Selecting a handgun – Magazine Disconnect Feature.

The ability to fire your handgun without a magazine loaded is a topic discussed on gun-owner forums across the internet. For the most part, those that think a “magazine disconnect safety” is stupid or absurd seem to be the louder of the voices, while those that support it quietly chuckle to themselves. Surprisingly enough, if you walk into many gun stores in America, you’re likely to find out the proprietors selling the guns don’t know what the feature is or whether a particular gun has one or not. Let me see if I can dissuade you of a few misconceptions and help you make an educated decision on whether or not you want this safety feature on your handgun.

What is a Magazine Disconnect?

The picture shown below depicts a semi-automatic firearm with the magazine removed, but a bullet left in the chamber.magazine removed

If your firearm is equipped with a magazine disconnect safety, then the gun won’t fire without the magazine inserted into the magazine well. If your gun is NOT equipped with this feature, you can simply pull the trigger again and the remaining cartridge in the chamber will fire. That seems simple enough doesn’t it? So why all the arguing back and forth about it? Mostly the argument comes from ignorance of the need for this kind of safety feature.

When would I ever need that feature?

Let’s throw away the idea of running away from the fight. If you have drawn your handgun in defense of yourself or another, then it’s assumed you couldn’t feasibly run away or you’d have done so before things got this far. For better or worse now, your handling of the situation rests on your ability to control your firearm.

It is a safe assumption that if you are close enough to a bad guy to pull your firearm, and they don’t have one of their own, and they’re amped up enough on whatever drug of choice they might be on, that they’re going to go for yours. It’s common sense. If there’s only one gun in the fight, whomever controls that gun controls the outcome of that fight. Simply possessing the firearm is a huge force-multiplier, but if the other guy can take it away or render it useless, that advantage is gone.

Scenario 1: You’ve pulled your firearm to defend yourself but the assailant is bigger than you, stronger than you, or somehow manages to get his hands on your firearm. It’s loaded and ready to fire. You feel the gun slipping from your grasp. What do you do? .

Your thumb is already in the proper place to render the firearm useless, so you simply thumb the magazine release and let him have it while you run like hell? Well, it’s not a great scenario to put yourself in, but it might save your life. Remember, HE doesn’t know the gun doesn’t work. While you switch to another tactic, such as mace, pepper spray, kicking, screaming, or just plain out running for your life, the assailant is left with a firearm he can’t use until he spends time searching in the dark for the magazine you ejected. Those precious seconds could be the difference between life and death for you.

For this reason alone, there are police departments across the United States that demand this feature of their service pistols. The most important thing you can do if you can’t depend on your firearm at a critical moment is the ability to prevent it being turned against you.

Scenario 2: You were in a scuffle with the assailant and released your magazine to render the weapon safe, but somehow you managed to wrest control back and you’ve maintained your firearm. You simply put in a fresh magazine and…. uh oh?

Why Carry Two Magazines:

Scenario two above happens all the time. Again, you have to consider that you are literally in a life or death moment. Things happen in hundredths of a second that will affect your ability to survive. You’ve regained control of your firearm but do you have the ability to reach down and insert a fresh one? If you don’t, your strongest defense has just been rendered useless.

Scenario 3: You pull your firearm to defend yourself and pull the trigger. Bam, Bam, ka-chonk. (Ok, so ka-chonk isn’t probably the most accurate sound effect, but it’s the best I could do at the moment.) For whatever reason your firearm failed to fire the third round. What do you do?

You’re not at the firing range with friends on a sunny day shooting at paper targets for sport. You’re in the semi-lighted parking lot of your local pharmacy at 10:30 PM on a cold and dark night, being attacked by someone that intends to do you bodily harm. You don’t have the twenty seconds necessary to open the breach, check out the chamber, remove the magazine, look for problems, re-insert and try again. Neither do police. That’s one of the two reasons they carry multiple magazines. (I’ll get to the other reason in another article.)

Ammunition and magazines are made my humans. They can be imperfect, as can your firearm from time to time. However the statistics show that the some of the most common reasons for failure to fire are the result of bad ammo or a failing magazine, whether due to improper insertion or a failing springs resulting from keeping the magazine loaded all the time. (Yes, this is bad, but that’s another article for another day as well.)

Scenario 4: You get into a scuffle with someone that grabs your firearm and one of you accidentally (or intentionally if it was the assailant) triggers the magazine release. It’s actually VERY easy for the assailant to intentionally do this because it’s MUCH easier to simply grab your firearm hand and squeeze until the magazine falls out than it is to rip the gun from your hands.

