With any firearm knowing whether the safety is engaged or not is a crucial and often life-saving piece of information. The problem is that when it comes to safety, not all guns are created equal.
Most pistols have a clear safety indicator, with a red dot showing the safety is disengaged, or when the selector switch is set to ‘Fire’ or ‘F,’ such as on the AR-15 and some German pistols. To be sure, ALWAYS consult your user manual, so you KNOW if your gun safety is on or off.
Let’s run through the different kinds of safeties you may find and provide a comprehensive guide so that you can look at most firearms and determine whether gun safety is on or not.
Which Guns Do Not Have An Active Safety
Most, if not all, revolvers do not have any kind of safety mechanism, and they either need to be cocked before firing as in single-action revolvers or simply pull the trigger with double-action revolvers.
Always come back to the first rule of guns – treat every firearm as if it were loaded.
Most of them have active safety in pistols, with one exception: the Glock. This is one of the main reasons I did not opt for one as a three-year-old could fire it.
The Glock has an internal safety mechanism, but pulling the trigger will fire if the gun is cocked and loaded. There is no real way to tell simply by looking at a Glock whether the safety is on or not, so handle with care.
However, all Generation 3 Glocks and upward have a loaded chamber indicator that sticks out of the side, so you can tell if the weapon is loaded by looking at it.
How To Tell If My Rifle Safety Is On Or Off
Most rifles have a safety indicator either on the side of the frame, behind and under the rear sight, or behind the trigger on the trigger guard, and for the most part, these are pretty easy to read.
On the AR-15 type weapons, the safety selector switch indicates ‘Safe’ or ‘Fire,’ so when the selector is on ‘Safe,’ the safety is engaged.
Where rifles have the safety on the trigger guard like some shotguns do or behind and under the sights, there is usually the ‘red dot’ indicator that will be visible when the safety is not on, and the gun is ready to fire.
The pivot safety found on bolt-action rifles usually indicates which direction is ‘safe’ and ‘fire.’ Observing an unfamiliar weapon often reveals how the safety works in both the safe and fire positions – if all else fails, ask the weapon’s owner.
How To Tell If My Handgun Safety Is On Or Off
Pistols have different types of safeties, one is mounted on the frame like the 1911 and Browing Hi-Power, and some are mounted on the slide like the Beretta M92 and S&W pistols.
Slide Mounted Safeties
These slide-mounted safeties also usually have the ‘red-dot’ indicator. Many of the double-action pistols have ambidextrous safeties, so you can see what condition the gun is in (fire/safe) by looking for and checking whether the red dot is visible or not.
They are engaged by sliding the safety up or down with the thumb to set it into ‘safe’ or ‘fire’ mode. With these pistols, if you can’t see the red dot, the weapon is safe; if you can, it is hot and should be handled with all due respect.
Another aspect with these safeties is that when they are set to ‘safe,’ the firing pin recesses into the frame, so the weapon cannot be fired even if the trigger is pulled. This mechanism also works when you need to get the gun to safety after firing a round.
You can simply slide the safety down to ‘safe,’ then the firing pin retreats into the frame the hammer will drop down to the uncocked position. To fire it, you can thumb the safety up to the ‘fire’ position and pull the trigger or cock the hammer to fire it as a single action.
A rule of thumb with most safeties is that when the safety is set parallel to the slide, the gun IS NOT safe, regardless of the letter showing.
As with any pistol, there are some exceptions. With some of the German pistols like the Walthers, when the safety is set to ‘S’ and exposing the ‘F,’ the safety is parallel with the slide, and even though the safety is set on ‘S,’ this is, in fact, the firing position.
Check the position of the safety relative to the slide for a more accurate indication of whether the gun is safe or not.
You can also check the hammer position when the safety is engaged; the hammer might sit slightly away from the frame and firing pin, while the hammer would sit flush on the frame and firing pin in the fire position.
Frame Mounted Safeties
Some of the older pistols like Colt’s Government series have the safety mounted on the frame. The safety is engaged by sliding it upward to lock into the safety notch on the slide, which sets the pistol to safe.
Once the safety is lying parallel to the frame and not engaged in the safety notch, the pistol is set to fire. Simply looking at the weapon’s safety position will give a solid indication of whether the safety is on or not.
Pistols And Sub-Machine Pistols With Double Safeties
I like the Colt because they have grip safety, which adds that little extra layer of protection. The Uzi was one of the first sub-machine guns and firearms to utilize grip safety.
The grip safety works as the shooter has to have hands big enough and strong enough to compress the grip safety before the firing mechanism engages regardless of where the safety is set.
With firearms like this, you can, of course, see what position the safety is set to, but you can also handle the weapon safely as without engaging the grip safety, it will not fire.
The best way to know whether your gun is on safety or not is to consult the manual for clarity or the weapon’s owner if it does not belong to you, or you may be uncertain.
Using the methods above will give you a very good indication of the condition of the gun’s safety status.