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Striker-Fired vs Double-Action/Single-Action Pistols: Which is the Best?

Striker-fired handguns are the dominant force in handguns today, but does the classic DA/SA hammer-fired pistol still have a place?

Striker-Fired vs Double-Action/Single-Action Pistols: Which is the Best?

Simply from sales numbers, it would seem that the striker-fired trigger system has vanquished the old-school DA/SA trigger system, but there is a lot more to the story. Clockwise from top right: Beretta 92 Elite LTT and CZ 82 (both DA/SA autos), Glock 19 and SIG P320 Compact (both striker-fired). 

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The 1980s were the introductory era of the high-capacity “wondernine,” but back then the Glock was about the only striker-fired, polymer-framed pistol on that list — most of them were double-action/single-action (DA/SA) operated pistols, with metal frames (think CZ 75, SIG P226, Beretta 92, S&W Gen 2 and 3 autos, etc.). Over the past few years, I estimate that 80 percent of the new firearms I’ve tested have been chambered in either .223 or 9mm. Of those chambered in 9mm, roughly 80 percent of them have been striker-fired pistols, with only a small number having the DA/SA trigger system. Heck, the U.S. Army just adopted the striker-fired polymer-framed M17 (a slightly tweaked SIG P320) to replace the aluminum framed DA/SA Beretta M9 (a slightly tweaked Beretta 92).

Striker Fired vs Hammer fired double action single action pistols
What Tarr considers the ultimate examples of both trigger systems: on the left you’ve got the (John Wick) Combat Master striker-fired Glock 34 from Taran Tactical Innovations (TTI), and on the right, is the Beretta 92 Elite LTT with trigger job and Carry Bevel package from Langdon Tactical Technologies (LTT). Is one pistol objectively better than the other? Maybe, maybe not, but they couldn’t be more different. 

So that begs the question — has the double action/single action operating system for pistols been rendered obsolete? Are striker-fired pistols the obvious superior choice in the modern world? The sales numbers would seem to indicate that, but the truth is far more complex. And interesting, as chances are you haven’t heard the whole story.

Historically Bad

Just so we’re all on the same page, let me be clear — “DA/SA” means a semi-auto pistol which has a double action/single action operating system. The first shot is fired double action (you cock the hammer by pulling the trigger) and subsequent follow-up shots are fired in single action mode. “Striker-fired” pistols have an internal striker that is similar in design to a firing pin, but firing pins are hit with hammers. Strikers are generally cocked and held under spring pressure, and pulling the trigger sends them forward under spring pressure.

Why has the DA/SA operating system dropped off in popularity when compared to the striker-fired pistol? While we could argue engineering and manufacturing costs, companies only continue to produce what consumers continue buying. I would argue that the rise in popularity of striker-fired guns is solely due to the fact that striker-fired guns give you the same trigger pull each and every time, whereas with the DA/SA pistol, the first trigger pull is noticeably heavier and longer than subsequent trigger pulls. This much-ballyhooed “DA/SA transition” issue was the fodder for thousands of gun magazine articles in the eighties and nineties, just behind the “9mm vs. .45” articles in popularity, but ahead of “Point Shooting vs. Aimed Fire” (FYI: 9mm and aimed fire won).

Striker Fired vs Hammer fired double action single action pistols
DA/SA pistols like this first-generation CZ 75 (bottom right) fell out of favor because, traditionally, they had horrible triggers, and the transition between the long heavy gritty double action trigger pull and the subsequent single action trigger pulls. Striker-fired guns like this Glock 19 in the holster of an FBI Special Agent (bottom left) jumped in popularity everywhere in the US when law enforcement agencies started replacing their revolvers and DA/SA autos with them. It seems that every day there is a new striker-fired pistol introduced, but DA/SA autos? They’re rare. One of the only new ones introduced in the last ten years is this, the Springfield Armory XD-E (top). It’s the only single stack DA/SA on the market. (Firearms News photo)

If you’re not quite sure why all the fuss about not-so-great double action trigger pulls, seeing as revolvers had been around forever at that point, you have to remember two things — 1. The 1980s and 1990s saw the ascendency of the 1911 as “the professional’s carry gun”, and the short, light, and crisp trigger pull of the 1911 is the trigger pull against which all others are and should be judged, and 2. Pretty much all DA/SA pistols on the market had horrible trigger pulls, much worse than you’ll find these days (and that’s a very important point we’ll circle back to).

