When a new CCW holder starts carrying a gun on a regular basis, he frequently faces the following dilemma –is it better to carry a semi-auto handgun with a round in the chamber, or with the chamber empty? My opinion – only fully loaded, with a round in.  However, do not just rely on my opinion. Let’s analyze the pros and cons of carrying with a round in the chamber, so you can decide by yourself.

Pros of carrying one in the chamber

  • Faster draw. Disregarding what some people say drawing a gun out of a holster and racking the slide will be always slower comparing to just a draw. With a proper intensive training the delay can be minimized, but not completely avoided. In a self-defense situation even a short delay can mean the difference between life and death. Watch this video to see how adding a slide rack converts a bad, but survivable injury to a certain death.
  • Element of surprise, quieter operation. In the event of a store robbery having the ability to silently pull your gun out and get to a better position can give you a significant advantage. Check out the famous video of the internet café robbery, watch how Samuel Williams, an elderly gentleman, armed with a small .380 mouse gun, was able to quietly get it out and move to a position where the risk to other people was minimized. If he had to rack the slide, he would bring unwanted attention to himself which would probably cost his life.
  • Additional capacity. You never know when one additional round will mean the difference of coming home to your children alive or dying on the street.
  • Reliability. The process of loading a round into the chamber is the most complicated process of semi-auto gun operation cycle. As a result it is the most problem prone. Many things can go wrong – the magazine can get pulled out during the draw, the round can be misshaped, etc. When you have a round in the chamber you have one sure guaranteed shot.
  • Consistent with revolvers. In case you carry different kinds of handguns in different settings, carrying your semi-auto with a round in will make its behavior consistent with the revolver. It, in turns, reduces the possibility of making a mistake in the midst of armed response situation.
  • Promotes discipline. I hope you know and practice the four basic rules of safety. But people tend to relax when they think their firearm is not loaded. They lose their focus; start doing stupid things like pointing the gun to wrong direction, because in their mind it is not dangerous – there is no round inside! That’s how most of the negligent discharges happen. Having the gun always loaded keeps you on your toes, forces you to focus and always, always practice safe gun handling.


Cons of carrying a round in the chamber

  • Not safe if other people can get to the gun. There is only one case when I consider having a firearm loaded, but without a round in – when somebody without firearm education and knowledge can accidently get access to it.One of the examples is storing guns at home. I keep my self-defense gun in the quick access gun safe locked with a code and bolted to the wall high enough my kid should not be able to get in.  But just in case, this crazy, very improbable case, that my kid, driven by her curiosity, peeks and remembers the code, gets a chair, opens a safe and lays her hand on the gun, I want another layer of protection. The gun will not go off if she pulls the trigger, and she is not strong enough to rack the slide. So I keep it empty. Other considerations like additional capacity and quit operation are less critical in the home invasion scenario.Another example is the sad story of the cop, who went to a party and was dancing with a girl, when she, while hugging him passionately, somehow managed to pull the trigger of his Glock. The probability of this is very low, but weird things do happen. The cop should have either controlled who can touch his gun, or not carried chambered.
  • Requires proper holster. If you want to carry hot, either on your person, or in a bag or a purse, you have to have a good holster, the one that completely covers the trigger guard.  Otherwise you are just asking for a disaster.



Based on this pros and cons I practice the following: when I carry, I always carry, with a round in the chamber. I also use a safe holster and ensure nobody can get to the gun. When I come home I either leave the gun on my person for the rest of the day or immediately put it to the safe. In this case I clear the gun and insert the magazine back leaving the chamber empty.

Have a safe day.
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Image by brentdanley.

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The pros out weigh the cons on this issue.


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