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[Comparison] Single Action vs Double Action vs Striker

What Are Gun Actions?

Chances are you’ll see a bunch of lingo in gun descriptions about their action.

We’re here to help you figure everything out!

Simply put, a gun’s action is just how it works in relation to ammunition…how it loads, locks, fires, and extracts the casings.

Some of the most common actions in handguns are single action and double action.  We’ll start by describing these two in the world of revolvers before diving into the slightly more complicated world modern “autoloaders” or semi-automatic handguns.

Table of Contents


Single Action Revolvers

Colt Single Action Army
Colt Single Action Army

The gun that won the West where good guys and bad guys had to cock the hammer back before they are able to fire each time.

Most of the time you would use your thumb, but we all know these scenes…

A Fistful of Dollars

I like to remember single action as pressing the trigger only does one action…release the hammer so the gun goes boom!  If you don’t cock the hammer manually and just press the trigger, nothing will happen.

Since the only action that happens is releasing the hammer, single action trigger pulls are usually smooth, crisp, and short with a weight of a few pounds.

One big downside is that unlike more modern revolvers, the cylinder that holds all the ammo is fixed so you can’t just swing it out and eject all the cartridges at once.  You have to eject one by one…and then load one by one.

Unloading Single Action Revolver, Hickok45
Unloading Single Action Revolver, Hickok45

Double Action Revolvers

Editor's Choice
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Chances are unless you know a revolver is single action, it is likely double action.  So in this case, the trigger does two actions…cock the hammer back and also release it.

S&W .38 Slow Motion
S&W .38 Slow Motion

The trigger pull of a double action revolver is longer and heavier since you are moving the hammer back before firing and can be around the 10+ lb mark before it breaks.

Each subsequent pull of the trigger will be the same.

The great thing is most double action revolvers with the hammer exposed can be turned into single action by manually cocking the hammer before pressing the trigger.  This brings the trigger in line with single action standards of a crisp light pull.

Some concealed carry revolvers are double-action only since there is no exposed hammer to prevent snagging.

Best Bang-For-Buck CCW Revolver

Still with me?

And double action revolvers also have the flip out chamber which enables much quicker reloads.  Blink and you’ll miss it with Jerry Miculek who shoots 12 with a reload in under 3 seconds.

Jerry Miculek 12 Shots
Jerry Miculek 12 Shots

Single Action Autoloaders

1911 Diagram of Parts
1911 Diagram of Parts

Now it’s diving into more modern territory.  An autoloader is exactly what it sounds like…it can automatically load the next round without the use of a revolver’s rotating cylinder.  This usually means the use of a magazine.

Now how can a regular handgun be single action?  You never see people in movies cocking modern looking handguns between each shot.  They only unnecessarily do it before for dramatic effect!

This is because when you load one round into the chamber by racking the slide, you also move back the hammer.  With each subsequent shot, the movement of the slide re-cocks the hammer again.  A good example of a single action autoloader is the 1911 which is known for its crisp light trigger.

1911 Action
1911 Action

Most often the 1911 is carried in “Condition 1” or “Cocked and Locked” since a round has been chambered, the hammer is cocked, and the safety has been engaged (locked).  To shoot, you only need to disengage the safety and pull the trigger.

Some may find this a little intimidating, when compared to double action or striker, fired autoloaders.  Which is why I recommend beginning shooters not start with a single action handgun until their skills improve.

Don’t forget to take a look at our top picks for the Best Affordable 1911s!

Double Action Autoloaders

Double Action / Single Action

Most double action autoloaders are actually merely double action for the first shot and single action afterward (DA/SA).

If you see an exposed hammer on a modern looking handgun, chances are it is DA/SA.  This hybrid action has the long trigger pull for the first shot while subsequent shots are single action as the movement of the slide automatically cocks the hammer.

Beretta M9 Double Action Single Action
Beretta M9 Double Action Single Action

Some of the best well-known DA/SA handguns are the Beretta M9 used by the US military, it’s 92FS civilian counterpart and most Sig Sauers.

Beretta 92FS Diagram of Parts
Beretta 92FS Diagram of Parts

For many, this is the perfect blend of preventing accidental discharges due to the heavy first pull and easier follow-up shots.  But always make sure to follow the 4 rules of firearms safety regardless!


Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Double Action Only

Now you run into more rare actions which include the double action only (DAO) which came about likely since law enforcement wanted something even “safer” for their officers.  Examples include Sig Sauers with DAK triggers (“Double Action Kellerman”) and some H&K variants.

You’ll see that even when the slide is racked to simulate a shot, the hammer still stays uncocked until the trigger is pulled again.

Sig Sauer DAK Trigger
Sig Sauer DAK Trigger

Only one trigger action needs to be learned but there’s a weird quirk of two reset points.  The first reset point has a ~8 lb trigger pull and allows for rapid fire, but the second reset point has a ~6.5 lb trigger pull.  Sig recommends that you allow full reset so you only use the ~6.5 pull.  My brain hurts a little from this…so let’s move onto my favorite action.

Striker Fired Autoloaders

Striker-fired autoloaders such as the Glock are easy to spot since they don’t have an exposed hammer…it is pretty much just flat in the back.

Glock 17 Diagram of Parts
Glock 17 Diagram of Parts

Striker-fired guns are a variation on the DAO theme but without two resets.

They have a long but pretty light (~5 lbs) take-up stage that increases in weight as you get closer to the break.  During this take-up stage, a spring is compressed and released at the break to propel a “striker” firing pin forward.  Each subsequent trigger pull is the same.

Glock Trigger
Glock Trigger

And let’s be honest, the break is nowhere close to a nice single action like the 1911 but is totally acceptable judging by the number of striker-fired fans.

There’s also no external safety to fiddle with except for a lever in the middle of the trigger that only allows the trigger to be depressed when a finger-like item is pressing…things that snag the trigger on the side should not affect it.

Glock Trigger Safety
Glock Trigger Safety

While striker fired guns will never have as good of triggers as a solid 1911, you can improve Glock triggers for competition, duty, and home defense use.


Hopefully, now you have a much better sense of the differences between single action vs double action for both old-school revolvers and modern autoloaders.

Since I know someone is going to ask…I prefer striker-fired pistols since they have the same trigger pull each time and do not have a manual safety you need to flip.  I’ve had several experiences during classes where when I was under stress and forgot to release the safety on my 1911.  Great trigger for competitions…but I’d rather have my Glock for home defense.

What do you prefer and why?  And if you’re new to guns…check out our Beginner’s Guide to Guns which goes over everything important you need to know.  


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23 Leave a Reply

  • Steve Gill

    I think the solution is to train with both DA/SA and striker fired. I have both and mastering the DA trigger pull helps verify my hand hold and trigger work making me a better shooter. My DA gun has a Langdon trigger and my striker fired has an Apex trigger. Add a red dot optic and life is good. However, train with iron and optics.

    March 9, 2021 8:02 am
  • Mark Gander

    have been shooting DA/SA pistols awhile. My everyday carry is Beretta 92 Elite LTT. Truly love the gun .The pistol is more accurate tan most shooters LOL... However I like shooting striker fired to. I guess you as a shooter must decide guess I just love the beretta 92.

    Paris, TN

    October 4, 2020 1:43 pm
  • John Leichty

    I have a 9mm California approved semi auto pistol ….. this one seems to have a long trigger pull ……… California decided I need to do a range firing test to re new my CCW … I agree that a check out for gun safety is reasonable ……… the state decided a 5-6 round drop mag reload and another 5-6 rounds , three double sets at three distances ( 5-6 per magazine depending on what county ) ….. well , at 73 now ( VN vet ) .. I seem to need a better trigger pull that will pull a bit and fire …. I heard a lot from range folks ….. one that knows I am having a little bit of right eye issues and right hand just a little , and right handed , see fine always wit left eye ……… well , I will practice , and watch all the great videos ……… but What pistol action and brand might be best for me …… I am looking at a Sig D/S 9MM ….. PLEASE ADVISE …..especially on smooth stable trigger pull ……………...

