Press, Chamber, or Status Check: What? When? How?

Press, Chamber, or Status Check: What? When? How?

Press, Chamber, or Status Check: What? When? How?

I gained some insight into “Press Checks” and want to share some related ideas. There are various terms for this process, including Press Check, Chamber Check, or Status Check. Press Check does not mean verifyng that the dry cleaners have put a straight line down the front of my pants, nor checking the credentials of the media reporters. Basically, it means seeing if there is a round in the chamber of my handgun. Sounds simple enough, but shouldn’t I know if I have a chambered round. Some believe that there should always be a round in the chamber and that there is no point in carrying any other way, so a press check is NOT necessary. They mention why carry an unloaded gun? Some point out the differences between checking for a LOADED chamber and checking for an UNLOADED chamber by dropping the mag, locking the slide back, and verifying an empty gun. A good press check should be a staple for pistols and revolvers, according to some. Others say that they are pointless and will increase your risk of the gun malfunctioning. Still others say that there is a best way to perform them and certain methods can be dangerous for you and even bad for your handgun. Several comment that a Press Check is NOT meant to be a SAFETY check. So WHAT are the various methods of doing a Press Check or Chamber Check? And WHEN do you do one and should you even do one at all? After all, a lot of handguns have Loaded Chamber Indicators. Which check method is best and HOW do you do it? There are several factors to consider here and several ways of doing these checks.

Traditionally, a press-check is done with a 1911 handgun, but can be done with other guns. Some of us have observed a lot of these Press or Chamber Checks done in military and law enforcement scenarios, as well as in movies and television and, thankfully, most were done correctly or at least safely. Do you remember in the movie Heat when Al Paccino’s character did a check on his Commander-sized Colt 1911 pistol right before he and another cop were ready to confront the bad guys? Or when Steven Seagal performed them in several of his movies with his Sigs, or in the Miami Vice or various cop television series. Some were correct examples of how to do them and others were not. Let’s explore this.

WHAT? A press check is performed by pulling the slide back just far enough to see if there is a round in the chamber, but not far enough to eject a chambered round or to cause a new round to chamber. The latter can happen quite easily and could possibly cause a malfunction, stoppage, or failure to go into battery.

WHEN?  If you find yourself imminently confronting a bad guy, going into a dangerous situation, or a threatening neighborhood, it may be wise to verify the status of your gun prior to movement and action, especially if it has been a long time since you last loaded or checked your handgun. If the handgun is out of your control, or much time has elapsed from your previous use, then do the chamber check. A press or status check is simply a process to make sure you have a round in the chamber, the magazine is seated (if a pistol), and that your handgun is ready to fire. To me, it is a way to quickly check to see if you have a round chambered or not for immediate use, rather than a verification or substitution for determining if the gun is safe. However, some believe that since you pulled the slide out of battery and perhaps pulled the round back out of the chamber a little, it may be unseated and there may be a malfunction. This is especially possible if the barrel is fouled. It can be caused by built-up copper from copper-jacketed ammo that was not properly cleaned out of the chamber, by excessive unburned powder, by brass shaved off the shell casings, etc.  A lot to consider and YOUR call.

HOW? It is easing the slide back a 1/4 inch or so to witness a bit of brass case. There are a variety of safe and unsafe methods for doing this. Some include pinching the recoil spring end and the thumb together. Others use a finger to touch the round (effective in low-no light), and some include dropping the mag and pressing on the round at the top of the mag to guage approximately how full the mag is. There is a possible safety risk with some guns in half-cock after a Press Check. Some Berettas bring the hammer to a half-cock position after a safety check, so you must decock the hammer to return it to the original condition. So remember to thumb the decocker after the check. Various methods of performing chamber checks are presented below.

Loaded Chamber Indicators (LCIs)

Loaded Chamber Indicators

Loaded Chamber Indicators

Some guns now come with an indicator to tell you if a round is in the chamber with out moving it out of battery, e.g. Rugers, Sigs, Springfields, CZs, newer Glocks, Walthers. This is a Loaded Chamber Indicator (LCI.) It is usually an extractor with a “bump” on it that sticks out in some direction. If the bump is out or up, the chamber is loaded. Some are colored flags to make it easier to visually check.

