Should You Carry Loaded or Made Ready?

A lot of people think the USA is alone in allowing citizens to carry handguns for self-defense. That’s not quite true; in both my home country and Germany, where I’ve spent much of my life, it’s possible to be issued a concealed carry permit if there’s a real threat to your life. It’s certainly much easier to carry in the USA though, and so it’s become an endlessly controversial topic. A lot of this controversy is predictable – anti-gun proponents arguing against the whole principle of personal protection weapons – but there are debates among people who actually carry, too. One of these has popped up on this very blog recently and I thought I’d like to talk about it a bit more.

What’s being discussed is the best state to carry a handgun in – loaded (with a magazine fitted but a clear chamber) or made ready (with a round chambered). There are valid arguments on both sides and many of them revolve around training; one of my fellow bloggers here, for example, argues that if you’re not confident enough to carry a weapon with one up the spout the answer is more training. I completely agree with that – if you’re not confident enough to carry a ready weapon you shouldn’t be carrying at all, because a weapon you’re not comfortable enough is as good as in your opponent’s hand already. However, I do think there are some good arguments for carrying loaded.

M9When I deployed on operations, I kept my rifle loaded but not made ready, with very few exceptions. When I was in Iraq, we had to drive down to Kuwait City quite regularly and I’d make ready before the trip – in a vehicle there’s no time to faff around if a contact happens. When I was out on the ground in Basrah, however, I kept it loaded and, usually, slung around my back. That made me visually non-threatening to the locals I was trying to talk to, and also gave me a series of escalatory steps I could take if things started getting interesting. Here’s one example.

One day I was attached to an infantry platoon that was working Basrah’s central market. I had my own job to do and was basically just tagging along so I had some protection, but when the platoon commander decided to arrest two Iraqis who were selling counterfeit Viagra, I was another guy with a rifle and I was ordered to join the cordon. We sure needed a cordon because the locals weren’t too happy at seeing their little blue pills being taken away, and an irate crowd began to form. As there were less than 30 of us, with four open Land Rovers and no heavy firepower, this was a bit alarming. The crowd, which quickly swelled to a couple of hundred, started to close in on us as we fell back on the vehicles and got ready to leave. My place was on the last Rover and as I climbed up into the back hands were starting to reach in, trying to grab one of the bags of pills. I stamped on a few fingers, but then someone grabbed my leg. That was a line I didn’t want crossed, so I raised my rifle and made it ready. The two riflemen in the back with me had made ready before leaving camp and were already covering the crowd with their weapons, but that wasn’t having an effect. The sound of my bolt picking up a round, however, did. The four or five men trying to snatch the pills backed up a pace, and seconds later we were rolling out of there.

This experience translates to civilian life. Sometimes it’s definitely best to have a chambered round. If you’re out with small kids, for example, you’re likely to be holding one of them when the SHTF and you’ll only have one hand for the weapon. The same goes if you’re driving; you need one hand for the car. In these circumstances you can’t make ready easily, so you need the weapon to already be in that condition. If you’re going to have both hands free, however, there are real advantages in being able to visibly escalate the threat. Once you’ve drawn a ready pistol, if the aggressor doesn’t instantly back down you only have one option left and that’s to pull the trigger. If there’s any kind of standoff, however, working the slide is a very visible – and audible – final warning, and it can make someone rethink their attitude. There are enough stories of home invaders who changed their mind when they heard the slide of a 12-bore being pumped, after all.

At the end of the day, whether you carry loaded or ready is up to you, but don’t feel that the highest state of readiness is necessarily the best. Making ready isn’t a step that needs to slow you down at all; if it’s really urgent and you have two hands free, you can do it as you bring the weapon up into a fire position (that’s where training comes in). Other times it’s a way of saying “I really, really mean this” that can’t be ignored. Look at your own situation and don’t be reluctant to change states – make ready when you get into your car, for example, and make safe (empty the chamber) when you get out. Work out what’s best for you, be confident in your training and ability, and stay safe.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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14 thoughts on “Should You Carry Loaded or Made Ready?

