Explaining the AR Safety Lever Design (Video)

The AR safety lever design stems from the American emphasis on carefully aimed semiauto fire, right? It flips naturally to semiauto, while the AK moves naturally to full-auto.

Well, that’s not why. It’s actually a safety issue, and we can see its history by looking at Armalite AR-15 prototype number 000001…


  1. “moves naturally to full-auto”
    In Soviet terminology this is named переводчик-предохранител that is selector-safety.

  2. In the CETMEs (until the L model), and several Spanish SMGs the central lever position is the one for safe. So, to go from semi to full auto (or viceversa) you have to go through the safe position.

  3. Safety lever positons on M16 looked to me strange at first encounter, likely when compared with sa58 I had been familiar with and which has in Safe lever straight down; just as an early AR15 prototype. It made more sense to me that way since upon grabbing grip you feel protruding lever.

    Btw, I like that AR configuration; namely its integral stock-grip-receiver unit (I worked on something similar in past). What make is it? Also common sense K-mod equipped foreguard and Elcan scope complement the rifle well.

    • Denny, from the looks of things, that’s a Cav Arms lower. I think… I’m not sure who has their IP, these days, but they went out of business not that long back due to an inability to follow the rules, and the BATF got ’em.

    • The ergonomic positioning of the SA vz.58 safety lever has always made the most sense to me from an intuitive standpoint — where the “Safe” position, regardless of type, is at 90 degrees to the longitudinal axis of the weapon in the vertical “down” position. The semi-auto “fire” position on the D-Technik/CSA/Czechpoint vz.58 points directly forward along the longitudinal axis. The “full-auto” mode on the original military-issue select-fire vz.58 uses the same forward-pointing position, with the rearward-pointing position ( also parallel to the longitudinal axis ) being used for semi-auto fire. The Century Arms Vz.2008 and variants share the same “safe” position, although the semi-auto “fire” position has the lever pointing to the rear along the longitudinal axis, exactly as in the original.

  4. “It flips naturally to semiauto, while the AK moves naturally to full-auto.”

    OK… This is a bit of misunderstanding that has permeated the US military training community since forever. Hell, I used to use this exact point as an example of how Soviet small arms doctrine was different than ours, and how that was reflected in weapons design. Only thing is, that’s a false point.

    Soviet, and I presume now Russian, training doctrine was that the selector-safety switch was to be used in a manner quite different than we supposed; our supposition was that since the full-auto position was in the first position past safe, that was a reflection of the Soviet desire for the weapon to always be fired in full auto by default, and that the semi-auto position was last, it was the opposite of our own mentality. Not so.

    I was in front of a class on foreign weapons familiarization, teaching this point. Boom, sharpshot from the back row, when a kid in his mid-twenties tells me, in a heavy Russian accent, that what I was telling people was “boolshit”. Since he was a former Soviet Red Army soldier, that kinda had some credibility… He’d actually been through the full DOSAAF/Red Army training regime for a motorized rifleman, and knew whereof he spoke. The deal is this: For the AK manual-of-arms, they consider the movement of the selector-safety something that is going to be done under stress, and that because of that, the design is intended to be something performed by gross motor control, not fine. You’re supposed to sweep the selector-safety all the way down upon opening fire, thus making the “first stop” past safe actually semi-auto, not full. To go to full auto, you’re supposed to go back one click, and that’s only once you’ve gotten your first shots off, and are under orders to do so. Default firing position is thus, as in US practice, semi-auto.

    Due to Soviet and now Russian secretiveness about this stuff, and a lack of communication between their small arms/tactics community and ours, a lot of this stuff is misunderstood even by our own specialists. You should have seen the look on the face of the Special Forces weapons guy I borrowed the Soviet weapons from, when I relayed this little tid-bit to him–I actually had to bring over our Russian (who I think was actually mostly Lithuanian), and have him go over the details of what he’d been trained in DOSAAF and his time as a motorized rifleman. To say that all concerned who cared about the issue were a little taken aback would be an understatement–That tid-bit of information about the reasoning behind the selector-safety design is one that goes way, way back to the Vietnam era, and it has never been really questioned. And, we got it wrong.

