There are at least four “age-old” handgun debates, with passionate viewpoints on either side. Both sides have expert opinion with hand-picked data, both sides “weigh” the data differently (a fact that is 100% correct does not necessarily mean much to the argument due to relevancy), and both sides have ardent supporters of their stance with preference-based argument. Some common handgun arguments are
- Revolver vs Semiautomatic.
- 9 mm vs 45ACP.
- Colt 1911 vs Glock.
- Chamber empty or round chambered.
It is this last point that separates the casual concealed carrier with the more ardent personal protection practitioners.
Arguments for carrying an unchambered handgun:
Proof against negligent discharge. For most people, whether through lack of certainty in their equipment or their skills, carrying on an empty chamber is self-justified to preclude the risk of an negligent discharge (in this case, ‘negligent’ means a non-purposeful actuation of the trigger mechanism). Each day we put the gun on our belts and take it off at night. Sometimes, tasks during the day may require us to take it off to perform a thing. Add in PFZ’s (pistol free zones) where we must take guns off and put them on after leaving them, people could be handling the firearm multiple times each day. Since most people go through their day without having to draw the firearm in self defense, the likelihood of a negligent discharge is quite statistically higher than a defensive draw.
The fix for this possibility is to become more familiar with the firearm, and to utilize a holster that allows removal of the firearm from the body in-holster. Most concealed carry holsters will allow this by unbuckling one’s belt and pulling the belt from the holster’s belt loops. There is little reason (and no excuse) to be manipulating a firearm outside its holster during these administrative, daily tasks of arming and de-arming, save a morning press check.
Mechanical devices are not foolproof: A firearm can be a complicated device, with the concern of these mechanisms failing and causing an unintended discharge (in this case, ‘unintended’ means that the firearm discharged without a trigger actuation). For hammer fired handguns, the main firing mechanism is right there to be seen. It is a reminder that ‘stuff’ is happening inside the gun’s innards that some shooters just don’t have a grasp on. For striker-fired pistols, all the firing mechanism ‘stuff’ is inside. How does it work? How do we know it works?
This concern can be addressed with a two-pronged approach. First, we must indeed choose a firearm that has a solid reputation as a safe and reliable device. While unpopular, this means carrying proven designs by proven manufacturers with proven design verification testing. It means NOT being an early adopter of the newest greatest gun as your defensive tool.
As an example, when Sig Sauer introduced the P320, incidents of unintended discharges were soon reported from dropped handguns 1. After lengthy evaluation of internal safeties, it was discovered that when dropped so that the handgun landed on the back of the slide, the mass of the trigger had enough inertia to result in trigger actuation. This trigger actuation caused the internal safeties to disengage (appropriate for a trigger actuation) and resulted in an unintended discharge. This was a product from a proven company with proven design verification testing. The design, though, was not proven. (Sig Sauer has since modified their drop test protocols.)
The second approach to overcome doubts of unintended discharge is to truly understand the firearm’s safety mechanisms. The ‘Glock safety’ employs a trigger safety that, effectively, puts the ‘manual safety’ disengagement as part of the trigger actuation. This safety disengages two internal safeties. The Beretta M9 and a few others have an external safety that rotates a transfer bar off-axis, so that a hammer drop never strikes the firing pin. Understanding the mechanics of the firearm’s internal and external safeties can go a long way to having confidence in chambered carry. Choosing a firearm with safeties commensurate with one’s preferences and confidence is paramount.
Time to be sure: Some concealed carriers argue that the added time to bring the firearm into a ready state by chambering a round affords them the time to be sure that lethal force is justifiable. The concern for certainty is to be absolutely commended. The mechanism by which that certainty is obtained is not necessarily the optimal means to do so.
See the “Immediacy of need” subheading below for an experienced rebut of this rationale.
Arguments for carrying a round-chambered handgun:
A tool of last resort: As taught in the NRA’s Personal Protection in the Home (this course was selected as satisfying the training requirements for a concealed pistol license in Michigan), the firearm is a tool of last resort. Accessing and producing the firearm is the last-ditch effort to protection when other options have failed, or the immediacy of the threat precludes other defensive options. In short, the defender is out of time and out of options, save using neutralizing, lethal force. As a tool of last resort, there are a number of sub-reasons to carry a round chambered.
