August 11, 2016
Wagner's opera "Siegfried" opens with the Mime forging a sword, which Siegfried, in testing, shatters. What use is a sword that will break? In the 21st century, what use is a cartridge that won't fire? I've seen it happen with factory ammunition a few times, and while extremely rare, it is upsetting. After all, that could have been the one cartridge I needed for defense of my life.
The current preference for the buying public, as far as pistols are concerned, is focused on striker-fired designs. Some pistols have restrike capability, and some don't have restrike capability. Not to get all philosophical, but does it matter?
Back in the medium-good days, there was no such question. When faced with a dud primer, those who carried revolvers simply released the trigger and stroked through again. It was, after all, what they were going to do anyway in their follow-up shots, so no problem. Those who carried pistols (with rare exceptions 1911s or Browning Hi-Powers) would do their tap-rack-bang, slapping the magazine to make sure it was seated, working the slide, then getting back to the business at hand.
When Smith & Wesson came along with the M-39 and later the M-59, the process was also simple: Treat the pistol like a revolver, and press the trigger again.
Then came the strikers. Glocks, the first striker-fired pistols, did not and still do not have a restrike capability. While they worked like magazine-fed revolvers when they worked, when they didn't, you had to treat them like single-action pistols and rack them. The traditional double-action-pistol makers fought back valiantly. They improved, redesigned, polished and upgraded their designs and even came up with new geometries for double-action-only (DAO) trigger systems for pistols. It was all for naught.
We now have a slew of competing striker and striker-like designs, and some have restrike capability, and some don't have restrike capability. Which should you choose, and why?
The arguments for restrike capability come down to essentially two. It is faster and easier to rework the trigger than it is to do anything else. Plus, you can restrike one-handed, whereas working the slide with just one hand is not easy.
The argument for not having restrike capability is that continued futzing around with an obviously recalcitrant cartridge is a low-percentage decision. That attitude is summed up thusly: If it won't work, get that round out of there, and find a happier candidate for saving your hide.
There is also a secondary assertion that the designs that allow restrike capability are a bit more complex (complexity being a bad thing, generally speaking), and their designs do not have trigger pulls that are as good. I don't want to sound elitist here, but coming to this from the viewpoint of a long-time 1911 and DA-revolver user, the strikers all have marginal trigger pulls compared with a proper 1911 trigger, and none of them are as heavy as a stock DA trigger from the old days. The trigger-pull argument doesn't carry much weight with me.
Despite being a long-time shooter, I look at it from a different perspective, and that would be of the engineer. Why do cartridges fail to go off when we want them to?
I've seen, I think, all the iterations: dead or dud primers, primers that are hard but willing only after extra effort, primer pockets that lack a flash hole, primers that lack priming, cartridges that lack powder (which often leads to other, more serious than not-firing problems), the wrong round chambered and, everyone's favorite, no round in the chamber.
Of all those, the only one in which a restrike capability would help is the hard but reluctantly willing primer. Dud or dead primers? No amount of hammering will ignite the powder. A flash hole that is nonexistant? Ditto; even a primer packed with C4 is not going to set off the powder. No powder? OK, so you've already popped the bullet out of the case; what is a restrike going to do for you? Of course, in that case, tap-rack-bang has an alternate ending: Boom.
The wrong round? Have you ever chambered a 9mm in a .40 pistol or a 10mm or a .40 in a .45? It may go bang, but the split case can't cycle the action, and you're left with working the slide. There's no joy from a restrike there.
How about everyone's favorite, no round in the chamber? That can only be solved by working the slide.
Clearly, we are dependent on the ammo in this process. If you are always and only using American-made ammo, I'd say the chances of a dud or dead primer are pretty low. Your problem is one of the others listed, and you should be working the slide. Overseas, that may not be the case. I have used surplus ammo that was wondrously crappy and too often required two or three hammer falls before it ignited.
If you are on a PSD in some Third World armpit, you may find that the percentage of dodgy primers in the local-sourced ammo warrants a restrike capability just because you can't afford to be ditching ammo.
The answer for me is pretty simple: I am too set in my ways, too thoroughly conditioned in the slide option as the only option, to pay any attention to restrike. If it is there, fine. If it isn't, OK. Either way, if I hear the enormously loud click that should have been a gunshot, I'm working the slide. I've been doing it that way for a half-century, and when we get phased plasma rifles in the 40-watt range, I'll still be trying to work the slide.
Does that mean I won't buy a pistol with restrike capability? Not at all. If it fits my hand, if it works reliably, if it has a good trigger, I'm all for it. I just won't be paying attention to the restrike capability.
Does that mean the rest of you get to give the choice a pass? Oh, you should be so lucky. No, those of you who are in the current learning cohort, the next generation of shooters and gunwriters, you get to decide on the new gear for yourselves. Hey, I can't do it all for you.
That decision should follow the same rational process that anything so important would. What are the benefits? What are the costs? How much effort does it take to train a proper routine? Once trained, how often does that training need to be refreshed?
As a first attempt at designing a methodology, I'd say it would be something like this: On the sound of the click, work the trigger once again, with the full intention of racking the slide if it fails. Second click, get to working the slide. This does add a bit of time to the process, but it also covers all the bases. If that doesn't satisfy you, well, get to work, and develop your own method. The first one to come up with one that works gets to name it after himself.
"Siegfried"? That opera is the third of the four in the "Nibelungen," the complete set taking four evenings, of four hours each, to sit through. The opening act of the third opera revolves around the failure of Mime to make a suitable sword, since Siegfried has broken every sword ever forged for him.
I won't comment on what it takes to sit through 16 hours of Wagner, but if you find you are consistently experiencing failed primers, you have a bigger problem than deciding between strike and restrike capability. Solve that problem first, then decide. Spoiler alert: Siegfried dies.
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