    If you ever get a chance, a comparison of the manual-of-arms (actual practice, vs. the parade ground crap) as we imagined it, vs. the “way it really is” in Soviet/Russian practice might be of value. There are videos out there of actual Russian MVD and ground force specialists showing this stuff, as well as their drills for changing mags and cocking the weapon that are not at all as we imagined them or trained them for years. As well, perhaps a video outlining the superior points of the Stoner system, as well as the foibles it has?

    A lot of design features that don’t make sense suddenly do, once you look at the human/weapon interface, and how the training was actually conducted for that particular weapon.

    • “A lot of design features that don’t make sense suddenly do, once you look at the human/weapon interface”
      Notice that many Soviet fire-arms were made by practitioners, for example M.T.Kalashnikov was mechanic-driver (driver of tank) during Great Patriotic War, but others also have experience.
      E.F.Dragunov was старший оружейный мастер (senior weapon expert) until 1945, when he was demobilized and moved to Izhevsk (in rank of старший сержант артиллерии, literally senior sergeant of artillery [I am not sure proper English term])
      P.M.Goryunov served in Red Army (1918-23) and later worked as слесарем-монтажник (fitter) in Kovrov plant
      V.A.Degtyaryov during service in army worked in weapons repair workshop
      F.V.Tokarev also worked in weapons repair workshop
      G.S.Shpagin also worked in weapons repair workshop (he was sent here due to maim of pointer finger of right hand)

      • Interesting in this case is example of A.I.Sudayev
        author of PPS-43 – a masterpiece of cost-effect in area of sub-machine guns.
        His first works (1933-34) were in area of aviation – Автоматическая стрельба из пулемёта посредством действия инфракрасных лучей (Automatic fire from machine gun using infrared rays) and Бензиномер (Areometer for kerosene products), later in area of railroad transport – Противоугон (part of railway) as he served in railway troops, to finally go into area of fire-arms – his thesis (1941) was automatic pistol, see drawings here:
        After that he becomes военинженера 3го ранга (warengineer 3rd class) and worked in НИПСВО (Научно-Исследовательский Полигон Стрелкового Вооружения). He is mostly known for his sub-machine gun (PPS), but he also designed avtomat which was high-praised by experts and testers, sadly Sudayev died (shortly before 34th birthday) before can refine his design.

      • Background of Russian arms designers is not so much secret any more and it coincides quite well with what was U.S. small arms design and development – they were practical people for large part, far from academic achievements bestowed on them by press.

        Stoner was not graduate engineer, neither was Kalashnikov. They have thing done right, for sure.

        • Indeed. And all that matters in the end is that their designs — and, even more importantly, the actual, concrete implementations of those designs on the battlefield — proved to be highly successful and practical for the end user.

    • Russia’s (prototype) AK-12 abandoned the traditional long-leg AK safety in favor of a more “modern” rifle safety orientation, but still deviates from American/NATO ergonomic standards by using a relatively long lever with a narrow angle of rotation — perhaps by necessity since it appears that only the lever itself (length and orientation) was redesigned. I’m guessing that it uses the same safe/full/semi order that AKs always have, though that would have put ‘safe’ in the forward position. It seems the the AK-12’s original “thumb” safety has reverted back to the traditional AK safety as the rifle moves closer to production.

    • Encounter with ‘true’ Russian must have been an experience, especially in this ‘pure’ form. But people who are straight shooters are usually not bad.

      That DOSAAF you mention was actually voluntary, state supported flying club. Perhaps the guy was doing para-course there. I was in similar organization in my country of origin – learning how to fly gliders.

      • DOSAAF was always the shorthand that our military intelligence used for the various pre-military service training that the Soviets conducted going back to the 1930s. I know that there were a bunch of different programs going, but it’s kinda like the US with JROTC–There’s that, the CAP program, the Young Marines, and a couple of other paramilitary things we have for youth instruction and training. But, you go to anyone talking about it, and it’s all under the umbrella of “JROTC”, which is not quite right…

