I can’t believe I even feel compelled to write an article on this topic. Yet again, however, the “gun” webpages have worked their magic on my usually patient mind. In a one-week span, I saw several threads on the pros and cons of carrying without a round chambered in a semi-automatic pistol. I can recall this same topic coming up over the years, so here we go.
This topic seems to come up most often when Glocks are being discussed. I’ve seen questions posed like, “Do you carry with a round chambered?” and, “Are Glocks safe to carry with a round chambered?” Along that same line, I’ve seen comments made like, “I can draw my Glock and chamber a round in under one second,” and, “I just don’t feel comfortable carrying with a round chambered,” and, “the Israelis carry with an empty chamber.”
If you are new to guns, new to carrying a concealed handgun, etc., then these are legitimate questions/comments. However, if you’ve been making it a habit of carrying without a round chambered in your pistol for a while, well, hopefully this article will get you to rethink.
As noted above, this topic seems to come up the most when connected with Glocks. The relatively short trigger pull combined with the lack of a hammer or a manual safety just seem to make some people nervous. If you are used to carrying a revolver, a 1911, or perhaps a DA/SA handgun—like a 22x series from Sig Sauer—then switching to a Glock could be unnerving. My suggestion, in this case, is to carry without a round chambered for a day–or week–and each day check to see if the trigger has been pressed. If it has, it’s time for a different holster! If it hasn’t, which is much more likely, then you should begin to see that this is a non-issue. If you remain uncomfortably nervous carrying a Glock with a round in the chamber, I would suggest switching—or switching back–to a gun that you can comfortably carry with a round chambered. This may be a revolver, a pistol with a manual safety, or a DA/SA pistol.
If you fall into the category of people who believe that you can draw the gun and get a round chambered as fast as you can draw and fire without chambering a round, or, if you believe that everything the Israelis teach is pure gold, then step inside.
I am just going to say right here that there is no human alive who can stand at the 7 yard line and, on the beep, draw, chamber a round, and fire into the A zone as fast as that same person can stand in that same spot and, on the beep, draw and fire into the A zone (without having to chamber a round). Anyone who chambers a round when bringing the pistol into action is adding an entire extra step that also sends the weak hand in the opposite direction from the gun, thus slowing down the two-handed presentation of the pistol. This means the shooter either has to wait for that hand to get back on the gun, or shoot that first shot one-handed. This is, obviously, sub-optimal. That first shot needs to be as fast and accurate as possible.
The Israelis have their reasons for teaching this technique of chambering a round when the pistol is drawn. But their reasons do not necessarily match your needs as practitioner of concealed carry. If you, as a good citizen, require the use of your pistol, then probably 95% of the time you are being reactive rather than proactive, and you need that gun in your hands and rounds going downrange NOW!
There are a few major flaws to carrying with an empty chamber.
- Chambering a round QUICKLY requires both hands. Yes, you can chamber a round using the rear sight hooked onto the edge of your belt, heel, etc., but under stress, when you need that gun immediately, this may not work as well as it does in your living room. Since you need one hand to obtain the firing grip and the other to manipulate the slide, you have NO hands available to defend yourself. As a civilian, statistics tell us that you are probably going to be up close and personal with the bad guy. You may need that other hand to defend yourself, gain space, etc., in order to employ your firearm. If you do so and then draw, only to need that hand to rack the slide, then you are going to be schooled, as the bad guy will be all over you. Likewise, you may be carrying something—or someone—that cannot just be cast aside in order to get your gun up and running.
- IF you need one hand to defend yourself, there is a reasonable possibility that that same hand may become injured. It can be slashed, stabbed, shot, or incur some sort of orthopedic injury. An injured hand may not be able to effectively manipulate the slide, as the hand may not function properly or be slippery with blood.
- If you carry with an empty chamber, then your gun is, by definition, not at full capacity. Your pistol is designed to hold X number of rounds in the magazine plus one more round in the chamber. Thus, the full capacity of your pistol is X+1. If you have an empty chamber, then you only have X in your gun. This isn’t as big an issue for a pistol holding 15 rounds, obviously, but what about smaller guns like a Smith and Wesson Shield, Glock 42 and 43, Walther PPS, etc? What if you live in a state with a magazine capacity limit of 10 rounds? At that point, you might be at 10-20% less than full capacity just by omitting that one round! That is not acceptable, especially when we consider that most bad guys operate in groups, it may take more than one round per bad guy, AND you may miss with one or more rounds!
- Racking the slide increases the chance of a malfunction. You can ride the slide forward, you can short stroke the slide, you can slip off the slide halfway through the manipulation, clothing can get caught in the ejection port, thus keeping the slide from closing all the way, etc. I’m sure there are even more things that can happen that I have not even mentioned. A pistol can malfunction at any time, so it is good to know that at least that first round is ready to go. When you do an administrative load in the comfort of your home, you can take your time to make sure that you have loaded properly, perform a press/chamber check to make sure a round is chambered, etc. In a fight-for-your-life scenario, you will not be afforded such time.
Don’t believe this can happen? Listen to this podcast from Handgun World. At about the 15 minute mark, a caller talks about how he chambered a round in his pistol to engage a dog that appeared to be threatening him while he was out for a jog. Only the round did not make it into the chamber!
This caller did a number of things “wrong”, not just trying to chamber a round at a critical moment. He didn’t know the status of his weapon and, by his own admission, uses too many guns with different manuals of operation. Nevertheless, this is a valuable lesson.
One final note here, which I will lump in with “inducing malfunctions”, though this one is platform dependent. If you carry a pistol with a slide mounted safety, such as a Beretta 92, and you carry with an empty chamber, then, as you rack the slide, you may flip the safety into the “ON” position, which is probably not what you want to do if you need that pistol NOW.
So, let’s look at this rationally, and I don’t think I’ve created a straw-man argument here. Carrying with an empty chamber means that you may not be able to employ the gun at all due to one hand being occupied with a bad guy or a loved one, may not be able to quickly chamber a round due to injury to the weak hand, will decrease your ability to deal with multiple threats due to a reduced capacity, and will increase the likelihood of malfunction before even one round has been fired. The trade-off, of course, is increased safety in your holster which, if you carry in a good quality, rigid holster, is a non-issue anyway.
If you are uncomfortable carrying with a round chambered, get comfortable!
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