How to lock back your handgun: Semi Auto 101

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Locking back the slide

For a new shooter, few situations are as intimidating as needing to lock back your handgun. It is just the right level of physical skill combined with intimidation. That is what makes locking the slide back a real challenge for a lot of people.

At the same time, It is an important skill that we need to understand and be able to perform.

Why you need to know how to lock a handgun slide to the rear.

Locking your handgun slide to the rear is an important skill to master regardless of how intimidating it may seem. For starters, locking your handgun back is an important skill for safety.

Locking back the slide

Gun safety is important and locking your slide back helps you to verify that your handgun is unloaded.

Locking your slide to the rear makes verification easier. Locking the slide back allows for a thorough inspection that is both visual and physical. Also, a handgun at slide lock removes the need to grab a quick glance at the chamber while trying to hold the action open. Instead, with the slide locked to the rear you can take an intentional, thoughtful look. Verifying that your handgun is unloaded is an important task and locking a gun open makes that task easier.

As important as safety is, it’s not the only reason. Have you ever had your handgun malfunction? More complex malfunctions require you to remove the magazine. Reliable handguns help to minimize this chance, but it does happen. What makes it worse is that there are times where the magazine can’t be removed from your malfunctioned gun unless the slide is locked to the rear.

If you want the skills to keep your gun running no matter what, that means you need to know how to lock your gun back.

Why it’s hard to lock your slide to the rear.

It is hard. Those of you that are thinking that it is easy should take just a few moments to think back to the first time you needed to lock your handgun open. It wasn’t easy for you the first time, and it isn’t easy for anyone else either.

Why? Good question!

Locking back the slide

Locking back the slide is complex. Placing your primary thumb on the slide stop lever before you try to rack the slide to the rear can help.

Locking the slide to the rear is a complex action.

In order to lock the slide to the rear on a typical handgun three things need to happen in the right order. Three doesn’t seem like much, but humans aren’t the best multitaskers.

First, the slide needs to be moved all the way to the rear. Next, the slide stop lever needs to be pressed upward, Finally the slide needs to be eased forward onto the slide stop lever.

It doesn’t seem like much when it is written out, but when you have to put it into play it can be a whole other story.

If complexity was the only issue it would be pretty easy to lock the slide back, but the difficulties don’t stop there.

Locking back the slide

Locking a handgun open takes strength.

Locking the slide to the rear takes strength.

At 6’0” and 214 pounds it would be easy for me to say that locking the slide to the rear on a handgun doesn’t take much strength. The fact is, that it does take some umph. If you don’t have the hand strength or the upper body strength locking a slide to the rear will be very difficult.

The good news is that you can develop strength. With proper technique the amount of strength you need is minimal.

Locking the slide to the rear can be scary.

Those that are new to guns often aren’t sure of exactly how they work and as a result there can be some worry about what parts of the gun might pinch you, or harm you in some other way. Let’s not forget how much we stress safety when it comes to handguns. It isn’t rational to focus on safety because of the serious consequences of an accident with a firearm and then not expect inexperienced people to be worried when they handle a gun.

The fact that locking the slide to the rear is complex, takes strength, and can cause anxiety makes the task appear to be more difficult than it is.

So, How do you lock back the slide?

I gave you the steps in order above, but it makes sense to list them again here along with some tips on how to make things work together and some simple tips to develop the skill so it becomes easy.

The steps:

  1. Rack the slide all the way to the rear.
  2. Press the slide stop lever upward.
  3. Ease the slide forward onto the slide stop lever.

The tricks:

Just like any skill there are some simple hacks that can make it easier.

Locking back the slide

Place your hand on the slide like you are putting a saddle on a horse.

Grip the slide like your hand is a saddle on a horse.

This is the strongest way to grip the slide with your hand and it takes more advantage of the big muscles in your arms and upper body.

Locking back the slide

Keeping your arms compressed increases the force you can exert on the gun.

Bring it all in close:

Speaking of upper body strength, bring the gun in close to your chest. Compress both your arms and make them strong. You will also be served well if you think about pushing the gun away from your body while you think of pulling the slide toward you.

Locking back the slide

Set yourself up for success and get your thumb on the slide stop lever early.

Place your thumb on the slide stop lever before you rack the slide to the rear.

Set yourself up for success and get your thumb into position before you rack the slide. When you are working hard to hold back the slide it will be difficult to see and feel where your thumb is, so put it where it needs to be early.

What NOT to do:

When you are working to lock the slide to the rear you need to avoid rotating the muzzle of the gun to either side. Sometimes folks try to get more leverage on the gun by turning or twisting it. Don’t invite an accident. Make sure to keep the gun pointed in a safe direction while you work to lock the slide back.

Locking back the slide

A great work around when you need to lock the slide back is to insert an empty magazine and then rack the slide.

A quick work around:

Learning to easily and safely lock the slide to the rear can take time. Struggling with that skill shouldn’t keep you from practicing your shooting. There are some quick work arounds that you can use to lock your slide to the rear.

If you have the grip strength to pull the slide fully to the rear you can simply insert an empty spare handgun magazine into the gun and pull the slide to the rear. The Mag should do its job and lift the slide stop lever for you and viola your slide is back.

If you don’t have the grip strength that shouldn’t keep you from shooting. Ask for help! Shooters are generally a kind and helpful bunch of people.

Final Thoughts:

Seasoned shooters probably don’t spend much time thinking about locking their slide to the rear. It becomes a skill that is in the realm of unconscious competence and that is where it should live. The problem is that skills don’t just end up there. Instead, carefully place those skills there.

  • Thomas Paine

    How about a pointer for a left handed shooter?

    • BraveNewWhirled

      Indeed. The Southpaw is ignored and brushed aside all too often. In recent past, many of us were beaten and castigated for using the dexterity given us by our Creator. When you want to test-fit a pair of wall-pegged gloves, which one do they staple closed? That’s correct.

      Scissors, three-ring binders, and butter knives are all made for the right-handed oppressors of the minority. Zippered flys. Logo coffee cups. Look around you: Everything is made for Them. The average Lefty has a lifespan shorter by seven percent, primarily because we are unnaturally pressured to conform to a right-handed world. Some may laugh at this, but they only prove my point.

      Some day… some day we shall rise up.

      • Delta 3Two

        Hey….it is “democracy” in action ! 😁

  • Delta 3Two

    Very interesting essay. Let me suggest the new, Vickers Tactical Slide Racker. It is available for Glock pistols. It is a godsend. Remove the backplate from your 17, 19, 43, whatever. Install the Vickers Tactical Slide Racker. Done. Your only regret is not having the Slide Racker for more brands of semi-auto pistols.

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