When considering what handgun might be the best choice for concealed carry, one of the primary factors you need to consider is what type of trigger or action type you should choose. There are several popular CCW handgun platforms with different trigger mechanisms, each with advantages and disadvantages. We will review the three most common trigger systems for concealed carry and help you decide the best choice for you.
What is single action, and why you might choose it for CCW
Image: S&W® CSX 9MM
A firearm with a single action, or SA, trigger is so named because the trigger performs only one action: it releases the fully cocked hammer or striker, firing the gun. There are single-action revolvers (the most commonly known are so-called cowboy guns like Colt Single-Action Army revolvers and replicas such as the Ruger Vaquero® Single-Action Revolvers or Blackhawk), single-action semi-automatic pistols (the most well-known is the Colt 1911 platform), and single-action long guns (almost all rifles and shotguns have functionally single-action trigger mechanisms). This type of action is sometimes called single-action only or SAO to differentiate it from the double-action/single-action trigger system (which we’ll cover below).
Almost no one would recommend a single-action revolver for CCW purposes these days since it’s unsafe to carry with the hammer cocked, and you thus have to manually cock the hammer before each shot. Some old-timers still do it, but it’s a rare exception.
So, when discussing concealed carry and single-action triggers, 99.9% of the time, we’re talking about single-action, semi-automatic pistols. A key operational characteristic of the SA trigger is that the hammer or striker must be cocked before firing the first shot. This is done either by loading the firearm normally, which cocks the hammer as the slide is retracted or if the hammer has been previously lowered on a chambered round (not a wise practice in our view), the hammer must be thumb-cocked before the first shot. On a semi-automatic, when a round is fired, the reciprocating action of the firearm’s slide or bolt cocks the hammer or striker automatically, in addition to ejecting a spent cartridge casing and loading a fresh round from the magazine.
Advantages of the single-action trigger for concealed carry
Image: Single-Action (SA) 1911
The primary advantage of pistols with single-action triggers is that the quality and feel of the trigger break is typically very good to excellent, and they are easy to shoot accurately and quickly—once the necessary safety mechanisms are disengaged (see below). A well-tuned 1911 is often considered to have the finest handgun trigger for speed and accuracy, which is why many competition and target-oriented handguns utilize the 1911 trigger system. When split seconds count and your life is on the line, placing accurate shots on target quickly is paramount, and an SA trigger that is light, crisp, short, and predictable often aids in these goals. However, there are some potentially significant downsides, as we’ll see next.
Video: How a Handgun Works - Single vs Double-Action Firearms
Disadvantages of the single-action trigger for CCW
We’ve discussed how light, short, and easy to shoot a good SA trigger can be. However, this can also be a disadvantage in certain situations, or at least it requires unique safety mechanisms and extensive training. Due to their light, crisp triggers, single-action pistols almost always have at least one manual safety mechanism that blocks the striker, hammer, and/or sear to help prevent unintentional discharges in stressful situations.
Data shows that a light, the short trigger can be potentially dangerous in the hands of untrained shooters, police officers who don’t regularly train with their sidearms, and people in stressful situations who might leave their fingers on the trigger and then be startled (or trip, or bang their gun against something, etc.). The NYPD historically requires a specific, higher-weight trigger to be installed on its officers’ firearms for this exact reason: to prevent negligent discharges or other unintended shots. Some experts argue both sides of the issue, but generally, a heavier-weight and/or longer-travel trigger is preferable for defensive use, particularly in the hands of people who don’t train regularly.
Additionally, the single-action pistol’s necessity for thumb safety, grip safety, or other manual safety that must be applied at all times when the handgun is carried, and disengaged before a shot may be fired, can cause problems of its own. Sometimes people may draw their CCW handgun and try to pull the trigger in the stress of a life-or-death situation, forgetting that they have failed to disengage the safety mechanism. This is one potentially serious downside of this trigger style for defensive use. You absolutely must train regularly to disengage the safety before your first shot and always re-engage the safety before holstering or placing the weapon in any storage location.
This type of action on a handgun can make it difficult for people to unload, load, and manipulate safely. Most SA-trigger actions on semi-automatic pistols require you to place the safety off safe to retract the slide for loading, unloading, or clearing a malfunction. This means that you need to be super-extra careful to keep your finger well away from the trigger during these actions to prevent a negligent discharge.
And if you’re thinking, “Well, I’ll just leave the safety off so my SA gun will always be ready to fire,” please think again. This is a special kind of stupid and is asking for a hole in your femoral artery or a loved one. Please don’t do it. If you select a single-action pistol for CCW, read and understand your firearm’s owner’s manual, learn and follow the four rules of firearm safety, and train with your pistol regularly, so disengaging and engaging the safety is second nature. And always keep a loaded SA pistol on safe until your muzzle is pointed at the target and you’re ready to fire.