When you’re dealing with pistols designed in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s that were meant for law enforcement and military use (Beretta 92, SIG P226, etc.), those double action trigger pulls were long, heavy, and often gritty. I mean, for Pete’s sake, the factory standard hammer spring weight on the SIG P220 is 22 pounds, and on the 9mm P226 it’s 24 pounds! And the recoil spring is braided wire. Talk about overkill…but you must remember, the designers of those guns wanted them to still be working after a decade of military-grade abuse and neglect.

I owned a first-generation SIG P220 in .45 ACP (where the front sight was milled all in one piece with the slide), and the DA trigger pull on that gun was atrocious. I carried it for a while as an armored car driver/guard, and company policy for guards was to have your pistol in your hand when you’re out of the truck. Let me tell you, the only time the hammer was down on that SIG was when it was in my holster. The Walther PP was introduced in 1931, and the subsequent PPK and PPK/S models became hugely popular around the world. It is one of the first successful DA/SA pistols. For decades, the Walther PPK/S was perhaps the only reliable .380 in the United States, and when I first started working as a uniformed police officer, several cops I knew carried the PPK/S as a backup. It is one of the first wildly successful DA/SA pistols…not because of the trigger pull, but in spite of it.

I recently stumbled across a gun magazine from 1998 which contained a review of a customized Walther PPK/S. Why customize a PPK/S? Most users had the same two complaints about the PPK/S — a horrible trigger pull, and sharp edges on the frame and slide that hurt the web of your hand when you fired the gun. To quote that gun magazine article from 1998, “The trigger (of the PPK/S) was, and still is, among the worst of any pistol, and it has an annoying tendency to bite the hand that holds it.”

Jeff Cooper himself wrote lengthy missives about the difficulty of training cops and private citizens saddled with DA/SA autos during Gunsite courses. He was no fan of the DA/SA operating system, and used the derogatory term “crunchenticker” for those pistols saddled with it. Yes, he loved the CZ 75, but remember the CZ 75 can be carried cocked and locked. Cooper’s preferred trigger pull weight on his 1911s can be best described by him: “Three pounds, crisp, is the word.” Back in the day if your DA/SA pistol had a double action trigger pull that was only a little gritty and just a bit above ten pounds, you considered yourself lucky. Compared to the trigger pull of even a GI 1911, that’s a train wreck.

The double action trigger pulls on guns of that era were so bad (and the follow-up single action shots so different in character), that Cooper and his trainers tried every workaround they could think of, including cocking the hammer on the draw. Cooper even floated the idea (I’m not sure how seriously) of firing that first DA shot into the ground just to get rid of that first horrible trigger pull.

The Golden God

Striker Fired vs Hammer fired double action single action pistols
The new U.S.-manufactured Walther PPK and Walther PPK/S (as seen here) demonstrate the benefits of modern engineering and manufacturing. From the factory, they have excellent trigger pulls, the kind of trigger pulls you previously needed a gunsmith to achieve. (Firearms News photo)

Most firearm aficionados under the age of forty just can’t remember a time before the Glock pistol. It’s like my kids, trying to envision a world without smart phones or the internet. The Glock is far from the first striker-fired pistol (they’ve been around for a century or so) or the first polymer-framed handgun (that title belongs to the striker-fired HK VP70Z introduced in 1970). However, the Glock pistol (introduced 1982) seemed to do everything so well that within 20 years or so it was found in 80% of the police holsters in this country. The Glock 19 for close to two decades was the carry gun against which all others were judged, and only recently are some people thinking it’s been replaced by the SIG P365 (another polymer-framed striker-fired piece).


Other striker-fired pistols were introduced (the Walther P99 came out in 1996 and the Steyr M about the same time), but none of them seemed to gain traction against the Glock in the United States. Then, in 2005, the Smith & Wesson M&P, a polymer-framed striker-fired pistol, was introduced, and this reliable American-made pistol immediately started chipping away at Glock’s law enforcement and commercial market share. Since then the number of polymer-framed striker-fired pistols has exploded — I’m going to do an experiment here and see how many full-sized offerings I can list by memory: Beretta APX, CZ P-10, FN FNS and 509, Springfield XD/XDM, SIG P320, Steyr M, Ruger SR9 and American Pistol, Taurus G2c/G3, and, of course, the Hi-Point Yeet Cannon YC-9. That short list doesn’t even include all the smaller, CCW-sized offerings like the Springfield XD-S, S&W Shield, and SIG P365, and I’ve probably missed at least a dozen.

