The first thing I feel that I need to say is that a firearm, any firearm, is simply a tool. It is a potentially deadly tool, to be sure, but a tool nonetheless. Like any tool, the operator must be knowledgeable and trained in its use or the consequences of its misuse can be catastrophic. It is a tool with moving parts that must work together in proper sequence for a task to be successfully performed. You must know how the gun was designed and how the designer intended the gun to be maintained and used. It is an inanimate object that requires human interaction in order for it to work.
I mention this last point because some of the people who want a safety on their gun seem to think that a gun can just jump up and start shooting through its own free will. That isn't surprising given the lack of knowledge that many people have about guns, and the nearly hysterical, neurotic attitude that some people in our society have toward firearms. Such ignorance does influence others. People who use guns, whether professionally or personally, need to know how to use them responsibly, correctly and safely.
That said, I want to talk first about the most important mechanical safety on any gun, the trigger. In any modern firearm found in police service, if you don't touch the trigger, IT WILL NOT FIRE! It is the GO button and if you leave it alone, the gun will be safe. Period. Here is where the most important safety (the brain) has to grasp the significance of this point. Since the early 1980s (and in some areas even before that) we have been training police officers and private citizens alike to keep their fingers off the trigger until they are in the act of intentionally firing the gun. This rule, coupled with: Never point a gun at anything you are not prepared to see destroyed, is, after thirty years of intense training, still violated all too frequently. Too many people have been injured or killed as a result of someone's finger being on the trigger when it simply should not have been.
This brings up an interesting example of the relationship of the operator to the mechanical safeties on guns. If they can't manage this one simple rule about the trigger, how will they ever be able to manipulate other safeties that may be present? Training is essential, of course, but it must be absorbed and followed, even under intense life-or-death stress. The rules really are simple. Following them is apparently not so easy.
In Part 2 of this topic, I'll get into specifics about different safeties and what you need to know in order to decide if they really do make you, or your gun, safer.