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What Happened to DA/SA?

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After our piece titled, "What Happened to Compact Pistols?" A number of readers and viewers of the video brought up Double Action/ Single Action (DA/SA) pistols as another thing we don't see or hear about much anymore. I too am curious to explore this, so once again, let's start a discussion. I'll spell out what I know and my own theories, and I'd love to hear yours in the comment section below. Personally I've carried and trained with both DA/SA and SAO pistols and have experienced the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Pistols like the Walther PPK/S and Bersa TPR9C offer decockers and a safety, but the pistol decocks in order to put the safety on. (show decocked, safety off)

What is DA/SA? DA/SA pistols, ideally with a decocker, allow the pistol to be fired from one of two modes. Typically the first shot (with decocker) is a long and heavy double-action pull with all subsequent shots being single actions with a lighter, shorter pull.


Terms:

Double Action (DA): Pulling the trigger pulls a resting hammer or striker fully to the rear AND releases it. This pull is heavier and longer because the trigger pull must fight the mainspring or striker's spring before the hammer or striker is armed.


The IWI Jericho II and SAR USA B6C are examples I would term "SA/DA"

Single Action (SA): Pulling the trigger simply releases the hammer or striker to fire the pistol. As a result these pulls tend to be lightweight and short. There are some pistols like the IWI Jericho II and SAR B6C which are meant to be fired from single action, but can fire from double action despite not having a decocker, I consider these pistols "SA/DA" rather than "DA/SA".

Double Action Only (DAO): A pistol that can only be operated in double action. This was common with some revolvers and still exists today in some modern pistols. The SCCY CPX series of pistols are DAO; a reason why those not expecting DAO complain about the CPX trigger.


This Tisas Bantam 1911 and Uberti 1873 SAA clone are effectively inert with hammers down.

Single Action Only (SAO): The pistol can only be fired in single action. The 1911 is a classic example of this, once the hammer is down the slide must be racked or hammer manually cocked to arm. This was common among revolvers of the old west such as the 1873 Single Action Army.




Both the Walther P99 AS and Canik TP9 DA are striker-fired guns offering DA/SA and a decocker.

**NOTE: These terms can and do apply to striker-fired guns as well. There are SA, SAO, DA, and DAO striker-fired guns on the market. The striker is simply precocked, partially precocked, or resting decocked. Walther and Canik's famous triggers are so crisp because the strikers are mostly armed as a default state, pulling the trigger completes the arming and releases them, but the final arming is so short and light that it feels like a crisp SAO hammer-fired gun.

Striker-fired pistols with the "spongy" or "mushy" feel often have the striker less-armed or completely "uncocked" as a default state. While pulling the trigger the mushy feeling is the feeling of arming the striker before the "wall", and the "break" is the striker releasing.



What is DA/SA good for? These two trigger modes offer a number of benefits or advantages over a single-action only (SAO) or typicaly striker-fired gun:

  • Models with a decocker can be carried without a mechanical safety when carried in double-action mode. This is because the trigger pull weight is generally considered to be too heavy for an accidental bump of the trigger to fire the gun. Carrying without a mechanical safety is prefered by those who are concerned that under the duress of a gun fight they may miss or forget to deactivate the safety. In this way it is effectively the best of both worlds: safe enough for carry, but no mechanical safety to worry about.

  • Should a round fail to fire all the shooter needs to do is pull the trigger again. It will be a double-action pull. In my years of shooting most rounds that do not fire the first time will fire on the second strike. This conserves ammunition and is especially valuable in pistols with limited capacity when every shot must count. With a SAO pistol the slide must be racked to rearm the pistol, generally this means tossing the unfired round to the ground if done in a hurry.

  • The heavier, longer pull of the frst shot permits some opportunity to change one's mind and not shoot mid pull. In a defensive shooting scenario this could potentially save lives in a dynamic environment (moving crowd) or when startled awake in the middle of the night in a home defense scenario (oh, the noise heard and shadow I saw was just the pet or kid).

Why isn't every gun DA/SA? Looking at just the positives can make it seem like all pistols should have such an ability, but there are also some negative realities to be considered.

