The Failure of the DAO trigger

In a previous blog post, I talked about the ‘ideal’ personal defense firearm, and I roundly recommend the Sig P250 in .380/9mm as being a great option. One of the features that firearm possesses is a DAO trigger.

Recently, a fellow blogger over at Growing Up Guns offered a theory on the value of using DAO or DA/SA triggers. He claims that by using a DA/SA gun, or even a DAO pistol, you create one more gateway towards safety by forcing the shooter to take another deliberate mental step before pulling the trigger on the target.

This is the same mentality that gives us the New York trigger, a modification for the Glock adopted by NYPD when they purchased that pistol. Technically known as a twelve-pound trigger, the NYT replaces the trigger spring with a heavy plastic mechanism that increases the pull weight of the trigger to the 10-12 pound range.

The reason the NYPD insisted on this modification was entirely based on legal reasons. The fear is that in the heat of the moment, an untrained shooter will rest their finger on the trigger of their gun in preparation to shoot, but before the decision to shoot has consciously been made. Add in a sudden movement, loud noise, abrupt muscle spasm– the gun goes off, and then what would have been a justifiable homicide if you’d done it deliberately becomes manslaughter or negligent homicide. This is why you NEVER say ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘it was an accident!’ after a defensive shooting!

After several incidents where a charge of negligent homicide was levelled (notably Florida v. Alvarez and Texas v. Santibanes), several major police departments around the United States started adopting DAO pistols, in the hopes that it would correct a tendency among officers to ‘prep’ a trigger prior to firing at the target.

This is what is called a ‘hardware solution to a software issue’, and others have described these DAO configurations as a ‘great solution applied to the wrong problem.’

When using a firearm, your finger should not be on the trigger until and unless you have made the conscious decision to shoot at your target. I would go a step beyond that even and remark that until and unless you have identified a potential threat, your should keep your weapon oriented downwards.

As good as the DAO trigger on the P250 is, I wouldn’t recommend it alone over a striker or DA/SA pistol for several reasons. The sole reason I recommend the P250 at all over the P320 is because of the .380 barrel chambering. For the vast, vast majority of shooters, you simply are not going to be as efficient with a DA trigger as you are with a short, crisp one. This is not to say that it’s impossible to shoot a DAO trigger well; look at Jerry Miculek, one of the world revolver champions and easily capable of taking his 9mm revolver and out-performing even some national-class shooters firing their pistol of choice. For purposes of this argument, though, let’s focus on mere mortals.

There are various reasons for this, and they’re a combination of the way the gun is designed and the biomechanics of the human body. A good 1911 trigger moves straight back about 3/8″ and ‘breaks’ with about 4.5lbs of pressure. A Glock trigger swings in an arc that closer to 1/2″ long at the toe and breaks at 5.5-6.5 lbs. Pick up a Beretta 92 and you have a trigger with almost a full 1″ swing that takes 8lbs of force. A creaky, ancient old revolver might have a full inch of swing at the toe of the trigger and require twelve– or more! pounds to fire.

Without breaking down the specifics of how leverage works in your hand, you lose torque as your finger curls inwards. Other, clumsier muscles have to kick in to compensate as your tendons in your finger can’t complete the trigger pulling motion. So the longer the trigger pull, the more muscles you need to transfer effort to in order to complete the action of depressing the trigger; the heavier the pull, the more likely it is that you’ll need clumsy secondary muscles to help you. It’s the difference between trying to steer a heavy cart versus trying to steer a mostly empty one.

While a long DA/DAO trigger pull can help mitigate the extreme fuckups in bad handling that can lead to a bad shoot, it won’t prevent it. Every person who had a negligent discharge with a weapon they were aiming at someone broke one of the cardinal rules of gun safety: they had their finger on the trigger before they were prepared to shoot. Going to a DAO trigger can slightly obviate some of these issues, but it’s far from a perfect solution to the primary issue, which remains poor gun handling technique, NOT mechanical failure of the weapon system. And the tradeoff is a harsh one– no one who has run a 12lb New York trigger on the clock prefers it for speed or accuracy against the short, crisp 5.5lb pull of the stock factory trigger.

I’m all for installing safeties into guns to help mitigate the effects of sloppy handling. You’ll carry a gun 10,000 more times than you’ll shoot it in self defense, most likely– you’ll drop it, grab it wrong, fumble it, whatever. But crippling your ability to shoot the gun swiftly and accurately for the sake of avoiding training the most essential of safety techniques– that’s a lawyer’s solution to a problem, and it’s one that’s stung many people in the ass over the years.

Don’t try to find a hardware solution to your software problem. Train diligently.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. For what it’s worth. I totally agree. I recognize that diligent practice is required to bring the shooting ability up to that of a striker fired gun. The training (software) issues are always paramount, and all of the anecdotes I mentioned should have been avoided with proper tactics and gun handling. This is instilled in training and practice. There isn’t a hardware fix for this. And for what it’s worth, from what I can tell, heavier doesn’t mean safer when it comes to sympathetic hand movement, it seems that length of pull is more important from what I can see. I’d rather have a 3# revolver trigger for a carry gun, over a 15# striker fired gun (all else being equal). I feel the length allows some fudge room more than a heavy heavy trigger. Heavy triggers alone make most people miss.
    Thanks for reposting, dude.


  2. Erik N says:

    Hmm. You know, I’m not sure! I was about to say I feel like I can handle a NYT in my Glock easier than a smooth DAO, but– then I started thinking about my R8 revolver, and it’s got a glassy, SUPER light DAO pull that’s a bit long but as easy to manage as the first pull on my DA/DA CZ SP-01. So it might equally be a function of ‘my hands are different than yours’– everyone’s arms are built differently, and where my ‘gross motor’ muscles kick in might be somewhere other than yours.


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