Why I hate magazine safeties

I was talking yesterday in The Conspiracy with some of the guys about magazine safeties, and why they suck so much. In my opinion, the magazine disconnect safety is a “safety device” which actually makes the gun less safe for the user and for anyone else around them. Not to pick on Ruger, but I’ll use their SR9 as my example, because it features a magazine safety and were it not for the mag disconnect safety I’d recommend the gun without hesitation.

To illustrate why mag disconnects make your gun unsafe, allow me to draw and example from competition shooting. In USPSA/IDPA shooting, at the end of each course of fire, you (the shooter) are required to “unload and show clear” – meaning that you have to demonstrate to the RO that you have an empty (cold) gun before you can holster. The range commands go roughly as follows:

  1. “If you are finished, unload (drop the mag) and show clear (rack the slide to eject the round).
  2. If clear (the RO looks in the slide to verify an empty chamber) slide forward and hammer down. (lower the slide and dry fire the gun)

The problem with a magazine disconnect safety rears its ugly head when you have to dry fire the gun – because you can’t dry fire a gun with a mag disconnect safety unless you stick a magazine in it, the “slide forward/hammer down” step requires additional manipulation of the gun beyond what you’d see with a Glock or 1911.  To complete this step, after lowering the slide, you have to insert an empty magazine into the gun to dry fire it – and as an RO/SO myself, nothing cranks up the pucker factor like someone putting a magazine into a gun that’s supposed to be cold.

Now, you’re probably thinking “Caleb, what could go wrong?  It’s just an empty mag, surely someone wouldn’t put a loaded mag into the gun while the slide was back and then cook a round off.”  You know, I’d like to think that, but the problem is that 1) I’ve seen exactly that happen at .22 matches with a Walther P22, and I firmly believe that the most effective way to ensure that your gun is safe is to make the manual of arms as simple and straightforward as possible.

I was at a .22 only steel match once, and I saw exactly what I describe above.  At the command of “slide forward and hammer down”, the shooter put a loaded .22 magazine into his P22, dropped the slide (chambering a round) and proceeded to cook a round off into the berm, scaring the beejesus out of his RO.  Now, the RO should have seen the loaded mag and stopped him, but the point remains – magazine disconnect safeties add an unnecessary and potentially dangerous step to the manual of arms for both competition shooters and defensive shooters.

For people who don’t shoot competition, the mag disconnect safety is just as dangerous – because it requires you to put an ammo feeding device (magazine) into the gun when you’re dry firing.  That adds an additional element of danger, because it removes the first safety step of dry fire practice, which is remove the source of ammo from the gun.

I probably could have written a much shorter post about this – however the long and short of it is that I utterly despise mag disconnect safeties.  I think they’re unnecessary legal masturbation, and add an actual element of danger to the safe handling and operation of your firearm.

13 thoughts on “Why I hate magazine safeties”

  1. It would seem to me that the safety problem is entirely with the range officer’s order to pull the trigger, not the design of the gun.

  2. the RO’s order to pull the trigger is to ensure that there are no hot guns on the range – you’ve done your due diligence in clearing the chamber, and dry firing your gun is the last way to check that. I’ve seen a number of times where people have sent rounds into the berm when that chamber was supposed to be empty. If the range rules say “cold range” it means “cold range”.

  3. It’s still a violation of Cooper’s Rules 1 and 3 and, as you have pointed out, it’s dangerous and has resulted in lives put in jeopardy. I’ve shot at plenty of cold ranges, the actions are kept open and untouched. IDPA “rules” notwithstanding, this is a bad practice.

    You might consider floating this issue to IDPA instead of recommending that people modify their pistols to comply with a dangerous practice. You do realize that you are opening yourself to liability by recommending that, right?

  4. It’s really not a violation of rule 1 or 3 though – when you dry fire the gun, you’re treating it like it’s loaded. On top of that, when you dry fire the gun under USPSA/IDPA rules, the gun MUST be pointed downrange and “on target”, so that in the event that your gun does go “bang”, the bullet goes into the intended target, which in this case is the berm.

    Dropping the hammer on an empty chamber with the magazine out is the most efficient way to make sure that everyone’s gun is in the same condition – safe.

  5. That’s a good point, but the practice could be modified so that guns with a disconnector remain locked open. Or am I missing something here, such as the weapon must then be holstered? Probably. This is one of the reasons I like my 3rd gen Smiths and their decocking levers.

