It isn't that my handguns don't have a "sporting purpose" (as if that matters, Mr./Ms. Legislator), but their primary use is defensive. Other aspects such as collecting, plinking, etc., are just a pleasant side benefit. I tend to think primarily in defensive terms...
I've been a single action auto fan since I got serious about handguns. I shot and carried revolvers because they were required by my employers, starting with the USAF who issued me an S&W Model 15. I enjoy and respect revolvers but as soon as I had the choice I picked up a .45 Government Model (GM) and never looked back. As a private citizen these last couple of decades I've kept and used single action (SA) autos almost exclusively. I'm ready to admit a change in philosophy, but first a little more background.
After several years with the GM I also got into High Powers (P35). I believe that the P35 is in many ways an improvement over the GM, but in other ways also step backwards--I think that is a result of two different men working independently on the P35 design, but we'll leave that as fodder for another story (see the 1911 vs. Hi-Power article on this site). Up until the mid-1990s I had shot a majority of the modern handguns out there but still preferred SA autos. I'd owned some different style guns but they didn't influence me too much. For years I was a Jeff Cooper follower. I approached traditional double action (TDA) autos with distaste and just knew they were inferior.
The turning point...
I think the turning point for me was in the early to mid-90s when I owned an S&W M39-2 and determined that if I really wanted to be a all around handgunner I needed to learn to shoot a TDA well. I never got good with the Smith but I learned that maybe it wasn't as hard as I thought it was. I still thought the SA to DA transition was problematic, and so at that point I took a wrong turn and adopted a double-action only (DAO) S&W M4053. That was not successful for me. I was shooting in combat matches and this pistol simply lacked versatility. It was pretty good at close range but lost it at middle and longer ranges. I backed off the whole DA thing and again shot my High Powers and 1911s exclusively for a while.
A few years ago I got into SIGs starting with the P220. It wasn't too hard to embrace the P220 since it was a .45--any .45 is a good gun, right? Well, no, but a SIG .45 most definitely is. Although I'd been very comfortable with a cocked and locked pistol and had no concerns about the safety of Condition One (C1) carry, the concept of "pull and go" is really appealing. I am not alone in that because pull and go pistols are the standard these days--whether TDA, DAO, or the Glock. There is something comforting about a pistol carried hammer down on a loaded chamber, preferably with a firing pin block or other internal safety that positively prevents firing until the trigger is pulled fully rearward, yet one that can simply be drawn, aimed, and fired. It is not the speed of "P&G" that appeals so much because a trained SA auto shooter can off the safety without losing any speed in the draw stroke. I think competition shooters have proven that. Conversely unless the TDA fits the shooter's hands and he is trained with it, the first shot DA may be difficult to make--although please note it is not for the reasons SA auto fans state--the supposedly difficult transition from DA to SA pull. No it isn't speed of a P&G style gun that appeals, it is the simplicity of not having to do anything but pull the trigger. If you don't believe that is the number one reason TDAs, DAOs, and Glocks are so popular, I'd sure love to hear what you think the reason might be!
Speed of use between various pistols is similar except for the most skilled handgunners, those who can really exploit the speed of a single action auto in firing multiple rounds. And even there the Glock and pistols with similar short reset triggers are as fast. In the middle are the TDAs, and at the bottom of the heap are DAOs, due to the long stroke for every shot. By the way, I don't believe the long stroke DAO is remotely as good as a double action revolver, much less the other types of semi-autos.
