This topic has been at the center of many (sometimes heated) debates among the gun community for decades. I am tackling this debate head on: In this article we are looking from two perspectives, the mechanical engineering/design intent and the effect on training aspect. Those who know me know that as well as being a firearms trainer I am an active mechanical engineer so I can speak with some experience on this.
When I was a new gun owner, given my mechanical engineering background, I took apart every gun I owned and studied how it was designed and operated. Almost immediately I noticed that the “slide stop to slide” interface was incredibly susceptible to wear. In that observation I decided early on that “racking” the slide to put a round in the chamber would put less wear and tear on my pistol. At that time, it was a decision made without effect on training considerations.
Whenever you have two surfaces scraping against each other wear WILL occur. Even if the materials of the slide and slide stop are the same, some material transfer will occur. Although minimal the fact is, it will occur. The time in which wear will occur depends on materials selected and the frequency in which the two surfaces are interfacing (scraping) against one another. If you are not familiar take a close look at the relationship between your slide and slide stop and you will see exactly what I am talking about.
Glock calls the component a “slide stop lever,” Smith & Wesson calls it a “slide stop,” Sig Sauer calls it a “slide catch lever,” and Heckler & Koch calls it a “slide release.” I picked these four manufacturers because they are by far the most popular among my students. Notice that all but the H&K call it a stop. In full disclosure the manuals for both the Glock and Sig say you can use the slide stop/catch to release the slide, Smith & Wesson does not specify, and H&K says to use the slide release, well, to release the slide. I needed to dig deeper, and so I did.
I needed to hear it from an engineer, that is, suggesting that it is a good idea to make two metal surfaces scrape against each other while there is “spring” force keeping the two surfaces together.
I made some phone calls to all four companies. I asked the individuals if I could reference their names for purposes of this blog, but all declined, understandably, I guess. I would have preferred to site the specific source (name of the individual) to add validity to this, but I am sure they did not want any of this coming back on them, just in case, CYA. Glock, Smith & Wesson, and Sig all said it was suggested NOT to use the slide stop/catch to release the slide. Yep, you heard that correctly folks. It was not an opinion; they were all adamant that it was NOT the intent for that component and one of them said the words I was looking for and that was “NOT designed for that use.” From a purely mechanical engineering perspective those were the words I was looking for and those words again were “is NOT designed to release the slide.” I felt like I struck gold from a mechanical engineering standpoint and validated my suspicions; but does that settle the debate… not even close.
From a mechanical standpoint, you heard what the manufactures said, three out of the four did not recommend you use the slide stop to release the slide. Some people will say “well, I use the slide stop to release the slide anyway.” My answer to that is if the manufacturer does not suggest using it that way, then you should not. Others, “well, that’s an under engineered gun if I can’t use the slide stop to release the slide.” My response to that is “purchase a gun that recommends you use it that way” or “express your concerns to the manufacturer.” The fact of the matter is there are many things out there that are recommended to be used a particular way, but people do another. In the end, do what you want but know it IS a wear item. If you are a fair-weather shooter, then using the slide stop to release your slide probably will not be a big deal and it may take a long time for the slide stop to wear given the frequency that you shoot. If you use your gun frequently (weekly), then wear will happen much faster, but no one has a crystal ball to know exactly when. Either way the manufacturers will have no problem sending you a new part. Okay, I think we beat the mechanical aspect up enough… Now, let us move onto the effect on training.
In context to defensive training principles, we discuss effectiveness (ET), Efficient (EC), and Consistency (C). Refer to the image below:
Effectiveness (ET) is simply getting the job done. Example: Shooting to slide lock, taking the mag out with your teeth, putting the gun down, spinning in a circle, clapping your hands, getting a fresh mag, and seating it in the mag well, sending the slide forward, and then taking a shot. They call this the Mag-a-rana. This funny (my attempt at humor anyway) example WAS effective, meaning, I successfully loaded the gun and fired a shot. Obviously, this is not the way to load a new mag. So, it is not enough to be merely effective especially when time or urgency is of consideration. So, how does this relate to slide lock vs slide release, we are getting there. Efficient (EC) can be defined as achieving a goal with as little time, effort, and energy as possible. Clearly, the example above was NOT efficient. So, let’s clean that up shall we. You recognize the stimulus of slide lock, as you bring your pistol to your body drop the mag while at the same time reaching for a fresh mag, follow the contour of your body with the new mag, insert the mag, then send the slide forward and take the shot. All can agree that this method was far more efficient then the “mag-o-rana” method. Notice how I just said, “send the slide forward,” nonspecific on the method, yet.
There are many schools of thought that say (from the point after you insert thee mag) “as you start to extend the pistol into the shooting position and your weak hand finishes the 2-handed grip use your thumb on your strong hand to press the slide stop to release the slide.” Is this the most effective and efficient method? If you are competition shooting on a square range, I would say sure, for that circumstance. What if you rode the slide lock with your grip and instead of the slide locking back indicating your empty, you squeeze the trigger and you get a click? What then? Well, you would change your mag and then you would perform an overhand rack to the slide to get a round chambered. So, in competition shooting you have two methods of getting a round into the chamber. Having two methods for getting a round into the chamber is inconsonant and makes the process more complicated than it needs to be. In competition shooting the only penalty for having two methods of chambering a round would maybe be time, No biggie.
When you are in a fight for your life things are quite different.
In the Intuitive Defensive Shooting Program, not only do we stress effectiveness and efficiency, but we also stress consistency, see diagram above. Consistency means doing the same thing in the same way as often as possible. In relation to our “slide lock vs slide release” debate this means always performing an overhand racking of the slide to chamber a round. Having two methods to achieve this in a defensive context overly complicates the process and allows more room for error when your life is on the line. We want to keep things as simple and consistent as possible. There is another reason why as well.
In a defensive situation there are things your body (and mind) will do naturally. In the IDS program we define these as external and internal body natural reactions. For the purposes of “slide lock vs slide release” debate we will cover reduced blood flow to the outer extremities.
In a dynamic critical incident, your cardiovascular system will shunt blood flow from your outer extremities to the areas where the body needs it the most (heart, lungs, etc.). This is a survival positive, but you will lose dexterity in your fingers in result making it more difficult to perform fine motor skills. (To know what that feels like take your gloves off on a 30-degree day for about 15 minutes and you will feel what losing dexterity in your hands can be like) manipulating a firearm requires fine motor skills, but we want to train to use the “lesser” or “grosser” finer motor skills and in the case of our debate performing an overhand rack on the slide to chamber a round is without a doubt a “lesser” or “grosser” fine motor skill. Yet another reason to perform an overhand racking of the slide to chamber a round.
In summary, mechanically there is reason not to use the slide stop to release the slide especially when the manufacturer suggests not to use it in that manner. The effect on training certainly supports not to use the slide stop to release the slide. So, there you have it, I hope this article will help you decide which method you will use.