24 Mar 2020
Manually-operated “safety” levers and buttons were not found on military rifles of the 1800s and early 1900s.
Since military doctrine of the era dictated that rifles were not to be fired, absent direct command, they were typically carried with an empty chamber and loaded only just prior to being fired. That made some sense, because rifles were (and still are) carried for the purpose of effectively dealing with expected threats.
A manual “safety lever” on rifles of the era was considered unnecessary, a nonessential add-on.
This would change with the development of self-loading rifles, box magazines, and individual initiative on the part of soldiers!
Self-loading pistols came into American military service in the early 1900s (replacing a hodgepodge of revolvers) and into American domestic police service in the 1970s (also displacing various revolvers common to the era).
In the beginning, most autoloading pistols came with some kind of manual safety, but were still carried with the chamber empty, on the theory that the slide could be manipulated as the weapon was drawn, thus enabling the soldier to fire more or less immediately.
As with sights, most early autoloading pistols had manual safeties that were, for all practical purposes, unusable!
Since the pistol was (and still is) carried as a way of effectively dealing with unexpected threats, an ability to get it into action quickly always enjoyed a high priority (and still does).
As what would ultimately become the 1911 pistol was under development in America during the first decade of the Twentieth Century, it was the Cavalry who stepped forward and challenged what had been common thinking about military pistols up until that time.
At the Cavalry’s insistence, a “grip-safety” was added!
When mounted on a horse, one has to learn pretty quickly to do everything that needs to be done, one handed!
Thus, Cavalry officers explained that their troopers needed to carry the pistol with a round chambered, so that two hands were not necessary to get it running.
They were accustomed to using revolvers, which they could draw, fire, and subsequently reholster, all using only one hand, and they had no intention of giving-up that capability!
Cavalry troopers knew that, after firing several shots from their 1911 pistol from horseback (one-handed), and then having to reholster the pistol quickly (again, one-handed and with the hammer remaining in full-cock), a grip-safety would be a necessity for making this procedure reasonably safe.
Understanding their logic, Browning and his team added the grip-safety
On the final version of the 1911, a two-position, manual safety was also added, almost as an after-thought! Many at the time considered it unnecessary.
Today, ascendants of the Colt/Browning 1911 “tilt-barrel” system include just about all modern defensive pistols, and some that still have grip-safeties.
But most don’t, employing a “trigger-tab-safety” instead.
Some pistols have both!
Grip-safeties and trigger-tab-safeties are both “passive.” That means the shooter physically operates them, but not consciously.
“Manual” safety levers and buttons are designed and intended to be operated as a result of a conscious decision, and deliberate physical action, on the part of the shooter.
Most modern pistols don’t have manual safeties.
Some manufacturers offer identical copies of their pistols, with or without a manual safety, at the purchaser’s choice.
Most modern Operators, including me, consider a manual safety on a modern pistol to be a gratuitous, and annoying, redundancy.
But, not all agree!
Passive safeties as currently available generally do not interfere with the correct (undelayed) operation of the pistol.
What we all need to keep in mind is that a pistol carried on the person (on horseback or not) is an item of emergency, safety equipment. We carry them as a way to effectively deal with sudden, unexpected threats, as has always been the case.
When your option for equipment, and/or methods, compromises that critical capability, you need to rethink your choices, while you still can!
“Choice, not chance, determines your destiny.”