Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Glocks and Safety

So some of my fellow gunbloggers have made arguments against issuing Glocks to police, or against beginners using Glocks; because they have a high incidence of negligent discharge. Some (mostly those same fellows), also say they just don't feel a gun without a positive acting external mechanical safety, is safe.

Then there are those folks who go on and on about Glock Kabooms! (I do so love that word).

Let's break these issues down shall we?

First, we need to explain that there are two types of Unintentional Discharge, and differentiate between them. Those two types are an accidental discharge, and a negligent discharge; and there is a world of difference both technically, and legally seperating them.

An AD occurs when a mechanical or physical failure causes a gun to unintentionaly discharge; or when a gun discharges when operated in a way not intended to make it discharge. For example a sear breaks on a gun without a trigger or firing pin safety, and it fires; or a gun fires when the safety is wiped off (a common problem for 1911s with unsafe trigger work).

Accidental discharges are quite rare in most pistol designs; and in some designs are nearly impossible unless there is massive damage to the pistol. The Glock is one of those designs.

Negligent discharges occur when the shooter operates the weapon in a way designed to make it fire; when they did not intend to do so. NDs unfortunately are quite common in comparions to ADs. Almost every shooter has at least one in their shooting career. I've had two myself (stupidity on my part), and been on the recieving end of two. One just ended up going through my range bag; unfortunately destroying a holster, and scuffing along the dustcover of my custom Champion (the copper jacketing mark is still faintly visible), luckily leaving it undamaged. The other one I wasn't so fortunate, and I ended up with a 5.56 slug in my forearm (thankfully it was from long range and didn't penetrate deeply or damage much - Hurt like an SOB though).

Negligent discharges are caused by three things. Complacency, Stupidity, and lack of training.

I think it’s safe to say that Glocks have more stupid, incompetent, and untrained users than any other brand of pistol excepting common criminal drop pieces (Raven, Lorcin, Jennings, Davis etc... all of which also have very high negligent discharge rates, as well as high ACCIDENTAL discharge rates).

Glocks are the best selling pistol brand in America (the 1911 is the most popular type but is sold under many brands). They are often purchased by people who know little to nothing about guns. They are often issued to police officers who know little to nothing about guns. Also, they are a favorite of criminals, and criminal wannabe's because of their prevalence in Hip-Hop culture (though this is declining somewhat).

Hell, this guys probably qualifies in all three categories:

All gun types and brands are sometimes misused; but because of these factors, Glocks are more often misused than any other gun.

Let’s say that again: Glocks have a higher negligent discharge rate because there are more of them; and because their users are on average less experienced with guns.

In particular, the most common stupid inexperienced safety mistake, putting a finger on the trigger when not ready to fire, also defeats the Glocks only external safety (which is built into the trigger). The almost universal tendency of the inexperienced to point the muzzle of a gun at whatever they are looking at simply adds to the problem.

The Glock is made to be simple, reliable, and fire when the trigger is pulled; it will not prevent a stupid user from shooting something they didn’t intend to.

For comparison, when the 1911 was new, and all the way up until the Mid '80s; it had the worst ND rate of any gun; because there were so many of them, and because so many people had such bad habits as keeping a finger on the trigger when taking the safety off. The reason why this has changed, is because the 1911 has become the enthusiasts gun of choice; and enthusiasts as a whole have higher equipment and training standards then beginners (though we still ND just like everybody else). Begninners on the other hand are now generally going for... well a Glock.

Making this worse, it was popular among competitors in the 70s and for some time in the 80s to disable the grip safety of a 1911, to ensure more reliable functioning when ones grip wasn't fully indexed. Added to that of course was the fact that most competitive shooters lightened their trigger pulls into the 2lb (or sometimes less) range. Of course they did this using the highest quality parts, expert gunsmiths, and handling by highly trained individuals with safety as a primary concern; and they WEREN'T generally carrying these guns on the street.

When the bubba in the street copied these trends on his homegrown and backyard gunsmithed 1911... well let's just say that when combined with bad habits like resting the finger on the trigger, the results were often dangerous.

The pistol was functioning as built, and designed; but it wasn't built or designed to prevent an idiot from doing something stupid... or actually it was, but it was then modified so that it wouldn't.

OK, back to Glocks now.

Additionally, and again due to stupid and inexperienced users; Glocks have a higher rate of accidental shootings while cleaning.

