Concealed Carry & Home Defense

CCW Weekend: Grip Safety Problems

The Colt 1911 was a popular gun among many different criminals of the era. It also fired the powerful .45 ACP round. (Credit: Shutterstock)

Guns and Gear Contributor

By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters

Not many pistols come with a grip safety – basically there’s 1911 pistols, the Springfield XD series, and the Remington R51 as far as anything in current production – but two of those three are very popular. And the grip safety gives some people fits.

You’ve probably seen people have issues with an XD or 1911 at the range due to mishandling the grip safety. Perhaps it’s even happened to you.

Why does anyone bother with the things?

The primary selling point of grip safety mechanisms, of course, is that it’s a passive safety device that isn’t a trigger safety. If you don’t grip the pistol, it can’t be fired unless of course a drop-fire happens. In fact, that’s exactly why US army cavalry told John Browning to add one when he was designing the M1911; the idea was to add redundancy in case anything went wrong.

This is still a selling point today; some people buy the XD because it has an extra safety feature over a Glock, Smith and Wesson M&P or what have you. It makes sense, especially if you have small children in the house.

Before making any assumptions, examine your grip. If you’re properly gripping the pistol, you shouldn’t have problems with an XD, Remington R51 or 1911 pistol. This is the most common culprit and beginners have more problems with grip safeties (in my experience, anyway) than experienced shooters.

Let us presume that isn’t the issue, though. What can be done about it?

One solution is to buy a pistol that doesn’t give you problems instead. Look, the 1911 isn’t for everyone and neither are Springfield XDs, just as a Glock isn’t for everyone or a Smith and Wesson Model 19 isn’t for everyone. Hardware is overrated; what matters is how well you run it and if you have problems with a grip safety, then perhaps a gun that has one isn’t right for you.

There’s an occasional slip, which happens, and then there’s chronic problems. You’ll know the difference. The former can happen with any pistol platform; you don’t get the right grip or something and you don’t quite get the shot off right during range time or during dry fire training or what have you. The latter will happen much more often.

If you and a grip safety-equipped pistol don’t get along, sell it. If it doesn’t do you any good, there’s no reason to keep it unless it’s an heirloom.

Some old tricks were devised for use with 1911 pistols. One is to pin the grip safety, which requires a bit of gunsmithing. With the plunger depressed all the time, there’s no way for it to go wrong. In the old days, some people would tie a handkerchief around the grip to achieve the same effect.

On modern iterations of the pistol, the memory bump – extra material added to the lower bout of the grip safety piece itself – has become a common feature. A grip safety with a memory bump adds extra material, making contact more reliable and thus leading to more reliable operation.

However, some people find the flesh of the palm doesn’t quite make sufficient contact. People who don’t have a lot of meat in their thumb muscles (the pollicis muscles) are going to be a bit more susceptible in this regard, though plenty of people with gorilla mitts have had issues with 1911s and XDs so that’s not necessarily a hard and fast rule – your mileage may vary.

The good news there is that there are aftermarket extended grip safeties for XD pistols. Grip safeties for 1911 pistols abound, though smithing may be required if adding a beavertail unit to a GI-pattern gun. Some people have found that with installation of either, their problems were solved although some definitely haven’t!

So, unless the issue is caused by poor grip, your options are to modify the gun (in the case of XD and 1911-pattern guns) or to sell it and get something else. There is nothing inherently wrong with a grip safety, and pistols that have them are certainly capable of being used for personal defense. In fact, many have been; anyone who says a 1911, Springfield XD or what have you is no good for personal defense is selling someone else’s guns.

So what do you think? Avoid grip safeties like the plague? Or are they one of those things that are great for people who can use them and bad for people who can’t?

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Sam Hoober is Contributing Editor for AlienGearHolsters.com, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit aliengearholsters.com.