At this point I might explain that while I have examined and fired Glocks a great deal, I recognize that Glocks are not for me. This takes nothing away from Glocks. They are no doubt very reliable and that is the primary requisite of any defensive handgun. At the same time the individual must know himself well enough to know what works best for him, and what he prefers. Without going into too much detail, I'm not comfortable with the Glock trigger. It has been compared to a military two stage trigger but that analogy isn't accurate in my opinion as the Glocks feels very soft and springy--plastic-like if that makes any sense. Nothing inherently wrong with that but I don't like it. I also don't like a trigger that is as easily pulled as a Glock's without some manually operated safety. (The NY and NY+ triggers are a viable option for those who like Glocks.) I realize the Glock is quite drop-proof but ultimately it doesn't engender any feeling of security in me. It is much like the feeling some people get with a cocked and locked SA automatic--they just can't achieve a reasonable comfort level with them. Such it is with me and the Glock.
I am, however, very comfortable with carrying a DA trigger. I like the fact that at least around ten pounds of pressure is required to pull the trigger and fire the gun. The TDA auto, much like a DA revolver, is safe because of the trigger system, and does not need any additional manually applied safety device. Some people feel like the more safety systems between themselves and discharging the gun the better. Frankly that is nitwittery. A gun is a dangerous device and needs to be so or it is pointless. If you interfere with the individual's ability to use it quickly and easily you make it a less effective tool. Idiots will find a way to be negligent no matter the barriers you put in front of them. Trained, responsible people do not need a plethora of safeties or locks to somehow make them safe. People are safe or they aren't. Guns are never safe unless people handle them responsibly...
...getting back to the mechanical aspects of the TDA auto, and how I got to SIGs. There are very few that have a TDA trigger but do not have a manual safety. Additionally, most of the other TDAs besides the SIG, even the few models with decockers only and no manual safety, have nevertheless placed the decocker on the slide. This is a poor location for a number of reasons. It is not a convenient location to use with one's hand in the firing position. It gets in the way of standard malfunction maneuvers. It generally makes the slide fatter than it needs to be. The SIG on the other hand has a decocker placed on the frame just behind the magazine release, which is located just behind the trigger guard. If the particular SIG fits your hands, the decocker will be convenient and easy to use. There are a couple other pistols with frame mounted decockers but they combine the decocker with a safety. I'm referring to the Taurus and H&K USP pistols. The safety on these guns is a type that allows them to be used as a SA autos, carried cocked and locked. I don't have a problem with that if one wants an SA auto and likes everything about the Taurus or the USP, but to me it seems to be too complicated. I think one should choose either an SA or a TDA or something else, and live with the decision rather than trying to have a one gun that does everything. The old saw about being a jack of all trades yet master of none is very true.
The bottom line with double actions...
This brings me to the final complaint about the TDA auto, and one that I had to get around before I could fully embrace the SIG pistols. How does one deal with the DA to SA transition? Actually it really couldn't be simpler. It is true that if you shoot with traditional finger placement you will want to have the first or distal joint of your trigger finger on the trigger face when shooting DA, but will use the pad of your finger when shooting SA. Switching from one finger placement to the other is simply not workable. You can do it, but it will not contribute anything good to your shooting. The alternatives are two. Either shoot with your pad of your finger on the trigger all the time or shoot with the distal joint on the trigger all the time. Both are workable. One is preferable. If you use the pad you gain fine control in single action mode, but the trigger will feel impossibly heavy in DA mode. The only time I recommend the pad for all your shooting is if you cannot reach the trigger with your distal joint. To that I will add that if you cannot reach the trigger with your distal joint, the gun is not optimally sized for your hands. More on that in a moment. If you can reach the trigger with your distal joint you can use it in both the DA and SA trigger mode. The SA trigger will feel even lighter with this finger placement so you must practice with it before you go out on the mean streets with a TDA pistol strapped on. While the first pull of the trigger will feel normal, the subsequent SA pulls will feel lighter than you're used too. Fortunately this is not a problem in most circumstances because the DA trigger will always be between you and the decision to shoot. Once you've decided to shoot the light SA pull is all to the good.