Immediacy of need: After identifying a threat and determining strong verbal command and capability of lethal force is imminent, a protector must:
1) (CPL) Dig through at least one layer of clothing to access the firearm.
2) Draw the firearm.
3) Get on target.
4) Issue verbal commands to stop and make final assessment to shoot.
5) Disengage safety (if applicable) and engage trigger contact.
6) Confirm on target and discharge firearm.
Please go back and read these six steps while envisioning the duress of a lethal force conflict. Someone is shooting at you or charging you with a knife. With your current skill set, envision each of these steps, the time it takes to perform each one, and an assailant approaching quickly and stabbing, or shooting at you.
During each of these steps, time is going by. It’s time to be harmed or killed, but it’s also time that assessment will occur. “I gotta get this thing on target” and “this guy is really trying to kill me?!” is all being contemplated with the priority of survival instinct. In reality, step 4 is the crux of the argument: “Make final assessment to shoot”. Open-chamber carriers believe that adding a step to chamber a round creates this assessment. It does not. The assessment is already in the sequence. For the chambered-round carrier, he may take extra time if available to re-verify that assessment. For the open-chamber carrier, he must spend that time, even if that time is not available.
The anatomy of violence: Violent altercations are stark, inhuman events. One only has to watch defensive encounters on Youtube security camera footage to see hopeful, peaceable lives being cut short by those willing to do harm. It is both depressing and infuriating. During these altercations, there is frequently a struggle (physical force) to stop attacks and to get away.
FBI statistics for law enforcement officer-involved fatalities 2 show that nearly 50% of fatalities occurred between 0 and 5 feet away.
Note that this table represents LEO’s who, by job duty, must engage hostile assailants. They typically establish contact with suspects or known criminals for purposes of apprehension. Their proximity to the suspect may be closer than the non-LEO civilian whose general priority is to retreat from threat of violence.
However, use of this data may be applicable since assailants typically want something from their target: money, jewelry, wealth, sexual access, or even the desire to commit harm. This typically requires obtaining proximity to target. For the LEO, they must engage, and for the non-LEO civilian, the assailant is trying to engage. In each case, there is one party intent on engagement. Thus, for the purposes of this article, these engagement distances will be used for non-LEO civilians as well .
If these distances are applicable, then the proximity between the assailant and the protector is indeed in melee range (within 0 to 10 feet provides an immediacy of hand-to-hand or handheld weapon threat) 57% of the time. With the assailant in range to lay hands on the protector, or the protector using hand-applications to prevent harm (blocking weapon strikes, for instance), drawing a firearm is a risky option as it turns the melee into a fight over the gun.
Assuming the protector can indeed make the minimum time and distance to draw the gun, he must ensure this is done so with both hands. In reality, both hands are not necessarily free to cycle the slide and chamber a round. Well-trained and equipped-with-intention protectors may know how to cycle their slide on a belt, table, or other protrusion, and have a firearm whose hardware allows for this action, but this should be seen as a secondary option rather than a primary-planned action.
The arguments for open chamber carry are borne, ultimately, from uncertainty and unfamiliarity. Uncertainty in personal firearm handling, uncertainty in the decision making process to use lethal force, and unfamiliarity with a handgun’s redundant safeties.
These factors can all be mitigated through training and knowledge acquisition. They are entirely in the gun wielder’s control to reduce the perceived risks and mitigate the actual risks.
What is less in the gun wielder’s control is the severity of an imminent attack, the timing of the attack, and the distances the altercation will take place in. These factors are a result of the interplay between attacker and protector. Carrying on an open chamber directly and adversely affects the protector’s ability to employ lethal force.
For a tool of last resort, a purposeful condition to delay its immediate use (open chambered carry) and require 2 free hands to bring it into the engagement imposes far more risk of harm than the avoidable risks perceived. The capability of an immediately deployable round-chambered handgun has benefits necessary to reduce imminent harm.
1- Sig Sauer Confronts Further Reports of Possible Safety Defect in Popular Pistol. The Trace, Alex Yablon, 08AUG2017
2- Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, 2012 U.S. Department of Justice—Federal Bureau of Investigation, Table 36, Released Fall 2013