The “advantage” (perceived or real is the question) of the striker-fired trigger system over the DA/SA is that you get the exact same trigger pull every time you pull the trigger. Trigger pulls on striker-fired guns weren’t as light or crisp as found on single-action guns like the 1911, but they were a vast improvement over the double action pulls on revolvers. In the seventies and eighties, some U.S. law enforcement agencies started adopting semi-autos to replace their revolvers (the DA/SA Smith & Wesson first-, second-, and third-generation pistols made big inroads, and many departments went to the Beretta 92 after its adoption by the U.S. military), but it was the Glock’s reliability and “same trigger pull every time” operating system that convinced the many LE hold-outs to finally switch over from their ancient revolvers.

Striker Fired vs Hammer fired double action single action pistols
Every gun manufacturer seemingly makes a striker-fired pistol, and smaller guns meant for CCW are all the rage. From top: Glock 43, Walther PPS, S&W M&P Shield. (Firearms News photo)

If you look at just the number of new striker-fired pistols introduced in the last twenty years, versus the number of new DA/SA autos, it’s not even close. You read my list above of new striker-fired guns, let me try to list what few new DA/SA designs have been introduced: the FN FNX, Springfield Armory XD-E, and SIG P250. I’m sure I’ve missed one or two, but you get my point. Heck, I’m positive there have been more new snubby revolvers and DAO autos introduced in the last two decades than DA/SA autos.

The Rest of The Story

So, it seems that I’ve written myself into a corner, and should just summarize this article with “striker good, DA/SA bad” and go back to my cave and bang rocks together. Except for, as Paul Harvey would say, “The rest of the story”. The rest of the story involves such varied topics as windbreaker drawstrings, the NYPD, and practical shooting competition. We’ll divide this part of the article into two sections, Safety and Modern Technology.

The difference between these two operating systems is the trigger pull, right? Both the weight and length of that trigger pull. Let’s start with Glock and the American law enforcement experience, as it was their guns which replaced many revolvers in the holsters of cops. Glock has been advertising +/-5.5-lb trigger pulls on their guns since 1982, which is, to put it bluntly, B.S. The average Glock Gen 1-2-3-4 trigger pull is somewhere at or above seven pounds, and it was only until their Gen 5 guns that users got trigger pulls near the advertised weights. Still, a seven-pound trigger pull that requires the trigger to travel roughly a quarter of an inch is a drastic change from the average revolver. Double action trigger pulls on revolvers are three-quarters of an inch long if not more, and require at least ten pounds of pressure, but probably more like twelve.

The end result?

A huge (and I mean HUGE) number of “accidental discharges” from police officers when their department switched from revolvers to the Glock, because those officers never internalized the whole “keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target” basic gun safety rule. It is one such failure of training that has given us the New York (eight plus pounds) and New York Plus (at 12+ pounds) triggers for Glock pistols.

Because the NYPD does such a poor job of training its cops in firearms safety/handling, and because proper training costs a lot of money and must be repeated regularly, and because they had so many “accidental discharges” when they switched from revolvers to Glocks, the NYPD went the cheapest, easiest route. They went to Glock and told them to put heavier trigger pulls in their guns.

The New York Plus trigger system when installed on Glocks provides a twelve-pound trigger pull. TWELVE. EVERY SINGLE TIME. Yes, this reduces the chances of “accidentally” pulling the trigger, but it also makes hitting the bad guy much harder even if you’re a good shot, which any cop who only every fires their gun when their department requires them to qualify (which is 80–90% of all police officers nationwide) … isn’t. The best example of this is the two NYPD officers shooting a bad guy with a gun in front of the Empire State Building about six years ago. The two officers fired a total of sixteen rounds, putting the bad guy down…and hitting nine bystanders. NINE.

Would those officers have been better off armed with stock DA/SA pistols whose DA trigger pulls were heavy and gritty, but whose subsequent SA trigger pulls were six to seven pounds? You bet. However, let’s talk about actual accidental discharges. The above instances are accurately called negligent discharges, but most striker-fired pistols are like the Glock in that they have no manual safety. The only external physical safety they have is the lever on the trigger, or in the case of the S&W M&P, the safety lever is the pivoting hinged trigger. This prevents the gun from being fired unless the trigger is pulled.

