It is unfortunate many shooters get false information from the cinema, popular fiction and even from other shooters.
As an example, a popular crime series I often read is dead-on with forensics and deductive reasoning. On firearms, not so much.
The main protagonist often carries a Colt 1911 with an empty chamber. I won’t say I have not seen officers carry 1911s chamber empty, but it is a very poor choice.
If you cannot tolerate a cocked and locked handgun, then carry a revolver or a double-action pistol.
Let’s get to the point, there are both automatic pistols and revolvers that are unsafe to carry fully loaded. For others, it depends on which model you choose.
There are several choices in carry options with a number of pistols. Let’s look hard at each.
The original design of the revolver is a single-action. Many close copies are still being manufactured.
Some feature a notch in the cylinder in which the hammer nose is placed for safety when the revolver is fully loaded.
A hammer nose resting on the base of a cartridge is an accident waiting to happen.
Experienced individuals carried the original Colt 1873 with an empty chamber under the hammer.
The proper way to load the revolver for carry is to load a chamber, skip a chamber, load four chambers, cock the hammer and lower it on the empty chamber.
This allows carrying the revolver with five chambered rounds. The single-action is a hunting and recreational revolver these days, so this isn’t a problem.
Many modern revolvers feature a transfer-bar system. The transfer bar makes carrying six rounds safe.
If you own several types of single-action revolvers, you may as well just load them all with five rounds and rest easy.
If you are choosing the type for serious use, purchase a transfer-bar action such as the Traditions 1873.
A friend showed me his newest acquisition, a small .45-caliber derringer.
The handgun requires the hammer to be cocked — and it is a heavy hammer spring to be overcome — as you simultaneously press a cross bolt safety to allow the firing of the derringer.
I have a disproportionate number of accidents in my files with Derringers. Most are poor quality.
The High Standard double-action derringer, long out of production, featured a rotating firing pin and a safety action.
Few derringers are fast into action or safely carried. The North American Arms mini revolver is several steps removed from the Derringer.
This revolver features a notch in the cylinder for the hammer nose to ride in.
If you do not properly set the hammer nose and allow it to ride on a chambered round, you are asking for trouble.
If you are not able to consistently tag the hammer in the notch, then load four rounds.
The hammer block moves the hammer out of contact with the firing pin after firing.
These hammer blocks are good, with the Colt generally superior, but they are not perfect.
With a great deal of wear or when very dirty, they may not work properly.
A modern revolver is superior as safety goes compared to revolvers manufactured prior to 1950.
Transfer Bar to the Rescue
Iver Johnson developed a system they exploited in their old “Hammer the Hammer” advertising.
In a late 1890s ad, a heavy hammer was seen pounding a revolver hammer. The transfer-bar system is still in use.
A bar blocks the hammer from touching the firing pin. Even if struck by a heavy blow, the hammer cannot move forward.
As the trigger is pressed to the rear and the hammer flies forward, the transfer bar rises from its blocking position.
The hammer strikes the bar and the bar contacts the firing pin to fire the revolver. As the trigger is released, the hammer retracts and the revolver is safe again.
When Charter Arms revolvers were introduced, they adopted this system. So did Ruger with their double-action revolvers.
The original Ruger single-action revolvers were Colt types.
Ruger incorporated the transfer-bar system into their single-action revolvers after paying off an expensive lawsuit in which a person was seriously injured by a discharge from a fully loaded single-action revolver.
In short, even the most inexpensive double-action revolvers now use the transfer-bar system. Smith and Wesson revolvers now feature a frame-mounted firing pin.
They are not a transfer-bar system, but feature an advanced of hammer blocking action.
The final word on revolvers: single-action revolvers are not universally manufactured with the transfer-bar system.
In my opinion, those who purchase a single-action revolver must be more vigilant, as some are safe to carry fully loaded, some are not, so the type demands greater scrutiny.
Load all with an empty chamber under the hammer and you will be safe.
When it comes to self-loading pistols, there are many variations. Most modern handguns are safe in the mechanical sense, but demand care in handling.
Early self-loading pistols sometimes did not have an inertia firing pin. This is a firing pin that is shorter than the firing pin channel.
The hammer strikes the firing pin and the firing travels the length of the firing pin channel and strikes the primer or a chambered cartridge.
The firing-pin spring retracts the firing pin. Early self-loading pistols with the long firing pin are simply curiosities today.
The advent of small striker-fired pistols resulted in handguns that were unsafe to carry fully loaded.
The connection to the striker or firing pin was very small, often less than .002 inches, and they were prone to jumping off in the pocket and firing the pistol.
Some did not even have a sear, the trigger contacted the firing pin directly. These were sold for as little as 40 dollars during the 1960s.