    December 22, 2019 12:03 pm
  • Paladin8654

    A very precise and reader friendly explanation----bravo. I prefer the 1911, for personal reasons. And, if you practice as I do, the safety won't be a problem. At the range, with a full magazine, lock and load. Apply the safety, then put the weapon down in front of you. When you are ready, pick up the weapon, release the safety, and fire at will. Repeat this sequence with each magazine. Soon, deactivating the safety will be 'automatic'. Just one old Marine's opinion. YMMV

    April 1, 2019 3:45 pm
  • DeltaBravoKS

    Fantastic explanation. However, I find it interesting that at least in two of the videos, it appears the palm partially covers the barrel when racking the slide on the autos. The full hand is out of view, but by the placement of the fingers it looks like the base of the palm or at least the wrist would be directly in line with the barrel. I'm no expert in gun safety, but it seems dangerous to me to ever place a part of the body in front of the business end of a gun. It seems as though it would create a bad habit to rack a slide while covering the barrel with a hand or wrist.

    September 2, 2018 8:09 am
    • Eric Hung

      Glad we could help out! And yes...the video clips do show some body parts in front of the muzzle which is a no-no.

      September 4, 2018 10:51 am
  • Tom

    Great article!

    June 23, 2018 12:30 am
  • Larry Greenberg

    I am going to buy my first firearm, and this article answered everything I was confused a structural engineer, I'm now able to make a very precise purchase..thank you so much for sharing all of your experience Eric!

    November 3, 2017 9:23 pm
    • Eric Hung

      Glad I could help out, Larry!

      November 7, 2017 5:22 pm
  • Stephen Burchett

    thank you for the information technology changes and you have covered all the bases. In my opinion there is no bad pistol, it boils down to affordability, preference, and which one you can shoot the best.. I prefer the Colt 1911 Gold Cup.

    March 6, 2017 3:06 am
    • Eric Hung

      You're welcome Stephen!

      March 7, 2017 6:26 pm
  • Joe

    thanks i'll stick with the striker fired action; I want to leave the chamber empty normally as a safety precaution, and slide the first round in when I may need the gun for protection,which I hope never happens. I know that takes some time but no more than having to cock a hammer or fumble for a safety switch.

    March 2, 2017 5:52 pm
    • Omer Causey

      A major disadvantage to having to rack the slide and chamber a round before being able to fire is that there may be times when you can't get your weak-side hand to the gun. Driving, arm pinned, arm injured, etc.

      October 29, 2018 4:52 pm
  • Roger

    Well presented sir, and the graphics are excellent.

    February 20, 2017 6:51 am
    • Eric Hung

      Thanks so much Roger!

      February 21, 2017 1:20 pm
  • Zachary barnd

    DA/SA sig makes the best guns in my opinion. I own a p229 and I'm not looking back.

    February 19, 2017 6:05 pm
    • Jessica

      I've heard a lot about Sigs and getting ready to purchase a p320. I love all the customizable options. Love these articles, great info!!!

      February 19, 2017 8:49 pm
      • Eric Hung

        Thanks so much Jessica! We'll have a P320 review out soon so stay tuned.

        February 21, 2017 1:18 pm
  • David

    My favorite is the FNX series from FNH. They are hammer fired, double /single action with a manual safety and decocker. This allows you to carry:
    Hammer down, safety off (or on)
    Hammer cocked, safety on (cocked and locked like a 1911)

    When shooting you can have the harde double action as your first pull followed by the easier single action, or cock the hammer and have every shot single action, or use the decocker and have every shot double action. Definitely not recommended for beginners though :)

    February 5, 2017 4:33 am
  • Lee Holland

    Hi Eric,
    At last a place to find fundamental (and advnced) info on guns, without all the snarkyness of most other sites....KUDOS!!

    Check out the kahr line of 45 cal autoloader, you'll be impressed I love my cw 45 Dao striker!
    Thanks and keep it up.

    September 26, 2016 11:20 am
    • ehung

      Thanks Lee! And hope to try out some Kahr handguns soon.

      September 29, 2016 5:00 pm
  • Roy Smith

    I think my Rugers - at least the SR series ones - are "striker fired" with both the trigger safety... and another separate safety switch that prevents the slider from sliding. I like to have the 2nd safety option in the instance when I'm teaching my sons to shoot.

    April 14, 2016 6:14 pm
    • ehung

      Thanks for the insight Roy...didn't know Ruger had those!

      April 15, 2016 7:17 am