Historically, most semi-automatic handguns (like the 1911, Browning Hi-Power, Luger, and various Browning automatics) had single-action triggers. Still, double-action and striker-fired pistols began to explode in popularity around the 1980s, and today, handguns intended for concealed carry usually utilize either a striker-fired trigger system or a double-action/single-action trigger.
What is double action, and what are the advantages?
A double-action trigger, as the name implies, performs not one but two actions: It cocks the hammer or striker and then releases that hammer or striker, firing the gun. This means that the hammer can be at rest in a safe position, and the user can simply press the trigger through its moderately heavy, long stroke and the gun will fire. There are at least three sub-categories of double-action triggers on handguns, so let’s go over those for clarity.
Video: How to Shoot a Double Action Pistol
The difference between double action (DA), double action/single action (DA/SA), and double action only (DAO)
Double action can refer to three types of handgun triggers: traditional double action (DA) revolvers, double action/single action (DA/SA) semi-automatic pistols, and double-action-only (DAO) handguns, which are available in both revolvers and semi-automatic pistol platforms.
- A traditional DA revolver action has the capability of firing if the shooter simply presses the trigger to the rear (though this motion is long and relatively heavy), or the shooter may elect to manually cock the exposed hammer for each shot (similar to an SA revolver) and enjoy a short, crisp trigger pull, which is excellent for accuracy. However, this option is rarely used in defensive or tactical situations. The DA action was popular in the service revolvers that most police officers carried for the greater part of the 20th century, such as Colt’s Police Positive or Python or Smith & Wesson’s K or L frame revolvers. Several CCW revolvers still utilize this trigger system.
Image: Colt Police Positive
- A DA/SA action (double action/single action) refers to a type of semi-automatic pistol that allows its hammer to be safely at rest, and the DA trigger cocks the hammer and fires the gun, whereupon the action of the slide cycling re-cocks the hammer for subsequent shots using a shorter, lighter SA trigger break. In essence, these types of pistols have two triggers: A double-action trigger for the first shot, and a single-action trigger for any following shots, until the shooter decides to de-cock the hammer manually or by utilizing a decocking lever or button, which is common on these pistols. World War II’s Walther P.38 and James Bond’s PPK were among the first pistols to popularize this type of trigger system starting in the 1930s. Still, the Beretta 92/M9 platform and the Navy Seals’ former sidearm, the SIG P226, also use the DA/SA trigger, and many CCW pistols today still utilize this system as well.
Image: Walther P38
- A DAO trigger functions similarly to a DA or DA/SA trigger’s first shot. Still, the difference is that on a DAO handgun, the hammer or striker returns to its fully rested position, and the trigger returns forward after each shot. So, rather than the gun having two available trigger pulls, the DAO’s trigger pull is always the same, long, smooth action for each shot. There’s typically no decocking lever (since the hammer doesn’t ever stay cocked) or external manual safety on this type of firearm. DAO revolvers are very popular for CCW, the hammerless S&W model 442 and 642 J frames being the most common. There have also been several semi-automatic DAO pistols offered by Beretta, SIG, Smith & Wesson, and Heckler and Koch over the years, but today they are relatively uncommon.
Image: Smith and Wesson J Frame 642
Advantages of the double-action trigger for concealed carry
One key advantage of the DA (here we’re including DA/SA and DAO for the purposes of this discussion) trigger for CCW is that, in most cases, you carry your gun in ready-to-fire condition (similar to a police service revolver) with the hammer down and any safety mechanisms disengaged. The long, smooth, heavy DA trigger pull is considered inherently safe, as it can’t easily be pulled accidentally when in the holster, pocket, or purse and isn’t easily fired by a nervous or untrained shooter. So your handgun, if loaded, is always ready to go but is also suitably safe to handle and carry.
Video: Double Action First Shot - A Tactical Advantage
Another advantage is that you can prep the DA trigger aggressively while maintaining a margin of safety. Prepping the trigger, you place your finger on it and start moving it to the rear as your sights align with your target. This leaves less room for your trigger finger to travel once you need to fire and is nearly as quick as any other trigger system. This aggressive trigger prepping isn’t possible or safe with a SA trigger or striker-fire trigger (see below). There are different schools of thought on the value or safety of aggressively prepping the trigger. Still, several prominent defensive shooting instructors use and teach this method for shooting DA/SA pistols.
Video: Controlling the Double Action Trigger
Holstering a loaded firearm makes many people nervous and is the time when negligent discharges often occur. A piece of clothing, a zipper tab, an elastic pull string, or even a distracted shooter’s finger can enter the trigger guard upon holstering and start to move the trigger to the rear as the shooter pushes the gun into the holster. A DA/SA semi-auto with an exposed hammer (like the Beretta 92 series, CZ75 family and variants, or SIG P220 family) lets you place your thumb on the rear of the hammer when holstering and feel the hammer start to move to the rear if something isn’t right. This is a potentially huge advantage. Ernest Langdon, trainer and gunsmith of the Beretta 92 platform, explains it well in this video.