The ability to quickly discard your magazine and load a fresh one is critical to your ability to re-enter the fight. In synopsis, it is this author’s advice that you never carry a semi-automatic firearm without at least one extra magazine on your person in a readily accessible location at all times.

Under scenarios two and three above, the ability to load a fresh magazine could very well be the difference between being judged by twelve, rather than being carried by six.

Food for thought.

Back to Magazine Disconnects

My apologies if it appears I digressed there for a moment, but the choice to have a magazine disconnect in your firearm directly correlates to whether or not you have more than one of them. If you have only one magazine, you can render your firearm safe in a fire-fight, but you can’t bring it back into action later without scrabbling around in the dirt to find the one you ejected.

Whether you are a proponent of the magazine disconnect as a safety feature or not, it would serve you well to know that some semi-automatics CAN fire without the magaine and others cannot. Glocks for example, will fire the last chambered round without the magazine in the weapon, as will my Beretta PX4 Storm. Some firearms tell you right on the side of the slide, like mine. See the picture below.

PX4 Storm without magazine disconnect

This Beretta has a stamp on the side of the firearm that tells the operator the weapon WILL fire with the magazine removed. The stamp says “Fires Without Magazine.”  Not all firearms with this feature tell you so on the weapon itself,but they will tell you in your owner’s manual.

Whether you choose to carry a firearm that has this feature or not, at least you are hopefully educated on the reasons for the gun operating the way it does. Either way you choose to carry, it is important that you know your firearm inside and out. Remember a simple fact: the kind of people that would force you to pull a firearm in defense of your life are mostly criminals. That is their full time job. You know your job pretty well don’t you? You should assume they do as well. The smart ones practice with firearms. They know them well. It’s likely that you’re not the first person to pull one on them during their life and they fact that they’re standing there with you means they won the last fight, doesn’t it?

If you have a firearm with a magazine disconnect, practice with dropping your magazine and reloading before you have finished firing your full load. Practice drawing your second magazine with your off-hand while your firing hand brings the firearm back on target after a scuffle. Pick a target ahead of you – the paper target on the pistol range or the coke can on a pile of dirt are perfectly acceptable things to focus on, but NEVER take your eyes off them while you reach for your second magazine. If you can’t do it while keeping your eyes 100% focused on the target ahead of you, you will likely end up wounded or worse if your life ever depends on that skill.

And the end of the day, the most simplistic part of a fire-fight is pulling the trigger. The rest of it is the hard stuff. Practice with your firearm religiously and practice safely! If you don’t know how to work some of these practice scenarios, seek out an instructor or contact us and we can offer pistol lessons. And when all else fails… try reading the manual that came with your firearm from cover to cover! There’s always a grain of knowledge in there that you can pick up!


Selecting a handgun – Magazine Disconnect Feature. — 4 Comments

  1. Good writeup. I myself go either way with it-my personal carry firearm does NOT have a mag disconnect (oldschool 1911-yes, I know it’s large, and yes, I know it’s bulky-but at the end of the day, I’ve put thousands of rounds down range with it, and I know it inside and out). I see the usefulness of such a feature, but don’t see the need to go out and replace my current firearm with one.

    I do like the bit about practicing ejection and reloads without firing through the entire mag. VERY useful that. Also, I’d suggest getting some snapcaps (or similar training devices), have a buddy load your mag with one (or more, or none!) in there somewhere to simulate a failure to fire situation.

    Anyway, stellar writeup as always.

    • Thanks for the reply.

      We use snap caps in the Basic Pistol course to simulate a failure to fire. One of our instructors loads one somewhere in the magazine and it forces them to remember Tap, Rack, and Ready.

  2. Scenarios in which you’re grappling and attempting to maintain possession and control of a handgun that requires you to use the free hand to access and load a new magazine into it are completely unrealistic. One hand on the handgun while the other is fumbling with the magazine, all the while rolling around banging into every piece of furniture in sight, in a life and death wrestling match with an extremely determined, powerful opponent using two hands to kill you will get you killed. You’re somehow going to be able to use BOTH hands to reload while the assailant is using BOTH hands to disarm and murder you? You won’t survive it. Even if the pistol doesn’t work, he’ll kill you with his bare hands. An assailant wouldn’t get into a grappling match with an armed person unless he were convinced he could physically overwhelm them and murder them with his bare hands. You NEVER let a determined assailant get close enough to start grappling with you. NEVER.

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