Magazine Disconnect Safety– To Have or Not

Browning High-Power

A magazine disconnect safety is well-known by most firearm’s enthusiast and with some law-enforcement officers.

For some, the presence of a magazine disconnect is a welcome feature and another layer of mechanical safety. No mechanical device, however, should take the place of common safety practices, including always keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction and assuming every gun is loaded.

Nonetheless, the inclusion of a magazine disconnect has some potentially serious drawbacks in a handgun intended for defensive use. For example, if the magazine has not been completely seated in the gun, which can happen, especially under stress, the pistol will not fire. Also, inadvertently pressing the magazine release while drawing the pistol may have the same unwanted effect.

While performing a tactical reload, in which a partially empty magazine is replaced with a fully loaded magazine in a situation where increased capacity might be needed, a magazine disconnect renders the gun useless during the reloading process. This puts the operator momentarily in a vulnerable situation with a partially loaded gun that will not operate.

With this said, a magazine disconnect safety has also saved lives…especially those in the law-enforcement community. 

When I was teaching the Lindell method of handgun retention to fellow officers while I was a LEO, there was no mention of a magazine disconnect safety during the training. In fact, and at that time, such training was not necessary for our department as a revolver was our primary sidearm. In fact, even a cylinder dump was not included in the training.

Pistols

Glock G17 – No Magazine Disconnect Here!

As many of you know, there are a plethora of pistols on the market that do not have magazine disconnect safety systems. Glock, of course, is one of those pistols. With a magazine removed from the pistol, and a round chambered, the pistol will still fire that one round when the trigger is pulled. With a pistol that incorporates a magazine disconnect safety system, a chambered round cannot be ignited by pulling the trigger.

Many law-enforcement agencies opted to outfit their officers with pistols that incorporated a magazine disconnect safety, in a quest for officer safety. Magazine disconnect safety systems are still around today for both law-enforcement and civilian consideration. Whether or not you opt for a pistol with a magazine disconnect, it is critical that you understand how your pistol operates (or when it doesn’t) and train to become proficient with whatever handgun you choose.

I would like to present two scenarios, both of which can occur whether you are a LEO or civilian:

Scenario 1: You’ve pulled your firearm to defend yourself but the assailant is bigger than you, stronger than you, or somehow manages to get his hands on your firearm. It’s loaded and ready to fire. You feel the gun slipping from your grasp. What do you do? .

Your thumb is already in the proper place to render the firearm useless, so you simply thumb the magazine release and let him have it while you run like hell? Well, it’s not a great scenario to put yourself in, but it might save your life. Remember, HE doesn’t know the gun doesn’t work. While you switch to another tactic, such as switch to a backup firearm, mace, pepper spray, kicking, screaming, or just plain out running for your life, the assailant is left with a firearm he can’t use until he spends time searching in the dark for the magazine you ejected. Those precious seconds could be the difference between life and death for you.

For this reason alone, there are police departments across the United States that demand this feature of their service pistols. The most important thing you can do if you can’t depend on your firearm at a critical moment is the ability to prevent it being turned against you.

Scenario 2: You were in a scuffle with the assailant and released your magazine to render the weapon safe, but somehow you managed to wrest control back and you’ve maintained your firearm. You simply put in a fresh magazine and…. uh oh? No Maggie, no shootee!

Scenario two above happens all the time. Again, you have to consider that you are literally in a life-or-death moment. Things happen in hundredths of a second that will affect your ability to survive. You’ve regained control of your firearm but do you have the ability to reach down and insert a fresh one? If you don’t, your strongest defense has just been rendered useless.

Scenario 3: You pull your firearm to defend yourself and pull the trigger. Bam, Bam, click. For whatever reason your firearm failed to fire the third round. What do you do?

