Subject: Cocked and locked and ready to rock…the way that JMB intended! Right? Well, no. Not really. John Browning didn’t have a free hand with the 1911 and he didn’t do it alone. The 1911 was designed by a committee. Browning was hired to guide and direct as he worked on past designs to bring the US Army’s request for a new automatic pistol to reality. Simply put, he and Colt’s team of engineers and designers gave’em what they asked for…no more and no less.
There was no intent for the gun to be continuously maintained in Condition One…neither by Browning nor the US Army. It was to be a military sidearm, and…as has always been military protocol…it was to be kept with the chamber empty and the hammer lowered unless and until action was imminent or the order was given to lock and load. This is true of all military arms, from the pistol to the 155 self-propelled howitzer.
Second…Browning’s first submission of what we recognize as the 1911 was the Model of 1910, which didn’t yet have the manual safety that we’ve come to call the “thumb safety.” That was the request of the US Cavalry and the reason was so that the mounted trooper could quickly make the gun safe and free up both hands to regain control of a frightened, unruly horse on the premise that the gun would be redrawn shortly afterward. Even in those unenlightened days, the thinking heads realized that a man might neglect to get his finger away from the trigger should he have to reholster the pistol under the stress of a fight…a point that Gaston Glock either failed to consider or decided to ignore.
Browning rather gave the choices of Conditions 1…2…3…or half cocked. Beyond that, he probably didn’t give a rotund rodent’s rump what they did. A case of:
“Here ya go, boys. Here’s the pistol you asked for. You can do this, this, or this. You figure it out. I’m headed to Belgium.”
If the truth was known, he was probably pretty sick of the whole affair by the time he finished with it, and was ready to move on.
Thus, the 1911 CAN be carried cocked and locked, but it wasn’t designed or intended specifically TO be carried that way. An option. Nothing more.
Third. The grip safety was also added on request of the US Army, and it first appeared as a tacked-on addition on a few of the Model 1905s, and incorporated into the design on the 1907. Like the Model 1900, 1902, and the 1905, the 1907 still used the pivoting trigger, non-tilting twin-linked barrel, and rear slide dismount. Those pistols didn’t hold up to the recoil forces generated by the required .45 cartridge, so a complete redesign was needed. That came with the Model 1909. Here, we see the first real resemblance to the 1911. It used the tilting barrel, single link, sliding, straight-line trigger, and forward slide dismount. Like the 1907, it had a grip safety, but no thumb safety…and still relied on the captive half-cock notch for its manual safety.
Which brings us to the often maligned grip safety.
The grip safety was and is a drop safety…not a carry safety…made necessary by the heavy steel sliding trigger. It was discovered that should the pistol be dropped from the average height of a mounted trooper, it was highly likely that it would land muzzle up, and the mass of the trigger was often enough to roll the sear out of the hammer hooks far enough and for enough time to miss the half cock notch…resulting in a discharge directed upward at the horse or the rider…or other horses and riders in the immediate vicinity.
They weren’t at all concerned with muzzle down discharges because if it happened on natural ground, the bullet would go harmlessly into the dirt, and if it happened on hard pavement, the bullet would stop the instant it struck the pavement. Muzzle up discharges worried them…and thus the reason for the grip safety.
Modern lightweight, low mass triggers make this less of a concern, but it’s still a very real possibility. For this reason, I advise against disabling the grip safety when the question comes up.
When the concerns over the relative safety of a cocked and locked 1911 are voiced, I try to describe the way that the lockwork functions to put these fears to rest. Although no loaded gun can ever be completely safe, the 1911 is as safe in that mode as any loaded gun can be. Browning was the master of redundancy and designing one part to perform two or more functions, and he always had a backup system in place. In this case, the backup system is the short, almost instantaneous sear reset and the half cock notch which serves the dual purpose of manual safety and hammer arrest in case it slips off the full cock notch, or the hammer hooks both break at the same time.
Lastly, when the concerns of cocking or decocking the 1911 show up, I demonstrate proper technique when I can…and try to describe it when I can’t. Hunter Eliott and I made a short video because if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth 10,000. Yes, I know that Condition One is the “best” way 99.9% of the time, but as sure as the sun rises in the east, somebody will cock and lower the hammer on a hot chamber, so I figured that it might be a good idea to see how to do it safely. The video contains a bonus demonstration of a safe pinch check, which has also brought howls of distress. I’ll add it in my next comment.