently not meant to be "safe".

Safety resides entirely with the user.

With this in mind, there is no issue with the thumb safety with reasonable training. By the manner in which the thumb safety interfaces with the lockwork, the thumb safety provides a significant margin of relative safety.

There can, however, be serious issues with the interaction of a grip safety, large hand, and a correct grasp of the pistol.

It is never acceptable for a feature to fail to function properly when the device is used properly.

This is why a significant proportion of accomplished and experienced 1911 pistoleros choose to pin the grip safety on their personal sidearms.

Zak Smith
January 26, 2003, 02:00 AM

Upon further investigation, it does seem like the pre-1911 models were meant to be carried with the hammer down, much like a Tokarev (in non-bastardized-for-importation form).

Let's keep this informational so it doesn't degenerate into a "1911 safety" or "Glocks are unsafe" flame-war. I am not intimately familiar with the lockwork of the 1911. Is it true that the grip safety in no way blocks the sear?

Is the half-cock notch the only thing preventing an AD if the sear spring strength is overcome due to a fall?

Again, not wanting to start any type of flame-war, and this is just my opinion: I think that a Glock is safe enough to carry in a trigger-covering holster with a round in the chamber.


With regard to "a pistol being safe" vs. the operator being safe, I generally agree. I meant the question to mean a combination of: (1) how safe the weapon itself with regard to non-user-induced ADs, e.g. a fall, and (2) how easy it is for the operator to be "safe" with the weapon, for example, nobody generally wants a 1/2 lb target trigger on their carry gun.

I am approaching this discussion from the abstract. If one chooses to carry a 1911, then he must train appropriately with it so he will not fail to release the thumb safety. I agree. But if the pistol he carried had none, then he wouldn't have to train for that feature. In your parlance, we would be changing what "the device is used properly" means for this weapon.


January 26, 2003, 02:31 AM
Is it true that the grip safety in no way blocks the sear?


Navy joe
January 26, 2003, 03:14 AM
And that is why the 1911 needs that safety. The hammer is at full mechanical potential and if it is jarred loose or something breaks it will fall. Hopefully to halfcock only. Things will break. I was thumbcocking my beater gun for dryfire and the spur of the 1945 vintage hammer popped cleanly off at the last groove. Point is you won't know if a sear is about to break until it does.

My Glock 34 I have no qualms about carrying even with a cleaned up trigger. The striker absolutely cannot release without the trigger being pulled unless the back of the slide were to pop off the frame. That would take some doing as in a very long fall. Even then the striker would not be at full stroke and it probably wouldn't fire. Even if the striker releases there is that pesky firing pin block. I'm sure if you dropped one from a hundred feet onto concrete it may go off one of a hundred times if it landed just right.

January 26, 2003, 04:42 PM
Time for some levity:

Of course the thumb and the grip safeties on the 1911 are redundant because the Army wanted them that way. "Redundant" also best describes every alternate .45ACP pistol designed since then too.:D :neener: :evil:

January 26, 2003, 07:15 PM

Wasn't trying to start a Glock war, just pointing out that you better be certain that one premise is sound before you base a new one on the first. The jury is still out on how light an unblocked trigger should be.

Since you mentioned the Tokarev, there is no good way of carrying the original with a loaded chamber. The firing pin is not inertial, so hammer down will fire if dropped. Half cock will also fail if dropped on the hammer (a no-no with all pistols). Cocked might actually be the safest, but not by much.

January 26, 2003, 07:15 PM
Well then, in the same spirit of levity:

But if the pistol he carried had none, then he wouldn't have to train for that feature

Does that mean if I remove my front sight I don't have to look at it anymore ??:D

The thumb safety of the 1911 has a definite blocking/locking function vis a vis the lockwork, while the grip safety, if properly adjusted, simply prevents rearward motion of the trigger bow.

Therefore, a cocked and locked 1911 is mechanically as safe as the design allows, regardless of grip safety functional status.

My Glock 34 I have no qualms about carrying even with a cleaned up trigger. The striker absolutely cannot release without the trigger being pulled unless the back of the slide were to pop off the frame. That would take some doing as in a very long fall

The functionality of the 1911 grip safety is in the event of dropping an unlocked pistol far enough that the inertia of the trigger unit overcomes the force required to disengage the sear. Since most triggers weigh less than an ounce, the required force would require at least as long a fall onto the butt end of the pistol as that required to cause a Glock to discharge.

In addition, the forces involved would simultaneously have to overcome the inertia of the sear itself, which would be forced harder into the hammer engagement surface by the (admittedly small) inertia of the sear.

An engaged thumb safety would essentially eliminate this possibility.

