My experience with double-action first-shot, self-loading pistols dates back to the 1970s. I began my police duties carrying a Colt Commander .45 but moving to a larger agency, I carried a Smith and Wesson Combat Magnum revolver. Each had much merit with either offering good hit probability. The .45 offered better control while the wound ballistics of the Federal 125-grain .357 Magnum was excellent.
The largest agency in my area went from Smith and Wesson revolvers to the Smith and Wesson Model 59 9mm. Some officers liked the gun, but the better shots detested it. The double-action pull was very poor. Accuracy at 15 yards was comparable to the Combat Magnum at 50 yards. Later, the SW 5906 seemed improved but was definitely not in the SIG class. The pistol quite simply was difficult to use well.
The Sheriff’s department issued the excellent SIG P226. Training time was allocated, but during training, more than a few officers holstered a cocked pistol, forgetting to decock the action. Many officers would have preferred to have kept the Combat Magnum.
The SIG won many over based on excellent accuracy and reliability. I was eventually issued the SIG P226. Although I later qualified with the SIG P220 .45, I felt well armed with the SIG 9mm and Federal 124-grain Hydra Shok +P+ ammunition. On two occasions I am aware of, this load gave excellent results. The Sheriff’s Office issued the Winchester 9mm 127-grain SXT +P+ with similar results, and a long string of incidents requiring but a single shot to stop the offender’s violent action.
I occasionally teach a group with military men and women present—some wanting to get up to speed before going overseas. I keep a Beretta 92 on hand for this training. The Beretta has given excellent service and I cannot fault it. It is similar in tactical ability to the SIG P series. I often carry a SIG P227 .45 or a CZ P01 9mm, so I am familiar with the type.
Trust the best DA guns, and do not feel limited tactically. Some are issued the DA first-shot pistol and need to learn to master it. Others prefer it by choice. I think some prefer the technical to the tactical and feel that the handling and perceived safety of the DA first-shot handgun is the superior choice for their needs. In many cases, they are correct.
The key is practice and to learn to master the double-action trigger press. It takes a lot of dry fire practice, but you will be able to make center hits at 7 yards on demand, in good time with practice. If you do not practice, then you will not perform well with any system. The double-action first-shot pistol did not post an impressive hit probability in police service when adequate training did not accompany change over.
In critical incidents, officers armed with double-action revolvers fired less shots with more hits than the officers armed with 9mm pistols. The double-action first-shot pistol was chosen over the readily available Colt Government Model and Browning Hi Power pistols for general issue because they seemed to offer greater safety under stress than the single-action pistol.
Agencies issuing the Beretta 92 in particular have seen less negligent discharges than agencies issuing striker-fired polymer-frame pistols. The long trigger action, similar to a revolver trigger press, offers a hedge against negligent discharge. The weapon may be carried at ready without a safety applied—as the long trigger press is seen as a safety feature. When you are awakened in the night by the dog barking and alerting you, or you are holding a felon at gunpoint, then perhaps the trigger action is beneficial. The better technique is to keep the finger off the trigger until you fire—not when you think you may fire.
It is one thing to begin to tighten the trigger because the aggressor will not drop his knife or gun, another to draw the pistol in every control situation. The double-action first-shot trigger also allows that the pistol may be kept at home ready beside the bed, on a nightstand, or pressed into the mattress. I do not recommend carrying a handgun without a holster, but the double-action first-shot pistol is among a very few that invites such carry.
Sometimes it is expeditious to carry without a holster. Thrusting the pistol into a pocket while walking the back forty is one of those times, or perhaps you do not feel like ‘suiting up’ for a quick run to the local stop and rob. Better to have a serious handgun in the belt under the shirt than a tiny gun in the pocket.
The double-action first-shot pistol has considerable advantages in many types of situations, most related to handling and safety considerations. True safety is between the ears. However, the DA first-shot handgun looks good for those who are willing to master the manual of arms.
Manual of Arms
- Decock hammer
(Modified to include moving safety on or off with certain types of handguns.)
When the double-action first-shot handgun began to show cracks in the armor, including increased training time over the double-action revolver, attempts were made to create a revolver-simple self-loader. The DA revolver requires only that it be drawn and fired. Accomplished shots could do great work with the DA revolver to 50 yards. The duffer is a duffer with any handgun. American makers abrogated the police market to the Europeans and tried to play catch-up, and the Europeans attempted to compete with the new Glock pistol with double-action-only pistols.
The double-action-only pistol features only one type of trigger action. The manual of arms is simple, load, holster, draw, and fire. The Smith and Wesson 5946, SIG DAK, and Beretta 92 DAO were among the DAO types offered. Even CZ offered a DAO version of the CZ 75 and Browning manufactured a highly modified DAO Hi Power. They were difficult pistols to use well, but satisfied the bean counters looking to limit training time. Some of these police trade in DAO guns are seen for sale at bargain prices from time to time.
They were touted as tools for threat management. For close range work—7 yards or so—they may be managed. You are starting way behind the curve with such a handgun and attempting to catch up with skill and practice. This time would be better invested in a different type of handgun. Just because the occasional excellent shot has done well with a DAO pistol, doesn’t change the fact that they are difficult to use well. This brings us to the advantage of the DA first-shot pistol over the DAO and striker fired guns.
The double-action first-shot pistol, once the first shot is fired and the slide cocks the hammer for subsequent single-action fire, has a good to excellent single-action trigger press. This type of trigger action may be had on a single-action trigger, but oftentimes the SIG action is better than a comparable quality 1911 handgun. A striker-fired pistol would not be considered safe with a very crisp 4.0-pound trigger as offered by the typical SIG double-action first-shot pistol.
The DA first-shot pistol often features an excellent single-action trigger press. Coupled with good sights on a top tier pistol such as the SIG P226, Arex Rex Zero, or CZ 75 these handguns offer excellent practical accuracy and control. The double-action first-shot handgun is by no means outdated. It is sometimes the best choice for an individual and should be considered when choosing a personal defense handgun.