Some do not like LCIs because they could support a potentially-dangerous sense of complacency among some gun owners. Given that the devices are mechanical, they can and do fail sometimes..Some also say that LCIs have been known to stick when the gun’s dirty, thus giving a “false positive”. There is a probability of a Failure to Fire. So, they focus on “witnessing the brass.”

Others believe that LCIs are an unnecessary part of your gun so should be ignored, contributing to bad safety and operator habits. Recall the safety rule that guns are always loaded. If you are relying on a LCI to tell you when your gun is safe, they say that you are ignoring that safety rule? And what are you doing with the gun when the red flag is not up that you shouldn’t be? So from a safety perspective, some don’t see the LCI adding any value and think it can actually lead to a false sense of “safety” which in turn could lead to bad habits. They say never rely on the little red LCI flag, but instead always perform a proper status or press check to verify a loaded chamber.  LCI’s are quick visual indicators if a round has loaded, like if you want to make sure the gun picked up the next round from the magazine during competition shoots, for safety purposes, do the physical chamber check.

But, if your handgun has a loaded chamber indicator, make sure you keep it clean because it may affect reliable functioning.

HOW – Methods of Performing the Chamber Check

SAFETY FIRST! If you choose to do a Chamber or Press Check and when you are performing it, remember to keep your fingers away from muzzle; keep your finger off the trigger; maintain a solid grip and control of the handgun, and remember the safety rule that ALL GUNS ARE ALWAYS LOADED. I also recommend doing both a physical AND visual check of the chamber. Under low-no light conditions, you may feel the round. Bring the slide back ONLY about one-fourth of an inch when using any of these methods. Here are some methods:

1. Pinch Method

To do a “Pinch Press Check” on a pistol like some of the “oldtimers” or military were trained, hold the gun in your strong hand. Using your support hand, put your support thumb INSIDE the trigger guard, and your support index finger on the front of the pistol covering the recoil spring plug or end, below the barrel. Then squeeze them together with your support hand. The act of squeezing will move the slide open enough to let you see whether or not a round is chambered. Most, including myself, do NOT recommend doing a chamber check this way, since it does involve placing your thumb inside the trigger guard near the trigger, as well as having your index finger near the muzzle of the front of the pistol. This method can be dangerous, if done incorrectly or hurriedly. Also, if your gun has a full-length guide rod, it is difficult for some to expand their grip far enough. A key for this method and ALL methods is to NOT cycle the slide back far enough to eject the round in the chamber.

2. Support-Hand Under FRONT Serrations Method

Support-Hand Under FRONT Serrations Method

Support-Hand Under FRONT Serrations Method

One of the “modern” press check methods is preformed by cupping your support hand and bringing it from underneath the frame, in front of the trigger guard by the dust cover, and grasping the front serrations of the bottom of the slide. Then you move the slide rearward until you can verify “brass” and touch with your trigger finger to see if a round is in the chamber. The advantage of grasping the slide at the front by the front serrations is that it overcomes the possibility of pulling the slide a little too vigorously and ejecting a live round, as well as not sweeping your support fingers in front of the gun. Some handguns, however, may not have front serrations on the slide or it can be difficult to grasp it and move it back or get leverage.

3. Over-the-Top FRONT Serrations Method

Over-the-Top FRONT Serrations Method

Over-the-Top FRONT Serrations Method

You can go over the top of the pistol and use your support-hand fingers to grab hold of the top of the front slide serrations and pull the slide back. Then you can use your trigger finger to physically and visually check inside the chamber for a round.

4. Over-the-Top REAR Serrations Method

Over-the-Top REAR Serrations Method

Over-the-Top REAR Serrations Method

You can use the same procedure as in number 3 method, but instead grab the slide by the top serrations at the REAR with your support-hand with ONLY 2 fingers and the thumb and bring the slide back a little (ONLY about 1/4 inch) to check the chamber with your trigger finger. When doing this, you can also use your support-hand pinky finger to check and feel the inside of the chamber. Some say this is awkward.

5. Strong-Hand ONLY Method

Strong-Hand ONLY Method

Strong-Hand ONLY Method

Another method used by a few military folks is to use ONLY the strong hand and index finger with NO use of the support hand, in case your support hand is disabled or injured. You pull the slide back with strong hand and check with trigger finger without any involvement of your support hand or fingers. Without proper training and regular practice, to me this method is dangerous, since you could drop your handgun. Some say it looks cool, but there are other more practical and safety considerations to me. It could be a backup check method for some perhaps, but does rely on the strength of your gun hand.

