The Great Slide Release Debate

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It is difficult to overestimate the importance of repetition in training. Ever since the Newhall, CA shootout in 1969, when officers were found with empty revolver cartridge casings in their pockets and live shotgun rounds were ejected onto the ground, trainers have been emphasizing that what you do in training is probably what you will do under real threat conditions. However, in an effort to make your actions under stress as repeatable and useful as possible, we occasionally try to make them as simple as possible--the "KISS" principle. In the process, some things we teach become so inflexible that they lose touch with the fact that life isn't simple, and you're not stupid. People mean well when they try to make your training as uncomplicated as possible, but a dogmatic approach to the use of firearms to save your life can leave you short on options when you may need them the most. Lately, for example, I've been hearing a lot of discussion about the "proper" way to manipulate the slide on a semi-automatic pistol. This is just one specific operation, but it sure seems to generate a lot of, shall we say, enthusiastic debate. Since this illustrates my point so nicely, let's see where it leads us.

There are basically two schools of thought on the matter. One is that the proper way to manipulate the slide to load or reload the gun is to grasp the slide with your support hand, pull it to the rear and release it. The other is to push down on the slide release lever, assuming of course that the slide is locked to the rear in the first place. Where I get tangled up in these arguments is when someone insists that their way is the ONLY proper way. There are excellent reasons for each technique, but when I see only one method being taught, I get concerned for your welfare. The truth is, you better know how to do both. Let's look at the options and see how they are applied.

Pull back the slide

First up, pulling on the slide. There are a couple of ways to do this. One is to grasp the slide with the support hand, palm down over the top of the slide. This is a fairly natural movement of the arm and allows for the slide to be securely grasped by the fingers on one side and the palm of the hand on the other. Just tug the slide to the rear and you're done. This works whether the slide is locked back or not, is very positive and is a "gross motor skill" movement. The down side? Well, if you are using a gun with a stiff recoil spring (and maybe even having to push against a hammer mainspring) that must be overcome, the tendency is to turn the gun so the forearms are aligned and the arms can push reciprocally against each other. The muzzle of the gun then ends up pointing at your own elbow, or someone next to you. If you forgot to keep your finger off the trigger, the possibility of serious injury is considerable. You must always be aware of the orientation of the gun when you are using this method.

You must also be aware of the placement of your hand on the top of the slide. Never put your hand near the muzzle OR the ejection port of the pistol. The muzzle part should be obvious, so let's talk about the ejection port. If you are in the habit of using this method and you need to clear a jam, your hand can block the port and keep an offending cartridge from falling out of the gun. Worse yet, you can cause a loose cartridge to fall back onto the feed ramp and be pushed into the chamber backwards. If this happens, it can only be cleared by sticking something down the barrel from the muzzle end. This is not easily done during a gunfight. And, even worse yet, if you are trying to clear a live round out of the chamber and the primer hits the ejector, your hand will take the hit when the grenade-like detonation of the cartridge occurs. Take a look at your gun and see how little room there really is on the top of the slide for your hand to encircle it without getting too close to the muzzle or the ejection port. If this is the only technique you know, it will not translate well from simply loading the firearm to clearing jams.

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