Should you carry with a round in the chamber?
For the inexperienced gun owner, it would seem like keeping one in the chamber might be dangerous. Guns can hurt people, after all; why wouldn't you take steps to make sure that a gun is as safe as you can possibly make it?
Keeping the chamber empty is what's called a "redundancy" in engineering, which is a backup system or feature that acts as a failsafe in case something goes wrong. If, say, a child discovers the gun, or gets taken by a bad guy, or gets dropped, it can't be fired if the chamber is empty, can it?
But there's a catch. This leaves you in the position of having to load the pistol in case you need to use it in an emergency...and that's easier said than done under stress.
Imagine removing your handgun from the holster, pointing, aiming and pulling the trigger. It can seem like it happens in slow motion when you’re in a stressful situation. Your mind is trying to comprehend everything going on, your heart is pumping and you’re trying to do anything you can to stay alive.
Would your stomach drop a little? I know I would freak out. Not every situation allows time to remove your weapon, rack the slide, grasp the gun with both hands again, point, aim and shoot. Would the thought of this be solved by always having a round chambered? The answer is "yes."
Milliseconds count. When the term “loaded” means a round in the chamber and you need to carry, either open carry or concealed, with an unloaded gun, training to be faster with your draw will be very important. Carrying this way isn’t for everybody though.
Part of the decision to make with some weapons is, to carry the weapon with the hammer cocked and ready to fire or not. Does carrying with your hammer back make it more likely to accidentally go off? Is it safer to carry a hammerless semi automatic pistol if you’d like a round in the chamber? Let's talk a bit about both styles.
Make sure to reference the laws for your state about the term “loaded” refers to. Take a look at the gun laws by state. The term can vary from state to state thanks to legal-speak. No matter what you read in forums and blogs and see on the news, following the wording of the law of the state you are in is a must.
One In The Chamber with a Semi Automatic Handgun
Guns like your Glocks, Springfield XDS, Smith and Wesson M&P and many other semi auto pistols have an internal hammer. Common concealed carry guns are hammerless. Without diving into the action (e.g. dual action only), a semi-auto can allow you to remove it from the holster and fire until the magazine is empty.
There is a grip safety as well as a trigger safety. When one of these isn’t depressed, the gun doesn’t fire. For me, I like these point and shoot type guns for concealed carry. Less to think about in a stressful situation the better.
Carrying with the Hammer Cocked
Some people carry one or a variant of it for both concealed and open carry. Guns with an exposed hammer usually let you pull back the hammer and put on the safety to allow the gun to be in a ready to fire position. Carrying with your hammer cocked is similar to having one in the chamber in your semi-auto handgun. The time saved can be life or death.
A professionally designed holster will prevent accidental discharge, take time to find the holster that has been specifically engineered for you handgun here: Concealed Carry Gun Holsters
I feel like the slightest bump could let the lead fly right into my thigh. On top of the fear, I think it would take slightly longer to fire. Training will always increase your speed, so don’t discount a gun you like because it’s a little slower. Train more with it to gain speed and comfort.
Antique Shootin' Irons: Some Lack A Transfer Bar Safety
In times long gone, people had to carry a revolver with the hammer over an empty chamber, for the simple fact that most pistols didn't have a transfer bar safety at the time. This is a safety feature on revolvers, as semi-autos work quite a bit differently.
The transfer bar safety was originally developed by the Iver Johnson company for their Safety Automatic and Safety Hammerless revolvers, a line of hammer-fired and hammerless top-break revolvers. A transfer bar is basically a small metal tab that sits between the hammer of a revolver and the firing pin or the cartridge itself.
Transfer bars are linked to the trigger, much like the passive safety on modern semi-automatic pistols. A tilting link pushes the bar into place, blocking the hammer from striking the primer, unless the trigger is pulled. As the hammer pulls the rear, the bar drops out of place and allows the hammer to strike either the primer of the cartridge in the top-center cylinder or a firing pin the in frame which does so.
Colt SAA, Remington New Model Army and other revolvers of the day didn't have a transfer bar safety, and thus were susceptible to slam-fire. If the hammer was let down over a live round, a discharge could occur IF the hammer was struck. This led to the practice of carrying the revolver with the hammer down over an empty chamber and thus with only five bullets in the gun.
This changed, of course, as revolver makers started adding them in the early 20th century. However, a number of companies currently produce replicas of antique/classic revolvers, including the Colt Single Action Army, Remington New Model Army, S&W Model 3 and so on. Some feature a transfer bar safety, some have a different system for carrying fully loaded and some don't.
