Striker-fired handguns have exploded in popularity and acceptance since the early 1990s. Law enforcement, the military, and the shooting public have all found reasons to prefer them over hammer-fired handguns. This spike in popularity is understandable once the advantages of striker-fired pistols are explained.
The striker-fired handgun appeals to shooters because they offer more “bang for the buck”, quite literally, over other options. With fewer controls to learn, training can be more streamlined. Striker-fired handguns also abound in options to choose from, so picking the right gun is easier than ever.
Is a striker-fired handgun right for you, and possibly in your future? Keep reading to find out. I have shot double-action/single-action, single-action-only and striker-fired pistols extensively, so I am here to offer my opinion on the subject.
Advantage #1: Cost
The striker-fired pistol, generally speaking, will have a lower price tag than other options. While this is for a handful of reasons the end result can be a savings of hundreds of dollars on investment costs.
For newer shooters, this can make striker-fired options an excellent choice. For the cost of many hammer-fired pistols, potential gun owners can buy the striker-fired option, a holster, and a couple of practice sessions worth of ammo.
The first and biggest reason for the cost savings is that competition in the market places drives down costs. While I’m not accusing any company of being greedy, I think there are many who would love to have a price tag of $595 next to their flagship model of pistol.
However, this is very hard to do when a major competitor is willing to sell a pistol with similar quality and features for $450. In the modern firearms market, almost every major pistol manufacturer makes a striker-fired option. The competition is not only for the civilian market but also for government and private security as well. Capitalism wins again.
The second big reason that striker-fired handguns tend to offer cost savings over other options is that they tend to use cheaper manufacturing techniques. In what can accurately be described as tradition, most hammer-fired pistols have a metal frame and most striker-fired pistols use a polymer frame with metal inserts.
Machining a frame out of a piece of steel or aluminum will never be as cheap or efficient as molding a frame out of polymer. In addition to this, most striker-fired handguns require no hand fitting to be assembled. As parts leave the production line, they are fully ready to be assembled into complete pistols.
As anyone who has worked on a 1911-style pistol can attest, spare parts for these guns are generally ready to drop in, but a handful will require some minor fitting. The slides and frames are not considered interchangeable.
With a Smith & Wesson M&P, I could disassemble a dozen like models and place all the like parts into separate containers. I could then reassemble those parts into a dozen new guns without a problem. Parts compatibility like that speeds the assembly process and reduces the cost of expensive human labor
Advantage #2: Simplistic Controls
The feature that has made the striker-fired pistol wildly popular with government agencies is the very simplistic set of controls to operate and maintain the pistol. The trigger fires the gun and the magazine release is used for reloading. The slide release will often be used for disassembly but isn’t necessary for routine shooting.
There are no safeties to learn to disengage or re-engage. There is no hammer to de-cock before returning the handgun to the holster. Disassembly is often as simple as unloading the gun, lowering a lever, and then pulling the trigger.
In the world of government, where for better or worse everything is measured in dollar costs, a simple tool that does the job is highly desirable. This is also a highly sought-after trait for the shooting public as well. Newer shooters learn to operate their pistols faster, and even seasoned shooters have less experienced family members who use their guns.
Advantage #3: Firearm Selection
The popularity of striker-fired handguns with the shooting public has created an almost uncountable number of options to choose from. These options are aimed toward general use, competition, concealed carry, etc.
Having choices is great, but too many of them can also make decisions difficult for the less experienced. For this section, I’m going to be injecting some of my own opinions. The best way to discuss the available options is by the size of the pistol. Size is, after all, the primary reason for choosing any pistol.
Full Size: The flagship model of every pistol line. They are highly recommended for first pistols but are generally too big for concealment. They make great all-purpose handguns
Long Slide: A variant of the full-size pistol, with a longer barrel and slide. These are also highly recommended for the first pistol and for budget competitions guns. They are typically a little more expensive than full-size pistols.
Compact: Many will buy these guns with the idea of having one handgun fill every role. The larger “compact” models are my least favorite size of pistols. Many people buy them to conceal but don’t because they are still quite large in that role. If you aren’t going to conceal this size of pistol, it is a better choice to go one size up or down.
Sub-Compact: Sub-compact pistols are very capable everyday carry pistols, but aren’t the best choice for regular practice due to their size. A first-time buyer would generally be better suited with a full-size model to learn the fundamentals and then supplement their inventory with a sub-compact for concealment.
Micro: Also called “pocket guns”, these are the smallest size that a striker-fired gun can be made and I rarely recommend them. They are simply too small to practice with and many only get function checked before the owner gives up on shooting them.
Advantage #4: Ease of Training
A great advantage of striker-fired handguns is their ability to be used by people with less than regular training habits. While I won’t deny that rifles and shotguns are far superior in this role, among handguns the striker-fired variety are the best of the bunch.