  1. Whenever I carry, and that is any time I am away from my home, I always carry “cocked and locked” with my 1911 or my Browning HiPower. That means 1 in the chamber and a fully loaded magazine with the hammer cocked and the thumb safety engaged. The extra time needed to chamber a round may just be the time the bad guy needs to “take you out”. Situational awareness at all times is the best way to go.

  2. I concur with Danley. Folks with weaker grips (women, arthritics, sweaty hands due to stress) may not get the slide fully back and a round fully chambered in the second or two it takes an assailant to reach them. I carry cocked and locked with my Browning designed pistols and with “one in the pipe” of my double action hide out .380. The thumb safeties come off as the pistols come up. I’ve trained the wife to follow this procedure in a self defense situation.

  3. A revolver settles this whole issue. Loaded , ready and safe. No clanking slides,decockers, safety , and all that.
    A 38 special plus P hollow point will do in civilian situations and a 357 otherwise.
    What is the FBI statistic? Most fights in a room size place and decided with two shots?.

    1. Absolutely Spot on assessment! I teach safety courses to first time lic applicants. Everyone wants the highest number of rounds in the biggest cal to leave in the drawer after the first week of carry. This debate has continued for the 35 yrs I’ve been involved with firearms to include USMC, Air Guard and Law Enforcement. I to this day carry revolvers and small easy to carry 32’s, 380 and 38+p’s. During classes with a yell at a student they forget or get overwhelmed and loose the motor skills to rack a slide or drop a safety. Keep it simple, a revolver or flock like action will always work if ever needed in a life time.

  4. Always one in the pipe! I carry an XDs (off duty). It has a grip safety and trigger safety, but when both are engaged it’s “game on”. I don’t typically believe there is something called an “accidental” discharge. I most often believe it’s a “negligent” discharge.
    With proper training, you can carry loaded and be ready for the wolves. Train, practice, train…..and more practice!

  5. I have 2 guns that I swap when carrying concealed. I’m a biker and I have a .44 special Charter Arms 5 shot revolver that I carry on my left side as I ride my Can Am semi-automatic ( no clutch). It is easy to reach and shoot weak hand. I also have a .40 cal semi-auto when I’m dressed going out.

  6. I always have one in the chamber. If you’re not comfortable taking immediate action and destroying a bad guy before he/she gets the drop on you, you have the wrong mindset or you don’t train enough. As for me I’m going home. I don’t care about them, but my life is worth living

    1. Did you actually read the article? My point is that there are actual advantages in carrying loaded but not made ready.

  7. I have read the above article. A combat situation with ROE is totally different than a civilian situation. If you are pulling your weapon to stop a threat, that is EXACTLY what you are going to do. You will not be drawing your sidearm to “scare” the threat away. If that was your intention, to scare them away, then you have absolutely drawn your sidearm in the wrong situation for self defense; and as such is punishable in a court of law.

    The only time draw your defensive device is in a situation that requires the use of deadly force, and in that time when seconds count, I don’t want to waste them racking a slide.

  8. As a oldtimer(1911) I carry cocked AND locked. The extra time to charge your weapon could get you killed. If you value your life,adopt the proper attitude.

  9. Why did your PL even bother the guy selli g Viagra. Last time I checked it was t part of our mission over there. Either this is a fabricated story and you have no clue what you are talking about, or your PL was a tool… One of these statements is true, and quite possibly both. FYI I was in OIF and OEF we didn’t arrest people for selling Viagra…
    I mean really what possessed you to share that detail, and when was that part of the mission, something smells with this story.
    Also I carry my weapon amber, because it is safer to do so. If you know what you are doing you can draw and chamber a round and one motion. I really want to hear your response to my comment.

    1. OK.

      I wasn’t on OIF. I was on Op Telic. I prefer Telic as an operations name for Iraq, because it’s meaningless. Just like the whole war. Anyway, there were a lot of people selling drugs around the street markets. Some of them were selling counterfeit tablets. Others were part of organised crime. We wanted people to go to clinics or pharmacies for medication, not buy it on the street. I say “we” corporately. I was an NCO and I had my own job to do. I have no idea what orders had been given to infantry platoon commanders on the subject.

      I agree; you can make ready as you draw/raise the weapon, if the situation’s really that urgent.

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