Double Action vs Single Action

What is a Double Action Pistol?

Whether you are purchasing a pistol for self-defense or just to have fun, there are many factors to consider when choosing a gun. There are many different types of handguns, including single-action “SAO” revolvers, double-action “DAO” semiautomatic pistols, and Double Action/Single Action “DA/SA” pistols. Each type has its strengths and weaknesses.

What is the meaning of Double Action?

Defining a double-action pistol can be a difficult task. There are many different terms in gun jargon, and it can be confusing for some people. However, some basic principles can help you understand the difference.

A double-action pistol is a pistol that operates in a double-action. Just like the word implies, it performs two actions: cocking and releasing the hammer. Before we can understand double-action, we must first learn the concept of single-action.

Single Action Only “SAO” Pistols

Single-action pistols operate much as it sounds. They perform a single action – releasing the hammer.

Single-action pistols, such as certain revolvers, require the hammer to be pulled back manually with each shot since the recoil of the bullet does not perform that function. Single-action semi-automatic pistols automatically re-cock the gun using the recoil of the bullet.

Advantages of Single Action Only Pistols

  • Lighter trigger pull since the cocking mechanism is already completed prior to the gun being shot

Disadvantages of Single Action Only Pistols

  • Single-action revolvers must have the hammer manually re-cocked for each shot

Double-Action Only “DAO” Pistols

The DAO pistol design has no internal mechanism capable of holding the hammer or striker in the cocked position, or the hammer is shrouded/contained inside the frame, commonly seen on snub-nose concealed carry revolvers.

The DAO pistol is designed so that the hammer is enclosed within the frame, commonly seen in concealed carry revolvers, or the single-action function is eliminated altogether, as seen in semi-automatics. This means that each pull of the trigger will always perform both actions: cocking and releasing. The slide does not re-cock the hammer during the trigger pull.

Advantages of Double Action Only Pistols

  • Since DAO pistols perform the same action each time, the trigger pull will remain consistent for each round that is fired.
  • No external hammer exposure

Disadvantages of Double Action Only Pistols

  • Heavier trigger pull

Double Action/Single Action “DA/SA” Pistols

DA/SA pistols are double-action on the first shot and a single action on all subsequent shots. This is generally referred to as a “DA/SA” pistol. This is because the first shot from a fully loaded DA/SA comes from a long double-action trigger pull.

The double-action pull varies but typically requires about 10-12 pounds of pressure to cock the hammer. The first pull of a DA/SA pistol cocks the hammer, releases it, and then re-cocks it. The firearm is now in Single Action mode since the hammer is already cocked from the first pull. The Single Action trigger pull will not be as heavy as the Double Action trigger pull, which must compensate for cocking the hammer as well.

Since DA/SA performs two different mechanisms: DA on the first shot, and SA on subsequent shots, the first pull of the trigger will be harder to pull than the rest of the trigger pulls. The result is an inconsistent trigger pull, which is one disadvantage to keep in mind when selecting this type of firearm.

Advantages of DA/SA Pistols

  • The hard pull of the first shot acts as a safety since it’s less likely to misfire with the amount of force required versus a lighter trigger pull.
  • You are not required to manually cock the gun since the first pull of the trigger will take care of that for you. This can be advantageous in high-pressure situations.

Disadvantages of DA/SA Pistols

  • Inconsistent trigger pulls since the first shot is a harder pull than the subsequent shots.
  • Hammer is externally exposed
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