I will add the SIG is particularly well-suited to the DA to SA transition because of the smooth triggers for which SIGs are known. What else do I like about the SIG in particular? The Stavenhagen sights are excellent. When I was younger I liked black sights, and I still prefer them for target shooting, but as we age our eyesight diminishes and often requires assistance. The "bar dot" of the SIG, which features a bar or white box below the rear sight notch and a white dot on the front sight, is very fast to pick up and see. It is arguably less accurate than the common American three dot sight arrangement, but for me, it is as accurate and as quick. We all see and shoot a little differently so sights must be an individual decision. With a SIG you can get the original Stavenhagen sights, three white dots, or night sights. Additionally the sights are dovetailed front and rear and can be changed for different POA/POI requirements.
Finally, SIGs are available in different sizes that cover the gamut for defensive handgunning needs. In the largest size they have the P220 in .45 and the P226 in .40S&W, .357SIG, and 9mmP. The P220 is a single stack and the P226 a double stack, should one grip shape fit your hands better than another. I have both pistols but the P220 is a better fit for me. Even so, the P226 is well-shaped for a wide gripped pistol that holds a double column magazine. In the medium sizes they have the P229, which can be thought of as a compact P226; the P245, which is a downsized P220 in .45; and the P225, a compact P220 in 9mmP. (I should add that the P225 has more or less been discontinued for US importation. Edited to add: since this article was written the P245 has been discontinued for the P220 Compact.) In the subcompact size they have the P239, again in .40S&W, .357SIG, or 9mmP. I also have the P239 and I believe that as a single stack pistol, almost any hand size can comfortably shoot this smallest SIG. Between these four frame/grip sizes and four different calibers, SIG covers the entire self-defense pistol arena. There are smaller pistols and lighter pistols, and there are larger and heavier pistols, but the SIGs achieve an excellent balance. All SIGs are normally quite accurate, and they are incredibly reliable. They are safe to carry and safe to operate, with passive safety systems that protect all but the idiot, for whom there is no protection. They are reasonably simple yet very well-made, and are supported by a well-established importer and now manufacturer in the USA, SIGARMS (now SIG-Sauer). I should add that although they are not my cup of tea, for those who are interested in plastic-framed pistols, SIG offers the sigpro, and they also offer a traditional compact, the Walther PP-sized P232 in .380ACP. SIG also has a DAO trigger option available in their P220 series pistols, but for the life of me I can't see the attraction.
Are there drawbacks to the SIG line? Some people talk about the finishes which wear quickly. The latest SIGs, the P229, P239, and the newest P226, feature a blackened stainless slide, and SIG has also come out with some all stainless pistols. Still, I have carried plain old blued steel, anodized aluminum, or phosphated steel pistols in all kinds of weather on a daily basis, in and out of heated or cooled buildings, in rain and snow, and it is my belief that a little basic care will go a long way toward protecting the finish on one's pistol. If your gun is in and out of a holster all day the newer wonder finishes, or especially something like hard chrome, is superior to bluing or Parkerizing for preventing wear, but maintenance will prevent rust. There are those people whose body chemistry means almost instant rust when mixed with blued steel. Those folks know who they are and are well-advised to investigate finishes that are impervious to rust. For them, stainless steel, or the plastic pistols, especially Glocks, are a great choice. I don't have this problem and SIG finishes are satisfactory for me. Other than the complaint about finishes, the only other major complaint one hears is the fact that SIGs are expensive. True. While nothing is really inexpensive anymore, SIGs do tend to lead the pack in cost. I consider myself fortunate that I was able to go into debt sufficiently to be able to own a few of them! I do believe you get what you pay for in the firearm world, and I do think SIGs are worth the money.
So, after all those years with the Government Model .45 as well as the P35, I am ready to say that for my primary defensive use, the SIG Classic pistols are now my favorite, and my first choice. Believe me it wasn't easy to arrive at this point, but hopefully I've explained exactly why I feel the way I do.
copyright 2003 by the author, all rights reserved.
Also see Why I Like Glocks Best (May 09) by the same author, showing that tastes do change!