Rifles: Safety Conscious

rifle safety

I was asked what is the best safety for a rifle. My answer is the safety found on the M-1 and M-14. It’s a great big hunk of metal which, when pulled inside the trigger guard, puts the rifle on safe, and when pushed forward out of the trigger guard, puts it on fire. The thing is so simple that anyone can remember how it works, and considering that both rifles date from the era when they drafted any life form that had a pulse and issued them a weapon, that was sound thinking.

There are two problems with safeties. First, none of them is a positive guarantee against an accidental discharge. They are machines, and machines fail. I’ve often heard the claim that it’s safe to carry the Model 1911 cocked and locked with a round in the chamber, because the grip safety and the thumb safety make an accidental discharge impossible. When I mentioned this to my gunsmith, who is also a retired cop, he laughed, and said that he knew of several ADs with the Model 1911 where police had carried the thing in Condition Three and shot themselves in the ass, or the leg, or the foot, or worse, or at least put a hole in a squad car. The amount of engagement on both safeties, he pointed out, is simply not enough to make the gun foolproof.

But back to rifles. The only way a rifle is really safe is if the chamber is empty. You can have rounds in the magazine, but if there’s nothing in front of the firing pin, that gun is not going to go off. Safeties should not make a loud “click” when they’re released, because animals can hear it and they know what it means. Safeties should not release with so much effort that you dislocate your thumb. Safeties should not roll off so easily that they disengage when you don’t want them to. Safeties on left-handed rifles should not be located where they can be reached only by right-handed people.

Anschutz is a particular offender here. When I pointed this out to one of their engineers, he shrugged and said, “Ve do ze best ve can.”

Probably the best scheme is the one used by Blaser. They don’t use a safety, per se, but rather a decocker similar to those on double-action pistols. The “safety,” which is situated on the tang, cocks and uncocks the rifle so you can keep a round in the chamber, and until you push that button into battery, nothing is going to happen. The disadvantage to this system is that it’s so radically different from a conventional safety that unless you practice with it, you’re eventually going to be standing there pulling the trigger wondering why your rifle won’t go off.

Some rifles, which have been tampered with by nitwits, can go off when the safety is released. I’ve seen this happen, and it is a certain attention getter. If your rifle is one of these, get your rifle fixed, forthwith.

And in the meanwhile, remember the second of Gunsite’s Safety Rules: Never let the muzzle cover anything you’re not willing to destroy.