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The Easiest And Best Gun Safety Check?

pistol chamber check

Image source: shootingillustrated.com

Nowadays, we seem to entrust firearms manufacturers to add features to our guns in order to protect us from our own stupidity.

External safeties are the oldest of these creations and now falling out of vogue, but there are also two other nanny devices that have been fitted to modern handguns for our own “protection.” The first of these is a magazine disconnect, which is a device that impedes the handgun from firing if there is no magazine installed in the weapon. Basically, if you drop your magazine in a gunfight, this gizmo makes sure that you will never be able to return fire, even if you did have a few loose rounds in your pocket and you can get one into the chamber. This feature was mainly designed for those people who think that all you need to do to render a firearm safe is to drop the magazine (sarcasm).

The second feature that’s making its way into modern firearm design is the “loaded chamber indicator.” Usually, this is a metal tang on the side of the gun that displays the chamber condition. When a cartridge is inserted into the chamber, this tang sticks out from the slide somewhat, and the edge of the tang has a painted surface to display to the shooter that there is in fact a chambered round. Some guns use a plunger on the back of the slide that pops up to display the same thing.

While the loaded chamber indicator seems like a good idea, doing an actual chamber check is a better idea. What’s a chamber check? It’s a bit of an old school maneuver that allows you to quickly, safely and accurately verify that there is a round in the chamber, and you should do one every time you holster your carry gun for the day.

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Here’s how it works:

  1. Point the gun off to a safe direction.
  2. Ensure the safety is on, if so equipped.
  3. Tap the magazine floor plate to ensure the magazine is seated properly.
  4. Using a strong hand grip on the gun, use your weak hand to pull back the slide a quarter inch or so. An easy way to do this is to take index and middle fingers of your weak hand, and place them on opposite sides of the slide on the serrations. Then, using your weak hand thumb as a brace point, pull back the slide ever so slightly.
  5. By pulling the slide slightly back, you should see the end of the cartridge in the chamber.
  6. Release the slide, and ensure it goes back into battery properly.

About the only thing you can do wrong while executing a chamber check is to pull the slide too far back, which will of course either eject the chambered round or cause the gun to go out of battery with a misfeed. With practice, however, a chamber check can be executed rapidly and safely, and not only that, it is the ultimate way of verifying that you actually have a round in the chamber; a chamber check also relies on the good old fashioned Mark II eyeball in your skull as opposed to some fancy gizmo. Execute a chamber check before you strap on, and be 100 percent confident that you’re locked – and loaded.

The following video, not by the author, shows how to chamber check a semi-automatic pistol

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4 comments

  1. A “chamber check” should be SOP before receiving, handing off, or whenever a weapon comes into your possession (even if it is coming out of Your gun safe and You know you put it away empty!). If you need to be told this, you may wish to reconsider gun ownership!

    On a lot of handguns the slide will not pull back when the manual safety is engaged. You will therefore have to drop the safety in order to perform this check. Again, you shouldn’t have to be told this but the keep gun pointed in a “safe” direction step is critical! Bear in mind, however, that there is no such thing as a “SAFE” accidental discharge so keep the finger well outside the trigger guard!

    One thing a chamber check won’t tell you is if you are looking at a live round or an empty brass. If you are holstering your weapon for a day of carry, the gun going boom if you are forced to draw is a matter of life and death (or you wouldn’t have drawn in the first place!). Might not be a bad idea to drop the magazine, eject the chambered round for inspection, reload the round into the magazine, and reload the weapon from there. This will also afford you an opportunity to inspect your weapon and check function by manually cycling a round. Only takes a minute.

    • So basically, a whole article devoted to the press check. I was trained that when in doubt, I should do the press check. I chamber a round before going outside the wire, I press check. I load and make ready before an IDPA course of fire, I press check.

      As for accidental discharges, those are ONLY the result of a mechanical failure of the weapon. Anything that has to do with poor gun handling or faulty operator maintenance is a negligent discharge. I have seen both. I was on a C-9 (M-249 to my fine American counterparts) when a spring gave out in the trigger group during my first burst. Next thing I know, I have a runaway gun without even touching the trigger. That is accidental, a result of metal fatigue and invisible to the naked eye. The idiot who doesn’t remove the mag from his rifle at the start of the clearing sequence, that is negligence.

      • This exact thing happened to me with my FN M249 during my first deployment. I actually found a way to make it work for the rest of the fight.
        I do a press check every time I pick a weapon up. When I get my CCW from the safe I know it’s loaded, I still do a press check just in case.

  2. The first and primary safety is right between your ears.

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