Press checking, sometimes called chamber checking, has been coming up a fair amount lately so I figured we should talk a bit about it. Let me start by saying that I am a HUGE proponent of press checking, as well as checking the magazine capacity in certain instances.

Press checking is the act of pulling back on the slide or bolt of a firearm slightly to see whether or not a round is chambered. There are many different variations of the press check, some grabbing the front cocking serrations of the slide, some the rear, some touching the brass of the cartridge, etc. Many have merit, and some are just stupid and unsafe (the “Steven Seagal” method). Generally, it seems most instructors are either all for it or totally against it, with no middle ground in between.

The guys that say “Don’t do it” often flock to the flawed logic of “you should know the condition of your weapon.” While as professional shootists this sounds good and all, but it’s not a reality. While I sleep, my carry gun sits loaded in the drawer next to me. When I wake up, I take a shower and then get dressed. From the time I go to sleep to the time I get dressed, the gun is essentially out of my control. There are others that live in my house who have access to my firearms if needed. When I get dressed, I don’t just pick up the gun, take for granted it’s loaded and has a full magazine and go about my day. That seems like a less than smart move to me. I want, no, I NEED to be sure of what’s going on with this gun. Saying “you should know the condition of your firearm” in this instance is silly and I don’t buy it.

“But when training…” I normally hear this argument/phrase on the range. “When you’re training, you should know the condition of your firearm.” If I’m about to shoot a drill or exercise, I like to press check (I also almost always include a mag check as well). There is little training value in a six round exercise if the gun goes to slide lock after the second round unless I’m practicing unknown slide lock reloads. When you’re shooting, practicing, going from live to dry fire all day, it can be pretty easy to walk up to the line, draw to fire that six round drill and get a click, only to realize that while you had a full magazine in place there was no cartridge chambered. It happens, and it happens often and to everyone at some point. Anyone that says otherwise either doesn’t practice much or probably underestimates the usefulness of dry fire.

There are times however, that press checking is inappropriate. I have been on ranges where press checking became overkill. Ex: I was once told that after a slide lock reload, I should press check to make sure the round chambered and then engage as necessary… Definitely does not pass the common sense test. This was a new instructor who appeared to be regurgitating information, hopefully incorrectly. After a tactical reload with time and opportunity, maybe, but definitely not after a slide lock (also known as EMERGENCY) reload.

Another argument against the press check I have heard on multiple occasions is that it will cause malfunctions, specifically out of battery malfunctions. Ummm, no. Improper press checking may cause a malfunction, just as improper finger placement while re-holstering may cause a negligent discharge. To me, a proper press check ends with ensuring the slide/bolt is back in its locked position. Don’t crucify a technique because you execute it incorrectly or in a less than ideal way.

“So when should I press check?” Great question! I am almost thinking of doing an entire segment on this, but here’s some quick guidance:
– When administratively loading the gun, whether right before a stage or carrying for the day
– After a tactical reload, given time and opportunity and if you see value in it
– Any time the gun has been out of your control (gee, it’s almost like there’s a safety rule in there somewhere…)
– Any time you are unsure about the condition of the firearm (Common sense test applies. If you loaded the gun in the morning, put it in your holster, and carried it all day, its condition has not changed. No need to press check in the bathroom of Taco Bell.)

Proper press checking is an asset, not a detriment to a shooter. When you strap that smoke wagon on in the morning, you are betting your life that it is loaded and ready to use if needed. For me, I’m going to make absolutely sure it’s got a fully loaded magazine and a round in the tube. It’s only your life or the lives of your family, so choose wisely. Now go grab your gear and get practicing!