Carry Hot, Or Not

Should you carry concealed with a round in the chamber or not? There are hundreds of web sites and YouTube videos of the pros and cons of carrying with an empty chamber or a round in the chamber. So, let’s answer this with another analogy. Do you leave your seatbelt unbuckled and only buckle it right before the accident?

If you carry concealed with an empty chamber and have to draw your gun in self-defense, you must go through the following actions. You must:

  • Lift up your cover garment: jacket, shirt, sweatshirt, etc., to expose your concealed gun.
  • Draw your gun.
  • Put the thumb safety into “fire” mode.
  • Rack your gun to chamber a round.
  • Get your gun on target.
  • Line up the sights and squeeze the trigger at the bad guy.

This is a lot of activity which must occur within split seconds…a lot to think of during the stress of a self-defense situation. What if something goes wrong? What if the round does not chamber quickly, say because of a marred feed ramp? What if you aim your gun at the bad guy, only then realizing you forgot to rack a round? Can you remember to do all these activities in this order and still protect yourself or your loved ones?

If you carry concealed with a round in the chamber and have to draw your gun in self-defense, you must go through the following same actions, except one. You must:

  • Lift up your cover garment: jacket, shirt, sweatshirt, etc., to expose your concealed gun.
  • Draw your gun.
  • Put the thumb safety into “fire” mode.
  • Get your gun on target.
  • Line up the sights and squeeze the trigger at the bad guy.

So in this scenario, there is still a lot of activity which must occur in this order within split seconds, but there is one less activity…that of chambering a round. You no longer have the worry about whether that first round will feed correctly.

So why do concealed carry gun owners carry with an empty chamber? The real answer is: Because they have a fear of a negligent discharge. Remember, there is no “accidental discharge”. So, any unintended discharge is a negligent discharge. Simply put, they failed to do all things correctly and a breakdown occurred, resulting in a negligent discharge.

But what causes this fear? It is the lack of experience and training. Plain and simple. Gun owners with this fear simply have not trained enough to be comfortable carrying with a round in the chamber. Maybe they never got trained. Maybe they never got trained properly and completely. Maybe they had a bad experience, such as their cover garment getting stuck somehow. Maybe their gun somehow got stuck in the holster. Maybe the shooter feels they cannot draw quickly enough, or maybe upon drawing their gun, their holster came with it. An executive vice president at Sig Sauer was recently interviewed and told the interviewer that more than 50% of the gun owners never shoot their guns.

Whatever the excuse…er…reason, the simple fact is the shooter does not yet have enough experience to overcome that fear. They have not tried to remedy any and all of the possibilities to eliminate that fear. The elimination of a negligent discharge or the fear of one is the most easily fixed situations within the gun owning world. Let’s look at all the other things people do in their everyday lives which eliminate fears of injury or death in their lives. People don’t get driver’s licenses until adequately trained and tested to drive a car. Construction workers don’t operate heavy machinery until adequately trained to do so. Airline pilots don’t fly planes until adequately trained and checked out to fly a specific model of plane. Lawyers don’t practice law until adequately trained and passed the bar exam. So why is it that gun owners do not undertake the necessary training needed to eliminate fears of injury or death?

So let’s assume this is you. So how do you eliminate this fear? Two simple answers: the right gear and the right training.

First, make a carry decision? Decide how you want to carry your EDC and stick with that decision. Now, this will require lots of practice using different carry positions. If you like the strong side hip, then stick with and practice carrying on the strong side hip. If you like to appendix carry, then stick with and practice appendix carry.