6. Support-Hand UNDER Beavertail Method

Support-Hand UNDER Beavertail Method

Support-Hand UNDER Beavertail Method

This method involves lowering your strong hand down about an inch or two below the bottom of the beavertail and putting your support hand thumb directly under the beavertailfor leverage and using your support-hand fingers to grasp the rear serrations. Then use your index finger to touch and check the inside of the chamber.

7. Over-the-Top REAR Serrations Method

With this method, you grasp the REAR serrations on top of the gun using all support-hand fingers (using either the Sling-Shot or Over-the-Top technique) and pull back the slide about one-fourth of an inch to check. You can even insert your support-hand pinky finger to check if using Over-the-Top. From my delimited experiences, this method seems to be preferred by many shooters. In fact, I cautiously use this method, so I don’t bring the slide too far back and eject a round. This Over-the-Top Rear Method is simple, can be accomplished in complete darkness by using pinky finger verification, and you have total control over the direction in which your muzzle is pointing. But, carefully PRACTICE.

Conclusion

So, it is your decision about whether to even use Press or Status Checks of the chamber, as well as how best to perform them. While some say they are of limited usefulness and not necessary, others believe it is a good “Just-in-Case Verification” when you have a doubt that there is a round in the chamber for imminent threat situations, especially if you have not handled your handgun for awhile. After all, your life may depend on it and it is cheap insurance, but do them safely and correctly. Of course, you can always do a status check and throw away a round that’s in the chamber by merely racking the slide and chambering a new round that you know is seated correctly, IF you have the situational opportunity. You then know the extractor has properly engaged the rim of the round and the round is being extracted from the chamber properly. To give you peace of mind, you can observe after the Press Check that the back of the slide is flush with top of the back strap and frame and ready for action. Remember, the presscheck is intended to verify that the chamber is loaded and should not be relied upon to verify a clear or SAFE weapon. Consider what is your purpose and always put safety first.

Continued success!

* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry in your state. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever. 

© 2013 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at [email protected]

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  • Jim

    I have a S&W M&P it has a hole in the top to view the cartridge. No need to pull the slide back.

  • James Van Valkenburg

    Coming into the house, I clear the chamber and reload the mag. Leaving the house, I load, rack and lock the 1911, CZ or Sig. Simple and safe. Works with any semi-auto.

    • Vanns40

      Remember when taking that chambered round and putting it back in the magazine, time after time, and then re-chambering it that you run the risk of “set back”, where the bullet is set back in the case. Not good if you have to fire that round.

      Better is to hand feed the round, lower the slide and “tap off” the slide to ensure that the slide is fully in battery.

      • Willius Wonkus

        “Better is to hand feed the round, lower the slide and “tap off” the slide to ensure that the slide is fully in battery.”
        Not on a 1911, please! The extractor is not designed to move away from the slide to allow this, and can be damaged. Yeah, it was a surprise to me when I learned it after buying my first 1911 a few weeks ago.

  • AmericanIcon

    Your presumption of ‘when’ is flawed, apparently influenced by Hollywood. A chamber check should be performed when you first pick up your pistol, prior to holstering. It should be as natural as verifying any firearm you pick up is empty. It should only be performed again when the pistol has been unloaded – either manually or ‘functionally’ through firing – to ensure readiness for action. If you need to recheck prior to ‘confronting the bad guys’, you stand a good chance of having them walk off with your loaded pistol as you bleed out.

    • MSG L

      This is Truth! Prep your weapon when you holster. The only time I would do a check like this would be when actively engaged in a firefight

    • Col Ben

      Americanicon– Thanks for your opinion. Here is my opinion and perspective. I am not advocating, presuming, and pushing Press Checks. Certainly not from Hollywood influences. The goal is to present a topic for intelligent discussion and comments… to stimulate thinking, offer some different approaches/methods, without dictating “the answer,” insulting someone, or putting them down. I merely want to freely help others. It should be possible to entertain ideas from others without placing a value judgment & demeaning someone or any alternative general idea you disagree with as “flawed.” Decide for yourself. As I said in the “When” section, “A lot to consider and YOUR call.”