The most basic step before disassembling a gun is to ensure it is completely unloaded INCLUDING A CHAMBER CHECK. Glocks (and some other pistols of similar action type) require you pull the trigger for disassembely. Stupid users shoot themselves and those around them by leaving a round in the chamber and then pulling the trigger to disassemble the gun. This characteristic (and this accident type) isn't limited to Glocks of course, but the trigger pulling factor, combined with the huge number of Glocks out there make it occur more frequently than with other pistols.

Again, the weapon is designed to fire when the trigger is pulled, and will not prevent a stupid or inexperience user from shooting something they didn’t intend to.

Glocks don't fire unless you pull the trigger. Even if the gun fails mechanically, the Glock striker doesnt have enough tension to pop a primer unless the trigger is pulled, unlike an SA or DA/SA auto where a broken sear or safety can cause the hammer to fall and ignite the round. That's one of the reasons they call it the safe action. It's just damn near impossible to make a Glock fire accidentally under normal circumstances; unless it has been modified in an unsafe way.

The standard Glock trigger is 5.5lbs nominal and the lightened trigger is 3.5lbs nominal. The original NY trigger was 8.5lbs nominal (and is actually a bit heavier). The new york 2 trigger is 11.5lbs nominal.

Any of them are safe for carry assuming proper safety habits.

A Glock with a properly set up trigger WILL NOT UNINTENTIONALLY FIRE ACCIDENTALLY; only negligently.

Note, I said under normal cricumstances above. Those who dislike Glocks often refer to something called "the frisbee test". In 1992 the DEA conducted a series of acceptance trials for new issue pistols, and the Glock failed a portion of the test colloquially reffered to as the frisbee test.

The test consisted of throwing the weapon from chest height, like a frisbee, a minimum of fifteen feet onto concrete. The test was repeated six times without an unloaded magazine and passed. Then a loaded magazine was inserted, and on the third through sixth time the gun failed.

All first generation Glocks, and some second generation glocks (manufactured before april 0f 1991) have frame rails that are slightly too short. In the event of a violent impact (like being thrown 15 feet onto concrete) it is possible for the slide to separate from the frame, and make a light strike on the primer of a chambered round.

If that round has a soft primer, it is possible that the cartridge will ignite.

Generation 2.5 and later frame rails have been lengthened to ensure this doesnt happen under any normal circumstances. In fact, the guns have been tested by dropping them from flying aircraft onto concrete at over 100 miles per hour, and they still didnt fail.

Also the firing pin, firing pin safety plunger, safety bearing and spring, trigger bar, and extractor were all redesigned to ensure it is impossible to accidentally discharge a round when the slide separates from the frame.

In 1992 Glock announced a "voluntary upgrade" (really a recall, but they wouldn't call it that) for safety and reliability, to replace those six parts. The older generations slide can still separate from the frame in a violent impact; however if it does, a chambered round will NOT be ignited.

Now as to positive acting external mechanical safties, first a definition: When I say that, what I mean is a safety device that must be actively disengaged by the shooter before pulling the trigger will cause the gun to fire. This does not include passive safeties such as grip safeties and trigger safeties.

For example, the 1911 has a thumb activated safety that allows the trigger to be pulled, but stops the hammer from moving.

One of the most basic principles of firearm safety however, is that safety systems do not make a gun safe. You can't trust a safety to work; so you act as if there wasn't one and follow the four rules:
1. Always assume all guns are loaded at all times
2. Never point a gun at something you do not wish to destroy
3. Never put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to fire
4. Always be sure of your target, and what is behind it
If you are following the four rules, there is no need for an external safety on ANY DA or DA like pistol (including Glocks), unless one wishes to carry the weapon with the hammer cocked (in which case a safety is needed for condition 1 carry).

DA revolvers have been around for over a century, and have never needed manual safeties; neither do Glocks. In fact, Glocks (and other half cock striker systems) are SAFER than many revolvers, because there is absolutely no way for them to release the striker with enough force to ignite a primer unless the trigger is pulled (or unless you dropped it from two stories up and it hit directly on the muzzle), whereas you can accidentally cock a revolvers hammer in the holster by snagging it on something (I've had it happen to me, and it's scary).

Basically, if you feel that pistols without a manual safety are unsafe, then you are trained improperly. Though you may personally prefer to have a safety, as I generally do, those pistols without it are not unsafe.