    • You’ve made some truly relevant and telling points here in the name of hard truth, to say the very least. The Westernized concept of the interface and interaction between soldier and weapon is well-developed and efficient in its own right, but generally fails to recognize that the equivalent doctrine from the Eastern Bloc, or any other grouping as the case may be, is at least just as well-developed and efficient, if not more so. A matter of different yet equal approaches to skinning the same cat , so to speak. Case in point — the proper use of the V-notch leaf-style rear sight in conjunction with the front sight post on a typical AK-47 / AKM / RPK when dialing the weapon in for accurate fire at any range. In most cases I have seen, the understanding and technique for extracting maximum performance is sorely lacking, to say the least, leading to the vast plethora of ridiculous myths about implied AK-type inaccuracy and the supposedly greater comparative accuracy of AR-type weapons that universally persist to this day even among those who ought to know better. And all this in the face of the experiences of troops from our side who had a chance to really try out and learn from the other side’s weapons and techniques in an open-minded way that enabled them to appreciate and understand what they were up against. The same old “not made here” syndrome seems to rear its ugly head repeatedly and cloud otherwise sound judgements. Fortunately, we still have a few individuals, such as yourself, who understand this and are willing to speak up openly. For a proper basic understanding of how to use the sights on an AK, I would recommend Rob Ski’s tutorials on the subject on AKOU Local 47-74. No nonsense there, just plain utilitarian techniques that get the job done.

      • One of the biggest gaps I see in most discussion of the world’s small arms is that we often just look at the purely mechanical aspects, as expressed in the concrete objects produced by all these factors working together. The actual weapon is only a piece of the puzzle, not the entire thing. To understand things in a holistic manner requires the examination of the minutiae of manual-of-arms, drill, small-unit tactics, and the mentality of the military organization which produced that weapon or procured it.

        It is a lot like that Dutch revolver that Ian posted about earlier this month; you look at that pistol in isolation, without knowing the facts behind why it was designed the way it was, and an awful lot just doesn’t make sense–Numbered chambers? Why would you do that?

        But, include the Dutch choice to have ball rounds and so forth intermingled with tear gas and shot, for a “continuum of force” policy? Suddenly, the senseless makes sense, and you get a better feel for the people who created that artifact.

        Small arms are sort of akin to the things we find from the Stone Age, whose use and surrounding milieu are long since gone: You look at those female figures, the ones that are so grossly misshapen and exaggerated, and you wonder “What the hell were these things…?”. We can only speculate on answers, like they were fertility fetishes, or meant to serve as good-luck charms for pregnant women, but we’ll never really know, without the invention of time travel.

        Hell, so small a thing as the question of whether or not the Romans marched in step is unknown to us; we think they might have, and I honestly don’t see how many of their evolutions on the field could have been done without that innovation, but… We have no proof, and are forced to speculate.

        • Quite so. Contextual failures, misunderstandings and misperceptions have always been all too rife in just about every aspect of human existence and endeavour, let alone in the specific category of firearms, their proper usage and the relationships of such with the end user and the philosophical and practical complexities of the man-machine interface ( which is a wholly separate yet closely intertwined universe in itself ). I think you hit the nail on the head when you digressed about the holistic perspective in your previous post.

  5. After some thinking it strike me how different were different approach to selection of fire mode in sub-machine guns – first category of widely adopted selective-fire weapons.
    Some designers avoid this problem entirely by making – for example PPS by Sudayev
    Some use lever, sometime joining function of selector and safety, sometime not – for example STAR RU-35, see: http://modernfirearms.net/smg/sp/star-ru-35-si-1935-e.html which has also peculiarity of having selectable rate-of-fire
    Some use two triggers, one for single and for auto – for example Beretta Modello 1938
    Some use trigger which with light pull give single and with full pull give auto – for example Spanish Star Z-45
    BTW: Does you know any 2-trigger example of assault rifle or battle rifle?
    Considering history of Beretta Modello 38 and later Pistola Ametralladora Cristóbal which also has (Beretta-inspired) 2-triggers, which along its development retain this feature it must be well-liked by users.
    I know about FM 24/29, but it was light machine gun.

  6. The AR’s original ‘safe’ position would make more sense intuitively, since it’s the universal “off” position. Whether on 90-degree-type commercial pipe valves, such as ball and plug valves, or dampers in air ducts or whatever else, any lever in the perpendicular position almost always means “off”.

    • “universal”
      That remind me of early age of automatic pistol, it was quite widely accepted that F stands for Feuer and S stands for Sicher, however in some models lever in Sicher position hood S letter and in Feuer position hood F letter, which lead to confusion.

