Guts of the Gun #1
Striker Fired Pistols
By Brian Jensen
Extra! Extra! Read all about it! New Pistol Fires Without Hammer!
|The Glock, like the G19 shown, is considered by many to be the pistol that started the rise of the striker-fired weapon. It was not, however, the first.|
|This H&K predated the Glock, and lore has it that Gaston didn’t reference it or any other firearm when inventing his game changing pistol.|
|The Kahr motto is “slim is sexy” because they have revolutionized the size and weight for pocket pistols with their PM9 series.|
|This is one of two videos on the functioning of a Springfield Armory XD-M. Click here to watch it on Youtube if you can’t see it here.|
|This is the internals of Springfield’s XD-M. Click here to watch it on Youtube if you can’t see it here.|
|This Smith & Wesson M&P is in .45ACP and features a “1911 style” drop safety. It also comes without an external safety. The M&P series has gained considerable market share in both law enforcement and civilian markets.|
|This year Smith & Wesson introduced the Bodygaurd series of pistols at SHOT Show. This SD9 has entered the market very strong and looks to be a winner.|
|The GunsAmerica TV video on the SW Bodygaurd series. Click here if you can’t view it on this page.|
|On the Glock you can see the striker protruding from the underside of the slide. This is pulled rearward by the trigger bar, then released where it goes forward under spring tension and strikes the primer of the chambered cartridge.|
|This is the trigger bar. On a hammer fired pistol this would be the sear, that simply releases the hammer. On a striker fired pistol like the Glock the trigger bar both pulls back the striker (which is essentially a firing pin on a spring) and releases it.|
|I found this very good video on the functionality of a Glock. When you understand the way a gun works you actually shoot it better.|
|Here is a picture of the Glock striker in two states of dissasembly, showing the lug that protrudes down at the back end. The lower one is just the striker, which is the part from the above picture that you can see from the bottom of the slide. On top is the same part, the captured Glock striker, with the firing pin spring as a complete unit.|
|You generally won’t take your gun down to this level for cleaning, but if you did, this is part of the trigger assembly. I am pointing to the arm of the trigger bar on the Glock that pulls the striker to the rear as you pull the trigger.|
|Here, on a Glock you can see the striker as it is being pulled back. (Author is using an Armorer Slide Plate which is used to check the engagement of the trigger bar to the striker.|
|Ruger’s SR9 is one of the better values in a 9mm striker fired auto pistol.|
|The Taurus 709 Slim is another striker-fired pistol. This gun disassembles like most similar semi-autos. The main components are the frame, slide, recoil spring/guide rod assembly, and the barrel.|
|The trigger mechanism for the Taurus uses a lever to pull the striker backward, then releases it. This is housed to the rear of the frame. The one benefit the Taurus has is that it allows for multiple strikes in instances of a hard primer unlike other makes such as the Glock which needs to have the slide racked before you can pull the trigger again.|
|On the underside of the Taurus Slide, see the striker as it sits in it’s captured position – you can see the striker protruding from the underside, similar to the Glock. This is pulled rearward and released to strike the primer of the cartridge.|
|The Slide of the Taurus 709 Slim, one of the slimiest striker fired pistols the author has ever had the chance to fire.|
|A loaded chamber indicator sticks up from the top of the slide when the Taurus 79 is loaded. This is a similar design as seen on the Springfield XD series and Ruger’s SR9.|
Ok so this is a fake headline. Striker fired pistols have been around for a long time and they are no longer news. But few people understand why they became so popular and how they work.
I get a lot of questions as to how different guns work. One of the most common questions goes something like this…”So how does that fancy plastic Tupperware Glock work?” It’s no wonder, since this gun was the first popular weapon to use something other than the traditional hammer and firing pin system for a pistol. No other gun has created such love-hate viewpoints as the Glock. I think it is because of its sheer popularity. No pistol is more popular in law enforcement and there is not a gun shop in America that does not keep a healthy supply based purely on steady consumer demand.
There was a deluge of negative press about “plastic pistols” when the Glock first hit the American market. Some of it was about the plastic itself, because Glocks were cheaper than most steel and aluminum alloy guns of the era. Prior to polymers (plastic), the “cheap” material to make guns out of was something called “pot metal.” It melted at a lower temperature than the metal that made up the frames and slides of “quality” guns and a few states adopted laws banning guns based on melting temperature, labeling them “saturday night specials.”
So along comes the Glock made out of plastic and it is the safest and most reliable out of the box gun anyone has ever seen, blowing the whole “melting point equals quality” argument out of the water. Stories came out that you could carry one through an airport metal detector (you can’t because there is lots of metal in a Glock in addition to the plastic) and the anti-gun media fed a feeding frenzy about the dangerous Glock that actually fired every time you pulled the trigger, and that was safe and reliable.