      • AmericanIcon

        Apologize if I misread your intent, I can only go by the actual words, and it appeared that’s what you were advocating. I still stand by my original statement: Check your chamber (and magazine) when you first holster, and when reloading ‘after action’. I’ve done it that way for decades, and check the chamber and magazine of EVERY firearm I handle, whether I’m pulling it out of the safe, picking it up, or having it handed to me. So far, I’ve never had a negligent discharge, nor had a failure to fire when firing was desired.

        That said, I’m not law enforcement, no longer military, but never leave home without at least my primary, generally a backup, and – when headed south, toward the border, more often than not a long arm – and the first thing I do with any of them is a chamber and magazine check (pistols with a round chambered, rifle chamber empty).

  • dogshawred

    Americanicon, you beat me to the post/punch. When you arm yourself, you should do a chamber check by whatever means you determine works for you. It isn’t complicated to do and doesn’t take any real time at all.
    ~
    I feel that checking when you arm yourself, you are selecting when and where it is being done and provides you a better level of safety and at that time you are not in anyway shape or form hyped by your circumstances. There is enough that can go wrong when carrying without us taking out our weapon and doing a chamber check possibly in public. I carry open so I don’t care who knows I’m armed, I just prefer to be safe from the get go and not have to play catch up in the field.
    ~
    Be Safe Everyone.

  • luvmy357

    Press checks, or whatever other name you wish to call it, are unneccessary at any time. If you do not know or are unsure of the condition of the firearm then perform an overhand rack of the slide and remove all doubt. If you eject a live round then pick it up when you have the chance. I would rather drop a round to the ground than to press check and not have the gun go back into battery for some reason.

    • Will Mullaney

      I disagree that they are never useful. As an instructor, it is easy to get involved in demonstrating and/or talking to a class and run the potential risk of having the firearm in a state other than what you think. Considering you may actively be loading, unloading, doing function drills, etc, checking in this case prevents you from looking foolish and pulling the trigger on an unloaded gun expecting it to go bad, and more importantly, prevents you from looking even more foolish and having a potential safety issue when pulling the trigger for a dry fire, glock slide removal, whatever, and having a round go off. It is, of course, no substitute from keeping the muzzle in the right direction and not touching the trigger without need, but it’s a quick way to have added/refreshed information to prevent you from loosing your place. Racking and ejecting a live round would serve the same purpose and accomplish the same goal, but would often be an unnecessary action (especially when the check it to verify loaded, as opposed to verify empty, where running the slide back to lock would be more appropriate).

      • luvmy357

        I am an instructor as well and I would never teach this to a student nor would I ever demonstrate it to a student; creates bad habits. If I pull the trigger, expecting the gun to go off, and it does not, it leads to a learning point to the student on how to perform a non-diagnostic linear malfunction clearing drill; in other words Tap, Rack, Bang.

        Also in this article it was also stated that a press check should NEVER be used as a safety check, with which I agree. If I am unsure if the firearm is clear and I need it to be clear then I will visually and physically check to make sure there is no round in the chamber. I am not doing some press check.

        • Will Mullaney

          Perhaps you should take the time to reread my statement. At no point did I say anything about teaching this to a student. I clearly stated using this during the process of teaching for the instructors benefit, relying on actual data as opposed to the accuracy of memory alone. Your statement indicates you assume that all students are at the point to need to know and be able to perform a clearing drill, which is obviously not always going to be the case (basic pistol teaching tap, rack, bang, I think not). Teaching a basic pistol student tap, rack, bang because you lost your place and forgot to load your firearm isn’t a teaching moment, it’s looking foolish. And please don’t try to use the excuse that nobody could ever possibly make a mistake in that situation, because even the most seasoned instructors can and do.

          Also, I clearly pointed out that in terms of checking for safety (clearing a firearm) that going to slide lock was the appropriate action.

          As an instructor, you should know that LISTENING (or reading) to understand the situation is as important as talking (or writing), especially when attempting to advance your personal views.

          If YOU don’t want to ever do a press check, then YOU don’t have to. To declare that nobody ever should use it for any reason at all is foolhardy and presumptuous.