You’re not at the firing range with friends on a sunny day shooting at paper targets for sport. You’re in the semi-lighted parking lot of your local pharmacy at 10:30 PM on a cold and dark night, being attacked by someone that intends to do you bodily harm. You don’t have the twenty seconds necessary to open the breach, check out the chamber, remove the magazine, look for problems, re-insert and try again. Neither do police. That’s one of the two reasons they carry multiple magazines (and so should we).

Ammunition and magazines are made my humans. They can be imperfect, as can your firearm from time to time. However, the statistics show that the some of the most common reasons for failure to fire are the result of bad ammo or a failing magazine, whether due to improper insertion or a failing springs resulting from keeping the magazine loaded all the time.

Scenario 4: You get into a scuffle with someone that grabs your firearm and one of you accidentally (or intentionally if it was the assailant) triggers the magazine release. It’s actually VERY easy for the assailant to intentionally do this because it’s MUCH easier to simply grab your firearm hand and squeeze until the magazine falls out than it is to rip the gun from your hands.

The ability to quickly discard your magazine and load a fresh one is critical to your ability to re-enter the fight. In synopsis, it is this author’s advice that you never carry a semi-automatic firearm without at least one extra magazine on your person in a readily accessible location at all times.

Under scenarios two and three above, the ability to load a fresh magazine could very well be the difference between being judged by twelve, rather than being carried by six.

Food for thought.

Forced Safety?

The Browning M1910 pocket pistol has a magazine safety. The Browning High-Power incorporates a magazine disconnect safety. The Ruger LC9s semi-automatic pistols have magazine disconnect safeties. The S&W 4006 and S&W 5906 both have magazine disconnect safety systems, as do many other pistols that I don’t own. The list goes on and on.

Ruger Security-9 Incorporates a Magazine Disconnect Safety

I do own several pistols that utilize a magazine disconnect safety. My Bersa Thunder has a magazine disconnect safety. My Ruger SR9, SR9c, and SR45 are three of them (The Ruger SR9 was replaced by the Ruger Security-9 shown above). My Ruger Mark IV pistols also incorporate the magazine disconnect safety. I enjoy shooting these firearms, and because these have magazine disconnect safety systems does not mean they may never be placed into service; I just need to be aware of their magazine disconnect existence should I need to use them and train around that fact.

In California, Assembly Bill No. 2847, Firearms: unsafe handguns.(2019-2020), CHAPTER 292, An act to amend Section 31910 of the Penal Code, relating to firearms. SECTION 1.c: Among the Unsafe Handgun Act’s critical safety standards is the requirement that a new semiautomatic pistol model includes a chamber load indicator and magazine disconnect mechanism. These features alert a person handling a handgun that the weapon is loaded and ensure a handgun cannot fire a chambered cartridge if the magazine has been removed. Researchers have determined that these features are capable of saving many lives by preventing unintentional shootings. [Approved by Governor September 29, 2020. Filed with Secretary of State September 29, 2020.]

A last word regarding pistols with magazine disconnect safety systems: The ONLY instance where a mag safety would be beneficial is if you are fighting over control of the pistol with an assailant and lose control of it, you could then theoretically drop the mag and render it inoperable. But the level of training in that specific situation to become proficient at doing so is as unlikely as you actually being in the position that you let a target into your personal space without firing in the first place….

Revolvers

A revolver does not have a magazine disconnect safety. Revolvers that incorporate top-break and swing-out cylinders, however, have a cylinder disconnect safety – the cylinder release latch.

After the advent of cartridges, the two dominant revolver designs were the fixed-cylinder (Colt Single Action) and the top-break, which was first devised by Smith and Wesson in the third generation of the Model 1-½ in .32 S&W. The top-break revolver had the means to render the revolver useless, simply by using the thumb to release the cylinder latch, which allowed the cylinder and barrel to unlatch from the frame and swing downward. If done forcibly enough, the cartridges would be expelled from the cylinder. Note that there were also “tip-up” and “tip-down” pistols at the time, and these were (but not always) common to derringers and the like. The principle, however, remains…open the cylinder and the firearm is rendered useless (for shooting anyway)

Uberti Schofield Replica
Webley Revolver Example

The Smith & Wesson Schofield revolver is probably the best known by the general public of any of the Model Threes, and the one most associated with the Old West. The Webley Revolver (also known as the Webley Top-Break Revolver or Webley Self-Extracting Revolver) was a standard issue service revolver for the armed forces of the United Kingdom, the British Empire and the Commonwealth, from 1887 until 1970.