    • “more sense intuitively”
      For me, most intuitively would be stagged (two-stage) trigger – light pull for single and full pull – if you aim carefully you would also probably squeeze trigger delicately to not break aim, and when in desperate need squeeze trigger frantically.

    • This is mostly @Daweo…

      One of the interesting things about design, in terms of what we might term signaling and ergonomics, is the framework we assume when we do that. Nearly universal, in my experience, is that we tend to think that the condition of “ready to fire” is the one that is “unsafe”, and that’s what we mark with red, a nearly universal human marker for “danger”.

      However, consider the converse option, one attained by a different framing: Perhaps the “dangerous condition” isn’t one where the weapon might fire, but one where it will not. In such a framing, the “safe” condition would be the one you flagged with red, no? After all, a “safed” weapon is useless to you in a situation where you would need to defend yourself, is it not? So, we see that the “natural” idea that one would mark the “ready-to-fire” mode with red might not be so intuitive, at all.

      Things like this are where culture and all the little behavioral tics we associate with it, along with underlying assumptions that we don’t even think about, impinge with weapons design. You cannot really understand the weapon, without also looking at the culture which produced it; likewise, the weapon itself tells us a lot about the culture. Compare that Dutch police pistol I mention elsewhere with an American police pistol from the same era; what strikes you, with regards to the differences? The American weapon is very nearly a pure killing tool; there are no half-measures, no options other than “kill” embodied in the design. The Dutch weapon, by comparison, seems to be a very half-ass (to me, as an American) approach to arming a police officer, where the authorities who employ him aren’t very interested in keeping him alive. And, you could reframe it from the opposite side, where one might look at it from the lens of a more benevolent authority, one more concerned with preserving the life of the citizen over that of the police officer…

      Weapons are artifacts which are downstream of culture. To understand them, you need to understand the culture, and the politics going on behind the decision-making about their design and procurement.

      • Given the Glock had a manual safety originally, I reckon the makers cottoned onto that “Killing” lark, and manipulated it- It was cheaper for them to omit a manual safety, not that this saving was passed down to the consumer.

        Consequently guns without manual safeties kill many more people accidentally than would otherwise be the case. But who cares, the consumer feels O.K Corralled up at the point of purchase.

        • I can foresee the Glock “safe action” a drop safety, being the cause of negligent discharges by a design fault… In U.K military service. Similar in that sense to the change alluded to in this video- Our troops expect guns to have safeties, a trigger safety is a misnomer in that pulling the trigger doesn’t render the Glock safe. I really mean it, inexperienced folks who don’t own Glocks anyway won’t get it.

          • The powers that be are going to have to really emphasize that the safe action Glock with it’s trigger safety has no actual safety.

        • So far as I am aware, the Glock prototypes did not include any form of manual safety whatsoever. I’d be very interested to see citations and evidence for what you’re saying, here–Because nothing I’ve ever seen in my fairly extensive reading on the issue has ever evinced the slightest sign of such a thing in the prototypes and/or design phase for the Glock pistols. Manual safeties were cobbled up and produced for various contracts requiring them, over the years, but the initial design work that Glock et. al performed had none of that, because the basic philosophy of the pistol’s design precluded such idiocies.

          The provision of a manual safety in a handgun intended for military service or civilian self-defense is, in my opinion, a first-order stupidity. Glock got it right, from the start–You don’t want to set up a situation where the pistoleer ever has the slightest chance of thinking that their weapon can possibly ever be such a thing as “safe”, when out of the holster. Such thinking leads to bad things happening, and when properly trained and indoctrinated, the pistol handler is actually safer with a Glock-type weapon than they are with something that falsely assures them that there is such a state as “safe” for a handgun.