  • DA/SA means two triggers to master. This is not as dramatic as trying to learn two completely different guns, but it can be close. Learning to shoot both trigger modes well requires more time, skill, and effort. Additionally one must learn to transition from the DA to the SA after the first shot; when adrenaline is pumping that may be tough to do. The counter-argument is that with adrenaline pumping the DA pull won't slow you down.

The two trigger reaches of a DA/SA with the left and SA on the right. Bersa TP9C as an example.
  • DA/SA pistols typically have two different point from which the trigger must be pulled. As a result the reach to the trigger in DA can be too long for some hands, and reach for the SA pull too short for others. The shooter must learn the press the trigger with control often with two different purchases on the trigger.

  • DA/SA guns require more parts, more machining, and are more complicated to build. As a result they tend to cost more. Some manufacturers have been clever and price their SAO pistols just a bit beneath, or at the old DA/SA price, then step up the price for a DA/SA gun. Either way, they generally cost more to the consumer.

  • All the mecahnisms for DA/SA and the decocker have to go somewhere. This tends to result in either an effectively shorter slide, or one that doesn't have as much free space in or on it for mounting a red dot. This can also result in a shorter sight radius for those using iron sights.

  • Marketing: Because it's tougher to master a DA/SA gun it's also tougher to make it look good in today's age of media. YouTubers who need both themselves and the gun's performance to look good either need more skill or more time to produce a video about a DA/SA pistol. Even if there were just as many new DA/SA guns coming out as there are SAO guns, I bet we'd see fewer "reviews".

The slim single stack Springfield Armory XD-E by HS Produkt was DA/SA with a decocker, but its discontinuation suggest it was a poor seller.
  • Size: More components tends to mean a bigger gun. HS Produkt managed to make a slim single-stack imported to the US as the Springfield Armory XD-E, but otherwise the market hasn't seen many slim DA/SA guns. With the growing popularity of concealed carry, folks understandably aren't jumping on duty-sized guns designed for an OWB holster. Springfield Armory's discontinuation of the XD-E is likely an indicator that it didn't sell well despite being practically the only gun of its kind in that segment.

Examples:

If you're curious about trying a DA/SA gun, or already know you want one here are some examples we've reviewed and enjoyed along with links to those reviews. Listed alphabetically by manufacturer. Pricing as of 13MAR23.



Arex Zero 2S: An incredible pistol that is an absolute dream to shoot. Think of this of an evolution of the Zastava EZ9, EZ999 and CZ99 which were evolutions of the Sig P226. Now up the craftsmanship a few notches and you've got a great pistol. A bit broad for carrying inside the waistband, but an otherwise seriously-well-made, serious duty pistol. Among the many refinemnts of the Zero 2 over the older Zero 1 was an enhancement to ergonomics making the pistol more comfortable for both larger and smaller-handed shooters.


Bersa TPR9C (and TPR9): A favorite of mine, These guns are built like a tank and offer excellent triggers right out of the box at an affordable price. I've carried the TPR9C pictured and the full-size TPR9 is one of our home defense guns. The safety lever decocks and then must be lowered again to run the gun with a DA first shot and no safety. These are a bit of a broad gun and so not ideal for those with smaller hands or shorter fingers.



Canik TP9 DA: Although once criticized as a knock off of the Walther P99 AS, this was the pistol that started the Canik craze and at least it's still in production! All the of the attirbutes of the Walther P99 AS, although not as refined, in an affordable package. The decocker button is shaped differently, and a bit smaller. Some find that to be a good thing, others not. It's worth noting that the TP9 DA has a more full-size grip.



Grand Power P11: Really this applies to all Grand Power hammer-fired pistols, but the P11 subcompact is pictured for a change of pace. Note the different safety lever in this picture. It's only the models with this serrated lever that feature a decocker and unfortunately we've not seen these imported for some time. The other models are safety-only meant to be fired from Single Action, but do have a Double-action backup if needed. For a deeper dive see our Grand Power Guide. If you'd like to see these return to the US let importer Global Ordnance know (sales@globalordnance.com).