Now, if the question involves a lanyard and an unlocked pistol being dragged along the ground from horseback, I suppose that becomes another matter- however, I do not carry my 1911's with a lanyard, or ride a horse very often for that matter.

All mechanical devices may fail. The presence, or lack of function, of a grip safety, has little bearing on a mechanical failure.

January 26, 2003, 08:56 PM
I think it looks better with one :D


Jim K
January 27, 2003, 01:07 AM
The cavalry wanted the manual safety primarily so a trooper could make the pistol safe if he had to devote attention to controlling his horse. While few of us run into that condition, the idea of carrying a gun at full cock with no safety device does not really give me a warm fuzzy.

I have been blamed for saying this, but at the time, the half cock was considered a safety, just as it was on the Winchester rifle and dozens of other rifles and pistols of the era, and carrying a gun on half cock was considered safe. (I don't agree today, but I am talking about 1905-1910, not today.)

The grip safety is usually stated as being intended to keep the gun from going off if dropped, but I read a long time ago that one reason was to ensure that the user's hand was out of the way of the slide, since many had troopers carried the SAA revolver rolled back in the hand, and doing that with a pistol would cause a jam and hurt the hand.

The Glock is not really a single action pistol, no matter what it may feel like. The striker is not fully cocked until the trigger is pulled almost all the way back, a longer (if not harder) pull than that of a 1911 type. They are different guns.

Of course, there will always be those who think safety devices are for someone else. I assume they remove the brakes from their cars, remove the bulbs from all the lights, and disconnect the steering wheel. Gee, think of the fun!


Zak Smith
January 27, 2003, 01:17 AM

Thanks for the responses, guys. I now know a little more about the internals of the 1911- namely, that the thumb safety is what blocks the sear.

I think making the distinction between the pistol's resistance to ADing while undergoing acceleration (e.g. falling or being dragged, etc) and the ability for the user to not ND is useful.

Here's a hypothetical question. Assume you had a 1911-like pistol without a thumb safety whose sear was mechanically blocked by the grip safety, and it also had a firing pin disconnect (such as a Glock, CZ-75B, or BHP MKIII). (In other words, it's "drop safe.") If this pistol had a trigger that had some take-up and then a 5 - 6 lb break, would you feel comfortable carrying it?


January 27, 2003, 01:35 AM
Glocks *should* have more trigger travel and weight than a properly set up 1911, but they do have less of both than any revolver.

That said I'd say that the Glock operates "between" the systems of a revolver and a 1911. Thats why a proper holster, trained operator are necessary for the Glock. Even being a fan of Glocks I would admit they are unforgiving pistols even operating in this zone. Reducing the length of pull and weight to the 1911 level I would never feel comfortable without a manual safety.

Kahr carrier
January 27, 2003, 06:57 AM
I like resting my thumb on it.:neener:

January 27, 2003, 07:03 PM
The salient point is that the 1911 with teh hammer at full-cock has all the potential needed to discharge a round, while the Glock with trigger forward does not.

Your supposition that the hammer would fall to half-cock only holds if the hammer is somehow dislodged from it's resting place atop the sear's nose.

What if that sear nose sheared off? What then will impede the hammer, at half cock or otherwise, from slamming into the firing pin and discharging the pistol? In this scenario, what use is a sear-blocking grip safety? Nope, you need something else, a hammer blocking safety, in this case.

With the Glock, there must be a full and complete pull on the trigger for the pistol to reach that same level of potential energy.

So, control the trigger on a Glock and it needs no extra safety, not so with a C&L 1911 (Colt series 80, DW Series II, Llamas and their ilk excepted, obviously)

Zak Smith
January 27, 2003, 07:19 PM

Does the thumb safety on the 9x19 lock the sear, or the hammer?


January 27, 2003, 08:12 PM
If this pistol had a trigger that had some take-up and then a 5 - 6 lb break, would you feel comfortable carrying it?

No, because you are describing a pistol with a relatively crappy trigger- relative to a well-executed 1911 that is.

The reason most knowledgeable 1911 shooters PREFER the 1911 is the incomparable trigger, which allows superior results with less effort when the red flag flies.

Sniff-sniff... this is beginning to acquire the scent of a 1911 vs. Glock discussion, and I'm sure we don't want/need that.

Zak Smith
January 27, 2003, 08:39 PM

The reason most knowledgeable 1911 shooters PREFER the 1911 is the incomparable trigger, which allows superior results with less effort when the red flag flies.

No argument there. After going through HK's, Glocks, CZs, and BHP's, the trigger is the main thing attracting me to the 1911.


January 27, 2003, 09:34 PM
The 1911 sear taper and hammer half cock hook are designed to catch a failed sear. If that thin part breaks, there should still be enough to hang up in the half cock.

