A Round in the Pipe

When I first started to carry a concealed handgun, I was hesitant to carry with a round in the chamber, “cocked and locked”, so to speak.  Maybe you're just starting to carry and the thought that you might make a mistake and accidentally shoot yourself, or someone else, prevents you from taking the final step toward truly carrying a concealed weapon.  The truth is, until you get past that fear you're still unarmed.

Safety Issues

Granted, carrying a weapon with a round in the pipe is more dangerous.  If you don't rack a round into the chamber, you can't accidentally discharge the weapon.  It's the foolproof solution to prevent accidents when carrying a concealed weapon.

What you need to remember is that the weapon is not going to discharge unless you perform a specific action: pulling the trigger.  As you may have heard it said, your safety is your trigger finger.

Still, there are ways for guns to go off unintentionally.  You can drop them.  However, most modern striker-fired guns have drop safeties.  You can snag the trigger on something.  Many modern handguns have built-in trigger safeties, which require you to fully depress the trigger.  Other double-action-only (DAO) guns have long, heavy trigger pulls which prevent accidental discharge.  Many handguns have external, manual safeties which lock the triggers when activated.  Some, like the Springfield XD series and most 1911's, have grip safeties which deactivate the trigger unless the user has a firm hold on the grip.

If you're carrying an antique or a cheap gun that lacks these basic safety features, you might want to reconsider carrying at all until you have the means to purchase a reliable, proven concealed carry handgun.

The Real Problem

Now that we've dispatched all the safety concerns that might prevent you from carrying with a round in the chamber, let's consider the real problem.  The real problem with carrying with an empty chamber is that it prevents you from adequately defending yourself.

In what Massad Ayoob calls a “stressfire” situation, fine motor skills are diminished.  The rush of adrenaline prevents you from performing fine manipulations.  This is why some people prefer handguns with double action or safe action triggers (like Glocks) rather than manual safeties (like 1911's).  In a stressful, life-or-death situation you want simple, gross-motor manipulations: draw, point, shoot.  Adding a safety is one thing that can cause failure or cost you time.  When you're not thinking clearly because you are fighting for your life it would be understandable to forget to flick the safety off.  This will cause you to fail to fire a shot, or cost you time and allow your attacker to close on you or shoot you first.

Racking the slide is another such manipulation that, like a manual safety, can be costly in a fight.  For example, you might draw the gun, forget to rack the slide, and try to shoot.  By the time you realize your mistake, it's too late.  You might fail to adequately rack the slide, either by releasing it to quickly or riding it back into battery, causing a misfeed.  Now your weapon has malfunctioned and must be cleared before it will fire.  You will not have time to clear a malfunction and fire (unless he's an idiot and is charging from 100 yards away).  More on that in a moment.

Manipulating a safety or racking a slide can be trained so they become second nature.  Repetitive practice builds muscle memory which can counteract some of  the dumbing down of your fine motor skills during stress.  So, assuming you've put in the work to build that muscle memory, how much time do you save by having a round in the chamber?

Time Wasted

I conducted my own completely un-scientific research to find out, using a Concealment Solutions Sidewinder Zero holster and my Glock 30, hands at my sides, with no cover garment.  This, I figured, would be the best-case-scenario test.  The gun in a belt-holster with passive retention, nothing in my hands, no coat or shirt to pull back to get to the gun, point shooting.

The average time, with the gun loaded and a round in the chamber, was 0.824 seconds, with a minimum of 0.64 and a max of 1.03.  Without a round in the chamber, having to rack the slide first, the average time climbed to 1.257 seconds, with a low of 0.87 and a high of 1.7.

Now change the belt holster to an inside-the-waistband holster and add a long shirt or a coat that you have to clear before drawing the weapon.  Maybe a crossdraw holster.  Maybe it's under your shirt in one of those compression garments that has the holster sewn in.  Maybe it's a belt holster with active retention, like a thumb-strap.  How much time will that add to the draw times?  When your life depends on it, every fraction of a second counts.

The difference in my test, on average, was 0.433 seconds.  If you consider that a man charging you can close a distance of 30 feet in 1.5 seconds, that's 8.66 feet, on average.  So, if your attacker is under 10 feet away, you may not have time to rack the slide and fire.  And if you have not built the muscle memory necessary to produce picture perfect slide manipulations every single time, you may also have a malfunction, which means Mongo and his tire iron are on you and you're better off using your gun as a blunt weapon to try to beat him off.

 Take the Next Step

Deciding to become a “civilian sheepdog” and to carry a concealed weapon is a big decision.  One that should not be taken lightly.  For a responsible citizen, who wants to be able to defend himself and his loved ones, it is a decision that requires commitment to training, to learning and following the law.  It requires a financial commitment to the cost of training, licensing, proper equipment, and ammunition.  It requires a change of mentality and mindset.

If you've gotten so far in the process to get your concealed carry permit and you're carrying your weapon on a daily basis, you've already committed to using it if the need arises.  Without a round in the chamber, however, you might as well not be carrying at all.  You are a sheep in sheepdog's clothing.

If, God forbid, the day comes when the need does arise, you will find yourself unarmed and unable to defend those loved ones you committed yourself to protect in the first place.