Video: Beretta 92FS/M9-Series Pistol Design Features for Safety and Reliability
A DA/SA semi-auto CCW pistol has the advantage of allowing a very nice, clean, short, crisp trigger for all follow-up shots after the initial DA shot. Still, you don’t need to disengage any manual safeties to achieve this quality of trigger; you simply need to learn and practice the transition between the first DA shot and any subsequent SA shots.
An additional pro in the case of the traditional DA or DAO trigger is that the trigger pull is always exactly the same from first shot to the last.
Disadvantages of the double-action trigger for concealed carry
The primary disadvantages of the DA trigger for concealed carry are that the nature of its long, heavy trigger pull requires that you practice regularly to gain and maintain proficiency and accuracy. Since the trigger moves much farther than in other trigger systems, this can create geometrical or leverage-related changes in how your hand engages with the grip and the trigger. As the trigger moves through its long travel, it’s common to see some movement of the gun's muzzle as well, particularly for untrained or under-trained shooters. This is not a good thing, as a small amount of movement at the muzzle translates to potential misses downrange.
Additionally, in the case of DA or DAO revolvers especially, a double-action trigger can be very heavy, up to 10 or 12 pounds or even more. Smaller shooters or those with hand strength issues can have a hard time even operating the trigger on some of these handguns, and placing accurate shots while managing an overly stiff DA trigger pull can be extremely challenging or even impossible.
Most people find placing rapid, accurate shots on target more difficult with a DA trigger than with a striker-fire trigger or an SA trigger.
Also, as noted above, if you select a DA/SA semi-auto for CCW, you will need to learn and practice the transition from the DA first shot to the SA follow-up shots. It’s not prohibitively difficult, but it is something additional you must deal with if you choose this type of firearm.
What is Striker Fire, and why would you choose it for CCW?
Glock refers to its striker-fired trigger design as a safe-action trigger, but the majority of people just call these hammerless semi-automatic pistols striker-fired or striker fire. This means that the striker, or firing pin, is held or drawn rearward by the sear mechanism of the firearm, rather than the pistol having any external or internal hammer that is released to hit the firing pin, as in the designs above.
Video: How a striker fired semi-auto handgun works in 3D
In most cases, a trigger safety is added to the trigger of a striker-fired pistol which helps prevent the trigger from moving rearward if not actively being pulled by the shooter, and while several companies offer striker-fire pistols with the option for an external manual safety, in most cases this type of pistol doesn’t have any external thumb safety, but instead relies on any trigger safety, and internal striker block safety and/or internal drop safeties to prevent unintended discharges if the pistol is dropped. While Glock popularized this trigger system and is by far the most widely known proponent of it, other striker-fire pistols such as SIG’s P320 series (recently adopted as the M17 and M18 service sidearms by the US Army) and the majority of today’s micro-compact CCW pistols utilize a striker-fire trigger.
Image: SIG P320 Spectre Comp
Advantages of the striker-fire trigger for CCW
The primary advantage of the striker-fire trigger system is that you can achieve a very shootable, consistent trigger capable of excellent accuracy and speed while at the same time remaining sufficiently safe from unintended shots that can result from an overly light SA trigger in stressful situations, without requiring the use of external manual safeties.
A good striker-fire trigger design will be both sufficiently long and heavy in travel to retain much of the DA revolver’s inherent first-shot safety as well as being short and light enough in practical function to approach an SA trigger’s speed and accuracy potential, all while not requiring the use of external thumb safeties or decockers, and presenting the shooter with a consistent, identical-feeling trigger pull from the first shot to last.
A striker-fire pistol can be either partially pre-cocked, fully uncocked, or fully cocked internally, but the practical function of the trigger is the same. As the trigger is pressed to the rear, the internal striker safeties are mechanically defeated, and the striker is released, firing the gun.
Reliability in severely adverse conditions is another factor in many people’s decision to carry a striker-fire pistol for defense. Since there’s no external hammer with its necessary slot cut into the rear of the slide, there are often fewer places that can let in mud, dust, and other debris that can jam up the works and impede function. Glocks are known for their reliability in extreme conditions, and with the right striker retaining cups, they’ll even fire (and cycle!) underwater. That’s a tall order for lots of other guns.
Also, the lack of external hammers, safeties, decockers, or controls on many of these designs helps smooth the external profile of striker-fired pistols, making them less likely to snag on clothing when being drawn from a CCW holster or tactical purse.
