Are Glock Pistols Unsafe?
"Perfection" is a term Glock uses with respect to its extensive line of popular "safe action" autoloading handguns, but "unsafe" is a descriptor used by some detractors of the design. Is either correct or are both wrong or might the truth lie somewhere in between?
Glock pistols are striker-fired designs in which pressing the trigger fully retracts and releases a partially "pre-cocked" striker to fire the pistol offering a constant trigger-pull for each shot. All Glocks have an internal firing pin block or safety, which merely means that the striker cannot contact a chamber cartridge's primer unless the trigger is being pressed. Dropping the gun cannot cause it to fire as might occur were the pistol dropped squarely on the muzzle from sufficient height onto a hard surface (possibly) allowing the striker's forward inertia to fire the pistol. Firing pin blocks are present in many handgun designs besides Glock and that in this safety aspect, Glocks appear just as safe as any other firing-pin-safety-equipped pistol.
But what about "kabooms"? Glocks do seem to be reported very often when this topic comes up, especially those chambered for the high-pressure .40 S&W cartridge. Much of the time, it seems that "insufficient case support" is the factor blamed, perhaps in conjunction with over-pressure handloads, but not always. While it appears that no caliber Glock handgun is immune from such claims, the 9mm (also a high-pressure load) seems to be least-afflicted by the "KB" phenomenon. Some opine that this is because the original Glock design was 9x19mm and design dimensions were optimum for it, but going to the larger 40-caliber round in the same size pistol might result in less than adequate case support in some instances.
Glock handguns were offered in .40 S&W soon after the cartridge was introduced and I have personally witnessed two KB's with an early Glock 22 issued to a member of a state law enforcement agency. Both of these mishaps were with factory-loaded ammunition from a major US manufacturer. In neither instance was the shooter injured or the pistol damaged, but it was pretty darned disconcerting to say the least. Did Glock quietly increase the G22's case support or might the ammunition manufacturer have altered its load for the-then new-fangled forty? I do not know but suspect that the true answer is "both". A year or so later, I purchased a NIB Glock 22 and never experienced any KB problems using either factory or handloaded ammunition, but a few years later a friend of mine could not fire any factory-loaded 10mm through his Glock 20 without cases showing sizeable bulge where unsupported. Glock replaced the barrel and the problem never reappeared. I have been told that the company has quietly increased case support in its handgun line, but I have not seen this acknowledged by any spokesperson or press release. (Perhaps it has been and I've just not seen it?)
A friend of mine has thousands of rounds through a Glock 21 with no KB's and another Glock-shooting buddy has untold thousands of hot 9mm +P factory loads and warmish handloads through his Generation 1 G17; no problems, no unduly bulged fired cases and no KB's. At the present time, my personal Glocks are chambered in 9mm and for anyone who might be interested, here is a more detailed article on 9mm Glock case support:
But what if you do have a kaboom? Is injury more likely with a polymer-frame handgun than one using steel or aluminum? I think that the answer is that it depends upon how great the pressure overload actually is. I am aware of one instance in which a shooter failed to remove an obstruction (cleaning rag) from the inside of his Glock 21 barrel before firing the gun. Needless to say, there was a problem. The pistol held together, but high-pressure gases from the blown case vented out around the trigger and severely "flame cut" the man's trigger-finger, nearly severing it! At the same time, we've seen pictures of Glocks with reportedly KB-damaged frames as well as blown barrels in some instances with no injuries reported. I've also seen pictures of reported kabooms in all-steel revolvers and semiautomatics with some causing catastrophic failures. That said, given a choice, if I had to suffer a KB with a handgun, I'd prefer to take my chances with a steel-frame than one of aluminum or polymer, but add that I think more important than frame material is where the trigger opening in the frame is located relative to rear of the chamber and how filled it is (or isn't) by the trigger. Looking downward from where the rear of the chamber is, can we see out around the trigger? In other words, is it a "straight shot" out for high-pressure gases from a blown case or is this opening either farther forward or the opening 90-degress from vertical, such as with the 1911's sliding trigger design? I personally believe that the latter two designs are safer than those designs allowing "straight shots" out around the trigger for escaping high-pressure gases.
Perhaps the major bone of contention concerning Glock handguns focuses on its trigger and the safety mounted in the middle of it.
Supporters of this design favor not having to consciously disengage an external safety before being able to fire the pistol in an emergency. Detractors counter that inadvertently placement of a terrified user's finger on the trigger is but a potential tragedy in the making. I believe that there is merit in both points of view and add that shooters using any firearm for any purpose must religiously practice safe firearm handling and that it must become like second-nature, done without conscious thought. This is mandated even more in the high-stress generated in a kill-or-be-killed scenario.
The Glock "safe action" trigger-pull is frequently around 5 1/2-lbs in normal trim and the distance it must move to fire the gun is short compared to some other double-actions or DAO-type semiautomatics. Glocks are easy to get into emergency action if necessary but they just do not tolerate improper handling well. Their simplicity must be matched with competent users if needless, negligent damage and injury is to be avoided. It is just that simple. Understanding the pistol's manual of arms is not sufficient without safe gun-handling discipline. (I also insist on holster-carry when toting a Glock pistol.)
In my opinion, there is another factor to be considered when examining Glock safety issues from negligent discharges to unexpected kabooms and that is sheer numbers. While there are large numbers of safety issues related to Glock pistols, there are huge numbers of these handguns in use every single day (and night) around the globe. It is also my observation that we currently have more folks using and carrying handguns via expanded concealed carry laws than ever before. With increased interest and use, mishaps can follow.
In my opinion, Glock handguns are relatively safe (considering that they are firearms) but less "forgiving" for even momentary lapses in safe handling. I believe that there have been defective examples of the breed which made it out of the company doors that shouldn't have, but add that such "lemons" seem to occasionally "escape" from other handgun manufacturers, too. My Glock pistols have served me satisfactorily and if not my favorites, they are as trusted and I continue to use them without concerns for either kabooms are imitating grenade launchers that don't launch! Could it happen? I reckon so, but the same can be said for being struck by lightening; could happen, but isn't likely.
It is my view that with quality ammunition, Glocks in proper working order are as safe as the person using them.