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Should I Carry One In The Chamber?

This week's blog theme focuses on common questions from students.

Should you keep a live bullet in the chamber of a handgun
Should You Keep A Live Round In Your Chamber?

A common question among proponents of concealed carry is whether or not you should keep one in the chamber. Some gun owners prefer to keep a loaded magazine inserted into the firearm, but without one in the chamber. Their reasoning is that this provides a measure of safety to prevent them from accidentally discharging a round. Others feel like you should have a round in the chamber, ready to go at all times. So what is the best way to carry?

I will admit that when I first began carrying concealed, I was of the mindset that I would not keep one in the chamber. I felt like this provided me with reassurance that I would not have a negligent discharge. When I went through my police academy training, I was mortified that they actually required us to keep a live round in the chamber at all times. This was terrifying to me at the time. After all, I knew the power this handgun delivered. Now it only took 5.5 pounds of trigger pressure to send one of these rounds from my holster down into my leg.

I had a lot of respect for my first firearms instructor, "The Hammer". He knew I was uncomfortable with carrying a round in the chamber. One day he sat me down for a casual conversation. He asked if he could take a look at my backup pistol. He commended me for choosing a revolver as a backup (for reasons we can discuss in another blog). He opened it up and looked surprised. He asked me, in a stunned voice, why all of the chambers had a round in them. I thought he had lost his mind. I told him I wanted every round I could get in there. I asked him, "Why would I leave any chamber empty?" He responded, "You tell me. You're the one that likes to keep one empty in your semi-auto."

In his own special way, "The Hammer" showed me how flawed my thinking had been. I carried a revolver fully loaded with no worries about a live round in every chamber. All it took was a trigger press for a round to come out. Yet, when carrying a semi-automatic, I somehow believed that it was dangerous to keep it in the exact same condition.

Safety Considerations

If you are following the Universal Firearm Safety Rules, or S.A.F.E. Rules©, then you know that the first rule is that you should always treat a gun as if it were loaded. Is it really any safer to carry a semi-automatic without a live round in the chamber? In theory it is, because a round cannot discharge if you press the trigger accidentally. But with that logic, it is even better to carry a firearm without any rounds in the chamber or the magazine. No proponent of concealed carry would argue that this is a logical safety solution.

Tactical Considerations

Another consideration has to be the tactical aspect. The reasoning is that if there is a serious enough issue that you need to use your firearm, then you can draw it and chamber a round into place at that time. But is that really the case?

The FBI has compiled statistics from thousands of deadly force encounters involving both law enforcement and civilians. Based on these life threatening situations, they have developed what they refer to as the "Rule of 3". This states that, on average, these encounters occur at less than 3 yards, have a total of less than 3 rounds delivered, and conclude in less than 3 seconds.

How long does it take you to rack the slide to chamber a round? Probably less than one second. But add that to your reaction time, the time it takes to draw from the holster (approximately 1.5 seconds for an experienced shooter that practices regularly), and the time it takes to deliver a round on target.

If you are fine with adding this extra second that is a personal decision. But if you do choose to carry without a live round in the chamber, then it is absolutely imperative that you practice this way at the range. Practice drawing and chambering a round before firing. Repeat this process over and over. Otherwise you will be setting yourself up for failure. I can tell you from experience on the streets, when a deadly force encounter occurs, you do not have any time to think about what you will do, everything happens just the way you have practiced it. So if you practice shooting with one in the chamber, then you need to carry it that way.


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