How can you do a 10 minute video about double action carry pistols and not mention Kahr Arms? Does Chris hate Kahr for some reason? Does he have brain damage? These are among the many questions we received after our last video. The answers depend on how you interpret the term “double action.”
Details are in the video below, or keep scrolling to read the full transcript.
Hey everybody, Chris Baker here from LuckyGunner.com. I wanted to post a quick follow-up to the video we published a few days ago called “The Frustrating Search for a Double Action Carry Pistol.” In that video, I attempted to respond to all of the many viewers who have asked for recommendations for a slim, double action/single action or double action only carry pistol, preferably in 9mm. A lot of you guys basically want a double action version of something like a single stack Smith & Wesson Shield or a “one and a half stack” Sig P365.
I had to relate the sad news that nobody is currently making a viable option that really fits those criteria. The closest attempt is the Springfield XD-E, but it’s quite a bit larger than most other modern slim-format carry pistols.
Within just a couple of hours of posting that video, I was swimming in a sea of irritated comments from viewers wondering why I completely excluded Kahr Arms from this conversation. Their entire catalog is exclusively made up of slim, lightweight, double action carry pistols, but I did not mention them at all in that previous video.
I am familiar with Kahr’s pistols. I’ve owned a couple of them personally — a CW9 and an MK9. And we have a couple here in our company’s collection, including this CW380. The reason I didn’t include Kahrs in my discussion about double action carry pistols is because I don’t really think of them as being truly double action.
The correct terminology is up for debate here, and I’ll talk about that more in a minute. To me, “double action” usually implies a hammer-fired double action. All of Kahr’s pistols are striker-fired.
In that last video, I briefly mentioned three major safety benefits of double action pistols. First, their triggers are heavier than most striker-fired pistols. Second, the trigger’s length of travel is longer. And the third, and most important feature for me, is that you can pin the hammer with your thumb to effectively disable the gun when you’re holstering or performing any other administrative task.
Personally, I don’t consider those first two benefits to be absolutely essential, if the trigger pull is reasonable and there is some way to momentarily disable the gun like pinning the hammer, or a manual thumb safety, or the Striker Control Device for Glocks. If the gun doesn’t have a feature like that, another alternative would be an extra long or heavy trigger like a double action only revolver with a shrouded hammer spur.
Of those safety features, the only one Kahr pistols kind of have is that the trigger’s length of travel is longer than average for a striker-fired pistol. It’s about halfway between a Glock trigger and a double action Beretta trigger. There’s no hammer, or manual safety, or even an external striker indicator. The trigger weight is about six pounds, which is on par with most other striker-fired pistols and lighter than the typical hammer-fired double action.
The Kahr trigger press has a smooth feel with a rolling break, which is something I like about them. When you’re actually shooting the gun, they feel familiar for those of us who are used to shooting hammer-fired double actions. But in terms of safety features, a Kahr has a lot more in common with a Glock or an M&P or most of the other modern striker-fired designs than it does with a typical hammer-fired double action.
I’m not trying to convince anyone that Kahr pistols are bad or inherently unsafe. We all have different standards for what we consider to be safe enough for carry. The Kahr’s longer trigger pull might provide a slightly wider margin of safety than other striker-fired pistols. If that’s what you’re comfortable with, then a Kahr might be a good option for you. But if someone tells me they’re looking for a double action pistol, I’ve found that it’s usually safe to assume that they are talking about a hammer-fired double action.
Now, at this point, I’m sure some of you are thoroughly confused as to what the term “double action” even means. That’s not your fault. It is confusing.
It used to be that nearly all semi-automatic pistols had hammers. Distinguishing the different action types was fairly straightforward. There were single action pistols like the Colt 1911 that only fire if the hammer is cocked. Pressing the trigger performs the single action of releasing the hammer. When the slide cycles, it cocks the hammer, so every shot is single action.
Then there were double action/single action pistols, also known as traditional double action. For the first shot, the hammer starts in the lowered position. The long and heavy trigger press performs the two actions of cocking and releasing the hammer. When the slide retracts, it cocks the hammer for the next shot, which means every shot after the first is single action.
Less common were double action only pistols. Those also start with the hammer down, but the slide does not cock the hammer, so every shot is double action.
For the most part, semi-autos in the 20th century fit into one of those three neat categories. Then along came the Glock 17. It was not the first striker-fired pistol, but it was the first one to have massive commercial success. Glocks do not have a hammer, so there’s no obvious way to determine if it’s single action or double action. Glock calls it a “safe action” which works well as a marketing term, but it doesn’t really mean anything.
A striker is essentially a firing pin. In a hammer-fired pistol, the hammer hits the firing pin, which then ignites the primer. Striker-fired pistols have a spring that acts directly on the firing pin itself, cocking and then releasing it. In some designs, like the Springfield XD series, the striker starts out almost full cocked, so when you press the trigger, you’re basically just releasing the striker. It’s very similar to a single action hammer-fired pistol.
In other designs, the striker starts out with barely any tension on it. As you press the trigger, the striker is cocked and then released — very similar to a hammer-fired double action only.
The striker in Glocks and and Kahrs and several other pistol designs, start out somewhere in between. The striker is at least partially cocked by the movement of the slide, but not completely. So what do we call those? Nobody can really decide. Sometimes the manufacturer will just make something up like “safe action” and hope we go along with it.
To further complicate matters, most striker-fired pistols have internal firing pin blocks and other safety mechanisms that impact the feel of the trigger press. So even if a gun company says their striker-fired pistol is single action or double action, that doesn’t mean the trigger will even remotely resemble what you’d expect if it was a hammer-fired pistol.
So in general, I try not to use the terms “double action” or “single action” when I’m talking about striker-fired pistols because they raise more questions than they answer. In my discussions about DA pistols, I usually make an effort to specify that I mean “hammer fired” double actions, but that gets really tedious to say every time so I don’t always do that.
If there is a striker-fired design that could be considered double action based on feel alone, it’s probably Kahr Arms. And Kahr’s marketing materials do refer to their pistols as double action only. So I understand why some people might expect them to be included in a discussion about double actions.
From my perspective, I kind of feel like I’m trying to talk about pickup trucks and people are upset that I didn’t mention the Chevy El Camino. It has four wheels and a cargo bed, but it’s missing all the other features we expect a pickup to have, so it wouldn’t even occur to me to include it.
I hope that clears things up a little. I’ll try to use more specific terminology in the future to avoid confusion. In the meantime, I got me a Kahr, it’s as big as a whale, and we’re headin’ on down to… buy some ammo with lightning fast shipping from LuckyGunner.com.