          I’ve yet to see hard statistics on it from US forces, but the anecdotal evidence that I’ve heard from units equipped with Glock pistols, particularly the G19, has been that the negligent discharge rate is a lot lower with those pistols than the M9. This is because the soldier equipped with the Glock is far less likely to treat the pistol as cavalierly as they are wont to do with the M9, precisely because of that lack of a manual safety. You see the idiots doing horseplay with the M9, in the lower ranks, and when they get their asses chewed by leadership for doing such, the answer is always “But, it’s on safe, Sergeant…”. They simply don’t get the fact that the safety is not 100%, and they’re encouraged in that thinking by the very presence of that device on the pistol. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard these immature idiots say “I didn’t know the safety was off/it was loaded…” after a negligent discharge. With the Glock, that excuse is pretty much gone, and they don’t screw around with the pistols as much, because they know that the weapon is always dangerous when out of the holster.

          Further, I would suggest that the use of the UK military as some sort of positive example when it comes to weapons handling is purely delusional. Of late, the practices I’ve seen demonstrated by their trainers and soldiers in official training videos is flatly unprofessional, highly suspect, and purely delusional. When I’m watching an official training video produced by those forces, showing “proper FIBUA shooting technique”, and it has every soldier firing a weapon taking their eyes off of target and the surrounding situation in order to conduct reload drills on their individual weapons…? Yeah. Not a force I’m going to look to, for any form of weapons-handling “best practices”. They are basically training their soldiers to die in combat, and increasing the odds that there will be inadvertent blue-on-blue incidents exponentially.

          You simply do not train your combatants to do anything that will effectively reduce their situational awareness to nil in a dynamic firefight situation, and that’s what they are doing. If a soldier cannot perform basic weapons manipulation drills without removing their attention from the surrounding tactical situation, that soldier has no business in the firing line, period. And, if the weapon issued to them by their military necessitates that they do so, then that military has lost the bubble in a very profound manner.

          Of course, these points are completely past the comprehension of the average individual I’ve run into commenting on the subject of military weapons use on the internet. Hell, it’s unfortunately past the comprehension of a lot of the oblivious leadership in the world’s military forces, as well–Which is, itself, a telling commentary on their professionalism and fundamental knowledge of their profession.

          • Well that’s all very well, but they had an article on here about an original Glock with a manual safety unless I am mistaken. But personally I think Glocks and all pistols without manual safeties suck, I don’t care if Col Cooper says control your finger, Cops don’t do it clearly when shooting black people in the U.S regardless of if they trip over the kerb and neither do five year olds retrieving Mummys gun out her bag in Wal-Mart. I’m not from the U.S I guess we will just have to differ on this issue.

          • Furthermore the design is a drop safety. Because it originates from a cavalry pistol, that may be dropped from height.

          • “But, it’s on safe, Sergeant… They simply don’t get the fact that the safety is not 100%, and they’re encouraged in that thinking by the very presence of that device on the pistol. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard these immature idiots say “I didn’t know the safety was off/it was loaded…” Hmmm, well I mean I suppose. Er, well you clearly like Glocks Merry Christmas.

          • If one does not wish to look the fool, one might refrain from commenting on issues about which one clearly knows nothing, or in making inferences about the opinions of others.

            You haven’t provided a citation for the existence of an original prototype Glock with the inclusion of a manual safety. Yet, you make the assertion that such a thing existed, and was abandoned. As the phrase goes, show me. I’m willing to be educated on the issue, but I’m afraid you flatly do not know what you’re talking about. So far as I know, no such prototype exists, and the original design outline included no such mechanism.

            Bluntly put, put up, or shut up.

            Further, your assertion that the safety design “originated from a cavalry pistol” is pointless; are there any particular uses for pistols out there which are not drop-safe? Is drop-safety a unique requirement for a cavalry pistol? No, it is not–so, the fact that the Glock happens to copy the 1897 Iver Johnson trigger safety, which was designed and marketed as a purely civilian self-defense weapon puts a bit of a kink in your assertion that the Glock safety system was derived from some imaginary cavalry pistol.

            As to whether or not I “…clearly like Glocks…”, that’s a relatively safe guess, on your part. I’ve carried one or another of that design since my late twenties, and have come to admire the design for what it is–An admirably simple and effective answer to the question of self-defense.

            That said, I am not an unquestioning and mindless adherent of the design, either. I do not think the Glock is well suited to the uses to which it has been put, here in the US, namely that of police work in a cultural matrix where a handgun is often used more as a threat display than an actual last-resort weapon. The absence of a manual safety in that role is a clear detriment to most police officers here, who are forced to operate the weapon in an environment that is far different than the one which was envisioned for the weapon. That again is an example of culture influencing weapons design, and how what is appropriate for one milieu is often not appropriate in another.

