There seems to be some confusion among shooters as to what that lever on the side of their pistol is for. Some believe its pupose is to release the slide to allow it to go forward after it has been locked to the rear. Well, it can be used for that but it is actually a slide lock, not a slide release. You should know that this lever engages the slide when the follower in the magazine hits against it after the last round has been fired. The follower pushes this lever up so that it engages a recess in the slide which causes the slide to lock back. This is a clue that you are out of ammunition and need to reload.
The reason I am mentioning this is that last week at Gunsite I was showing Il Ling New the new Browning 1911-22 Compact. She handed it to me – empty – with the slide locked back and, since my other hand was full, I dropped the slide with the slide lock. Il Ling said, “You shouldn’t do that.” and a discussion ensued.
Here’s the thing; the most reliable way to release the slide and push a fresh cartridge into the chamber is by pulling the slide to the rear with your support hand and letting it go. This applies the full force of the recoil spring to the slide and provides the best chance for complete chambering. This is fact, not speculation. At the same time, trying to depress the slide lock with one of your fingers is not always doable under stress or when you are in a hurry. Gunsite trains shooters to always release the slide by retracting it fully to the rear and letting it go.
I agree with this approach but I also see no issue with dropping the slide in an administrative situation by depressing the slide lock. I also think that you should at least practice releasing the slide by depressing the slide lock in case your support hand is injured. By the same token, you should also practice operating the slide with the bottom of your shoe or belt in case one hand or arm is injured.
All that being said, I’m not so sure that a slide lock is all that important anyway. When I worked the street I carried Glocks; either a 22, 23 or 27 and sometimes a combination of the three. One of the reasons I do not like Glocks is because no matter how much I shoot them – I carried them for 13 years – my support thumb has a tendency to engage the slide lock during recoil. Yes, it is a training issue and it is my fault. However, hard as I tried, I could never fully get over it.
My answer? I removed the slide lock on every Glock I carried. This had no impact on my training because my approach to reloading was to always cycle the slide when I inserted a magazine regardless of whether it was locked back or not. Why did I do that? I’ve learned that just because the slide is forward on your pistol does not mean there is a cartridge in the chamber. Slide locks fail, most often do to worn or bad magazines. Imagine its time to reload and the slide on your pistol is forward. You assume the pistol has a round in the chamber, insert a magazine and attempt to fire. CLICK. My thinking was that if you do something the same way every time, there is less chance you will screw it up when it matters. Yes, if your slide is forward with a round in the chamber and you insert a fresh magazine and cycle the slide, you throw away one round. That’s still better than pointing a gun at a bad guy and hearing a click.
Having trained this way for 13 years, when I took the Gunsite 250 pistol class it was a hard habit to break. But, I still think this method has merit and is no more redundant than conducting a chamber check.
Administratively, sure, use the slide lock as a release if you want to. Especially if you are just dropping the slide on an empty chamber. Practically or tactically speaking, I like the idea of acting like your pistol does not have a slide lock. This means that when you perform immediate action or conduct a reload you are doing the same thing. Humans have a tendency to screw things up. Keep it simple. For stupid people like me thats the answer.