Striker Fired vs Hammer fired double action single action pistols
This is the New York Plus trigger spring (top left) which increases trigger pull to twelve pounds. When you don’t spend enough time or money on training to make sure your people keep their fingers off their trigger, the NYPD’s solution was to put this in their officers’ guns. Simply replacing the hammer spring on a SIG P226 (Top right) takes over two pounds off the double action trigger pull, and brought the single action trigger pull on this pistol down to 3.25 lbs. (Firearms News photo)

The only problem with that? If something gets wedged inside the trigger guard of your striker-fired pistol, the gun is going to go bang. This doesn’t get talked about a lot, but there have been a huge number of true accidental discharges involving striker-fired pistols because foreign objects find their way inside the trigger guard. These objects range from leather straps on thumb-break holsters to drawstrings of windbreakers activating the trigger. Some ADs involved people just forgetting to move their finger fully out of the way as they re-holster. Or people stuff small CCW-sized striker-fired guns inside bags or purses to bounce around, something gets wedged inside the trigger guard, and … .

What does this have to do with DA/SA pistols? The double action trigger pull on DA/SA pistols acts as an additional safety on the pistol. How many of the ADs and NDs in the above paragraph wouldn’t have occurred if the person was using a DA/SA pistol will never be known, but I’m guessing an accurate guess would be most of them. Appendix carry is hugely popular right now, and while I am not a big fan, I know a lot of people are. I also know for a fact that some of those people will only carry a DA/SA pistol in an appendix holster, to reduce the chances of incurring a SIFV (self-initiated field vasectomy). They’re called “family jewels” because they are both valuable and irreplaceable.

I use the same sort of philosophy when talking about trigger pull weights I’m comfortable with on carry guns. I would carry a 1911 with a (for example) two-pound trigger pull, because I know that unless the thumb safety and grip safety are deactivated that gun is not going to go off. I would not carry a Glock or an M&P or any other Striker Fired gun that doesn’t have a manual safety with a two-pound trigger pull.


Folks, it ain’t 1982 anymore. Technology has improved across the board, and that applies to firearm manufacturing too. In addition to CNC machining with drastically improved tolerances, there is computer-aided design. We also have gun companies that are responsive to the needs and wants of consumers, and one thing modern consumers don’t want on guns is long, heavy, gritty trigger pulls. And, God bless them, those companies have figured out how to give us what we want without compromising safety or reliability.

Trigger pull weights across the board have been lightened, whether you’re talking about hunting rifles or pistols meant for CCW. Here’s a perfect example — I mentioned the Walther PPK and PPK/S above as having horrible trigger pulls. Original guns had gritty DA trigger pulls often above 15 pounds, some as much as 20. The newly manufactured Walther guns don’t just have smoother trigger pulls, they’re lighter — factory specs call for 13 lbs./6 lbs. respectively for DA/SA pull weights, and the samples I’ve tested have had lighter pulls than that.

While you can still find some old-school heavy/gritty DA/SA trigger pulls out there (base model SIG P226s and Beretta 92s, for example), most companies offer you improved models. Beretta, for example, puts their lighter “D” hammer spring in both their 92 Elite LTT and new 92X models. That reduced power spring brings the DA pull down to 10–11 pounds, and the SA pull down to 5.5 pounds or so. Heck, this double action trigger pull improvement hasn’t been limited to semi-autos, the trigger pulls on most new revolver designs (Ruger LCR, Kimber K6s, Colt Cobra) are light-years ahead of what they used to be.

This is America — you’re not limited to being stuck with the gun as it came from the factory. I’ve run the SIG P226 in USPSA competition, and simply swapping out that 24-lb factory hammer spring for a reduced weight model will take POUNDS off your trigger pull. That lighter hammer spring takes at least two pounds off the DA trigger pull and a pound off the SA trigger pull, and takes only seconds to swap out. I carry concealed what I shoot in competition, and running a 16-pound hammer spring in my P226 I’ve never experienced a light primer strike.

We Got Us a Horse Race

Let’s talk about competition shooting. No, this isn’t one of those conversations where one side of the aisle shouts “Competition shooting will get you killed on the street!”, and the other side says, “Competition shooting is the best place to get stress inoculation to prepare you for a real gunfight”; no, this is just simply to talk about what competition shooting is. “Action” or “practical” pistol competition is designed to push both the shooter and his equipment to the ragged edge.

Production Division in USPSA is the home for striker-fired and DA/SA operating systems. It is specifically designed to be the home of factory production guns that you can grab off the shelf and be competitive with. The winningest guns in Production Division over the past decade, both at local and national levels, are DA/SA CZ 75 pistols and their clones, where the first shot of every stage HAS TO be fired double action. If DA/SA guns have such horrible triggers, how can a CZ 75 beat out a Glock or S&W M&P? Heck, it’s not just the CZ 75, two different shooters using Beretta 92s have won the USPSA Production Division National Championship a total of three times!