Lionheart Industries Regulus (Alpha model shown): This is an interesting evolution of the Daewoo pistol. Now made entirely in the US, and greatly updated, this DA/SA pistol offers a safety which can be engaged in DA or SA, and instead of a decocker offers the unique, "Double Action Plus" which is activated by manual pushing the hammer forward. The trigger goes back to a DA length of pull, but pull weight remains at SA. The result is a longer pull with a slight pause, but a pull that can be accomplished quickly.



Taurus TH9C: One of the more affordable options but feature rich. The TH9C is also one of very few polymer-framed DA/SA hammer-fired guns. A decent trigger thanks to a lighter-weight spring may also have been the culprit of some failures we've had with this gun. The hammer didn't seem to hit hard enough on some low-grade ammunition. Find ammo it likes however and you're good to go.



Walther PPK/S: The James Bond classic! Regarded as the first modern pistol designed for concealed carry, this diminutive single-stack .380 isn't the most pleasant to shoot, but still holds a special place in the hearts of millions. The design inspired the Bersa Thunder which in turn was recently copied by Rock Island Armory!


Walther P99 AS: Another all-time favorite of mine. I carried this gun for a couple of years and have trained with it at courses. This is where the spectacular trigger of Walthers (and Caniks) got its start. Technically, the P99 AS has three trigger modes, and it's one of the only DA/SA striker-fired guns we've encountered. Though the P99 has been around since 1997 international demand has not let Walther discontinue the line until just recently. At SHOT 2023 Walther announced a "final edition" will be coming to market. I believe this was also the first pistol to introduce interchangable back straps.



So Why Don'y We See More DA/SA guns? I think the reasons listed above might explain a lot. Even some of the advantages of a DA/SA gun are less relevant today than they were a decade ago. Second strike capabilites for example are less important now that ammunition is generally of better quality. High or hard primers are a less common encounter. We've had second-strike NOT set off the round, for example with pre-banruptcy Remington white box, or when the trigger has been tuned for a lighter DA pull, the spring also has less force and so the hammer doesn't hit as hard.

Perhaps the biggest hurtle for DA/SA guns is a generational one. In the age of Amazon and other near-instant gratification, shooters have less patience to learn something and understandably SAO pistols can be more appealing to new shooters intimidated by the process. Handguns also exist in a very competitive market, so a company making a less-expensive SAO striker-fired pistol gives them room to lower the price floor and edge out the competition with a lower price. I know these aren't the most honorable reasons for the decline of DA/SA, but they don't have to be honorable to be valid.

What are your thoughts? What's been your experience with DA/SA guns? Let us know below.

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Billy Ray
Billy Ray
Jan 10

While I own both striker fired and hammer fired pistols, I prefer to carry my hammer fired DA/SA pistols. I believe they are safer against accidental discharge. Even if science proves me wrong, I still feel they are mentally and that is what matters. I have a Beretta 85 FS & 92FS but I prefer to carry the 85 for size and comfort. I also sometimes carry my Sig P232 but it is a little heavier. Lastly, I have a couple of pocket pistols that I carry routinely when traveling- Ruger LCP, Colt Mustang & Pony. I've never carried any of my revolvers concealed. Have a great 2024.

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I can't believe you left out Beretta and CZ, the two top companies for DA/SA handguns!


I like DA/SA with a decocker, because I can carry safely without having to engage a thumb safety.


One additional safety feature of a DA/SA gun carried in DA mode: The hammer (or striker) is in the forward position. No possibility of it slipping and the spring carrying it forward and against the bullet, firing the bullet, because it already is forward. In DA mode, you have to pull the hammer (or striker) back against the spring before the gun has any possibility of firing. And if the gun has an external hammer (or a striker position indicator), you can put your thumb aga…


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I like all guns😁. That being said, I do think it's the simplicity of striker fired guns that have caused them to dominate the market. Ease of use, as you mentioned, in today's microwave society is going to take the win with the majority of people. Only those more dedicated to the sport will take the time to learn and appreciate a da/sa trigger.

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Graham Baates
Graham Baates
Mar 15, 2023
Replying to

I think you've made a great point: it also takes a mroe experience or better-trained shooter to appreciate the advantages of DA/SA.

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I'm a fan of hammer-fired pistols. No issues with the trigger in either condition. That said, I'm also a fan of striker-fired pistols. I have many variations of both types...too many according to my wife!

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