            I rather suppose that point goes over your head, however.

          • Well I meant the Roth Steyr, in regards the cavalry pistol the design was derived from. Apparently the Austrian Army requested a manual safety initially, and one was fitted by Glock for them as oppose it being fitted anyway then removed- My bag. You can remove an SA80’s mag without looking at the mag well, if that’s what you mean, but I accept your point it’s not a great design.

            Clearly weapons shouldn’t be pointed at folks regardless of if the safety is on, basic handling skills regardless of finger control. It is a matter of military discipline, in military use.

            I perhaps came at this from the wrong angle with me being a merry Redcoat questioning “perfection” and you being an American, I get the impression you perhaps view manual safeties as some sort of gun control measure- I am not suggesting they be forced to fit a manual safety.

            I understand what you are saying about instilling a “doctrinal” instinct, but folk can trip up etc- I just don’t think it takes so long to remove a manual safety particularly in military applications it’s not a gunfight at the O.K Corral. And for civilian use it just seems more dangerous for the user, than any time saved in getting to a firing position should you ever need to. The drop safety is good, you can carry it safely, it’s just once you withdraw it without a manual safety your missing a safety- Sometimes a brief pause is useful, to go from safe to fire.

            I don’t think we should have adopted it anyway- I prefer the Sig design. They are a reliable design, and I am sure your very good at handling/shooting yours all the best.

          • @ PDB

            I apologize for my intemperate response yesterday. Aggravating factors elsewhere in my life led to my grounding that out through my response to you.

            I can kinda understand why you think the Roth-Steyr provides some antecedent to the Glock, in that it was striker-fired. However, I took that to mean you were talking about the trigger safety, which Glock pretty much brought back from the dead–And, given the fact that Iver Johnson revolvers aren’t exactly well-known in Europe, I can almost buy the idea that he re-invented an obvious design. I don’t know what went through his mind, but given his status as a tyro pistol designer, at the time? I’ll give him credit, unless someone turns up an Iver Johnson he could have seen or handled.

            The thing about the Glock basic design philosophy that I think you’re missing is the mindset that went into the design. Glock and his advisers, of whom there were many, from all areas of life associated with pistol use, came to the conclusion that there was no way to make a pistol inherently “safe”, and that such a mindset was inimical to the intended use, that of preserving the life of the pistol user in extremis. In the Glock philosophy, there are two states for the pistol: In the holster and accessible to the user, and in the user’s hands, killing the people who present a threat. He (and his advisers) did not envision the pistol being used in any other mode. It’s holstered, or you’re killing someone with it. Period. As such, they deliberately eliminated every single barrier they could between using the weapon and carrying it safely. As such, no manual safety.

            And, this is a policy I have come to agree with, after training an awful lot of people on the M9 Beretta. My personal feelings on the matter, after watching a bunch of really smart people who I respected struggle with making that pistol perform its mission for them, is that the damn thing is way too complicated to really be useful under stress. I have literally watched US Army officers with doctoral degrees, veritable geniuses with IQ scores in the 160 range, screw up getting that pistol from holster to “save their life”. And, it’s all because of the safety, and the inherent variability of the double-action trigger. There are too many damn options, and unless you are are person who has the time and interest in mastering that complex set of controls (relatively speaking, because under enough adrenaline and stress, even the simple becomes very complex…), I don’t think you should be carrying one.

            Every single person I had difficulty in training on the Beretta on a formal Army range, I offered a simple remedy: Come with me after duty, and go to the local indoor range. I’ll bring my personal Glocks, and we’ll teach you to shoot a handgun. Officers, I told they’d need to buy their own damn ammo, at least 200 rounds, and I’d usually wind up buying the ammo for the junior enlisted who were having issues. Now, the interesting thing is, the Glock was a hell of a lot easier to teach these people on, most of who would get hung up on “Is it safe? Is it ready to fire? OHGODOHGODOHGOD….IHAVEAGUNINMYHAND!!!!”. With the Glock, it was “OK, it’s out of the holster… You’re ready to fire. Go for it.”. No confusion, and the tyro was able to concentrate on shooting the thing effectively. Usually, the biggest problem was the lack of confidence in their own ability to manage a pistol, and once they had confidence, manipulating the Beretta was a piece of cake, when they returned to the range officially. I’d liken the effect to that of teaching someone to drive on an automatic, and only after they’ve mastered the basic skills, moving them over to a manual transmission.