Not only are DA/SA guns competing toe-to-toe with striker-fired platforms, for over five years they have been dominating the division. If the DA/SA operating system is inherently inferior, how is this possible in a pure competition environment where sub-par equipment, all things being equal, means you lose? Now, many of you may be shouting at your magazine, “Hey, all of those competition guns have trigger jobs!” Yes, the DA/SA guns have trigger jobs, but so do all the Glocks and M&Ps and SIG P320s, so that playing field is level.

Striker Fired vs Hammer fired double action single action pistols
Technological advances on the DA/SA side are fewer, but they exist. Take, for example the new Optimized Performance Trigger Bar from LTT for the Beretta 92. This drop-in part costs only $67 and it reduces your trigger reset from roughly a quarter of an inch to less than a tenth of an inch, which is a shorter reset than found on many single-action 1911s. (Firearms News photo)

Answer: one trigger system isn’t inherently better than any other. And with a competition DA/SA gun you’ve only got a heavier trigger pull than a striker-fired gun for the first shot of each stage…after that, every trigger pull is lighter and crisper than what you can get with a striker-fired gun, on par with the best 1911s out there. Yes, there are other considerations, like pistol weight and bore height off the hand, but the truth is gun weight and bore height (more weight and lower bore equals less muzzle rise) matter MORE than the trigger system of a pistol in competition.

As regular readers of this magazine may know I’ve been shooting/carrying a Beretta 92 Elite LTT for about a year and a half now, and with a good gunsmith trigger job (or the Langdon Tactical “Trigger Job in A Bag”) your double action trigger pull will drop down to about seven pounds, and your single action down to about three and a half. While being completely reliable with factory ammunition.

Most of the DA/SA guns have metal frames. If you’ve got any miles under your tires hopefully you’ll have learned by now that while small/light guns are much more convenient to carry, bigger/heavier guns are easier to shoot. Aluminum-framed guns like the SIG P226 and Beretta 92 seem to split the difference between all-steel guns and those with polymer frames…and there are compact versions of just about every metal-framed DA/SA pistol out there meant for concealed carry — the SIG P229, Beretta 92 Compact, CZ 75 Compact, etc.


Striker Fired vs Hammer fired double action single action pistols
The one place where DA/SA autos are hugely popular is in competition shooting, specifically the USPSA’s Production Division. Here Matthew Mink hammers targets with his CZ at the USPSA National Championships. Photo courtesy USPSA. (Firearms News photo)

Did you notice that not once have I mentioned how one trigger system or firearm is more reliable than the other? That’s because all of these pistols from major manufacturers are amazingly reliable. Whether it’s the SIG P226/9, Glock 17/19/whatever, Walther PPQ, Beretta 92, FN 509, or CZ 75, they all run and run and run without requiring a break-in period. Trust me, that didn’t use to be the case.

Yes, there is a difference between the first and subsequent shots in a DA/SA auto, but with improvements in manufacturing and design, the DA/SA trigger pulls in many guns are vastly improved, and the gap in general shootability of the two platforms has been narrowed considerably. Depending on which guns you’re comparing, I would say there is no performance gap. Don’t argue your ZEV custom Glock 19 with an Apex Tactical trigger and Trijicon RMR is superior to a stock Beretta 92/CZ 75/SIG P226, because you’re comparing apples to oranges. Compare a stock Gen 4 Glock 19, with its horrible plastic sights and seven plus pound trigger pull each, and every, time, to a stock Beretta 92 or CZ 75 or SIG P229, and then we can talk.

The two pistols on the cutting edge of design are the CZ AO1-LD (DA/SA) and the SIG P320 X-FIVE Legion (striker-fired). The CZ is basically a custom 1911 with a double action first trigger pull, and the SIG has tungsten powder in its polymer frame to add weight. These pistols are wildly different in design, function, and materials, but is either one of these pistols objectively superior to the other? I would argue no. Different is not necessarily better.

Many people (myself included) would argue that, operationally, the DA/SA trigger system is a safer design, whether you’re talking for appendix carry or in the hands of those people that haven’t quite figured out how to keep their finger off the trigger when they’re not shooting. Outside of the competition world, the DA/SA auto is nearly extinct, and the striker-fired pistol reigns supreme. But how much of that is because of reason and logic and how much because of fads and trends is a something you’ll have to decide for yourself.

About the Author

James Tarr is a longtime contributor to Firearms News and other firearms publications. A former police officer he is a USPSA Production Division Grand Master. He is also the author of several books, including CARNIVORE, which was featured on The O’Reilly Factor. His current best-selling novel, Dogsoldiers, is available now through Amazon.

If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at

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