The only way a Glock would fire unintentionally that a manual safety would prevent, is if the shooter had a habit of resting his finger on the trigger; which as we have mentioned is a training issue, not a safety flaw in the gun.


It is so mechanically unlikely as to be nearly imposible that a Glock in proper functioning condition can be made to unintentionally discharge accidentally, only negligently.

I personally have no problem with either a DA revolver, or a Glock (or a Kahr, Springfield XD, SW9/40, Walther P99 etc... all of which use similar systems); having no external manualsafety.

Ok, now that I'm done beating you over the head with all that, how about the Kaboom! thing?

The vast majority of the Kaboom! stories are not the fault of the gun, or the design.

First, a Kaboom is just a fun word for a catastropic case head separation. This happens when cases are weakened near the head (the base of the cartridge), and/or cartridges are overcharged; or more seriously when a pistol fires jsut slightly out of battery; and the case head separates and blows back out into the pistol when ignited. This frequently destroys the frame of the pistol, and often the magazine and grip panels; and may seriously injure the hand, and possibly the face and upper body of the shooter.
Note: This doesn't cover the polygonal rifling issue with soft cast lead bullets. Several designs use polygonal rifling, and all of their manufacturers specifcally recommend against using lead bullets because of excessive pressure buildup as the barrel leads up. This isn't a design issue; and the problem can be aleviated by shooting very hard cast lead, or only using jacketed bullets.
Let me tell you what the two most frequently kabooming guns are across the last 50 or so years. Number one isn't the Glock, it's actually the 1911. Glock is only number two.

Of course we're USED to 1911s; we know what makes them go kaboom, so we generally don't do it anymore.

See non-match grade 1911's have a loose chamber with an unsupported section cut out in the bottom of the rear of the chamber to act as a feed ramp, and in general aid in reliability.

This system works great with the basic .45ACP, which is a relatively low pressure round. Unfortunately, as you increase the pressure, that unsupported and loose chamber stresses the brass much more than a tighter supported chamber would.

From the 50's all through the 80s, folks would regularly blow up their 1911s by overloading their handloads; but you never really saw it happen with factory ammo; because even an overcharge generally wasnt enough to blow the gun up with the factory powders. Also, so long as they were using a steel framed 1911 and steel magazines, there generally weren't catastrophic frame failures injuring peoples hands.

When the .38 super became a popular competitive chambering in the 70's there were a whole series of new case head rupture incidents; because the super is a very high pressure round, and .38 super brass and barrels from that time period were generally not as tough, or as tightly specced as they are today.

There were so many of these incidents among competitors in fact, that a name devleoped for the small pits and scars that would result from the small metal fragments and burning powder being blown back onto the shooter; "super face". It was common to see shooters with a .38 super suddenly show up with a new beard to cover up the remnants of the incident.

This happened to other guns as well of course; but not as frequently as the 1911, as there were not only more 1911's out there, but nearly everyone who reloads shoots the 1911.

By the time the 80s came around, reloaders had really figured out just how far they could push with standard barrels; and what they could do with fully supported, tight chambered match barrels that have an integrated feedramp (like the one I use in my custom commander length 1911). Hell, they even went and made things like the .45 super; which bumps .45 pressure up from 20-25,000 psi into the 30,000 psi range; and .460 rowland which bumps it into the 40,000psi range

Importantly though, the .45 super (and .460 rowland) has much thicker brass in the case head area. Original .45 super brass was actually manufactured by turning and trimming down .308 rifle cases. If you tried to load to those pressure levels with standard brass... well you'd get a kaboom; especially with a loose, unsupported chamber.

Enter Gaston Glock.

The primary design parameter for Glock pistols is reliability. Tighter chambers are less reliable when a weapon is dirty, or springs are worn out, or ammo is slightly out of spec. Glock decided on a looser chamber for reliability reasons.

A barrel with a wide flared ramp at the base of the chamber will feed more reliably; so Glock decided to do that.

That means that most Glock pistols (the .357SIG being the exception, because it's a bottlenecked cartridge) have a loose, unsupported chamber; just like with a 1911 (which by the way does it for the same reason).

Again, this wasn't a problem for the most part; until the .40 S&W came out in 1990.

The .40 is a great defensive pistol cartridge; a good compromise between the 9mm and .45acp. It's been rapidly adopted by police agencies and private shooters across the country; and is now the third most popular auto pistol chambering in America behind the .45acp and the 9mm.