This isn’t my first article on Glocks as you know. In fact I’ve already shown my hand in a prior article and flat out called the Glock a perfect pistol in my view, but don’t think that this article is just about Glocks. Striker fired pistols didn’t start with the Glock and many would say that the company has only improved its guns over the years to keep up with competitors who have taken the ideas from their guns and made them better. We do however have to start with the Glock, even though it was not the first striker fired or even plastic pistol.
A Brief History:
Glock lore has it that in the 1980’s, the engineer in Austria we all know now as Gaston Glock developed a pistol that did revolutionize the modern firearms industry. Glock’s model 17 was created by a man who created a firearm from the ground up not going on anyone’s past designs, or so it is claimed, but who was trying for a simple, reliable weapon. He didn’t really go by older firearms as a blueprint, as he wasn’t a gun manufacturer. However he did it, we ended up with a striker-fired weapon that took off and changed the industry forever.
Gaston, however, wasn’t the first man to create a striker-fired pistol. Heckler and Koch produced a pistol that was both plastic and striker fired in 1970, twelve years earlier than the Glock. The VP70 was produced for law enforcement as a select fire, full-auto capable machine pistol and also as a standard semi-auto for the Italian civilian market. The US hardly saw the gun due to import restrictions so it never took off and is little known in the today’s striker fired world. But though the Remington Nylon 66 was the first polymer firearm, the H&K VP70 was the first polymer, striker fired pistol.
However, when Glock’s pistol came along, it was right when the US Law Enforcement market was switching to 9mm firearms, and the Glock soon made it’s way there. It then took off like a rocket once shooters everywhere fell in love with the pistols.
Soon, other makers such as Smith and Wesson, Kahr, and a cast of others rushed into the marketplace and created their own striker-fired pistols. No longer just looking for the lucrative Law Enforcement contracts, but the civilian market as well, where newer CCW laws made light and smaller pistols very attractive.
So let’s get down to it…how does a striker-fired weapon work. These weapon have a simple system, and once you think about it, you can pretty much go, “Gee, why didn’t I think of that…” I know I’ve said it a few times, because if I had, I’d be living on some beach somewhere where the sun is hot, the beer is cold, and I could actually afford both. Unfortunately, German or Austrian engineers somewhere else are enjoying both the beer and the sun instead of me.
The striker-fired weapon works without a standard hammer or firing pin that we see in the first modern semi-automatic pistols. Instead, the firing pin, or “striker”, sits captive under some spring tension inside the slide while the gun is not being put through the firing process. The striker is usually prevented from moving forward towards the primer of the chambered round by safeties, firing pin blocks, etc. In a Glock the spring is partially set under tension. In others, like the Springfield Armory XD and the most recent Smith & Wesson M&P, the spring is completely tensioned by racking the slide.
When the shooter pulls the trigger to fire, these safeties are disengaged and the mechanism, usually an extension of the trigger bar, makes contact with and pulls the striker back under spring tension, again, either fully or partially. This continues to increase as the striker is pulled to the rear. At the end of the pull, this trigger bar’s extension pulls or drops off the part of the striker it was up against, and releases it, allowing it to travel forward under the power of the spring and make contact with the primer of the chambered round which hopefully goes “bang”.
Once the weapon fires, the slide moved rearward under recoil, ejecting the spent round and chambering a new one. In this same process, the striker system resets to its semi-captured state in the Glock and fully captured state in some other pistols. The shooter releases pressure on the trigger which then moves forward enough to reset and make contact again with the striker so the process starts again.
Many, including myself from time to time, will compare this system to a double action only (DAO) system. However, in all honesty, even though this system is similar in how the shooter feels the trigger action to a DAO pistol that uses a hammer, there are some profound differences in the operation of the gun internally that do have some important implications to shooters. Trigger pull is generally going to be much lighter than the double action pull of a revolver, and also much lighter than semi-autos with either a double action only setup or a double action/single action setup.
OK, I know it doesn’t necessarily sound simple, but the above system allows for fewer parts, which allows for a simpler weapon. How is this a good thing? Theoretically at least, the fewer parts there are, the less there is to go wrong, and the more reliable the weapon is. Ask anyone who carries one of these weapons and very rarely will you ever hear a complaint about reliability. It could be because there are fewer parts, it could be because the design lends itself to reliability. Regardless, people may have other gripes about striker fired pistols, but the gun going “bang” when the trigger is pulled is rarely the issue.
Fewer parts means easier maintenance as well. I have several striker-fired weapons and am a certified armorer for several brands. I can completely disassemble each and then reassemble them in five minutes or so. Try doing that with your 1911 or a standard hammer fired pistol like a Sig 226. Neither will be nearly as easy.
