Single, and Double Action Pistols
by Dave Bartlett

We recently had a relatively new competitor who was using a Walther P99. After the load and make ready the competitor was about to holster without decocking the pistol's striker. When the Range Officer intervened and prevented the competitor from holstering, the shooter was surprised to learn that he had just missed being disqualified (rule The individual had completed his Black Badge course and competed in other matches during 2003, all the while holstering a cocked single action with no manual safety!

While many of our Black Badge instructors and Range Officers are experts with 1911 style pistols they have limited experience with anything other than 1911s. With the rapid growth in Production Division, Range Officers are encountering a wider variety of pistol types than ever before. Production shooters have found that some RO's don't know the rules and operating principles regarding Double Action/Single Action (DA/SA) pistols. Some officials have tried to do such things as prevent competitors from manually decocking CZ-75s and requiring the application of the safety on Smith & Wesson and Beretta DA pistols.

With the Walther and the Smith & Wesson P99s, when the gun is loaded the striker is fully cocked and the trigger is in single action mode. The pistol operates like a traditional double action/single action pistol, but with a major difference. There is no slide or frame mounted safety/decocking lever. There is a flush decocking panel mounted on the top left side of the slide which must be pressed to decock the striker. There is an indicator pin which sticks out of the back of the slide when the striker is cocked (this pin has a red insert at its end, but this insert sometimes falls out). For more information on the P99 you can visit

This incident highlights the need for Black Badge instructors and Range Officers to be familiar with the operation of a wide variety of handguns. Take the time to learn how non-1911 pistols work. If a competitor is using a pistol that you aren't familiar with, take the time to have the competitor explain the pistol's functioning and controls. You don't want to be the IPSC official who let an accident occur through ignorance...

A Review of how double action pistols operate.
Many double action/single action handguns (those with a double action first shot and the hammer cocked by the slide for subsequent single action shots) have a decocking lever on the left side of the frame or slide. On some models this decocker is also a safety. Pressing down on the decocking lever will safely lower the hammer. Once lowered, the next shot may be fired with a heavy double action trigger pull that first cocks then releases the hammer or striker. Internal safeties prevent accidental discharges during the decocking procedure, no matter how forcefully the decocking lever is pressed. Range Officers will sometimes have people press the decocking lever at the "hammer down" command. If the competitor does this have them pull the trigger so that the firing pin goes forward.

Some pistols (e.g. CZ-75) on the approved Production Division list do not have a decocking lever, but in that Division all DA/SA pistols must start with the hammer down/decocked, unless in a course of fire the pistol starts unloaded. Under the supervision of a Range Officer, the competitor will use the weak hand to safely lower the hammer with the pistol pointing down range during the "load and make ready" procedure. Exactly how does one safely lower the hammer onto the firing pin?

Place your weak hand thumb between the hammer and the frame. Place your strong hand thumb firmly on the spur of the cocked hammer. While keeping the hammer controlled with the strong side thumb, pull the trigger with the strong hand index finger to release the hammer and immediately remove the finger from the trigger. Use the strong hand thumb to gently lower the hammer against the weak hand thumb. While the strong hand thumb is controlling the hammer, carefully remove the other thumb from under the hammer and slowly lower the hammer completely. If the hammer slips, it strikes your weak hand thumb instead of the firing pin. An alternative method is to firmly hold the hammer between the weak hand thumb and index finger and gently lower the hammer after pulling the trigger. A discharge during this procedure will be considered as unsafe gun handling and the competitor will be disqualified. Whichever method you prefer, practice it regularly with an unloaded pistol.

There is no requirement for a pistol with a double action first shot and a manual safety to have the safety applied at the load and make ready. The length and weight of the trigger pull is enough to consider the gun safe, as with a double action revolver.

As a competitor you have the responsibility to know how to safely operate your pistol and how the IPSC rules apply to your gun. Range officials and instructors have the responsibility of knowing how the rules apply to every type of gun used in this sport.

Dave Bartlett

IPSC Ontario