A Smart Approach To Answer The “Where’s The Safety On This Thing?” Question

By Massad Ayoob

The buzz on the Internet — and, frankly, in most police academies today — holds the defensive handgun is a reactive weapon, and we imperfect humans might forget to wipe off a safety in an emergency and therefore need a “point gun, pull trigger” mechanism. For decades, this was an argument used to keep revolvers in police duty holsters, while patrolmen’s unions were begging for semi-auto service pistols. By the time the auto fans won that argument, GLOCKs were already on the scene, and in many departments with other guns the mantra was: “That lever on your S&W or Beretta’s slide is a decocking lever, not a thumb safety! Carry it with the lever up, ready to shoot!”

Yet, not every customer thinks this way. Some of your clientele are Internet-adept “Shooter Gen 2.0” types, and some are gun geezers like your correspondent here and some are absolutely new to the concept of the defensive firearm. A friend of mine, retired from law enforcement, now works the counter in a gun shop. He recently sent me an email, saying (his emphasis): “They really loved the safeties. New customers WANT A MANUAL SAFETY.”

If you’ve been in the business a long time, you’re familiar with the customer who looks at the pistol you’ve just taken from the showcase and blurts, “Where’s the safety on this darn thing?”

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Colt Combat Unit 9mm
For the left-handed shooter in particular, it’s critical a manual safety be
ambidextrous — as seen here on Springfield Armory’s EMP4 9mm.

The Right Answer?

Of the many possible answers to “Where’s the safety?” perhaps the worst is: “You don’t need one.” Millennials don’t like being told what they do or don’t need by older folks, a woman empowering herself with a self-defense tool won’t like hearing it from a man and we geezers don’t like hearing it from our peers (or even our physicians) let alone from “whippersnappers.”

Certainly, you can take time to explain the best-selling pistols for L.E. use are the GLOCK (no manual safety at all), the S&W M&P (ordered most of the time by L.E. agencies without the optional ambidextrous thumb safety) and SIG SAUER models (rarely encountered with manual safeties except for single-action models and an uncommon variation of the P320). After all, particularly with new handgun owners, every dealer wants the customer to leave fully conversant with proper safety protocols.

However, there’s one answer to the “Where’s the safety?” question that may be the most likely of all to end up in a win-win situation. The “win-win,” of course, is you making the sale and the customer leaving with the product that satisfies his or her own perceived needs.

And the answer is: “The safety is right here, on this other model I’m taking out of the showcase for you to examine now.”

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Springfield Armory EMP4 9mm
Thumb safety and grip safety are deal breakers for some, but selling points for others,
in classic-style 1911s like this new Colt Combat Unit 9mm.

Educate Customers On Thumb Lever Safeties

While the oddities in your used handgun showcase may include crossbolt safety buttons, most modern guns with manual safeties have them in the form of thumb levers. These may be up for “safe” and down for “fire” as with the seemingly eternal 1911, classic Browning Hi-Power, typical polymer frame HK in the manual safety variants and others. The safety levers may also be up for “fire” and down for “safe.”

These include the Beretta 92/M9 and Px4 series, first-through-third generation S&W defense pistols, the now discontinued P-Series Ruger autoloaders and, the original of its kind, the still-popular Walther PP series.

Most shooters find “up for safe, down for fire” more intuitive and quicker to learn. The opposite style requires more of a learning curve. Most people want to take such guns off-safe by flipping the thumb up from the median joint, rather like shooting marbles, but it’s not the strongest or the most positive way. I’ve learned over the years a straight thrust of the firing hand thumb upward on about a 45-degree angle (think: shove tip of thumb up toward ejection port atop the slide) works more positively, and is virtually required to off-safe the Walther PP series.

It’s counterintuitive to be sure, but consider: showing a customer how to do something he didn’t know before is never a bad thing. Indeed, it helps to reinforce the trust of the buyer in the seller — and the appreciation of the seller as the resident expert on such matters.

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A customer requests to see S&W’s in-demand M&P45 Shield. Pictured here, the
“safety catch” is engaged. He asks about the safety — how would you handle
this situation?

Rationale For Manual Safeties

There have been several cases of people accidentally shooting themselves while reholstering their pistol. In most instances, an on-safe pistol would prevent that from happening. I’ve seen many online thread discussions on appendix concealed-carry, and while those users appreciate the carry method’s tactical advantage, they often admit they went from a striker-fired gun with no manual safety to a design that did have a “safety catch” — or at least to a pistol with an external hammer that could be held in position by the shooter’s thumb when holstering.

Note: There have been cases of a poorly designed safety strap, the creased edge of a too-worn holster or the cord of a jacket getting inside the triggerguard to cause unintended discharge while holstering. Score a selling point for the manual safety, which will keep the gun from going off in that situation, no matter where on the body the gun is holstered.

Another plus for the manual safety comes in the area of weapon retention. There are many cases on record of police officers (and some “civilians”) being saved from death when a criminal managed to get their gun away from them, tried to shoot them with it and couldn’t because he either didn’t know it was “on safe” or couldn’t find the safety lever.

The best approach to the sale may be to, as motorcyclists say of helmets, “let those who ride decide.” If your customer wants a new striker-fired pistol of modern design and a thumb safety, you can certainly sell him one. SIG introduced a P320 variation with a manual thumb safety at the 2016 SHOT Show. S&W has long made their M&P pistols with an optional ambidextrous thumb safety, and has sold most of their hugely popular subcompact Shields with a (right hand only) thumb safety. Springfield Armory has offered their XD-45 with an ambi-thumb safety.

Selling the customer what he wants is, after all, perhaps the most proven strategy in salesmanship ever. And often, the customer really is right about his or her own perceived needs.

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