A double action pistol is a type of handgun that can operate in both double action and single action firing modes. This versatility makes double action pistols popular for both self-defense and sport shooting applications.
How Double Action Works
In a double action pistol, pulling the trigger performs two functions:
- It cocks the hammer back
- It releases the hammer to fire the cartridge
This is different from a single action pistol where the hammer must be cocked separately before each shot.
On a double action revolver, the trigger pull also rotates the cylinder to the next chamber.
Double action triggers require a long, heavy pull to cock and release the hammer. This makes accurate shooting more difficult but also acts as a safety mechanism against accidental discharges.
Advantages of Double Action
Double action pistols offer several advantages:
- Faster operation - No need to manually cock the hammer between shots. Just pull the trigger again.
- Second strike capability - If a cartridge fails to fire, pulling the trigger again will re-cock the hammer and allow a second attempt to fire.
- Decocking - Lowering the hammer safely on a live round without risk of negligent discharge.
- Concealed carry - Many double action pistols can be carried with the hammer down on a loaded chamber, ready to fire by just pulling the trigger.
Popular Double Action Handgun Models
Many types of pistols use double action triggers, including:
- Smith & Wesson Model 10 - Classic .38 Special police revolver
- Colt Python - Premier double action revolver made from 1955-2005
- Ruger GP100 - Modern .357 Magnum revolver
- Beretta 92FS - Military/police 9mm pistol made famous by Die Hard
- SIG Sauer P226 - 9mm pistol popular with special forces units
- Walther P99 - Innovative 9mm with a double action/single action trigger
- HK USP - .45 ACP tactical pistol with decocker mechanism
Mastering a double action pistol requires proper shooting techniques:
- Use the pad of your finger, not the tip, to pull the trigger straight back smoothly
- Allow the trigger to reset completely between shots
- Use both hands for stability and minimize torque
- For revolvers, learn to control the long heavy trigger pull required to fire double action
- Decock safely by holding the hammer firmly while pulling the trigger then lowering slowly
The Best Uses for Double Action Handguns
Double action pistols offer unique advantages for:
- Concealed carry - Hammer down on loaded chamber allows fast first shot if needed
- Law enforcement - Fast repeat shots without recocker strokes
- Home defense - Second strike capability improves reliability
- Competition - Transitioning from double action to single action shooting requires skill
With training, a double action pistol can serve both defensive and sporting roles extremely well. The versatility of double action/single action operation make these pistols a popular choice for many shooters.
Double Action vs. Striker Fired Actions
Modern striker fired pistols like the Glock offer an alternative to traditional double action triggers. Here's how they compare:
|Long, heavy trigger pull
|Short, light trigger pull
|Second strike capability
|No second strike capability
|Internal striker mechanism
|No manual decocking
|Double action/single action modes
|Same trigger pull every shot
Both designs have advantages and disadvantages that suit different needs. But the original double action system still remains popular today among many police, military, and civilian shooters.
For over a century, the double action pistol has provided an effective combination of firepower, faster handling, and increased safety across both civilian and military contexts. With proper training and practice, shooters can master the double action trigger and unlock the full capabilities of these versatile handguns. While not right for every user, double action pistols remain a popular choice thanks to their proven reliability and unique mix of advantages.