Should You Carry Your Gun with a Round in the Chamber?

It’s hard to get two gun owners to see eye-to-eye about firearms. People can’t even agree on the same model, let alone open carry versus concealed carry. Add handgun conditions into the mix, and you have a debate that will rage on until the cows come home.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with handgun conditions, these are five possible options. The conditions were popularized by gun guru Jeff Cooper, who also to be the guy who brought the world the Modern Technique for pistols.

  • Condition 4: Chamber empty, no magazine, hammer down.
  • Condition 3: Chamber empty, full magazine in place, hammer down.
  • Condition 2: A round chambered, full magazine in place, hammer down.
  • Condition 1: A round chambered, full magazine in place, hammer cocked, safety on – “cocked and locked.”
  • Condition 0: A round chambered, full magazine in place, hammer cocked, safety off.

Now, the problem with this list of conditions is that it falsely leads gun owners to the assumption that higher conditions are inherently safer than lower conditions. Guns in condition 4 will have a lower chance of misfiring than guns in condition 0, certainly, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re safer. If you can’t fire your weapon when you need to because you have to spend too much time preparing the gun to fire, then your firearm can be more of a liability than a life-saver.

“That’s Dangerous” – “I hope it is!”

A few dedicated gun bloggers have taken up the cause of condition 2 or lower. James Yeager argues in this video post that your gun becomes a liability if you carry it without a round in the chamber. Racking the gun wastes precious half-seconds between drawing the weapon and firing a round. He also points out that it’s optimistic to think that you’ll have both hands free to rack your gun during a life-threatening situation. How do you know that you won’t have to use your free hand to hold off an attacker or block knife swings?

He goes on to explain, “I believe that the reason people carry with an empty chamber is basically a lack of confidence. That comes from a lack of competence.”

Yeager’s argument certainly makes sense. It’s human nature to fear what we don’t understand, so of course new gun owners are going to be extra cautious with their firearms. It’s only after we train with a firearm and become familiar with it that we truly understand the power and limitations of our firearms.

“My gun was a ticking time bomb”

Video blogger MrColionNoir would seem to agree with Yeager. In fact, he starts off his video explaining that fear made him carry with an empty chamber: “At that point I believed the gun would just go off whenever it got bored.” It wasn’t until he carried his firearm for a while that he eventually came to the understanding that keeping his weapon in condition 3 or higher was an unnecessary safety measure.

So, are these video bloggers right? It would be nice if there were some extensive studies on this, but until the FBI releases a report explaining whether you should or shouldn’t carry a gun with a round in the chamber, we’re going to have to rely on anecdotal evidence and the experience of dedicated gun owners.

Of course, they’ve also got a few news stories on their side. The gun owner in this video spends so much time fumbling with the gun that the invaders were able to gain control of the situation and wrench the gun from the gun owner’s hands. If he’d kept a round in the chamber then the fight probably would have gone a lot differently.

We aren’t necessarily advocating that gun owners carry guns in condition 2 or lower, but you have to admit that these three videos offer some pretty compelling evidence in favor of chambered rounds.

What makes this question so tricky is that it’s not just an issue of gun safety — there’s also the wild card of human nature. Yeager and MrColionNoir agree that fear of guns tends to hold people back from carrying a gun with a chambered round. It would be nice to overcome that fear, but you can’t overlook such a powerful human emotion. Even if you could objectively prove that carrying a cocked and locked gun will increase the odds of you surviving a shootout, that doesn’t mean that people will be comfortable with it. After all, we’ve been arguing for years that carrying a gun is the best way to defend yourself, but that hasn’t persuaded gun control advocates to overcome their trepidation and buy a pistol.

So, what gun condition is right for you? How do you balance peace-of-mind against gun readiness to make sure that your gun is exactly as safe or as dangerous as you need it to be?

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