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Single Action vs. Double Action: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on January 13, 2024
Single action is a firearm mechanism where the trigger performs one action, typically releasing the hammer. Double action is a firearm mechanism where the trigger performs two actions, cocking and releasing the hammer.

Key Differences

Single action firearms require manual cocking of the hammer before each shot, making the trigger pull lighter and often more precise. Double action firearms allow pulling the trigger to both cock and release the hammer, offering quicker successive shots. Both mechanisms are found in various types of handguns.
In single action, the trigger's sole function is to release the hammer or striker. In contrast, double action triggers first cock the hammer and then release it in a single pull. Both systems have distinct advantages in terms of speed and accuracy.
Single action firearms are often favored for target shooting due to their light and crisp trigger pull. Double action firearms are commonly used for self-defense because of their ability to fire immediately without manual cocking. Both types require different levels of skill and training.
Maintenance of single action firearms typically involves fewer moving parts compared to double action, potentially leading to greater reliability and longevity. Double action firearms, however, offer the advantage of a quicker response in emergency situations. Both designs reflect different priorities in firearm engineering.
Single action mechanisms are commonly seen in older and classic firearm models. Modern handguns more frequently utilize double action mechanisms or a combination of both (double action/single action). Each type provides unique benefits depending on the intended use of the firearm.

Comparison Chart

Trigger Function

Only releases the hammer.
Cocks and releases the hammer.

Hammer Cocking

Requires manual cocking for each shot.
Trigger pull cocks the hammer.

Suited For

Precision shooting, target practice.
Self-defense, quicker successive firing.

Trigger Pull

Lighter and more precise.
Heavier due to dual function.

Typical Usage

Older classic models, revolvers.
Modern firearms, including revolvers.

Single Action and Double Action Definitions

Single Action

Single action refers to a firearm where the trigger only releases the hammer.
The cowboy used a single action revolver in the competition.

Double Action

Double action means the trigger both cocks and releases the hammer.
Her double action handgun was ready to fire without manual cocking.

Single Action

Known for a lighter and more precise trigger pull.
The single action mechanism contributed to his accuracy.

Double Action

Typically has a heavier trigger pull due to dual function.
The double action mechanism made the trigger pull heavier.

Single Action

Often preferred in sports shooting and target practice.
Single action revolvers are popular in target shooting sports.

Double Action

Allows for immediate firing without separate cocking.
The police officer used a double action pistol for its readiness.

Single Action

It requires manual cocking of the hammer for each shot.
He cocked the hammer of his single action pistol before firing.

Double Action

Common in modern self-defense firearms.
Double action revolvers are reliable for self-defense situations.

Single Action

Single action is common in traditional and classic firearms.
Collectors value single action firearms for their historical significance.

Double Action

Favored for quick successive shots.
In an emergency, his double action firearm provided rapid response.

Single Action

Relating to a firearm whose trigger serves only to fire the weapon and not to cock it.

Double Action

Alternative spelling of double action


Can single action guns fire rapidly?

No, they require manual cocking before each shot.

What is a double action firearm?

A gun where the trigger cocks and releases the hammer.

Are double action guns good for beginners?

They can be, due to their readiness to fire.

What is a single action firearm?

A gun where the trigger only releases the hammer.

Do single action guns have a lighter trigger?

Yes, the trigger pull is generally lighter and more precise.

How do you cock a single action firearm?

Manually by pulling back the hammer.

Does double action affect accuracy?

The heavier trigger pull can affect precision.

Is double action better for self-defense?

Often preferred for its quick firing capability.

Is double action more complex mechanically?

Yes, due to the dual function of the trigger.

Can a double action gun be fired as a single action?

Some models allow for both modes of operation.

Can single action revolvers be semi-automatic?

No, single action is typically a feature of revolvers.

Can you modify a single action to double action?

Not typically, as they are fundamentally different mechanisms.

Are all revolvers single action?

No, revolvers can be single action, double action, or both.

Why choose a single action for target shooting?

For its precision and light trigger pull.

Do police use double action firearms?

Many modern police firearms are double action for readiness.

Are double action guns more expensive?

They can be, due to their more complex mechanism.

Are single action guns safer?

They have a simpler mechanism, which some consider safer.

Do single action guns have a safety?

Some do, but it varies by model and design.

Is maintenance different for double action guns?

Yes, they may require more complex maintenance.

Do all military guns use double action?

No, the choice depends on the specific requirements and gun model.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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