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Why is it so hard to get a thumb safety right?

One thing I learned during my time among the 1911s is that the thumb safety on a gun is not something that is used before and after shooting, flicked on during the draw and put back on when holstering. The right and proper role of a thumb safety is as a part of the way the gun is gripped.

Military-style 1911 “Government Model”

On modern 1911s, which is to say ones with larger thumb safeties as compared to the old GI-style 1911s with their stubby little ones, a proper grip includes having the shooting hand thumb wrap around and ride on top of the safety. This does two things: first, it ensures that you won’t flip the safety while the gun is recoiling in your hand. Since your thumb is on top of it, the only direction pressure can be applied is down (off). Second, it actually helps you get a better grip on the gun by squeezing down and inward near the top of the backstrap where you have the best leverage on the gun.

HK 45C Treaded Barrel
So close to getting it right.

This is also why an ambidextrous thumb safety was on my requirements list for a competition 1911. Despite the fact that it is common in IDPA to not need to manipulate the safety with your weak hand by starting the stage with it deactivated–despite finding nothing in the rulebook authorizing that–the ambi safety gives that same grip shelf to the left side of the gun for use shooting weak hand. I’ll certainly take anything I can get to help me control a gun, especially a .45, shooting weak hand only.

What baffles me, however, is how it seems that most every other gun manufacturer fails to understand this. With one exception, every other gun not patterned on the 1911 with a thumb safety manages to screw it up somehow. Either it’s small and stubby and hard to find like the SR9 or oddly-shaped and in the wrong place like the Taurus 24/7 or just misshapen and painful to shoot like the HK45c.

The 45c is actually a little heartbreaking, because the safety is in the right place, goes the right direction, and is easy to ride with your thumb. But the radius of that circular portion where it attaches to the gun digs in to your thumb if you’re gripping the gun like a 1911 and gives you an ache between the knuckle and joint of your thumb.

And don’t even get me started about slide-mounted safeties or safeties-as-decockers or both.

About Ben

Blog contributor. Active in IDPA and USPSA, and he won't flinch if you call him a rules lawyer. Ben is a beard wearing, bacon eating, whiskey drinking, motorcycle riding, coder.

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