Second, choose and settle on the right holster and gun belt for that anticipated carry position. Get a holster designed for appendix carry if you decide that is your preferred carry position. Get a holster which stays put, and does not loosen from its mounting position as you draw your firearm. As a sidebar to this, if you decide to carry anywhere around your waist, make sure you get a good gun belt…a belt thick enough and strong enough, usually leather, to hold the weight of your gun. Another reason newbies have a fear of a negligent discharge is because they have their holster mounted on a thin fashion belt. The fear comes from the looseness of the holster’s belt clips and the belt itself. These clips are often 1.5″ to 1.75″ wide and the fashion belt may be .75″ to 1″ wide. That differential in widths is enough to allow the holster to move up when the gun is drawn from it, providing a fear that the entire holster will rise up when the gun is drawn. So get a holster which stays put. I recently purchased a new OWB holster to carry my EDC in the 4:00 position. I holstered my gun. When I went to practice drawing the gun from the holster, the holster came right off my belt.

Third, get a holster which completely covers the trigger of your EDC. If the holster does not completely cover the trigger, trash it! Only consider holsters which completely cover the trigger. This should be the biggest fix to overcoming the fear of a negligent discharge. If nothing can get between the trigger and the trigger guard, the gun cannot fire.

Fourth, choose a holster which securely holds the gun made for your gun model. Do not get one of those holsters which will hold multiple makes/models and whose description reads “all subcompacts” and the like. In order for those kinds of holsters to work with multiple gun makes/models, compromises have to be made on the holster’s design. What you want to avoid is the possibility of the gun moving within the holster or falling out of the holster based on your body’s movements. If you need to bend down to tie your shoe, the gun should not be slipping out of the holster.

Fifth, avoid Nylon holsters, because Nylon is not rigid enough. This also goes for the accompanying nylon strap which covers the back of the gun securely in the holster. These straps are often referred to as “thumb straps” because you use the thumb of your shooting hand to unsnap them.

Sixth, stay away from any holster which has to be “broken in” such as those made of leather. Leather holsters look really great if you dress up for a night on the town in Wyoming, but leave a lot to be desired with retaining your EDC. Why? Holsters which have to be broken in will require you to work the leather to soften it by holstering and drawing your gun enough times as necessary so the leather gets soft and pliable, and begins to form to the contour of your gun. This repetition may be a couple of hundred times. And then when that is done, you will still never get a perfect fit. Rather, what you will get is a fit on what I call “touch points”, points where the leather actually touches the metal of your gun. And in the process of working the leather, as you move your gun in and out of the leather, when the leather makes contact with the gun’s touch points, this process begins to wear off the finish of your gun at those touch points. The fix for this wearing is to stick your EDC in a Zip-Loc bag first, then move the gun and the bag in and out of the gun. I have a leather holster for my Sig P226 and it is very difficult to work with. The actual holster part is about .25″ of leather, which for a holster, is very thick, and at that thickness, not very pliable. And as soon as I noticed “wear” marks in the (touch points) slide of the gun, I stopped using this holster.

Seventh, choose a holster with good retention, such as those with audible “clicks” when the gun is holstered. Usually, these types of holsters are made of Kydex. Kydex is a polymer plastic which becomes malleable when heated. Click here if you want to read more about Kydex. The great part of Kydex holster is that models are designed for your specific gun. There are no “touch points” as the entire holster is custom molded for your particular make/model.

Eighth, stay away from those holsters which have a button on the side which needs to be pressed in order to release the gun from the holster. In the heat of a self-defense situation, pressing a release button just adds one more activity you need to think about doing and wastes more critical time on you drawing your gun.

Ninth, okay, now that we have beaten holsters to death, the next fix for fear of a negligent discharge is to practice drawing. Using your desired holster and located in your desired carry position, slowly practice drawing. Use a large mirror if you have to. Whatever it takes for you to learn until you have drawing down cold. For the sake of argument, let’s say you are right handed and your desired carry position will be your strong side hip. That means the holster will be located on your right hip.

Tenth, now regardless of whether you chose an Inside the Waistband (IWB) or Outside the Waistband (OWB) holster, you need to practice the actions identified in the beginning of this post. Start by making sure your gun is completely empty. Pull out the magazine and rack the slide, physically looking into the chamber to be certain there is no round in the chamber. Put the safety into the “on” position. Then practice lifting your cover garment. This will require you to use your non-shooting (left) hand to lift up your cover garment by crossing over your belly. Lift up the garment just enough to expose your gun. You don’t need to lift up the garment so high as to expose your six-pack abs or your 38DD boobs. Just enough to access your gun unimpeded by clothing.