They have many problems other than safety and should never be trusted for personal defense.
Better quality single-action pistols such as the Ruby were sometimes better. We will cover single-action pistols first.
The single-action usually features an exposed hammer. The pistol is loaded and the hammer is fully to the rear.
The hammer may be lowered on the loaded chamber or the pistol may be carried fully loaded and the safety on, referred to as cocked and locked.
This is a safe way to carry and the carry method the designer intended (Considering 1911-type handguns).
There is no pistol faster to a rapid first shot than the single-action properly carried cocked and locked.
If the pistol is an inertia-type firing pin design — and all modern guns are — it is safe to keep at home ready fully loaded and the hammer on a live chamber.
Many folks adopt this as home ready and some even carry the pistol hammer down for personal defense.
Modern pistols have a positive firing-pin block (in the case of the Colt, SIG and Kimber) that prevents any movement of the firing pin unless the trigger is pressed completely to the rear.
Others, such as Springfield, feature an extra-strength firing-pin spring that assures the firing pin returns to a safe position after firing.
The primary sources of unsafe firing-pin designs are early Star, Llama and Astra types. I have examined a number with the firing pin stuck forward.
These pistols should be in collections and not trusted for defense use!
A Note About Shooter Error
A 1911 carried cocked and locked is in a safe condition. The hammer is blocked by the slide-lock safety and the trigger is blocked by the grip safety.
When the pistol is drawn and on target, the safety is disengaged and the pistol fired. A few runs on the range will confirm the absolute superiority of cocked-and-locked carry.
Cocking the hammer on the draw is fumble prone, distracting and slow. You are far more likely to have an accidental discharge.
On some, but not all, single-action handguns, if the shooter slips while cocking the hammer, a half-cock notch captures the hammer, preventing it from going all of the way to the firing pin.
This isn’t a sure thing! Unfortunately, some have adopted the practice of carrying a 1911 in the half-cock notch.
It isn’t safe. The notch isn’t as thick as the full-cock notch and there is a condition known as false half-cock in which the hammer is held by a sliver of metal and could slip and fall at any time.
An exception to the rule on half-cock carry is the Tokarev TT-33. This pistol is designed for half-cock carry.
Some carry automatic pistols with the chamber empty. They think they will have time to rack the slide in an emergency.
This is a ridiculous notion. You will need two hands, which isn’t a given in a critical situation. You may well fumble the action.
Your speed is cut down badly. Running a few range drills shows that I am able to draw, fire, and get a hit on a man-sized target in one to 1.5 seconds at 10 yards on demand, with a hit in the X-ring.
Add the problem of cocking a hammer or racking a slide and 0.8 to a full second is added. Why would you limit yourself in this manner?
If you do not trust the 1911, then get a revolver, a GLOCK or a Beretta double-action first shot pistol.
Double-action first shot pistols use a long trigger action to fire the pistol. After the slide recoils, the hammer is cocked for single-action fire.
These pistols usually have the SIG-type firing-pin block or a heavy-duty firing-pin spring.
Most have a decocker lever that safely lowers the hammer from full-cock without the shooter touching the hammer or trigger.
Always use the decocker as designed. If you press the trigger and use the thumb to control the hammer to set it at rest, you may short-circuit the firing-pin block and it may not reset.
Always use the decocker lever! The double-action-only types such as the SIG P250 have a long pull for each trigger press.
They are good defensive guns for those that are not able to practice as often as they would like, and are a simple and safe system.
The GLOCK set the standard for modern striker-fired pistols.
While there have been accidental discharges by the dozens with the GLOCK, there also were many with the double-action revolvers in institutional service.
They are shooter error. The GLOCK isn’t fully cocked when loaded. As you rack the slide, the striker is prepped against a striker spring, but not fully cocked.
If somehow the firing-pin block was damaged and the spring ran forward, there isn’t sufficient energy to fire the pistol.
As the trigger is pressed and the striker is drawn to the rear, the striker breaks against spring pressure and fires the pistol.
The GLOCK and similar pistols are safe to carry fully loaded. Keep your finger off of the trigger until you fire.
Conclusion: Carrying Handguns Fully Loaded
When choosing a firearm, be certain you know what you are getting into. I cannot predict safety that is in your hands and between the ears.
Some modern polymer guns look like striker-fired guns, but they are not, they have a hidden hammer. Other pistols are actually single-action, not double-action.
A heavy trigger action or a slight sear movement, and sometimes a grip safety, are used as safety measures.
A mechanical safety is good, but in the end, the shooter must bear the responsibility for safety.
Would you carry a fully loaded handgun? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments section below!