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Firearms Basics

In your search for any firearms, it is important to recognize one simple thing, and that is that mission dictates gear. Your mission could be home defense, hunting, competition, law enforcement, or protecting your family while out of the house. Depending on where you live can also dictate what equipment you can legally use. Some states may have restrictions on what firearms you can use. Your local gun store (or the internet) can guide you in this.

What Does the Term “Action” Mean?

In our case here, the “action” of the firearms is the action of pulling the trigger and the cartridge being fired. When discussing handguns, there are two main types of firing mechanisms generally recognized, those being single action and double action. Both types are common, but they differ in their mechanical operation that fires the handgun.

Single Action – SA

In a single action handgun, the trigger only performs a singular function, which is to fire an already cocked striker or hammer. With a typical handgun of this design, the firing mechanism is already cocked after the slide of the handgun is cycled rearwards manually with a round in the chamber. After being fired, the slide cycles and cocks the firing mechanism again. These handguns usually have lighter or shorter trigger pulls.

Double Action – DA

With double action handguns, the trigger performs two functions, which are to cock the gun and to fire it all in one trigger pull. With purely double action semiauto handguns, the firing mechanism is not automatically cocked when the slide cycles but remains un-cocked until the user pulls the trigger. There are also double action revolvers, which are mechanically different, but also have triggers that perform two functions. These handguns usually have heavier or longer trigger pulls.

Double Action and Single Action – DA/SA

Some handguns are both single and double action. The way these handguns generally function is that the first shot fired is double action, meaning a longer/heavier trigger pull, while subsequent shots are single action. These handguns are popular for concealed carry but take training to learn both types of trigger pull proficiently. If you buy a gun of this type, you may want to spend extra time at the shooting range engaging in practice.

Single Action vs Double Action

Some believe that single action handguns have better triggers than double action guns. This is because single action triggers do not have to overcome the added resistance of cocking the gun like a double action gun. To many, this makes single action guns much easier to hit with. However, many also believe that the long and, in many cases, heavy trigger pull of a double action trigger makes it harder to unintentionally fire the gun.

Both arguments can be solved with training, which is probably more important than anything. Learning proper trigger discipline and hitting what you are shooting at are key fundamentals to safely using a firearm.

Many gun stores offer firearm rentals where, for a small fee, you can try out a selection of guns. This is a great strategy as you can learn for yourself what your preferences are for different types of handguns before you make a purchase.

photo courtesy of Jay Rembert from Unsplash


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