Posted By admin on November 3, 2014
By: Larry Haley from Volume 16 Winter 2013
Since the beginning of this magazine there has been at least one article on safety. Safety is something we can never forget or push to the background if we are to enjoy our shooting sports and enjoy them without incidents. Previous articles have described situations that we would not think would happen, but they do and did.
We have discussed the major firearm safety rules many times. Another aspect of firearm safety is to be very knowledgeable about each firearm you handle. There can be minor differences between two firearms that look much the same, that have big safety considerations. For example, let’s look at the famous Colt Peacemaker, the “six-gun”, and compare it to the modern Ruger Vaquero.
(Picture of each gun from the same side) The Peacemaker is on the left and the Vaquero is on the right. They look very similar and have similar features. They both hold six cartridges and are both single action, meaning you have to pull the hammer back first and then pull the trigger to fire.
Now let’s look at them when they are fully cocked.
(Picture of each gun cocked, maybe close up at rear area)
Do you notice anything different about them? Look closely at the hammer on each one. The Peacemaker’s hammer has a pointed part on it. That is the firing pin. The Vaquero hammer is flat. It doesn’t have a firing pin on it. If you remember, the firing pin is the part of the firearm that strikes the primer on the cartridge causing the gun to fire.
So how does the Vaquero work without a firing pin? Well, it does have a firing pin, but it’s built into the gun between the hammer and the cartridge. So why did they build it that way? There are two major reasons. The first is that the firing pin on the Peacemaker can be broken off, making it unable to fire. So the Vaquero doesn’t have that problem. The second is that it makes the Vaquero safer, and that is what we are interested in.
The firing pin mechanism on the Vaquero is called a transfer bar and from that we get the term transfer bar safety. The transfer bar moves up and down. It is down, safe, most of the time. It only moves up and in-between the hammer and the cartridge when the trigger is pulled. Okay, why does that make it safer?
To answer that, let’s first look closer at the Peacemaker. Since we don’t have the space in this article for a lot of pictures I will try to explain it. When a Peacemaker is cocked the chamber rotates and a new cartridge is lined up with the barrel. When the trigger is pulled, the hammer moves forward and its firing pin fits through a small hole allowing it to hit the cartridge. It then fires.
This firing pin, which is long enough to hit the cartridge, is also long enough that if the firearm is loaded with six cartridges and the hammer is down, it is resting on the primer of a cartridge. Any kind of a hit on the hammer, or the gun being dropped, could cause the gun to fire. Thus the standard safety rule for the Peacemaker is to only load five cartridges and make sure the hammer is down on the empty one.
The Vaquero does not have this issue. Since the trigger has to be pulled for the firing pin to be lined up between the hammer and the cartridge, the gun can’t fire when the hammer is down, making it much safer. Because of this, the Vaquero can be safely loaded with six cartridges, a true “six-shooter.”
If you can, find someone who has these firearms, and can handle them safely, to show them to you so you can better see what is described above.
Okay, now for some fun. Do you want to be a western film and TV critic? Watch some shows. Pay close attention to any Peacemaker handling. You can ignore the fact that in the old movies they seem to shoot about 20 times without reloading, everybody knows that one.
Here’s what to watch for: A cowboy, gunslinger, or whoever, pulls his gun, cocks it, and then doesn’t fire it and lets the hammer back down and puts it back in the holster. What did they just do? You’re right; they now have the firing pin resting on the primer of the unfired cartridge. It could fire with a bump on the hammer or some other jarring motion. Explain that to your friends. You are now the Gunslinger Guru.
So remember, each type of firearm has its own level of safety and some that look similar may operate differently. You need to become familiar with any firearm before you use it. I recommend that you ask someone who is familiar with a firearm to explain how it works before you attempt to load or shoot it.
Be safe, have fun.