Another positive for this system is that you have the same trigger pull for every shot. This means a shooter does not have to adjust from a first shot in a long, heavy double action pull to a second, short and light single action shot as is the case on traditional double action/single action pistols, like Beretta 92 or the aforementioned Sig 226. . The gun will also have a consistent and distinct trigger reset for each shot.
Reset is also an issue for most “double action only” (one consistent trigger pull) guns as well. With all the hammer driven double action only pistols you must let the trigger traverse all the way forward in order to pick up the sear for the next shot. This would be the same as a double action revolver. Double action/Single action pistols have a short reset on the 2nd and subsequent shots because the gun resets to single action condition. To re-holster the weapon after the first shot you must decock it with a decocker to get it back to double action state.
Both of these issues will aid the shooter in rapid and accurate follow up shots. Striker fired pistols will generally have a lighter pull than hammer fired pistols. They will have a short reset and the pull and reset are always the same.
Finally, many, but not all, of these weapons operate without the need for external safeties, nor is there a hammer to de-cock. As a result there’s only a trigger, magazine release, and a slide release for controls. This gives you less to worry about in a shooting scenario and less parts to fail in the gun. For a combat gun, this is one of it’s greatest assets.
You can of course turn that last point right around and say that it is a negative that there is no external safety on a Glock. Indeed this is the biggest reason you will hear in the civilian market to not carry a Glock, and it is somewhat justified. All of the safeties on a Glock are internal, except the little lever on the trigger.
The argument for the Glock would be that if you don’t want to fire the gun, don’t pull the trigger. In such a case the Glock performs flawlessly. But there have been very public cases of poor training where civilian and law enforcement users of the gun had accidental discharges, sometimes even causing an accidental death. The most basic of firearm safety training will tell you to not put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to fire, and don’t point a gun at anything you don’t want to kill, but in an imperfect world are imperfect people, and not having that thumb safety to drop is an issue on a Glock.
That is why there are several striker fired pistols out there that have added other safety devices to their pistols beyond those on the Glock. Most notable from a market share perspective is the Springfield Armory XD, that carries a grip, or “beavertail” safety similar to a standard Colt 1911. This protects the gun from inadvertent snags on the trigger firing the weapon. You have to have a firm grip on an XD before it will fire. There is also one model of the XD-9 that comes with a thumb safety similar to a 1911-style pistol. Other companies such as Taurus and Kahr have followed up early designs with no safety with newer designs with external manual safeties. Different strokes for different folks.
One drawback that everyone agrees on is what we refer to as “second strike capability”, and no, this isn’t something to do with the Cold War. When you fire a double action pistol, whether it be double action only or double/single, if the round fails to fire you can simply reset the trigger and pull again, hopefully busting what may be a “hard primer.”
On a striker fired pistol, if you get a deafening “click” instead of a bang, your only alternative on many of these weapons is to rack the slide which will extract the round that didn’t fire and chamber another. Then you can just pray that you didn’t hit a batch of hard primers just in time for your gunfight. Because other than picking the round up off the ground and re-chambering it manually, the gun is not going to give you a way to hit that primer again by pulling the trigger back.
In a more traditional, hammer-system DAO such as those used by Beretta in their C-Trigger Px4 Storm, standard Smith and Wessons and Sig’s DAK trigger, the shooter can again pull the trigger again to try to re-strike the primer.
I will point out that there is a school of thought here that says that clearing the weapon immediately of the “dud” round is always the best practice. And if this is your preferred practice, there is no disadvantage to the striker fired system. Hard primers are the reason most cited for why no other military except Austria (where Glocks originated) have adopted a striker fired system for general army issue. Military ammo uses a much tougher primer than civilian, and striker fired pistols don’t always shoot it reliably.
Hard primers are a topic of controversy for civilian use in Glocks and other striker fired pistols as well. If you look around online you will see many people complaining that their “reloads” didn’t work in their striker fired gun but functioned flawlessly in a hammer fired gun the same day, like a Glock or XD vs. a Beretta Px4 Storm or Sig 226. This would argue for the hammer guns that they possess a fundamental reliability that striker guns can’t match. And as for factory ammo, nobody will admit publicly that the hardness of primers has been brought down across the board for the striker fired pistols, but hubub has it that all the major primer manufacturers have made their primers softer to reduce complaints from owners of striker fired pistols. The “reloads” you will read about online most likely are using old batches of harder primers.
My thinking is that even if there was a difference in reliability with old primers, it doesn’t matter anymore. All of the factory ammo companies and primer companies supplying reloaders have now fixed this issue, so it is no longer an issue. Nobody has every suggested that a harder primer is somehow more reliable or safer. It just was what it was until it needed to be changed for these fabulous guns. I’ve been shooting and working on Glocks since the beginning, and I don’t ever remember a period where they wouldn’t reliably shoot factory ammo anyway.
