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It cocks the striker, compressing the striker spring, and it pushes the firing-pin safety out of the path of the firing pin.
Many companies have begun to put firing-pin blocks in the 1911s.
If you're familiar with the Remington Model 700-Series, then you know that the shaft used for the firing-pin assembly is made with different diameters and configurations.
(An exception in AR-style rifles is the new NEMO Omen, which, I am told, does have a firing-pin retractor spring.) It is less likely to happen when bolt-return velocity is slowed down a bit by requiring it to drag a cartridge from the magazine and into the chamber.
The firing-pin extension is then unscrewed from the rear, and then the firing pin can be pulled out through the back of the receiver.
During cleaning, it permits the gun owner to release the firing pins into a cushioned medium that protects both firing pins from material fatigue and prevents the distortion of the firing-pin holes.
In all probability, the firing-pin tip had "mushroomed over" from dry firing, and the owner then cleaned up the rounded-over tip, thus creating a situation where the length of the firing pin became too short.
Winchester's firing-pin retractor on the link is still there, although the only remaining function it has is to lift the hammer slightly up off the firing pin as the action is opened.
I've removed the rear sight, firing-pin block, and the decock-lever return Vspring.
By shifting this selector-back and forth, you can pull the trigger on each chamber an d relax the firing-pin spring tension.