Eleventh, begin drawing your gun from its holster. What should be happening is that three fingers of your shooting hand should instinctively begin wrapping around the gun’s grip. This will be your middle, ring and pinky fingers of your shooting hand. As the trigger guard clears the holster, your index or trigger finger should be fully extended and immediately be lining up on the right side of your gun’s frame, in what we call the “proper trigger discipline procedure”. NEVER, repeat, NEVER put your trigger finger inside the trigger guard until you are ready to pull the trigger. This lack of trigger discipline is a primary cause of negligent discharges. While you are drawing your gun from its holster, your right thumb should begin pushing the thumb safety into the “fire” position.

Twelfth, as the gun completely clears the holster, and the thumb safety is “off”, begin aiming your gun (in what is called “sweeping”) in the direction of the bad guy. If you are following proper gun handling procedures and discipline, your trigger finger should still be alongside the frame. Here is where many newbie gun owners get skittish. While aiming, they are afraid the gun’s muzzle will sweep over or in front of innocent bystanders, thus another area of fear. The fix here is called situational awareness. Within micro-seconds, you need to know where the bad guy is and where innocent people are so that you begin your sweep without pointing your gun at those people.

Thirteenth, begin aiming the gun at the bad guy, using the proper sight alignment and sight picture you learned in our training class. Only NOW can you move your trigger finger inside the trigger guard.

Fourteenth, re-holster your gun, but NEVER speed-holster your gun. This is the practice of seeing how quickly you can get your gun re-holstered. This is a stupid move, if you do this. Why? If you have to draw your gun in a defensive situation, why in the world would you want to re-holster it? What if your attacker has a partner who is late to the scene? So, keep your gun drawn until the police arrive. If this ever happens to me, I am drawing my gun and leaving it drawn until the police show up, at which point I’m throwing it on the ground and not re-holstering it. So there is absolutely no reason in the world to speed holster your gun. So re-holster your gun, taking your time.

Fifteenth, now repeat these steps with a snap cap in the chamber. You need to get comfortable with a round in the chamber.

Sixteenth, practice these steps repeatedly until you are very comfortable drawing your gun. These actions need to turn into muscle memory. Most defensive situations last only 3 seconds. If you don’t commit these drawing actions to memory, the situation may be over before you begin. So, after you get comfortable with drawing, then practice drawing quicker and quicker.

Now, let’s try a variation of these steps. Train on step 10 through 16 again, but this time force the gun to attempt shoot. So, in step 10, as you are drawing the gun from your holster, deliberately break the trigger discipline rule and put your finger in the trigger guard. As you draw, squeeze the trigger. If the gun fires, you are negligent. But don’t get pissed off. Learn from this “if I have my finger in the trigger guard as I am drawing, the gun can fire.” Learn through this and other negative experiences what not to do. This is just like sticking your finger in a wall socket. At some point, the electrical shock will teach you to not put your finger in a socket anymore. But practice breaking these safety rules with snap caps instead of live ammo.

After your gun has been drawn, begin pointing your gun at the bad guy, while at the same time, squeeze the trigger. If the gun fires prior to you aiming at the bad guy, you have a negligent discharge. Learn from that. At some point, you will have the wall socket response and soon you will not be sticking your finger inside the trigger guard until you are ready to shoot.

There is one more action which should be listed in the steps above, but isn’t. STOP watching those bullshit action movies and TV shows! Hollywood is the main culprit leading to these fears, leading you to believe that dropping a handgun on the ground causes it to fire. To understand more about this topic, read my blog post on this subject here.

So as we conclude, remember this phrase. Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.” Be that professional. Practice until you cannot have a negligent discharge through normal, safe operation. Then you’ll start carrying confidently with a round in the chamber.

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