            Did that often enough, and had to cope with maintaining the Berettas enough, and I really started to doubt the wisdom of issuing the damn things. There are something like 72 parts to a Beretta, and something like 35 to a Glock. The Beretta is an esthetic masterwork of machining and mechanism, and I appreciate them for that alone. However, as a fighting handgun to be issued to the average serviceman or non-specialist civilian trying to defend themselves? Here’s a whole basket of “Nope”.

            Similarly, I don’t much care for the SIG; granted, there’s about as much between you and shooting that bastard threatening your life, but that double-action/single-action transition? Keep it; the double-action only models suffer from a too-heavy trigger pull, and that makes it really hard to get good shots in with, despite the lack of a transition between the two modes. I’d love the SIGs if they had a nice, light trigger pull like the Glock, but then they’d basically be an alloy-frame Glock anyway, sooooo… Why carry the extra weight around?

            To reiterate, the issue isn’t the length of time it takes to take the safety off; it’s that people tend to lock up and forget relatively simple things like the need to take it off, under stress. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a panic-stricken Major who’s never shot a handgun before in her life stand there on a qualification range, pulling the trigger like a madwoman to no result, and then who looks over at you with a wide-eyed stare, while screaming “My pistol is broken!!! I can’t shoot!!!”.

            Uhmmmm… Ma’am, you need to take the safety off, first…

            And, that was an officer I well respected, smart as a whip, and damn good at her job. Trouble was, the Army had never taught her weapons skills, she hadn’t any from civilian life, and being faced with her boss telling her that she had to qualify on the pistol or face a bad evaluation…? Too much pressure, induced panic, and an inability to make the weapon do what she needed it to do, stemming from that. Observing that, I really had to reevaluate the Beretta’s suitability for the role we’ve stuck it into, that of last-ditch defense weapon for key personnel. Had that Major had to take an M9 into a combat situation and preserve her life, at that moment? She’d be dead. Once I got her past the whole “OHMYGODIVEGOTAGUNINMYHANDS…” thing with one of my Glocks in a low-stress situation? Qual with an M9 was a piece of cake for her, and she did really well. Which again, leads me to reiterate that the Glock is the lowest common denominator for self-defense.

            Suitability for the expert, and/or police work? Mmmmm… Not so sure about those cases. Under the Austrian setup, where the cops and criminals basically understand that someone is getting shot if the pistol comes out of the holster? Sure, use the Glock–That’s the milieu it was designed for. US practice, where the criminals are conditioned not to take the commands of a cop seriously unless the cop has a firearm out and pointed at them? Not so much…

            Which again points out the fact that weapons design is (or, should be…) downstream of culture.

          • “And, given the fact that Iver Johnson revolvers aren’t exactly well-known in Europe, I can almost buy the idea that he re-invented an obvious design.”
            I would say that this safety might be inspired by Sauer Behördenmodell.

            “no way to make a pistol inherently “safe””
            Discussion of which (and if) safety use belongs to category of never-ending – similar to automatic pistol vs revolver or 9mm vs .45 or .380 is enough vs .380 is not enough…
            I can understand no-manual-safety approach, however I would be more moderate about manual-safety, considering that many respectable automatic pistol has such feature.

            “There are something like 72 parts to a Beretta, and something like 35 to a Glock.”
            Less part is better from manufacturer point-of-view, but on the other hand how often you need to totally disassembly.

