One of the Internet arguments that never seems to die is whether you should carry a pistol with a cartridge in the chamber. The argument against carrying with “one in the pipe” is based on the idea that it is unsafe to do so. People are concerned about “accidental” discharges while it is carried, or if the pistol is dropped.
I’ll be completely up front and tell you that with a quality firearm, quality holster and competent owner, the handgun should be carried with a cartridge in the chamber if you are carrying for self defense. In most instances, a self-defense situation involving the use of deadly force develops far to quickly for you to draw your weapon and then work the slide before being able to employ the handgun.
But is it safe to carry a cartridge in the chamber?
In my mind, there are three components to safely carrying a handgun: the firearm, the owner, and the holster. When all three parts are of sufficient quality, and in place, a handgun can be carried safely with a cartridge in the chamber.
A quality firearm will not discharge when dropped. Modern handguns of quality construction are designed to be carried with a cartridge in the chamber. These firearms incorporate some type of “drop safety” into the contruction of the firearm. Some guns use a physical block that moves out of the way when the trigger is pressed. Others use light firing pins with heavy springs to prevent the pin from ever generating enough energy in a fall to sufficiently strike the primer.
Cheap handguns, and some older pistols, may not have any type of drop safety. This means if they are properly loaded and dropped from a sufficient distance, they may discharge. The solution to this is easy: don’t buy a cheap gun. If a gun can discharge when dropped, it is also likely not to be of quality construction, and may fail when you try to use it. We’re talking about saving your life…find the best gun you can afford, not a cheap gun.
A quality holster will conceal the firearm in a manner that is both comfortable and secure. Comfort is largely subjective, and will vary from one person to the next. Security, however, is largely objective.
A holster must retain the firearm until it is purposefully drawn by the owner. This means the holster should retain the firearm in normal movements (sitting, standing, etc.) and in more extreme conditions (running, jumping, etc.) A holster may retain a firearm by use of a strap or by form fitting. Holsters with straps frequently use material that runs over the back of the slide (the hammer if your pistol has one), and is released with the thumb of the dominant hand when drawing.
Open top holsters use the friction of the fitting to secure the firearm. Open top holsters can be very safe -if- they are properly fitted to the gun. For example, when I was just getting into concealed carry some 15+ years ago, I bought a nylon inside the waistband (IWB) holster that was open top. It was not form fitted, and was designed to work with a wide range of handguns. It was also cheap. When I sat down, the gun would be pushed up, and almost out of the holster.
Compare that old nylon holster to the open top Milt Sparks Summer Special 2 I currently carry my Glcok 19 in. The SS2 is precisely form fitted, and I can (and have) turned the holster upside down and shaken it trying to dislodge the Glock. The Glock stays put, just as it should. The Milt Sparks holster is a good example of a secure, open top holster.
If the firearm cannot fall out of the holster, then even a cheap gun will not discharge.
In addition to spending the time and money to get the right equipment, the owner must always obey the safety rules when carrying a firearm. The most important of which is Keep Your Finger Off The Trigger! The vast majority of firearms accidents are a direct result of someone putting their finger on the trigger when they weren’t supposed to.
This week in Tampa, a woman in a restroom stall had her firearm fall out of its holster, strike the ground and discharge. The bullet then struck another woman in the restroom. If the gun owner had used a quality firearm, the gun would not have discharged. If the woman had been using a quality holster, the gun would not have fallen out, striking the floor. And of course, if the woman had used better judgement in selecting the gun and holster, we wouldn’t have a chance for the media to bash armed citizens again.