Gun safety is a hot topic, and a polarizing one, too. There are people on both sides of the gun control argument, but what you need to know regarding gun safety mechanisms is relatively simple. Gun manufacturers implement a variety of safety mechanisms on all of the firearms they produce.

However, the safety of these firearms lies in the hands of the user – quite literally. Your education and understanding of how they work is the ultimate failsafe. That’s why it’s important that you review these facts about gun safety mechanisms and how they work.

Manual Safety

A manual safety is one of the most common types of safety. It’s a lever or a switch on the side of the firearm, accessible by your thumb. When placed in the safe position, the gun will not fire.

While there are plenty of designs, the two most common are a block that prevents the trigger from moving, or a device that disconnects the trigger from the firing mechanism completely. The designs are old, but effective.

For some guns, pushing the safety up turns it on, and for others, pushing it down turns it on. The most important thing to know here is how your gun works, since they are all different.

Drop Safety

While some laws require certain types of firearms to have a manual safety, other jurisdictions require a drop safety. These types of safeties are passive. That means there’s nothing you as the user can do to engage the safety.

Instead, the firearm is designed to reduce the chance of discharge if the gun is dropped or handled too roughly. These types of safeties implement some sort of obstacle that prevents the gun from operating until the trigger is actually pulled.

Grip Safety

The grip safety is another form of active safety that requires depressing by the user. However, it’s passive in the sense that you can’t turn it on and off. It is at the back of the grip, and gets depressed by the shooter’s natural grip.

It must be depressed to put the gun in firing position. While it’s similar to the manual safety, it’s momentary rather than permanent. It’s only deactivated while the shooter maintains a hold on the grip.

Hammer Block

A hammer block is an effective form of safety for guns with…you guess it…hammers.

It’s some sort of obstruction built into the action. It prevents the hammer from making contact with the firing pin or cartridge primer when at rest. It moves down and out of the way when the hammer is cocked and the hammer can only make contact when the trigger is pressed.

Firing Pin Block

This mechanism is similar to the hammer block. It prevents the firing pin from traveling forward. It’s linked to the trigger and the obstruction is only cleared when the trigger is pressed.

In this type of safety, the gun will not fire even if the firing pin is struck by another object or the hammer is released because of a faulty sear. The trigger must be pressed to remove the obstacle.

Transfer Bar

A transfer bar also prevents the hammer from making contact with the firing pin or a loaded cartridge. However, it works in the opposite way of a hammer block. Instead, the transfer bar has the spur that encloses the firing pin.

Rather than making direct contact with the loaded cartridge or firing pin, the hammer must instead strike the transfer bar, which is only in the up position when the hammer is cocked.

It is out of line of the hammer’s path until it is moved into place by the action of the trigger.

Trigger Safety

A trigger safety is always in an active state until the shooter fires the gun. Its deactivation is a result of the natural trigger pull. However, because it requires very intentional pressure, it’s unlikely to move due to a drop or unintentional strike against the trigger.

This type of safety contains a spring-loaded lever on the face of the trigger. It must be depressed fully in order to disengage the lock, allowing the main trigger body to move.

Magazine Disconnect

The magazine disconnect is an internal mechanism included in some firearms that take magazines. This type of safety engages a block or a trigger disconnect when the magazine is removed.

Many people debate the effectiveness of this type of safety. There are several reasons.

  1. If the magazine has been removed, but a round is still chambered, the gun will be unexpectedly live upon reinsertion.
  2. Without a magazine disconnect feature, at least of a round were still chambered, the gun would be good as a single shot for self defense.
  3. If a gun with a magazine disconnect gets lost or stolen, keeping the magazine out of it will render the gun useless, which could be beneficial.
  4. Some law enforcement officers have indicated that during a struggle, if they can manage to drop the magazine, it will prevent them from being harmed by their own gun.

Despite the opposing viewpoints, some jurisdictions require magazine disconnects on all new firearms.


Most double-action semi automatic pistols are designed for carrying with the hammer down, which means they’re disengaged. Because the double-action trigger pull is so much heavier than others, it’s considered safe in this mode.

However, after cycling the action (pulling the trigger), the firearm remains cocked in single-action mode, rendering it unsafe and requiring the user to decock it manually if they do not intend to shoot again.

A decocker returns the pistol to a safe state by allowing the hammer to drop on a live cartridge without discharging it. It does this by blocking the hammer or covering the firing pin somehow.

It eliminates the need for the user to pull the trigger or control the fall of the hammer, making it much safer, especially in adverse conditions.

However, as you might expect, this mechanism is also controversial, because all mechanical devices can fail, it can be difficult to identify whether the pistol is in a safe state or not.

Loaded Chamber Indicator

A loaded chamber indicator is a relatively simple safety. It’s a visible warning to the shooter that the firearm is loaded and ready to fire. You can easily see it, but some argue it doesn’t rise enough to catch the shooter’s attention.


With all of these safety measures in place, you would think anyone could use a gun safely.


You are the ultimate failsafe when it comes to firearm safety. Knowing how to use it will save and protect you and those around you. All of the safety measures in the world can’t keep tragedy from striking at the hands of someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.

Understanding gun safety is the most important thing you can do. Don’t underestimate an education or a firearm safety course. Everyone can benefit – even someone who thinks they’re an expert.

You can always read up on the 12 golden rules, too.

Final Thoughts

The most important thing to remember is that all mechanical devices can fail, and there are reported incidents of all of them doing so. The best safety is always going to be you as the shooter knowing what you’re doing.