Empty Chamber Carry: Is It Worth It?

It’s really interesting with all the resources currently available to firearms owners and concealed carriers that some still choose to empty chamber carry. In the year 2023, every major modern production firearm is drop-safe and can be safely carried with a round chambered without any inherent risk to the carrier. Yet, people still choose to carry that way and advocate the rest of us do the same.

It’s easy to dismiss such people, but I think we should address it at a deeper level. We can shout and argue about it on internet forums, but that gets us nowhere. Instead, let’s break down why people carry with an empty chamber and the arguments commonly used to defend the practice.

Empty Chamber Carry – Why People Do It

The only consistent claim I’ve seen that advocates for empty chamber carry is safety. An unloaded firearm cannot be fired. Thus, negligent discharges are impossible. This is, at its base, true. A gun can’t fire without a round chambered. However, the level of safety this actually adds comes down to the user. I’ve carried a concealed handgun for 12 years now with a round chambered and never had a negligent discharge.

Empty chamber carry slide locked open
When loading magazines or racking the slide, one must take caution if other shooters are to the side, lest one point the weapon at them. At the range, firearms must point down range at all times. Photo: Sue Davis.

I don’t put my finger in the trigger guard or on the trigger until I intend to fire. I also use a well-made, all-polymer holster that cannot bend or buckle with wear and find a way into my handgun’s trigger guard. Additionally, I always carefully look downward and watch myself holster to ensure nothing gets inside the trigger guard.

Being safe is always critical, but empty chamber carry is only safe if you’re negligent. If you’re negligent, then maybe you shouldn’t carry a gun.

Common Empty Chamber Carry Justifications Debunked

Reasons and justifications are different things. Justifications are typically the arguments an empty chamber aficionado makes to defend the practice outside of “safety”. Let’s look at the common justifications and see if they hold water.

“I’ll have time to rack the slide”

Will you have time to operate the slide during a hostile encounter? That’s the argument many make. They advocate you train to rack the gun as part of your draw stroke and you’ll do it in half a second! Will you have time to rack the slide during a hostile event?

cocking off wall
The Defender can be easily cocked off a wall, table, or whatever.

Sure, it’s also possible a rock will fall out of the sky and strike a violent bad guy in the head. It doesn’t mean it’s probable. There are plenty of situations where you might have time to rack the slide and put the weapon into action. There are just as many situations where this won’t be possible.

“With practice, empty chamber carry is just as fast”

Is it just as fast? That’s the argument. I grabbed a shot timer and tried to find out.

I put the test against the clock and practiced operating the slide as part of my drawstroke. Then, I dry-fired it and finally ran it hot against the clock. It was nowhere near as fast as a straight draw. If you need a quick, sub-second draw, then carrying with an empty chamber won’t do it.

Browning HiPower empty chamber carry
It’s not faster, or as fast — or even close.

If you already suck at drawing quickly, then you probably won’t notice much of a difference. If you’re someone who practices daily or even weekly, you’ll see a massive difference in the time it takes to draw and shoot.

“The Israelis do it”

Israeli soldiers have certainly proved their capability in battle. They are brazen and well-trained while executing counter-terrorism activities with great success. Is it true the Israeli military carries an empty chamber? In some cases, yes.

Israeli citizens are conscripted into their military. While good bits of the Israeli military are professional soldiers, there is a healthy dose of Israelis who are citizen soldiers. Do some of these conscripts carry with an unloaded chamber? Yep, they sure do. Do the professional Israeli soldiers carry with an empty chamber? Nope.

man shooting with left hand
Good luck racking the gun if you only have one hand.

Israel does have a history of empty chamber carry. There was a time when their military was using an odd piecemeal of guns. This included a wide variety of handguns and some of those handguns were not drop-safe. It made sense to make it a blanket policy when faced with the unknown quality of odd and old guns.

Why You Should Carry With One Chambered

We’ve talked about why people carry with an empty chamber, but why shouldn’t you? Let’s look at the reasons to carry with a loaded chamber.

Immediate Access To Firepower

With a round chambered, the weapon is ready to go as soon you unholster it. As soon as you pull the gun, it’s ready to fire. This results in faster rounds on target and less of a chance of you catching lead.

Ability to Shoot From Close Retention

Let’s say you get involved in a situation where the threat is dang near on top of you. You don’t even have the room to stretch your arm out and aim your gun. How do you rack your gun if your nondominant hand can’t help you? Sure, you can rack it off your belt, but that’s not as easy as you’d think when someone is attacking you. With a loaded chamber, you can easily fire from close retention and put a fight up from an awkward position.

close retention shooting
Close retention allows for near-contact range shots.

Ability to Shoot With One Hand

What happens if you’re carrying a child or holding on to something when attacked? What happens if you get attacked and your arm is disabled? If you have a round chambered, then you can draw and shoot with one hand. If not, well, I guess you can throw the gun at them.

It’s 100% Safe

With a modern handgun, it’s 100% safe to carry with a round chambered. The gun cannot just “go off”. If it’s secured in a proper holster and you keep your finger off the trigger until you intend to fire, you’re perfectly fine.

Beretta tomcat safety
Modern guns are safe guns.

How to Get Over the Loaded Chamber Fear

It’s easy to make fun of people who don’t carry with a loaded chamber. Instead of making fun of them, we should help them. With that in mind, I have four quick tips for getting overloaded chamber fear.

Seek Training

Training is often the cure-all for fear of a firearm. Seek out quality training from quality instructors and take it. Learn how to handle a gun. Make operating your weapon second nature. If you understand something, you are less likely to be afraid of it.

Carry all the time everywhere

Carry your gun with the chamber loaded everywhere. Just do it. You’ll get used to it. I don’t mean just in public, but around the house and around the yard. You’ll become more comfortable with the idea and realize it isn’t dangerous.

Double Action/Single Actions guns exist

Maybe that light striker-fired trigger of modern pistols scares you. It’s okay to be uncomfortable with anything. A DA/SA gun, like a SIG P229 or CZ P07, offers you a double-action trigger pull for the first shot. A double-action trigger is longer and heavier and might make you feel a little safer. The same can be said for any standard revolver as well.

Guns With Manual Safeties

Another option is a manual safety. Lots of modern pistols still come with manual safeties. Glocks might not, but some SIG P320s, the P365, and many other modern guns include them. A manual safety is much better than an empty chamber.

Load That Chamber

Empty chamber carry is something we should leave in the past. With modern handguns and safety standards, carrying with an empty chamber is downright silly. Load that chamber and carry on.

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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