From time to time, people ask me, “Should I carry the gun completely loaded, with a round in the chamber?” The short answer is: yes. There are a lot of reasons for that, and most of the people who ask this question have already heard at least a few of these reasons from helpful friends. But they’re still not comfortable with actually doing it.
To quickly recap what you almost certainly already know, when you leave the chamber empty on a carry gun, you add both time and complexity to using the gun if you need it. That added time might not matter. Then again, it might be the most important time you’ve ever lost. The added complexity might not matter. Then again, it might. You might not have both hands free to run the gun. You might need one hand to hold onto a young child, or push an older child down and to safety. You might be trying to hold a door shut, or trying to hold the attacker off you with one hand while drawing with the other. The fight might have started with a severe injury to one of your hands, arms, or shoulders. There’s just no way to know what the need will be until you’re there, but all of these situations would keep you from using both hands to load the gun, and some of them would make it impossible for you to load the gun at all. That could be absolutely devastating under the right wrong set of circumstances. For all these reasons, it’s best to carry a fully-loaded gun.
That’s the why for carrying a round in the chamber. But most people don’t hang up on the why. They’re more concerned with how. How can this be done – safely? If they can’t answer that question to their own comfort, all the whys in the world won’t convince them to do it.
So how can we safely carry with a round in the chamber? There are a lot of people who really want to carry this way, but they’re afraid to. These people almost always have one of two concerns they need to take care of. They are:
- A bad habit.
- Bad gear.
Both of these problems are fixable.
First, about bad habits. If you have developed the bad habit of treating your gun less respectfully because it’s “not loaded,” that’s something you need to change in your thinking, and also in how you handle the gun. Go refresh your understanding of the four rules, and learn more about holster safety and the four rules. Then practice handling the gun properly every time you touch it, no matter what. Never give yourself an excuse: “it’s not loaded,” or “the safety is on,” or “I’m just cleaning it,” or “I’m just putting it in its case.” These are common excuses, but that’s all they are – excuses. Don’t indulge them! Practice following all the rules, all the time. Never take the gun out of its case until you have turned the case so the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction. Whenever you pick up the gun, whether you’re taking it out of the safe, or off your nightstand, put your straightened finger high on the frame and keep it up there. Always control your muzzle direction, and never let your non-shooting hand drift in front of the muzzle, even when you believe the gun “isn’t loaded.” Work hard to build those good habits and make them a part of you.
But bad habits aren’t as common as bad gear. Bad gear means one of several things, but most commonly it means either a poor holster or a poor carry method. Frankly, I don’t blame people for being nervous about this one. If I thought there was a chance my gun could fling itself out of my holster at some random time, or if I thought the trigger could “pull itself” whenever I wasn’t paying attention, you’d have a hard time talking me into carrying a gun at all – let alone a loaded one. Fortunately, it isn’t like that. We simply have to shop wisely.
All holsters are not alike. Some provide excellent security, while others… don’t. There are a lot of really poor products on the market right now. Fortunately, there are also a lot of really awesome ones available too. The trick is learning to tell the difference – and having the self-discipline to stick with the safe ones even when the unsafe ones look really cool.
So what makes the difference between a good holster and a bad one? A good holster does three vital things for your firearm. That is, it
- Safely secures the gun;
- Keeps the gun comfortably concealed; and
- Holds the gun in a way that is easily accessible.
You can find out more about all three of these points in the latest article on Cornered Cat, How to Choose a Safe Holster. For right now, though, let’s focus on that first point, because that’s where the hang up usually is when it comes to carrying with a round in the chamber.
Not long ago, I was talking with a new shooter who wanted to know how to manage her concealed firearm when she used a public restroom. “It really feels unsafe to me,” she said, “because it seems to take three hands and all my attention to keep from dropping the gun when I take my pants down.” When I asked her what kind of holster she’d been using, it turned out to be one of those floppy, loose-fitting gun-bucket thingies you can get for $15 at any gun store. She was relieved when I told her that she simply needed to step up to a better holster, one that would pass the Tip Test, and she’d be much safer and more comfortable. She just needed a holster that she could trust to keep the gun when she put it there.
Guns that fall out of holsters are one danger. Here’s another: holsters that slither down your leg inside your clothing. If you need to use the gun at all, it may very well be after a few minutes of running from or rassling with a bad guy. Don’t choose a holster that may not be there when you need it, no matter how secure it might seem on a calm day at the range. Choose one that actually attaches to either your body or your clothing.
That takes care of the “secure” part of holding the gun. But let’s talk a little more about the “safely” part. Whatever carry method you use, and whatever holster type you choose, it has to be something that will protect the trigger from outside influences. Years ago, it was common for holsters to leave the trigger exposed. This made sense with old-fashioned single-action cowboy revolvers, which would never fire unless the shooter pulled the hammer back by hand. But modern revolvers and modern semi-auto carry guns will fire when you press the trigger, and that means the trigger must be protected from unexpected events. So make sure the holster or carry method you choose will definitely cover the trigger and the entire trigger guard area, and that it protects the trigger from outside movement.
The Bottom Line
So here’s the bottom line: you really should carry with a round in the chamber. If you’re not willing to do that right now, think about improving either your gun handling habits or your carry gear – or both. You’ll be glad you did!