If you carry a modern reproduction of a classic revolver, make sure to check if your pistol has one. If it has no transfer bar safety, then you'll need to carry on an empty chamber.
The Israeli Draw Method: Arguably The Only Way To Carry Without One In The Chamber
IF you're going to carry with an unloaded chamber, arguably the only way to do so with any sort of track record of success is using the Israeli draw method.
Here's the thing though: the Israelis train. A LOT. A person can get quite fast using the Israeli draw method, but it takes thousands of repetitions to get there. This is not a carry method for a person who doesn't have the time to devote to practice.
So, the Israeli draw method came about in the post-war era. The Israeli military didn't yet have a single supplier of small arms, so they had to take what they could get. This added up to a number of different makes and models of sidearm, each with their own manual of arms.
To standardize training methods, as well as figuring out a safe way to carry a sidearm, they carried with a loaded magazine but empty chamber. To make soldiers combat-effective, they had to drill racking the slide upon the draw again and again and again.
We won't go into the full method, but basically the pistol is drawn from the holster and brought to near eye level. The slide is grasped and punched forward toward the target, loading the pistol and completing the presentation of the pistol.
Additionally, the Israeli method is to come out of the holster shooting. They don't draw unless they are going to shoot. Not intend to shoot if the threat continues; they come out shooting, period, or at least that's how the story goes.
A few different publications have run tests and found that a well-drilled practitioner loses a few tenths of a second, up to a half-second, compared to a person drawing and firing a loaded handgun. The key there is well-drilled; you need to train (and a lot) to get the technique down to muscle memory and to get fast enough.
However, most people who carry with an empty chamber are often novices, believing that carrying with an empty chamber makes the gun safer. In a sense it does, but good equipment and training more than make up for it.
Is There A Right Or Wrong Way to Carry a Handgun?
When you train with the gun and one in the chamber or not, the answer is no. Carrying your self defense weapon, be it concealed carry or open carry, should be as ready as the law allows. Every millisecond you can eliminate from your draw to firing is a better chance you will be the victor in the situation and not the victim. There is no wrong way as long as it’s within the confines of the law and you are comfortable with it.
You are more likely to have a run in with the police at a traffic stop or accident than you are a situation where you would draw your weapon to save your life. Even though there are some seemingly useless laws out there regarding guns, having a legal way to defend yourself is better than having nothing at all.
A Problem Of Safety Vs A Problem Of Training And Equipment
There are issues of gun safety and then you have issues of training, equipment and/or experience.
Here's the difference:
One reason, in fact the primary reason, that's given for carrying or storing a gun with an empty chamber is to guard against the possibility of an accidental/negligent discharge, whether induced by you or someone else.
If you anticipate the possibility of someone else getting your gun, that's really a problem of equipment. You clearly need to get some equipment that will prevent that from happening, such as a gun safe or lock box in the home, or a holster in the case of carrying the gun or at least a more secure holster.
Or what about those Glock pistols or other ones like it that "fire when the trigger is pulled"? Aren't those more "dangerous" than guns that have a thumb safety on it?
When safely stored or holstered, a modern striker-fired pistol is no more or less dangerous than any other kind. If nothing can pull the trigger, it cannot be discharged. If being carried, a holster of good construction prevents that from happening. A safe storage medium - even a cheap-o lockbox from the hardware store, though an actual safe would be better - keeps a loaded gun secure when being stored.
You probably get the idea by now. People carry with an empty chamber because they have a fear of the risk of the gun being fired by accident, or store a gun with an empty chamber for the same reason. However, it is also the case that the potential scenarios in which they might occur are not only surmountable, but the methods for doing so are known and have been known for quite some time.
Granted, this isn't to say you or anyone else isn't right in being concerned about gun safety. You are absolutely right to take the potential danger seriously. When mishandled or used by people with evil intentions, guns are deadly. That danger needs to be respected, and your responsibility in restraining, containing and managing that power is commensurate with the destructive potential of a gun.
However, this is also to say that it is perfectly possible to carry or store a loaded gun safely. The means required to do so are not mysterious, complicated, nor expensive or difficult to acquire or learn about. Many people who insist on keeping their gun unloaded obviously have respect for the dangers of firearms, but likely are lacking in the experience or confidence to do otherwise.
Get yourself equipped with a proper holster and a safe storage medium, and get some training. It will make a huge difference.