In Defense of the Magazine Disconnect
by Kirk Lawson
There's a lot of hate in the firearms community for magazine disconnects. I've been largely blase about the arguments. I've been more interested in ergonomics, reliability, cost, and even if the design is interesting than whether or not it has a magazine disconnect. It just didn't seem that important to me one way or the other.
I understand that many people believe that a magazine disconnect hampers a handgun's ability to work as a self defense tool; the gun should be able to fire with or without a magazine in. If a magazine isn't seated properly or if it "slips" for some reason, the firearm should still be able to fire.
However, I've been giving it some actual consideration recently. And, to my surprise, I'm coming down a bit more pro-magazine disconnect.
Hear me out. I conclude that a magazine disconnect is a safety feature. The primary goal of a magazine disconnect is to add an extra layer of protection against a common unloading error. I teach proper loading and unloading in my Concealed Carry classes. Safe direction. Safety on (if applicable). Drop the magazine. Rack the slide. Unloading the pistol is common and required for cleaning and maintenance. However, I know that many people, even experienced, will sometimes reverse the order of the last two, rack the slide, then drop the magazine, which leaves a round in the chamber. The danger is compounded by the number of pistols which require the trigger to be pulled in order to disassemble, exemplified by the Glock design. This has lead to countless Unintended Discharges of Glock handguns during cleaning and many unintended injuries. Magazine disconnect prevent this problem.
The usual counter argument is that the user should get the manual of arms right. Proper training and strict adherence to the proper order. I agree. ...in a perfect world. But we don't live in a perfect world. We live in the real world where people accidentally shoot their own children because they can't adhere to Cooper's simple four rules of gun safety. To err is human. Beyond the philosophical ramifications, the practical implication is that everyone is eventually going to make a mistake and "break a rule." The construction of the rules makes them over-lapping and mutually protective, so that breaking one rule, even by accident, doesn't cause unintended injury. A proper manual of arms together with Cooper's rules, means no unintended injuries. Adding a magazine disconnect safety is adding another layer of safety against "being human."
But should a gun be able to fire without a magazine inserted as part of a complete self defense strategy? What if I'm in a self defense situation and I need to fire during a magazine change? What if I'm in a self defense situation and the magazine comes loose? Honestly, let's think about this. What circumstances are going to create a self defense situation where I have one round in the chamber and no magazine in? What is going to cause that? Who actually "times" or counts their rounds and mag swaps before the gun has run dry? I know that some people try to train to that, but studies seem to show that the vast majority of people, when under the stress of a fight-or-flight adrenaline dump, are going to pull the trigger until the gun is out of ammunition and then a few times more before ever changing the magazine. In fact, most self defense uses of a handgun are not going to expend the entire contents of a magazine. Frankly, magazine swaps are uncommon and, when they do occur, are going to be after the gun has been completely emptied, just by human nature. What if I experience a magazine drop or the magazine comes loose? Yes, that would be horribly bad in a self defense situation. However, a gun that is "mag dropping" is a gun which is suffering mechanical failures. It shouldn't be being carried at all. A person who is engaged enough in self defense thought to consider whether or not a magazine disconnect is beneficial or detrimental is going to be practicing enough with their pistol to ensure that it is 100% reliable and functional, as should everyone who carries a handgun for self defense.
To be completely honest, both logically and statistically speaking, the idea that a magazine disconnect could render the firearm unusable during a self defense situation seems like more than a little bit of a stretch. Could it happen? Sure. But how often has it? How many cases can be documented where a magazine disconnect rendered a handgun inoperable "when it really counts?" I haven't been able to find any. In contrast how many documented cases are there of people discharging handguns during maintenance and handling with the magazine out? Thousands, right?
Comparing the less than negligible chance of "getting killed because of a magazine disconnect" against the uncomfortably common occurrence of an Unintended Discharge with the magazine out, logic forces me to conclude that magazine disconnects are an important and useful safety feature.