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The Difference Between Single And Double Action Handguns

by Ben Jimenez 4 min read

Single And Double Action

Handguns come in many styles, sizes, and ammo types. If you have been looking at guns for the first time, you might be overwhelmed with terms you aren't familiar with. Two terms to describe handguns are "single action" and "double-action". If not for clear definitions of these terms, they could leave a lot to the imagination in regards to what they could refer to.

What Does Single And Double Action Mean?

A gun is either single or double action depending on what happens when the gun's trigger is pulled. A single-action handgun can only fire a round when the trigger is pulled. A double-action handgun can serve another purpose besides firing a round, which is cocking back its chamber.

The majority of guns are single action. If you come across a gun that is double action, it will most likely be a revolver or handgun. There is an alternative to the double-action gun called the "traditional double-action", which is explained later in this post.

What Is Single Action?

Triggers in single action guns, to reiterate, can only fire a round and not cock and drop the hammer, hence the name "single action". When you pull the trigger on a single action gun, it does not require a lot of force to fire a round, thus it is easy to fire with one. The user must manually cock the gun's hammer in order to reload. An example of a single-action handgun is the classic Beretta 92FS.

What Is Double Action?

Triggers in double-action guns perform two actions; both fire a round and cock the hammer. After a round is fired, the striker reverts back to its de-cocked position. Pulling the trigger on a double-action gun will require more force, making it harder to fire. Thanks to its double action, reloading is faster than in most single-action guns. One example of a double-action handgun is the Ruger SP101 Revolver.

There are also guns that are called double-action / single-action (DA / SA) or "traditional double action". These guns use elements of both single and double action guns. The gun's recoil slide will automatically cock the hammer once a round is fired. With every shot, the trigger acts as a single action trigger.

What Are The Differences Between The Two?

Here are the differences gun users will come to expect when trying out both types of handgun:


A single-action gun will typically involve opening a latch at the back of the cylinder to load each round, and then turn the cylinder to ready the gun. With a double-action revolver, the cylinder can be released from the frame of the gun. From there, the rounds can be speed-loaded or manually loaded into the cylinder. Inserting new rounds into the gun is similar for both types of guns, but double action will tend to be faster.


Accuracy may also be affected by single or double action guns. This is due to the trigger. Single action guns will have light and crisp trigger pulls, requiring less effort to shoot. Double action guns require more force to shoot, thus as more focus goes into your trigger finger, less focus may go towards the target. Skill and strength are required from the user in order to shoot accurately with a double-action gun, but most owners should be capable of being just as accurate as if using a single action gun.


The first impression among gun owners is that double-action guns are safer, as they require more force on their triggers to activate. The realization is that both guns can equally be as safe with the right features, which include safety caps, blocks, or disconnects, which are available for both kinds of guns.

Which One Should I Choose For A Handgun?

Both types of guns have their advantages over the other. The choice for a gun all comes down to personal preference, and for users who are keen on trying both styles out can test-fire guns before buying them at select gun stores.

Single action handguns are great for people who do not want to use too much force to fire, especially women. These guns are known to be easy to handle and practice with. While you can use double-action guns for self-defense, a single action can be more convenient in case of an emergency, due to the lighter trigger.

Double action handguns make for faster reloading, as you don't need to change the position of your firing hand in order to drop the hammer to open the cylinder. This makes double-action handguns best for hunting where one might happen to use tens or dozens of ammo cartridges.


Single action and double action guns serve different purposes in terms of convenience and ease of use for gun owners. As you consider your options for one or more guns to buy, also look into buying a quality KYDEX gun holster for each of them.

Ben Jimenez
Ben Jimenez

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