A striker-fire gun can have an uncommonly low bore axis (the distance from the center of the barrel to the shooter’s grip) because you don’t need to leave room for the hammer, pivot, or related parts. This can aid in reducing felt recoil and increasing the speed and accuracy of follow-up shots.
Disadvantages of striker-fire handguns for CCW
Some people elect not to use striker-fire pistols for CCW for one or more reasons. First, the average striker-fire trigger is; not great. The term staple gun trigger is often used to describe a bad one. There’s often a lot of mushy and/or gritty takeup, a vague wall before the break, a creepy or gritty break when the striker releases, and usually lots of overtravel. Combine these attributes with an actual trigger shoe that’s often made of polymer rather than metal, and some people just refuse to use these guns for these reasons. There are some very good, shootable striker-fire triggers out there (Caniks and Walthers, to name a couple), but they are the exception rather than the rule.
Canik TP9 SF Elite
Walther PDP Compact 4
Secondly, there’s a somewhat controversial belief that partially or fully cocked striker-fired pistols have the potential to go off by themselves. Glock has been sued on several occasions by police agencies or individuals who have experienced what they say is an accidental discharge of the weapon while in a holster or otherwise not in direct use. In almost every case we’ve seen evidence for, these accidental discharges were actually caused by an officer mishandling a firearm, rather than some internal defect. However, SIG-Sauer is also currently in litigation with several agencies that swear their officers have had their P320 striker-fire pistols go off while in their holsters, usually when the officer is bending over or there is another contact with the holster’s exterior. Whether you choose to believe these allegations, they are credible enough in some people’s eyes to preclude their use of these pistols for serious defensive purposes.
Another reason some people don’t elect to carry striker-fire handguns for defense because they are too easy to fire. Since most handguns don’t have any external safeties and are fired simply by pressing the trigger, people feel that it’s too likely for them (or someone else who may gain access to their gun) to fire a shot unintentionally. The total trigger travel of the average striker-fire semi-auto trigger is still far less than a DA revolver, DA/SA, or DAO pistol, which in some people’s minds isn’t enough when combined with the relatively lighter trigger pull of the average striker-fire pistol.
Finally, the fact that most striker-fire pistols don’t have any external manual safeties other than possibly an easily defeated trigger safety makes some people nervous that the trigger could accidentally be pulled while in the holster or be unintentionally pulled by the user. Additionally, when holstering a striker-fire pistol, there’s no external hammer to control with the thumb to prevent a negligent discharge caused by objects or clothing entering the trigger guard. There have been one or two attempts to make a striker control device for Glocks, which allows this type of practice by adding a hinged back plate that signals the user when the striker is unintentionally being moved rearward by the trigger, but these are by far the exception. Appendix carry is becoming the most popular CCW carry method, and many people won’t carry a striker-fire pistol in the appendix position for this reason alone.
Conclusion: The best choice for concealed carry
Ultimately the best choice of trigger and action type for CCW use is up to the user to determine after carefully weighing his or her capabilities, budget, preferences, hand size, hand strength, mode of carry, proficiency, and frequency of range practice. For someone who favors a clean, short, light trigger break above all else and is willing to put in the hours and expense of frequent and regular range practice to master it and the required addition of consistently manipulating the manual safety, a single-action CCW pistol might be the ideal choice.
On the other hand, someone who doesn’t trust cocked hammers and manual safeties or prefers the simplicity of a revolver or pistol without any external safeties might be better served by a DA revolver or a DA/SA or DAO pistol for defensive carry. Suppose you have the hand strength and size to reach the DA trigger effectively and are willing to practice to gain the necessary skill to place your shots quickly and accurately on the intended target using a double-action trigger. In that case, this system offers several levels of inherent safety that make the difference for people who prefer it. The total cadence of shots fired might be a little slower with a DA or DAO handgun compared to the best SA guns, but for these people, the added perceived safety is well worth this tradeoff.
Finally, striker-fire pistols are the new normal in CCW handguns, and they’re not going away anytime soon. They offer advantages in simplicity, reliability, cost, and ease of use, combined with the potential for adequate safety and very shootable, fast, and effective triggers, all while providing a consistent trigger press from the first shot to the last. Careful selection of CCW holsters, modes of carry, and makes/models of striker-fire handguns can overcome most, if not all, of the common concerns about this trigger type. For some, the striker-fire pistol is the ultimate choice for CCW.
Store your firearms in a Liberty Safe
We hope this article has been informative and helpful in deciding what type of trigger might be best for you when carrying concealed. Whatever you decide, please remember to keep all of your firearms securely locked away from potential thieves, family members, or unauthorized users in a quality US-made gun safe or handgun vault from Liberty. Feel free to check out our online catalog to see all the options, or visit a showroom near you.