The Kimber II's have a grip safety that actuates a firing pin block. Increase the hammer spring and you have the gun you describe.

And no, I wouldn't carry that. My Glock has a NY trigger spring in it. I come from that small group of worryworts that think that people are, indeed, fallible.

Training helps address part of the safety issues, safety devices take up the slack. As a military pilot I am very familiar with the concept of training going out the window in stressful situations. We do everything we can to combat it, and people still shut down the wrong engine, etc. People with thousands of flying hours and hundreds of emergency training hours do the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Knowing to keep your finger off the trigger is fine, but doing it all the time, EXCEPT when you decide to shoot, is difficult. An ingrained motor skill (pulling the trigger) and the conscious decision (not to pull it yet) don't always work together.

I prefer a cocking lever, or a DA trigger, or a safety; in that order.

January 28, 2003, 10:37 PM
I thought the new 1911's from the larger manufacturers all had blocks on the firing pin which could only be released by the trigger pull? I had talked to somebody from Colt about this and he stated that the new 1911's could not possibly fire unless the trigger were pulled.

If that is true, and both a Glock and a 1911 (with a 4-5 lbs trigger) were holstered properly, the only concern for AD would be a jar (not you Jim;) ) which, through intertia of the trigger, would cause an AD.

The only other concern is, considering you have a Glock with the same trigger weight, that the Glock has a LONGER trigger pull and the trigger safety. So, presuming everything's kosher to this point, the only question left is, on a 1911, does the shorter trigger pull and lack of a trigger safety, on their own, warrant the need for the thumb safety? I, personally, believe that with a 1911 where the gun cannot possibly discharge unless the trigger is pulled and the trigger is 4-5lbs that a thumb safety is not necessary (with an appropriate holster, of course). Would the 4-5 lbs trigger make a 1911 less effective than a Glock? I don't think so ... provided it's a smooth 4-5 lbs.

Personally, I think Para-Ordnance is sitting on a goldmine. I've not shot one. But, I presume the trigger pull is smooth. If they were to build their LDA's with aluminum frames (ala Defender and Ultra CDP) and ditch the thumb safeties, I think they'd have a serious competitor to Glock and Kahr. Unfortunately, I just saw a back-cover ad for Para in which they suggest that a cocked-n-locked 1911 is very unsafe as the thumb safety can be "bumped" off and that with the LDA, their guns are that much safer ... inferring "double safeties".

As it is, I'm a little aprehensive about trying to get my thumb safety replaced with a pin so it's always off and can't be engaged. Particularly as Glock seems to offer, aside from the slimness and good looks of a 1911, exactly what I want. I think if Glock offered a .45acp with an aluminum frame (I realize that would wreak havoc with the design of a Glock, but, bear with me), a stainless steel slide, and in the exact same overall dimensions of an Officer's and a Commander-sized 1911, there wouldn't be much of debate over this stuff. Conversely, if Para, or anybody, made a 1911 with a smooth, longer pull, trigger with a trigger safety and comparable internals to make it as safe as a Glock, without a thumb safety (isn't that an XD?), I don't think there'd be much of a debate as well.

January 29, 2003, 09:39 AM
To my knowledge, only Colt and Para have a firing pin safety deactivated by a trigger pull. Kimber and S&W use the grip safety.

I doubt you could "jar" a series 80 enough to activate(move) the the two levers and plunger enough, with a deactivated grip safety, to make it fire. It's rare to read about even a series 70 have an AD due to dropping, but it does and can happen.

I think a series 80 1911 without a thumb safety and the same weight trigger pull as a Glock, for example, would be less safe, since the trigger throw is quite a bit less on a 1911.

Is it the long trigger throw or the weight of the trigger throw that makes the double action, safe action, etc. guns safer- maybe both? In my opinion, the long throw is a bigger safety factor since you can "back off" the trigger. Not much room(time) to "back off" a 1911 trigger whether it's 3lbs or 6lbs. Of course, that is an arguable point.

Jim K
January 29, 2003, 09:43 PM
Hi, guys,

No one will ever truly settle this one to everyone's satisfaction, but a couple of factual points can be cleared up.

The grip safety on the Model 1911 does NOT block the sear; it blocks the trigger bow. It will NOT prevent the sear from jumping out of the hammer notch if the gun is jarred heavily enough.

The manual (thumb) safety does not block the hammer or the trigger. It blocks only the sear. If you want to prove this, strip the gun and reassemble it without the sear. Hold the hammer back while inserting the manual safety. With the safety "on", release the hammer. It will brush the safety out of the way and fall.

Some pistols have a safety that does solidly block the hammer, the Ballester-Molina is one. But the standard 1911 is not.


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