The top-break, and subsequent side-latch revolvers all shared a common trait…if the cylinder was open, the gun could not be fired. Nobody of the time dreamed that this feature could also be used to protect oneself from a gun grabber intent on using your own firearm against you. It was not even well-known at the time (and I can only surmise at this) that one would know that grabbing a revolver’s cylinder, thus preventing its rotation, would prevent a revolver from firing.

Modern revolver cylinder latches, for the most part, operate in three ways; pull cylinder release latch rearward (Colt), push the cylinder latch forward (Smith & Wesson, Taurus, etc.), and press the cylinder latch inward (Ruger). Dan Wesson revolver broke from the mold by positioning the cylinder latch on the crane in front of the cylinder. The cylinder is released by pressing the cylinder latch downward toward the bottom of the revolver. (As a side note, Dan Wesson revolvers have been known for very positive cylinder latch-up). All of these cylinder latches work and they do their job quite well.

I am sure that some will note that the revolver can be simply shot to empty the cylinder of live cartridges when someone is trying to take the firearm away from you…hopefully with one or more of those bullets exiting the barrel finding their way into the bad guy and, thereby, stopping the threat.

It should be obvious that an empty cylinder renders a revolver useless, except for the fact that it can be used as a paperweight, door stop, or a bludgeoning instrument. But we don’t carry a modern revolver with an empty cylinder, do we?

As with modern pistols, the likelihood of someone taking your revolver away from you is remote, but as with pistols it can happen. I have read several reports that sidearms have been removed from unsecured holsters when a carrier of one has decided to open carry with a holster that does not have a retention device of some sort (strap or thumb-break).

Getting back on point; Would you carry or have in your possession a pistol that incorporates a magazine disconnect safety?

In Closing

For a LEO, the option to have or not to have may be dictated by agency policy. For some states, there may be no option, as it has been decided for you. For the rest of us who live in (somewhat) free states, we have a choice. I have pistols with and without a magazine disconnect. Having pistols with and without magazine disconnect systems does not rule my use or carry of them.

Today, if you opt to have a safe trigger in a revolver, there is the Magna-Trigger and Smart Lock. The Magna-Trigger has been around quite a while and I remember when they were mandated by several law-enforcement agencies. These were two devices that actually allowed you to carry the firearm with complete confidence that no one could fire your weapon but you…unless they had the “Magic Decoder Device.”

Having a gun in your possession is a full-time job. You cannot guess; you cannot forget. You must know how to use, handle and store your firearm safely. Do not use any firearm without having a complete understanding of its particular characteristics and safe use. There is no such thing as a foolproof gun, even those with magazine disconnect safeties or smart technology built in.

All firearms handling requires two things; follow the rules of gun safety and common sense. If having a pistol equipped with a magazine disconnect device gives you warm fuzzies, then by all means have one. If you prefer your pistol not have a magazine disconnect device, then don’t buy one that does. It is all very simple. What is to be aware of are the pros and cons of the firearms that you do own.

References

There are quite a few videos to watch regarding magazine disconnect safeties, including how to remove them from various pistols. And, how to remove magazine disconnect safeties I will not reference; Do your own research on that, if you wish. I do not recommend nor condone altering or removing any safety device on any firearm…period.

About Taurian

Taurian is a U.S. Army veteran and former LEO and Defensive Tactics Instructor. Taurian also has over fifty years of experience as a Technical Writer and Training Program Developer. After leaving home at the age of ten without any shoes, Taurian continues on with many years devoted to the keeping and bearing of arms.

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