They carry the advantage of having a single consistent trigger pull to learn, from the first shot to the last, which greatly simplifies committing training principles to muscle memory. This stands in contrast to the handguns they mainly replaced, the DA/SA type of pistols which have a longer first trigger pull followed by short subsequent pulls.
In my life, I have seen many gun owners who lack the skill set to draw a DA/SA pistol and shoot two accurate (and timely) shots. Many shooters will cheat themselves of the opportunity to learn the DA/SA transition and instead focus on strictly shooting the handgun in single-action.
Even among gun channels on Youtube, it is the standard to watch people shoot DA/SA handguns almost entirely in single-action. Switching to a striker-fired handgun eliminates this bad habit, as the trigger pull can’t be improved at the range.
On most striker-fired handguns there is also no external safety that needs to be disengaged with the thumb or grip. There is just the safety on the trigger, which is disengaged by a regular trigger pull. Once again, for an irregular shooter, this is one less thing to learn.
With single-action-only handguns, a manual safety should be activated at all times when the handgun is in a ready state when the shooter is not preparing to shoot the pistol.
I have seen gun owners not engage the safety with a loaded weapon, leave the hammer down on a loaded chamber and leave the chamber empty, with plans to manually cycle the slide when the gun is drawn. None of these habits are recommended and, at this experience level, these people are better suited by a striker-fired handgun.
Advantage #5: Self-defense scenarios
Piggybacking on the above-listed reasons, striker-fired handguns excel at being carried or stored in preparation for a self-defense scenario. Most handguns of this category can be kept as close to ready as possible, with minimal danger of a negligent discharge.
The trigger pull of most striker-fired handguns comes between 4 and 7 pounds from the factory. The also include some take-up where the shooter can feel the trigger resisting their finger to some degree. These two things are features and not downsides to the trigger mechanisms themselves.
As competitive shooters know, many striker-fired handgun can be modified to have a very minimal pull weight and take-up. And while they will never become a finely-tuned 2011, they can be vastly changed from their stock configurations.
Another excellent benefit is that, should the handgun need to be fired in self-defense, the trigger does not change for the second shot. There is no increased risk of a negligent discharge after the first shot, when the gun is still in the hand of a highly stressed individual.
And for police and security officers, there is no need to decock a hammer before returning the gun to a hood-style service holster.
If some of these advantages seem like they benefit less-experienced shooters more than trained ones, it’s because they absolutely do. These people also make up a huge portion of the shooting public.
My wife, for example, has little interest in firearms and goes shooting about once or twice a year. She is from Peru and didn’t grow up in a culture where civilian firearm ownership is common. A striker-fired pistol is a perfect companion for her.
At the range, I will typically provide her with a loaded pistol and she has the knowledge to shoot it at a target until it is out of ammunition. She can do this without knowing anything but basic firearms safety and trigger control. When I worked graveyards my wife would keep my carry pistol, which was striker-fired, on the nightstand. She had confidence in her ability to use it in an emergency.
Advantage #6: Upgradability
Before I mentioned that striker-fired pistols were cheaper to produce because parts can be assembled without any fitment. This also benefits the end-user because it means aftermarket parts can be swapped in and out with only simple tools.
Some parts that come on handguns from the factory are primarily there for cost savings. Many factory sights fit this description and are generally described as “not bad” rather than good. Replacing sights on pistols has become such a common practice that it has created its many companies just for that purpose.
Sights can be upgraded with anything from black nail polish in the back and red nail polish in the front to an entirely new set. Dawson Precision fiber optic sights are my favorite and don’t break the bank.
Other parts, such as barrels, triggers, and guide rods can be changed with small to almost no effort. I generally recommend newer shooters focus on learning to shoot stock pistols before considering spending more money, but the options are there.
My primary competition pistol, pictured above, is an excellent budget choice. Remember though, budget does not mean beginner. It’s a Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 with a 5″ barrel. It is chambered in 40 S&W but I have a drop-in 9mm Luger conversion barrel that I also use.
I have changed the sights, trigger, magazine release, barrel, and sear. The magazine release has also been swapped sides because I prefer to release magazines with my middle finger. I generally practice with the 9mm Luger barrel and shoot “.40 Minor” loads in competition. These are 180gr bullets traveling at 720 fps.
They are very flat shooting.
I use this one pistol for USPSA Production, IDPA Enhanced Service Pistol and Multi-gun.
Advantage #7: Build Your Own Pistol
I have met many people in the last 5 years who have built a striker-fired pistol entirely from parts. These pistols are generally based on Glock compatible parts and some of them don’t even use a single part manufactured by Glock.
It is common to see people build a pistol as both an upgraded version of a factory offering, or as something completely unique. Often, this is the cheaper option compared to buying a factory handgun and swapping out a significant number of parts.
While it is true that 1911 and 2011 style pistols can also be built in the same way, those require significantly more work during the process. Almost always the slide and frame require fitment before they can be paired together.