A ‘Bullet’ In The Chamber?


If you do plan to carry magazine loaded and empty chamber, cycling the slide to load,
make sure you practice until it becomes an ingrained habit. Using snap caps is a safe way to train.

“I have arthritis but a steady hand. I just got a S&W Shield EZ and I like it. I’m wondering if it’s safe to carry in an Uncle Mike’s IWB holster with a bullet in the tube. —Rocky.”

His Editorship forwarded Rocky’s note to me saying, “Stop ice fishing and do some actual work.”

When someone says, “Is it safe?” I assume they mean is the pistol safe against negligent discharge. The Shield is an excellent pistol, well designed to reduce the possibility of an unintentional discharge. It’s available with or without a manual safety and has a grip safety to prevent firing unless the pistol is held in the hand. It’s also got a relatively long trigger pull to help ensure it’s only fired by deliberate pressure. There’s also a firing pin lock preventing firing should the gun be dropped. I’m not sure if Rocky’s holster has a thumb break or safety strap, but if so it’s an additional level of security against the gun being dropped.

Any pistol can be a weapon. If you place a loaded magazine in it, chamber a cartridge, hold it in your hand and press the trigger it will fire, and the bullet will damage or destroy whatever it strikes. That is what it was designed to do. Is the gun safe? A better question is — are your gunhandling skills safe? Even with all the built-in safeguards things can happen.

I heard once of a handgun that was burned in a fire. The round in the chamber cooked off without anyone being injured. Even then the gun didn’t load itself, nor did it start the fire. Strictly speaking the only way to be absolutely, 100 percent certain there will not be a negligent discharge is to not buy the gun in the first place.

A S&W Shield 9mm with a Viridian laser sight fitted. Dave used this as his CCW
for a few weeks to try it out — always with a cartridge chambered.

Balancing Risks

But in reducing one form of risk you’ve increased another. Presumably you carry a gun in order to defend yourself against a lethal attack. For most of us the likelihood of a lethal attack isn’t very high. Heck, if it were, we wouldn’t go out at all. So, as with many things in life, we make choices based on our own intelligence, circumstances and experience. I wear seatbelts while in a vehicle and a flotation device while on a boat. The odds are I won’t get in an accident or fall overboard, but if the odds go against me I want to increase my chances of survival.

A semi-auto can also be carried with the magazine loaded and the chamber empty. Such a carry is mandated by many armed forces, and is the method taught to Israeli private citizens licensed to carry sidearms. Actually this is not such a bad system for some. Without a round in the chamber the pistol cannot fire no matter how severe an impact it suffers.

Compared to loaded-chamber carry it may not be as fast or easy to get the gun into action, but it certainly beats the alternative of leaving the gun at home. In any case a split-second draw is seldom a factor in defensive shooting. I can’t recall who said it, but there’s a saying, “I’ll either have plenty of time to get the gun out, or none at all.”

Dave’s Choice?

When hunting big game I almost always carry my rifle with the magazine loaded and the chamber empty. I like knowing the rifle cannot fire, even if I trip over a log, or a branch snags the trigger. When it comes time to shoot I can cycle the action and chamber a round as the rifle is being shouldered. But there is one big difference. If I’m too slow, or tie up the gun by not cycling the bolt properly, the worst result is the game gets away and instead of venison chops I eat canned sardines. In a defensive situation the consequences can be fatal.

My concerns with empty-chamber carry for a defensive pistol are not so much about speed. One concern is it takes two hands. There are many reasons why one hand may be needed for something else — fending off a foe, pulling a friend to safety, holding a steering wheel, opening a door. I think there’s value in being able to present and fire the pistol with one hand. The other concern is the process of racking the slide adds a step that could conceivably go wrong.

My personal choice is to carry a semi-auto with a cartridge chambered and manual safety (if present) engaged. Others can make their own choice. And I didn’t even comment on the use of the word “bullet” instead of “cartridge” — but I’ll bet 99 percent of you did!

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