Do you carry with a round in the chamber?

Woman with Handgun

If there’s one topic that can cause a lot of heat in shooting circles, it’s whether or not you choose to carry with a round in the chamber.

When you research this topic or bring it up, particularly around experienced shooters, you’ll find a lot of strong opinions like, “only an idiot would carry without a round in the chamber,” or my all-time-favorite, “you might as well carry a brick for as much good as an unloaded gun will do you.”

And these experienced shooters have these strong opinions because there is ample evidence, and many examples, where not having a round in the chamber has cost a good person their life.

That being said, the decision to carry with a round in the chamber, or not, is a personal choice once you understand all the facts and have good information.

So let’s look at the reasons why you would want to consider carrying a round in the chamber, and some tips and techniques to help combat the fears and concerns that may prevent you from doing so.

Why carry a round in the chamber?

The 21-foot rule says that it takes the average adult 1.5-2 seconds to close a 21-foot gap between them and another person.

Stop right now and set a stopwatch to 2 seconds. Unload your carry firearm, and then reholster. Start the timer and see how long it takes you to unholster your firearm, rack the slide, and aim. For the majority of people, their potential attacker would be on them well before they ever got to the “aim” part.

In addition, there are often extenuating circumstances that make it difficult if not impossible to rack a slide while under attack, or where having to rack the slide under stress causes a misfire, as is well documented in this 4-minute (and don’t worry, it’s not judgmental) video by Active Self Protection titled “This is Why You Carry a Round in the Chamber.”

Even knowing all that, carrying with a round in the chamber can be an especially difficult fear for new shooters and those new to concealed carry to overcome.

Addressing the fears of carrying with a round in the chamber

I get it, I really do. It took me a LONG time carrying, and training with, my firearm before I gained the confidence to carry with a round in the chamber. And if I’m honest with you (and I am always honest with you), there are some times when, because of available holster options or other circumstances, I still make the conscious choice to carry without a round in the chamber.

I understand the risks in doing so, but I make that choice in those situations to either carry without a round in the chamber or not carry my firearm at all (and I almost always choose to carry without a round rather than not have my firearm with me, but again, that’s my choice).

If you want to get to the point where you are confident enough to carry a round in the chamber, here are some practical tips and things to consider:

  1. Always follow the 4 Rules of Firearm Safety. I know YOU know this but I’ll say it anyway. Modern, quality guns don’t go off by themselves. They fire because someone (or something) has pressed the trigger. If you always, always, always follow the 4 rules of firearm safety, especially the rule of “Finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire” you should never have a negligent discharge
  2. Critically review your holster(s). Look at your holster choices anew with an eye toward safety, in terms of trigger coverage and material. How well is the trigger covered when the gun is holstered? How about after moving around, sitting, squatting, twisting? Is the holster made from a hard material like Kydex that is molded to your firearm? If it’s a fabric holster is it made out of a thick, sturdy material like a stiff leather or ballistic nylon? If it is made from a thinner material, like some cheaper belly bands, hip huggers and thigh holsters, BE AWARE that it is possible for the trigger to get depressed THROUGH the material. Check your holsters with your unloaded handguns in them to see if this is something that can happen. In addition, even if you have a good leather or fabric holster, they can soften and wear over time, which may make them more comfortable but also make them less safe. For a real-life example of this, see this cautionary tale about a leather holster gone very wrong here at ItsTactical.com. Regularly review your holsters, in particular fabric or leather holsters, for wear and thinning.
  3. Practice, practice, practice, practice. This cannot be stressed enough. You need to get VERY comfortable with the operation of your firearm (whether or not it has an external safety, how to rapidly address stovepipes and other misfires, etc), and with unholstering and reholstering your firearm from all the different holsters you use. That comes from repetition and practice. The absolute best way to do this is with dry fire practice (with a completely unloaded firearm, including empty magazine) at home. I try to dry fire from the holster that I’m wearing on any particular day (I have at least 4 that I use in rotation depending on what I’m wearing) at least once every day I’m wearing it, in addition to practicing more time intensively any time I get a new holster or setup.  Repetition and practice is the most effective way to gain confidence in your gun handling skills.
  4. Carry with a round in the chamber at home first. Spending time carrying in the safe environment of your home with a round in the chamber is a good way to get comfortable and confident that nothing will happen (without your intent for it to happen) before you carry loaded in public.

At the end of the day, you need to do what you feel comfortable and confident with, when considering all the pros and cons, and all the risks and fears.

Additional resources

Here are a few additional resources on this topic that are informative and non-judgmental. Give it some thought, and make your decision based on what you alone are comfortable with. I’d also love to discuss it with you in the comments below.

In upcoming posts we’ll go further into the issues around mindset and situational awareness (in effect, how to  “extend” that 21-foot gap) as well as different levels of firearm condition readiness and what that all means.

4 thoughts on “Do you carry with a round in the chamber?

  1. HaroId says:

    “And these experienced shooters have these strong opinions because there is ample evidence, and many examples, where not having a round in the chamber has cost a good person their life.”

    You need a citation or you need to recognize the above statement is an opinion. I am so tired of people bloviating about their perceived superiority because a round is in the chamber. Get over yourself.

    • Hi Harold! Thanks for your comment and you make a good point. Honestly there were just too many examples for me to link to, although video I linked to in the article shows some specific and graphic examples where not having a round in the chamber cost someone their life. The point I was trying to make was not to judge – because as I also note in the article I also sometimes carry unloaded – but to present information in a way to help people decide for themselves on how THEY want to carry. One of the reasons I wanted to post about this was because there IS a lot of opinion and perceived superiority about this issue and I wanted to make sure readers had some factual information to make up their own minds.

    • Button Gwinnett says:

      Thank you for the thoughtful and factual (i.e., non-opinionated) reply!

      Ruger’s SR series are striker fired with an ambidextrous thumb safety. I carry with a round in the chamber, safety on.

  2. DS in Houston says:

    It seems to me that some of the recent reported accidental shootings and deaths occurred when someone had a pistol, with a round chambered, in a purse. Unholstered, no safety, and their two-year-old starts rummaging around. Bang. Or, the incident where another young lady was rummaging in her purse to find her lipstick, which happened to fit into the trigger guard of her unholstered weapon. Bang again. Maybe one key is making sure the pistol is properly in a holster in that purse. Of course, the other would be, don’t allow a child access ANY weapon, holstered or not. Just my two cents.

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