Why I Prefer a Handgun with an External Hammer

By David Tong

I have tried to embrace the striker fired hegemony for the better part of thirty years now. This goes back to my 1986 purchase of a Heckler and Koch P7M8, an all-steel compact handgun previously reviewed on Guns and Shooting Online. There are multiple reasons why a logical engineering mind would go with a striker fired pistol.

First, they are simpler. Fewer parts can mean fewer things can go wrong. The Glock only has 33 parts in its large body and it is known for superb reliability.

Second, by eliminating the hammer, you also eliminate the hammer strut and coil mainspring that generally lies just under the rear of the grip. This can mean a shorter grip, making the grip more manageable for a greater number of people.

Third, by eliminating the long arc of a hammer fall, you reduce the bore axis height. The Glock, for example, has the lowest bore axis of any currently produced pistol save perhaps the Caracal. This greatly improves control in rapid fire and reduces felt recoil, because the handgun is not jumping out of your hands as much.

Fourth, a striker fired design can potentially reduce lock time. Bolt-action rifles are all striker fired and they predominate in the sporting rifle market. The analogy between their ignition function and that of a striker fired handgun is obvious.

Finally, striker fired designs are inherently less expensive and easier to produce, thus reducing the price to the consumer. Now that I have set the stage, why would I still prefer a hammer-fired pistol?

It is easier to see the pistol's state of readiness. While some of the striker-fired pistols have a cocked striker indicator (Walther P99, Springfield XD series, HK P7), the majority do not. Seeing a hammer down or back instantly alerts the shooter to the condition of the firing mechanism.

Additionally, while striker fired handguns have improved somewhat over the past twenty years in terms of trigger pull quality, the long-slide Glock models, Walther PPQ and H&K VP9 being examples, none of them can compare to a proper single action auto or revolver. In terms of typical take-up, length of trigger stroke, crispness of release, over travel and pull weight, hammer-fired handguns usually win hands down.

A superior trigger pull has great benefits in practical accuracy. While the fitting of the internal parts, good sights and ergonomics all matter, nothing is as important as a good trigger release to precise bullet placement.

Single action, hammer fired handguns typically have an ignition advantage. The percussive force of a swinging hammer contacting a firing pin usually causes the detonation of even a hard primer and the round will fire. The heavier the hammer (and the hammer spring), the more this applies. On the other hand, I have personally experienced a striker fired Walther P99 fail to fire Russian steel-cased TulAmmo twice in fifty rounds.

The last point is that a hammer-fired handgun can be put into a reduced state of readiness by lowering the hammer. This is accomplished by using a decocking lever, if the pistol is so equipped, or using your thumb to manually lower the hammer while simultaneously depressing and holding back the trigger. Many striker firearms cannot lower their strikers without dry-firing.

I might be old-fashioned, but I still find myself somewhat ill at ease carrying a striker fired pistol, even after having owned a Springfield XD, Smith & Wesson M&P and several Glocks. We are visual creatures and seeing a hammer cocked or at rest provides some small comfort when handling a handgun.

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