The other complaint people have is that the gun does not have a physical hammer. I know a few of you may scratch your heads at that, but for some this is a big issue. Let me explain with a short story with my experience involving a local law enforcement agency years ago.
I work at an agency that issued Glocks, and asked the head rangemaster of a local agency why they expressly forbid them His answer: that the city council only approved semi-automatics in the early 1980’s if their hammer was visible.
Yeah, I had to scratch my head on that too. However, for some reason there are those people who feel they need to see a physical hammer on the gun. (Presumably it’s going to let me know the gun is getting ready to go bang as I see the hammer move back…) To be honest, I don’t know I have any way to counter that argument – well at least anything that makes any sense to someone following that logic.
Finally, another disagreement about these striker fired weapons is that some, though definitely not all, will need the trigger pulled to disassemble the pistol for cleaning. This is because the trigger bar needs to come down and out of the way of the striker so the slide can move forward off the frame. Many consider this a serious safety issue as it allows just one more possible situation where there could be a negligent discharge had someone not cleared the weapon prior to taking it apart.
I personally don’t like this argument, as I always clear a weapon before I clean it or disassemble it. But if it’s someone who may take hurried shortcuts, it could be a legitimate concern. (You may ask yourself, however if you are such a person who makes those kinds of shortcuts should you own a firearm…just a thought…)
A Field of Dreams
So, since Glock got the ball rolling, manufacturer’s have come out of the woodwork to create striker fired weapons. The first I remember was the Smith and Wesson Sigma system, which even inspired a lawsuit from Glock due to possible patent infringement. These were low to medium priced weapons at first. They also entered a venture with Walther to create the SW99, a copy of Walther’s own P99 (see below). However, now S&W offers the M&P line which is gaining some serious momentum. These weapons come with interchangeable backstraps to adapt the gun to the shooter’s hand, and some even are equipped with manual thumb safeties. These are now seen in all the popular calibers such as 9mm, .40 S&W, and 45 ACP. The black Melonite finish is nearly indestructible, and the weapons themselves are very strong as well.
Then came one that looked for all intents and purposes like an all-steel Glock. These guns by Kahr are very well made and have a strong following among people who want an even thinner, striker-fired pistol. Now they make many polymer and steel guns small, and downright tiny, to fit your needs. These smaller pistols are definitely reliable, incredibly small, and were even approved by such picky agencies as the NYPD.
Another manufacturer that has exploded onto the striker-fired weapon scene is the Springfield Armory XD. These Croatian-made weapons have proven as sturdy, reliable, and popular as any other striker-fired weapon out there. These guns incorporate a cocked striker indicator with a small metal pin that sticks out the rear of the slide, similar to the one seen in HK P7 pistols. In addition, this pistol incorporates a grip safety and some models are available with manual thumb safeties, much like the 1911’s.
Walther made an early entry into this group with their P99 pistol. It was pretty forward thinking with interchangeable backstraps early on, and even came with a type of Double Action/Single Action setup. The newest, and most exciting striker-fired to come from Walther is the new PPS pistol. This weapon aims directly at the concealed carry market with a compact, and very slim frame. It comes in 9mm and .40 S&W. I have not fired this pistol, but have gotten the chance to handle a few and they are a great compromise between size and power.
Introduced in October of 2007, the Ruger SR9 has become one of the more newsworthy applicants to the ranks of best value in a striker fired service pistol. There was a brief recall on pistols made between October and April of the next year. It was a drop issue and was quickly fixed with a new trigger group from Ruger. They followed the full size SR9 with a subcompact dubbed the SR9C at SHOT Show of 2010 and the gun shipped that month. Overall the Rugers have been well received, signalling a new and exciting market presence for Sturm Ruger Co. in the new millenium.
Taurus has also entered the market with some outstanding designs. Their new compact pistols in 9mm such as the 709 and .380 are very small, well made, and have proven quite popular. They look internally similar to the Glock, with a somewhat different trigger mechanism. One added benefit of the Taurus is that its mechanism allows for multiple hammer strikes in case of a hard primer – an important distinction for this pistol. It also has an external thumb safety and a loaded chamber indicator.
There are likely many I have missed, and some that we just can’t get here in the US because of import restrictions. There are also new ones being developed as we speak. So this list is really a small selection of what I believe we’ll see.
Should I Buy a Striker Fired Pistol?
At the end of the day, this may be the question you end up with. Based upon the pros and cons you’ll need to see what’s best for you. I believe these weapons are great for beginners, as there aren’t a whole lot of controls to get used to or train on. They are utterly reliable, and most are downright affordable. The system does have its drawbacks as I mentioned above, but then again no system is foolproof. Research your prospective weapon, and think about how much time you are willing to dedicate to training with the pistol to be proficient with the controls and function. Is it for plinking, defensive CCW, or home defense? I hope the above can give you the information you can use to make an informed decision. Until next time, good shooting and stay safe.
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