What is a double action vs. single action handgun?

Imagine you have a very important project coming up and you are planning how many actions you have to take to complete it. When it comes to guns, you can think of it the same way; your weapon has a goal to move the bullet through the barrel at a speed that will project it far enough to reach your target. It has to perform certain actions to get it there, just like you have to take actions to reach your goal. The gun isn’t going to do it all on its own though. When you pull the trigger, your gun is going to take either one or two actions to send the bullet towards your target.

When it comes to double vs. single action handguns, you can think of it as the number of actions pulling the trigger initiates.

When selecting the type of gun you are going to purchase it is important to consider if you want a double action only, single action only, a hybrid of the two, or striker fired. The firing mechanism of your pistol can influence the trigger pull, which can change the ease of firing and accuracy, depending on your experience level.

So, let’s get into it! First, what is single action only?

What is a single action only handgun and how does it work?

Remember those actions we were just referring to? A single action only (SAO) handgun takes only one action to initiate the firing sequence; releasing the hammer. With SAO guns, you must manually cock the hammer in order for the gun to be able to fire the bullet.

Single action only guns can be a revolver or a semi automatic pistol. With a revolver, you will have to manually cock the hammer each time you want to pull the trigger. An example of a single action only revolver is the Ruger Vaquero. When it comes to semi automatic single action only pistols the hammer must be cocked to pull the trigger. This can be done manually or mechanically by the slide cycling. An example of semi auto single action only pistols are all 1911s and the Sig Sauer P238.

Since the hammer is cocked before you pull the trigger, pulling the trigger pull on a single action only gun is going to be lighter than a double action only. This can lead to higher accuracy because you have less muzzle movement with each trigger pull.

What is a double action only handgun and how does it work?

So, we’ve covered single action only but what about double action only? Double action only (DAO) is when the handgun must take two actions to initiate the firing sequence; cock the hammer and release the hammer thus initiating the firing sequence.

Double action only handguns can be revolvers or semi automatic pistols. Both of these models will use a hammer and a decocker so each shot requires the gun to cock the hammer and release the hammer thus firing the bullet. An example of a DAO revolver is the Ruger LCR and the J frame revolvers like those made by Smith & Wesson. An example of a semi auto DAO pistol would be many of the Kahr model pistols.

Because your gun has to cock the hammer, the trigger pull can be heavy on double action only handguns. The weight of the trigger may cause less experienced users to move the muzzle slightly off target, leading to lower accuracy. On the other hand, newer gun owners sometimes lean more towards a double action only pistol because of its heavy trigger. They find it to be consistent, they feel more confident in the security of it, and can easily adjust to the weight with practice.

What is a double/single action handgun and how does it work?

Why not have the best of both worlds? Some revolvers and semi automatic pistols are a hybrid of both double and single action. But, how does that work?

Double/single action (DA/SA) revolvers can be switched between the two actions simply by cocking the hammer or not. An example would be the Kimber K6S in the DA/SA version.

When it comes to the semi automatic double/single action pistols the first shot will be single or double based on if the hammer is cocked or not and each subsequent shot will be single action. An example of a double/single action pistol would be the Beretta M9A3 and M9A1.

Some double/single action pistols will have a manual safety. This safety allows the pistol to be carried “cocked and locked” using the single action firing mechanism. Handguns with this firing mechanism are going to be hammer fired.

What is a striker fired semi automatic handgun and how does it work?

Striker fired semi automatic pistols have become increasingly popular in recent years. While there are striker fired revolvers they are not as common as pistols.

In some handguns rather than using a hammer, it uses a striker. These are called striker fired pistols; they are a combination of double and single action. When the slide is racked an internal spring is partially cocked. Pulling the trigger cocks it the rest of the way and releases a striker, initiating the firing sequence. After the first time you rack the slide, you don’t need to rack it for each subsequent shot. If you found this article you have probably heard of Glock pistols before, all Glock pistols are striker fired.

Striker fired handguns have a light trigger pull and it is best to have a holster that fully protects the trigger for that reason. We suggest checking out our Vedder LightTuck™ IWB Holster, if you select a striker fired pistol. (honestly, you should check out the LightTuck for all your guns)

What firing mechanism is best for concealed carry?

What type of gun you use for concealed carry is a personal preference. There are pros and cons to each firing mechanism that may influence your decision in which to use for concealed carry.

Striker fired semi automatic pistols have become a popular choice for concealed carry because they are safe, light weight, and easy to use and, arguably, more reliable because of their newer technology. With a double/single action gun you get the best of both worlds, with the heavier initial trigger pull you have the safety of a double action, but each subsequent pull has the lighter trigger of a single action gun.

Double action only guns have a heavier trigger, which some people prefer whereas others prefer the lighter trigger of a single action only gun.

There are many things to consider when it comes to selecting which firing mechanism you want to use for concealed carry, you may want to test a few guns out before purchasing one to find what works best for you.

What is best for me?

As we mentioned before, what gun type you decide to use all comes down to personal preference and what meets your needs.

Depending on if you are concealed carrying or open carrying you may want a different firing mechanism. Your skill level can also play a part in what you choose to use.

Ultimately, it comes down to what you find comfortable and what meets your needs. We recommend visiting our Holsters by Gun Model page if you are looking for holsters that are custom made for your weapon of choice. For all of our belt and holster options and for more information to help you choose the carry system that works best for you, visit our Vedder Holsters website.


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