        • MrWonderful61

          You may wish to consider revising your type 1 & 2 malfunction clearing drill to “tap, rack, point-in.” “Tap, rack, bang” seems to take away the final decision on whether to still fire after clearing the malfunction and the situation may have changed in that short time to where it needs re-evaluation.
          Just saying…

  • tionico

    I agree, the LCI is NOT reliable… it is merely a small strip of metal pushed by an even smaller spring. I had a pistol with one, but ignored it. I suppose it might be handy to indicate there is a shell in battery… but NEVER to be relied upon to indicate the chamber is empty. There is only ONE way to do that…. mag out, bolt/slide back, visual check of chamber and mag well. THEN, and only then, can you be certain the weapon is unloaded. Even if I watch someone else do that then hand me the weapon, I will do it again myself. If it does go off, it won’t be HIS fault, but mine.

  • C.M. Dawson

    I have an LCI on my XD-S .45, but don’t trust it. I pull the slide back far enough to see the rim of the round in the chamber, and do one more critical step in the process; tap the back of the slide to make absolutely certain it has returned to battery. This is critical with this sidearm, and should be done with many semi-autos. You don’t want to get caught with your pants down with a click and no discharge from an out-of-battery, off center primer strike.

    • Shinypartsup

      My XDs is new to me but I noticed that the LCI did NOT raise up with a round in the chamber. I don’t trust it, and check for a round with a bump to the slide as C.M. Dawson describes.

  • cjsays

    I carry the Ruger SR40 which has the Loaded Chamber Indicators (LCIs). I do not have an issue with the LCIs. I have found that the magazine release is the bigger concern with me. As I go about my day moving around, lifting stuff, turning or just moving about the magazine disengages. It would not be a good thing to fire off that first round in a fire fight and that second round not chamber. There have been a couple of times when I go to unholster my weapon and the magazine hits the floor. There has been other times when I can see that the magazine is not fully seated. I guess that means when you do that press check you should tap the base of the magazine as well to make sure that it is engaged.

    • Will Mullaney

      What that means is that you should examine getting a new holster, a new magazine release, a new gun, changing how your carry/draw/whatever etc. If your magazine is spontaneously coming lose, fix the source of the problem, don’t include a band-aid by pushing it back in each time you unholster. What would you do if your other hand is holding your cell phone to call 911, pushing back your spouse/children behind you, pushing away your attacker in closer quarters. Not sure how you would easily reseat the mag with one hand, and certainly not sure how you would easily pick it up off the ground or put in a second from a mag pouch.

  • Mark Cline

    Personally, I don’t need to check my defensive guns. They are loaded and stay that way. The only time if clear them is when I am cleaning them, or practicing shooting with them. I keep my defensive carry gun separate from my dry fire practice gun. Plus, all guns are always loaded, and that’s the way my defensive guns are…loaded.The guns I use for other purposes, like teaching aids, are not defensive guns. They are unloaded, but, since all guns are always loaded, they are loaded, but not. Know the difference. Check, check, double check and have your wife check! But, please, leave Hollywood to their tricks.

  • 2ThinkN_Do2

    I do chamber checks quite often. Some are through the chamber check hole, some are via pulling the slide back a pinch. Daily I empty the chamber and re-chamber the same round. I’ve done the same round for weeks and weeks every day. I’ve never had a round that suffered set-back or malfunctioned, not hollow points or FMJ of any brand or caliber. I’ve done the same routine with 45, 40, 9, 380. The press check is a quick and easy way to verify if you have one in the chamber. I generally find the need to do a chamber check when it is dark out, low light. If you have any doubt if your chamber is loaded, doing a check could save your life. The last thing you want to do, is go to pull the trigger and nothing happens. Yes you could just rack the slide, but if you’re carrying a single digit capacity weapon, do you really want to unload a round you might need? 1 round down could be 20% of your ammo, depending on what you are carrying.

  • MrWonderful61

    At the training facility I attend, the announcement “Firing Drill” is the time you unholster your weapon, (load it if it is not already loaded,) do a magazine check and a chamber check, then slowly re-holster the weapon to prepare for the inevitable delivery of a controlled pair from concealment.
    Similar drill for unloading at the end of training. Fully unload, empty mag well and chamber check with pinky and slowly return to holster.
    So, every day when I first put my weapon into carry holster every morning, I do a mag and chamber check. That way I KNOW the state of my weapon. I KNOW that my wife hasn’t left it unloaded while I was sleeping. I am verifying the state of my weapon before enlisting its service, as any responsible person would.

  • JustSaing

    Pepole who do not know there chamber situation, should not carry a gun.

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