What's particularly significant, is that probably more than half of all the .40 pistols out there are Glocks, because the Glock was the first company to chamber a pistol in it (beating even the designer S&w). Also Glock is the most commonly issued police weapon, and the .40 is now the most common police caliber; and many defensive shooters emulate those police practices.

The .40 was developed as a cut down verion of the near magnum level 10mm cartridge. Unfortunately they also used slightly thinner brass; because the cartridge is loaded to a much lower pressure than the 10mm, at about 40,000psi (37,800 for standard ammo).

Of course that's still a very high pressure cartridge; just below magnum level pressure actually.

Worse, the .40 is very wide relative to it's length, and there is very little room between the powder and the base of the bullet. Given the powders generally used for pistol reloading, reducing the expansion space by seating a bullet too deeply; or through bullet setback (where bullets get pushed into the case through handling or repeated chambering) can quite literally DOUBLE the maximum pressure reached when the cartridge is ignited. This doubling of pressure is enough to blow up almost ANY gun, supported chamber or no.

A similar problem can occur if the bullet is crimped too tightly into the case; which is the primary means of reducing bullet setback, so it's a no-win situation. The best bet is to load bullets with a cannelure (a ridged groove around the bullet), and use a very mild crimp over the cannelure. This will avoid excessive setback without greatly increasing pressures. Unfortunately, most pistol bullets don't have a cannelure, because unlike revolvers, pistols headspace on the case mouth.

So, what happens when you take a thin case, loaded to a high pressure, and ignite it in a relatively loose, unsupported chamber?

No, it doesn't necessarily go Kaboom; but it DOES stretch the case web almost twice as much as in a tight fully supported chamber; and almost four times as much as when it is downloaded to pressure levels in the 30,000 psi range.

If you reload this brass, you are putting even more stress on it; then you fire it again...

and again...

Yes, it's going to eventually go kaboom! in a bad way.

Again, this is not unique to Glocks; many pistol designs have relatively loose, unsupported chambers. It's just that there are SO many more .40 Glocks out there that it appears to be a Glock problem.

Also this isn't limited strictly to the .40s&w chambering, but the .40 has the strongest combination of factors that contribute to this issue. The problem has been reported in .380, 9mm, .40, .357sig, 10mm, and .45acp - basically the full range; but there are more reports of it happening in .4o than in all other chamberings put together; and I know of no reports in any caliber other than .40 that involve factory ammunition, unless it was absolutely proven to be an overcharge or other overpressure situation.

Now it is possible to Kaboom! with factory ammo; and there are maybe a dozen reported cases of it happening that I know of, all attributed to a factory overcharge, or severe bullet setback. Relative to the millions of Glocks out there, it's statistically insignificant.

It can also happen with other chamberings, but most of them don't have that combination of high pressure, thin case wall, and the loose unsupported chamber issue; so it happens more frequently with the .40.

What it comes down to, is if you shoot a Glock or any other gun with a loose, unsupported chamber in .40; don't reload your brass, or shoot reloads. If you want to do so, get yourself a Bar-Sto match marrel with a tight, supported chamber and you won't have to worry about it.

Let's review:

1. Follow the four rules
2. Glocks wont keep stupid people from negligently discharging
3. Glock WILL fire when the trigger is pulled (even if you didnt want them to)
4. Glocks will NOT fire when the trigger ISN'T pulled
5. Glocks won't just blow up for no reason; but if you give them a good enough reason, they will; so don't give them that reason

Are we clear?

Oh and one more thing; why is it that people have it in for Glock so much?

Three reasons:

1. They are ugly pices of plastic
2. They are foreign made
3. Gaston Glock is an arrogant ass who has declared his designs the absolute pinnacle of perfection without flaws. In fact the Glock slogan is "Perfection"

When you declare yourself perfect, that tends to get people to want to prove you aren't; and really just irritates people in general. What's worse is, GLocks are in general so well made and well designed that you really have to go to the extremes to find an objective problem (vs. asthetics of ergonomics which are subjectieve - witness the frisbee test) that it pisses people off even more.

No Glocks aren't perfect; no mechanical device is. They are ugly, and kinda bulky, the grip feels funny, and the triggers arent all that great; but they are absolutely reliable, as safe as any other gun, and safer than most.