          • @Daweo,

            That Sauer is an interesting pistol, one I don’t think I’ve seen, before. I’m not sure it is a perfect candidate for being a direct ancestor, except in spirit, for the Glock trigger safety. For one thing, it is just a button on the trigger face, while the Iver Johnson example is damn near identical to the Glock, right down to the way it blocks travel of the trigger and is on a pivot…

            With regards to the Beretta vs. Glock parts count issue: You have to understand that I was an armorer, as well as the trainer, on these weapons. First time I detail-stripped a Glock, I figured it out in about five minutes, on my own, and used one improvised punch to do it with. The first time I did the same with an M9? LOL… Couple of hours, full tool kit, and the manual open in front of me. The Glock is a soldier’s pistol, simple and robust. The Beretta? A product conceived of in the mind of a demented watchmaker, and meant to be worked on by three-handed elves…

            The parts count is only half the story. The other half would be the second- and third-order effects on maintenance stemming from that part count. Add in the demonic attitude the Army developed towards what were designated Small Arms Repair Parts, where an armorer wasn’t allowed a bench stock of any kind, users who would take the pistol far past field stripping in order to clean it, and the nature of our chaotic universe…? Yeah. I’m not a fan of unecessary Byzantine complexity in mechanisms.

            I once had to basically steal a vehicle and drive from one of the desert staging camps in Kuwait, and use it to spend a day driving around looking for an M9 trigger bar spring, because our Brigade XO had managed to break his while cleaning it. I put close to 200 miles on that truck, and never left Kuwait. Found the spring, and got his pistol back into working order about six hours before the unit left to head north, and I’d like to think I learned something from the experience. Unfortunately, all my unit learned was the lesson that they could screw anything up, weapons-related, and good ol’ SFC K will somehow fix it…

          • “I was an armorer”
            So you evaluate weapons from bit different angle.

            “full tool kit”
            And this shouldn’t be accepted in military fire-arms. Soviet fire-arms, since (at least) 1930s, can be disassembled in tool-less manner.
            Take for example TT-30 or TT-33 commonly known as Tokarev automatic pistol:
            Hammer-trigger group might be removed as unity, but notice small-detail – method of attaching grip-panels – there are not screws so no screw-driver needed.

  7. I think the misapprehension about the Soviet / Russian philosophy of usage was heavily influenced by our experiences in Vietnam. There are numerous accounts of the NVA regular infantry using the AK primarily as an automatic weapon . This includes the Use of walking fire, when troops in a frontal assault would fire short bursts at the ground in front of them every time the left foot hit the ground. It is not a far stretch to look at the selector, relate it to the NVA usage, and assume that Soviet proxies were following Soviet doctrine. Thanks for the education!

    • Well, a lot of the whole thing was very “black-box”; we saw the effect, and didn’t know how it was achieved. Examination of the weapons only told part of the story; the rest was invisible to us, in terms of how they were trained to use them, and what orders/policies were being issued.

      I suspect that the Vietnamese were doing the same things the Soviets were; that is who trained them. But, we had no idea that they were trained to sweep the selector-safety all the way down, and then go back up one click to hit full-auto. All we saw was the effect, them being on full-auto.

      You really have to have the full picture to be able to figure out what the hell was going on, and that includes knowing what the trainers were teaching the troops to do with the weapons. Somewhere along the line, we missed that information, and as a result, a bunch of stuff got distorted.

      There was also some confusion about how things were supposed to work, with regards to how many magazines were issued to the troops; where we issued seven, and had cases where guys carried as many as twenty of the damn things, the Soviets and Chinese only ever issued four to each soldier. From that, we made a bunch of bad assumptions and projected things into their TTPs (tactics, techniques, and procedures) that just weren’t there. And, to be honest, I’m not so sure that we even have a good idea of the “whys and wherefores” of things like that to this day. I’ve heard all sorts of explanations for the reasoning behind the paucity of issued magazines on the Soviet side, and I’m not ready to even begin to pronounce anything on the matter. I’m just going to observe that it was a fact, and leave it at that–They had what we might term “work-arounds”, but I’m not sure if those were official policy, or just the troops out in the field doing what needed doing.

  8. Great!

    Now can you give is the whole Soviet/Russian doctrine on the AK series?

    Mag changes, use of sights, disassembly, maintenance? Would like to see just how they deploy the AK and their tactics.


  9. It’s been said for awhile that the AK’s default gross motor reaction is to go to the stop which would be semi. Peter Kokalis from a 1995 SOF article on the Bizon AK subgun: “This is the most logical sequence, because sweeping the selector lever downward under stress will invariably place it in the bottom, or semiauto, position. Thus the operator must consciously move the bar back upward to obtain full-auto fire.”

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