    On the flip side, the gun won’t discharge if the magazine isn’t seated properly, where that discharge would likely produce a malfunction that had to be cleared, and the mag would fall out of the gun during recoil–necessitating insertion of a new mag and racking the slide to fill the empty chamber. Otherwise: a rap on the magazine and problem solved.

    Yeah, so that’s an amateur mistake. Though I am using it in a manner not originally intended, where its purpose was to render the gun “safe” simply by removal of the magazine. No weapon with a chambered round is safe for casual handling, as far as I’m concerned.

    Being a wheelgunner who loves a nice clean break on single action, I’m not overly fond of sloppy triggers on guns with disconnectors. It’s a traditional European design practice as much as it is lawyering, where the French government requested that feature in the enormously popular GP. I could take or leave the disconnector, but considering the prevalence of imported pistols, I have given up and made peace with the fact they exist.

    What I don’t like are internal locks, most of which are made of minuscule parts more appropriate for a ball point pen.

  6. There’s a couple of issues with the IDPA “dropping the hammer” rule.

    The first is that in IDPA you carry the gun around from stage to stage in your holster. You don’t carry it in a range bag or case. Because it’s holstered, the only way to make sure it’s secure in the holster is to have it holstered with the slide forward. You can’t securely carry a gun in a holster with the slide locked back.

    Since the gun is going to be holstered, and the rules require a cold range, that’s where the procedure to show unloaded comes from. It’s an additional safety precaution.

    Now, last time I looked, IDPA has a specific rule that said “All safety devices on a gun must be in working order.” That means that removing or disabling a mag disconnect safety is actuallly violating the rule.

    I know local clubs may look the other way on this, but unless I mis understand the rule, this is against the rules and could result in a competitior being DQ’d.

    So, before you do this mod, check the IDPA rule book for yourself and follow up by checking with the SRO of the club that holds the match.

  7. I know of four accicental/negligent discharge incidents where I think the magzine disconnnect was a factor. Yes, other safety rules were violated, but the magazine disconnect is supposed to help – not make the situation worse.

    One Browning; three S&W. One civilian; one cop; a professional police trainer; a firearms professional.

    Two fatalities.

  8. I did check the IDPA rules, and they say that disabling any safety device is a naughty, so don’t nerf your mag disconnect. However, USPSA doesn’t make this distinction, and I’m hoping that IDPA will clarify this rule as well.

  9. I agree with you completely. I have a .22 that I bought for my then-girlfriend which has a magazine safety. Having learned most of my (admittedly modest) pistol skills in the loving embrace of the US Army (and it was .45s, not 9mm), I have cursed that little .22 to Hell and back, because clearing it goes counter to my every instinct so carefully drilled into me.
    I refuse to sell it because, well, it’s a pistol, and every time i have sold a gun in my life I have regretted it without fail. But the magazine safety is a deal breaker for me: I will probably never buy another with that feature.

  10. I have a Bersa Thunder .380 as my carry piece. I hate not being able to dry-fire without a magazine in, so I took the ten minutes yesterday to take out the mag safety bar. If my club had a BUG match and I wanted to shoot that gun, it would take me about ten minutes to put the disconnect back in.

    A carry piece should go bang when the trigger is pulled, without having to worry about whether the magazine has been dislodged or dropped out.

  11. Also one must note the even bigger problem with mag disconnects beyond competition and practice, but also with defensive shooting. If somehow you fail to seat your magazine properly, or in the course of it ridding in your holster, or somehow in the course of being drawn or griped the magazine unseats, in a conventional gun without the disconnect you will likely experience one shot then some sort of failure. In a gun with a disconnect you will have a gun unable to be fired. That one shot could save your life, and certainly, while not ideal, is better than a gun unable to fire.

    Also I don’t know too much about the mechanics of the disconnects, nor how many variations exist, but I think of Sebastian’s Bersa where the spring failed on the disconnect leaving him with an inoperable gun (unless it’s held sideways).

    This “Safety” feature could get you killed if employed in a defensive arm.

    Also I’m not a huge fan of a loaded gun giving a false negative to the shooter. A gun with a round in the chamber and the magazine removed IS still loaded, but unable to fire, but will suddenly become “hot” with the introduction of an empty magazine, or the failure of the disconnect.

    There is just no way this feature can be considered good.

  12. even worse, i carry a ruger SR9… the manual specifically states that dry firing without a mag inserted will damage the gun… ill admit, ive ignored that a couple of times… but i probably shouldnt..

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