Slide lock

At Guns and Hunting, Richard Mann is talking about the slide lock function on a semi-automatic pistol.  He is not in favor of it, as he’s seen guns go to premature slide lock at inopportune moments during training, and has adjusted his personal training to work around the slide lock.  He wonders if the slide lock has an actual tactical value, or if its utility is limited to administrative functions.

When you look at the slide lock in terms of competition shooting, you have to think in terms of “speed of reload”.  For example, there are three types of reloads in competition shooting, presented here in order of fastest to slowest:

  1. Speed reload: with a live round in the chamber, eject the magazine regardless of how many rounds it contains, and insert a fresh magazine.  Keep shooting.
  2. Slide lock reload: with the gun at slide lock, eject the empty magazine, insert a fresh magazine, lower the slide.  Resume shooting.
  3. Reload w/retention: Eject the partially empty magazine and stow in a pocket or mag holder, insert a fresh magazine.  Resume shooting.

In 2 out of the 3 reloads, the gun never goes to slide lock; and indeed in the fastest reload the gun going to slide lock is a disadvantage.  However, you can’t dismiss the utility of the slide lock function, because in IDPA competition, the slide lock reload is the preferred reload.  IDPA doesn’t allow the speed reload, so for the purposes of that game, slide lock is an important reload since it’s faster than the retention reload by a long shot.

So to answer the question of whether or not the slide lock is purely administrative or has an actual value, I’d have to go with “actual value”, especially for competition shooting.  If you’re having issues with the going to slide lock prematurely, it can be defeated with training (assuming that the gun itself isn’t defective).


  1. Which came first? The slide lock or IDPA? I believe your assertion relies on the premise that IDPA guns have a slide lock back feature. Did manufacturers put slide locks on their guns because of competition? I seriously doubt it, thus their purpose isn’t to facilitate IDPA reloads, but another purpose and I think that’s the real question here. Why is there a slide lock on semi-autos.

  2. I’d prefer the slide lock function to remain for a few reasons.

    In an many situations, training, competition – and most critically – self defense, guns malfunction. You need to know how to deal with that, and deal with it at speed.

    In the case of a double feed it may be to your advantage to manually lock the slide.

    In an SD situation, I want to know when my mag ran dry. I’m not counting rounds and I don’t want to figure it out by hearing a “click” and then having to fully rack the slide to feed the next round after a new mag is in.

    YMMV – slide lock = good.

  3. Of course slide locks came before IDPA – but I’m not evaluating the slide lock in the light of “why they put them on guns to begin with” but whether “does the slide lock serve a functional purpose now”.

    I’d surmise however that the reason they put slide locks on military pistols back in the day was to let the soldier know visually that he was out of ammo, and to facilitate ease of reloading.

  4. “In an SD situation, I want to know when my mag ran dry. I’m not counting rounds and I don’t want to figure it out by hearing a ‘click’ and then having to fully rack the slide to feed the next round after a new mag is in.”


    My P3AT lacks a slide lock, and an “Oh [email protected]#!” moment happens every time I practice shooting with it in stressful situations and it runs dry. Is it a misfire? Did it FTF? Or am I out of BB’s and it’s now time to reload?

    A locked slide narrows all of those options down to “You’re out of bullets, dummy: Put in a fresh magazine and keep shooting”.

  5. Skullz hit it with his point about double feeds…

    Interestingly enough – while they’re the least common malf., the Advantage Arms .22 conversion kits ensure that you’ll have no end to getting the vital practice that you need when clearing ’em…

    I’m going to go with vitally important and not just “tactical”.

  6. The slide lock serves a useful purpose, but it can have some downsides as well. With a .40 or 9mm 1911 or 2011, forcefully seating a magazine with the slide locked back can break the ejector. If you use an extended magazine, you can actually jam the magazine up into the feedway, leading to a nasty stoppage.

    USPSA shooters plan their reload spots during a stage, so having the slide lock back on empty does them little or no good. My Limited STIs are set up not to lock back.

    In a fight, having the gun lock open empty is probably more useful, but I wouldn’t fret too much if my sidearm didn’t. Even (especally) in a fight, it’s good practice to put a fresh magazine in whenever the opportunity presents itself.

  7. I may have not been clear, my point is that slide locks are useful in competition only because they are there. If they’d never been invented, the competition folks would have designed the rules around guns without them. Therefore, they don’t really serve a function in competition other than to drive the rules. I’d call that administrative.

    As for slide lock = out of ammo. I disagree simply because I’ve seen many of malfs that will hold the slide open and you don’t know until you have done a quick action why the gun stopped. The only way to know it is out of ammo when the slide locks back is to be counting rounds.

    As for double feeds, that’s why Sigs and 1911s rule (and I’m sure others), the mags have a lip on the front that can be hooked on your belt or other surface to strip out the mag forcefully, unlike a Glock mag or other polymer gun in which you’re pretty much hosed until you lock the slide back.

  8. May I followup and ask how one releases the slide? As a lefty I use my index finger on the slide stop lever releasing the slide (on a 1911). Otherwise, I guess you rack the slide? This being basically the same whether it’s locked back or not.

  9. May I followup and ask how one releases the slide?

    I come over the top with my weak hand, forcefully grasping the slide with four fingers on one side and palm & thumb on the other, and rip the slide to the rear.

  10. I get slide lock without empty on crappy .22’s (Walther P22 and Sig Mosquito). They all seem to be gun related, and with the P22 happen almost once a mag.

    I don’t shoot with my thumbs high or up, so I have yet to cause a slide lock by hitting the slide stop on any of the Glocks, a Springfield EMP, a FEG, a CZ 75, a few XD’s, a Para P12, or any of the other centerfire semi-auto handguns I’ve shot.

    If the mag spring is heavily used, the follower might NOT activate the slide stop. I’ve had this a few times. A spring change generally fixes the problem, though I’ve had to replace a follower or two as well.

    I just don’t experience the problem with slide stops. If it works as it should, it’s a great aide, it telegraphs that my handgun is empty by changing the feeling of the cycling of the handgun.

    If my handgun happens to NOT be empty, reloading anyway or dropping the slide fixes the problem.

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