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Safety Fast Shooting System:
The Condition One Alternative
By Massad Ayoob

 You've heard about it. We've tried it. It works! Jeff Cooper convinced most of us, and logic convinced the Texas Rangers long before, that cocked-and-locked, or Condition One, is the most sensible way to carry a single-action semiautomatic defensive pistol like the 1911 or P-35. However, "most of us" doesn't cover as much ground as it sounds.

Generations or American fighting men learned to carry hammer down on empty chambers. As a young officer wearing a Condition One Colt on patrol, I would repeatedly hear, "My God, your gun is cocked!" On one occasion I gave a supervisor the whole history of John Browning's design, and he replied, "Well, it still scares me."

"That's okay," I replied, "it's normal to be frightened of things you don't understand." This may explain why I had to go to another department to get a rank higher than patrolman.

I eventually learned that a Don Hume hammer-shield, designed to protect jackets from raspy S&W revolver hammer spurs, could go over the safety strap of my Colt's holster just as well, hiding its cocked status from view without slowing the draw. You see, there wasn't anything then like the Safety Fast Shooting System (SFS).

The concept is brought to us by one of our premier custom pistolsmiths, Bill Laughridge, founder of Cylinder & Slide Shop. Laughridge (say it "Lock-ridge"; he has the only name in the business more frequently mispronounced than mine and Frank Pachmayr's) has given us a way to carry hammer-down on a live round with instantaneous fire capability, using the 1911 and P-35 pistols.


How It Works

Shove a mag into your SFS-converted Browning Hi-Power or 1911, and chamber a round. Now, with the muzzle in a safe direction, use your support hand to gently push the hammer forward. You'll feel a light spring tension until it goes down to "rest" and locks in place.

That's it. Holster safe. You're good to go.

When you need to fire, draw as usual. At the moment when you would press the safety catch down into the "fire" position with your regular single-action pistol, press down on the same lever on this one.

The hammer will fly back to the cocked position. You are "cocked and unlocked" and ready to commence fire.

You're done shooting? Take your finger off the trigger. Point the muzzle in a safe direction. Use your free hand to push the hammer down again. If it's an emergency and that hand is otherwise occupied, Bill and his colleagues have wisely caused the hammer to be shaped so that you can keep the muzzle pointed safely away from you, parallel to the ground, and bring your hand in to your torso.

Let the back edge of the cocked hammer touch your chest, keep pulling gently back, et voila, the hammer is safely de-cocked. Thumb the manual safety up to the "on safe" position, and you're back where you were, with a safe pistol in hand and ready to be holstered.

In this condition, the mechanism is totally locked. The slide can't be drawn back until the safety is depressed, cocking the hammer. Yes, this leaves you with an off-safe, cocked and loaded pistol for a moment of manipulation, but so do conventional single-action 1911 and P35s. Because the depressing of the thumb safety creates a "release" action rather than a "cocking" action, it requires no more effort than engaging the regular thumb safeties on these pistols.


Inside The SFS

"The passive safeties are still totally intact: the grip safety and the Series 80 firing pin block are still in effect," Laugh-ridge explains. "The hammer in effect is a split assembly. In addition to the hammer assembly, the kit includes the mainspring, the ambidextrous safety assembly, and an extra power plunger spring. It was geared to be a true drop-in kit. I wanted anyone who could competently detail strip and reassemble one of these pistols to be able to install the SFS."

Continues Laughridge, "The upper half of the split hammer assembly has the spur and the portion that strikes the firing pin. The other half has the hammer on hooks that engage the sear. When the hammer spur half is pushed forward, the safety is automatically cammed up to lock the sear and the hammer spur half in the forward position. This is done with an extra powerful plunger spring. There is no detent per se in the safety. The hammer face is now locked in place so that it does not touch the firing pin."

Personal Experience

I've been running cocked-and-locked Colts since I was 12-years-old. Running Laughridge's SFS wasn't exactly a big changing of gears. I kept trying to push the thumb safety back up when I was done shooting. It wouldn't go. I'd say to myself, "Oh, yeah," and use the other hand to push the hammer back down. That passed quickly.

What I'm saying is, the transition isn't a biggie. It's not a complex psychomotor skill. You aren't going to need 3,000 repetitions to hard-wire your long-term muscle memory to make this work for you. If you know what you're doing with the basic pistol, running the same gun with an SFS will be a piece of cake.

The best news is the price. The kit originally cost $230. Bill has worked a better deal with the Europeans, and is passing on the savings. The SFS kit for either a P-35 or 1911 is now down to $149.95 plus $6.50 shipping and handling. Bill promises almost immediate shipment. (Prices have changed, since the publication of this article, please visit our online store for the latest prices.) 

There are lots of people who like Colt .45s and Browning Hi-Powers but don't like the cocked-and-locked concept. The is a viable option that works.