There are a variety of different firearm operating systems to choose from when purchasing a firearm for self defense. We will be going over the three main systems used for concealed and open carry as well as the components of each firearm. In this article you will be able to reference a variety of firearm diagrams in order to provide an explanation of the differences between each operating system.
The first operating system we will be covering is the hammer fired semi-automatic pistol. Hammer fired pistols come in single or double action. Single action pistols allow for the firearm to be carried in the "locked and cocked" position which enables the firearm to be carried safely with the hammer in the rearward position. Locked and Cocked refers to the act of having a round in the chamber with the hammer rearward and the safety activated. Single action semi-automatic pistols have a lighter trigger pull weight averaging around 3.5-4.5 lbs. Single action pistols require the hammer to be cocked in order to fire. After the first round is fired, you can fire the rest of the rounds without having to re-cock the hammer between rounds. The other action that is available in hammer fired firearms is the double action. When carrying a double action firearm, first round will have a heavy double action trigger pull followed by a lighter single action trigger pull for the remainder of the rounds in your magazine. There are also a wide variety of hammer fired double action pistols that have de-cockers that allow you to chamber a round then flip the de-cocker lever thus releasing the hammer and putting the firearm into half cock which prevents the hammer from striking the firing pin. To fire the pistol after de-cocking, you have to re-cock the hammer. It is important to note that not all hammer fired pistols possess a de-cocker and some have a manual safety mechanism alone. (see diagrams below).
Single Action Pistol:
Double Action Pistol with de-cocker:
Another firearm operating system that many people prefer is the striker fired operating system. This system does not have an external hammer or de-cocker. Instead, there is an internal striker that is held under spring tension in the rearward position until the trigger is pulled allowing for the internal safeties to disengage which releases the striker thus striking the primer allowing for the round to be fired. Speaking of safeties, some people prefer to carry with a mechanical safety and some prefer not to have a mechanical safety. Safeties being mechanical devices have the opportunity of mechanical failure. The risk of mechanical failure is one of the main reasons why trigger discipline is the most important safety aspect to firearm use. For this reason, there are many firearm companies that offer their striker fired firearms with or without a mechanical safety so the customer has the opportunity to decide for themselves.
(see diagram below).
Striker Fired Pistol:
Revolvers are a popular firearm choice for both beginners and those who are long time firearm carriers alike. The simplistic and user-friendly design of a revolver creates a large attraction to this operating system as well as the fact that stove-piping and jamming is relatively impossible due to the rounds being housed in the cylinder. Beginners tend to find revolvers to be a great carrying method as they are easier to learn and maintain. Avid shooters find these firearms to be attractive because of the reliability and durability of these firearms as well as the ability to line the sights in a faster manner. Revolvers come in both single and double action just as semi-automatic firearms do. Double action revolvers can be fired without cocking the hammer which results in a heavier trigger pull. They can also be fired single action by rotating the hammer back which allows for a lighter single action trigger pull. When it comes to a single action revolver, they cannot be fired without rotating the hammer back due to the mechanisms inside of the firearm and the structure in which they were designed. This prevention of firing with the hammer in the de-cocked position is also considered a safety for single action revolvers. Many single action revolvers offer a half cock option on the hammer as well which is another safe way to carry and lessens the rotation needed to cock the hammer on your revolver. (see diagram below)
Pistols with threaded barrels, red dots (MRDS), and flash lights (also known as tactical configurations) have become a popular configuration for today's carry world. While these attachments do not change the firearm's operating system functions, it does change the way the firearm will be used. A red dot allows for a quicker sight acquisition while providing a clearer field of view for the individual. Threaded barrels provide an attachment point for products such as compensators and suppressors. Flashlights provide a quick and effective first line of defense during a self defense situation for multiple reasons including disorientation of the aggressor.
Pistols with threaded barrels, red dots (MRDS), and flash lights:
All of these operating systems have their benefits and drawbacks depending on the form of carry you are looking into. No firearm will ever be the perfect firearm because every firearm has their pros and cons. The best advise I was ever given when I was first looking into a firearm for self defense was to go to your local gun range that has rental firearms, and shoot a variety of different firearms. You may be surprised which selection suits you the best.