Ahhh the press check, is it a lost art? A useless technique only used by old crusty gunfighters of yesterday? Or an important procedure that we all should be doing? I didn't realize there was even a debate on the topic, but then again how boring would life be if the gun community didn't argue the merits of every technique and movement? I hope to provide you reasons to do them and explain sure-fire methods anyone can use to safely and efficiently conduct them.
What is a Press Check … Really?
Called press check, brass check, chamber check etc; it's the technique of pulling the slide back just far enough to visually and even physically confirm there is a round in the chamber, but not far enough to eject a round. The technique has additional benefits beyond confirmation of a loaded firearm.
Let's start with the obvious. For painfully obvious reasons, knowing the condition (whether there is a round in the chamber or not) of your firearm is important. But it is worth pointing out that one can find several videos and accounts of defensive gun uses (DGU's) where the person thought they were ready for the fight, only to squeeze the trigger on an empty chamber. Additionally, over my decade-plus of firearms instruction, I have seen an unbelievably high number of people begin a shooting drill with an empty firearm.
And I am not immune. I have been on the range thinking a round was in the chamber only to hear the embarrassing click of my striker instead of sending lead into the target. But how could this happen? There are a few usual suspects.
- One, we insert a magazine and flat-out forget to rack the slide.
- Second, we ‘short stroke' or fail to pull the slide all the way to the rear, which fails to chamber the round.
- Third, the magazine is not inserted all the way. The round is not in the right position in relation to the slide and fails to get chambered.
- Finally, I have seen a bad magazine cause an issue with chambering. The magazine spring binding up, losing tension or the feed lips of the magazine being damaged all could cause a problem with a round successfully being chambered.
In addition to confirmation that you, in fact, have a loaded firearm, a brass check is a perfect opportunity to conduct a brief overview of your firearm, and ensure it is ready to go.
What You're Looking For:
In addition to confirming you have a round in the chamber, you can also make sure your gun is good to go, by performing these quick checks.
- Remove the mag and make sure it is filled to capacity. If you carry with a full mag and one in the chamber, this is the time to top it off your magazine with that extra round.
- An overlook to ensure there is nothing obviously broken or damaged. I have seen students show up to classes with loose/damaged sights or loose grip panels. Note: if you notice something is not right, unload the firearm before conducting even the most minor maintenance.
- Ensure the slide is fully forward.
- Ensure the magazine is fully seated.
3 Methods of Conducting a Chamber Check:
- Slingshot method: The slide is handled in the same way one would chamber a round. Usually using the index finger and thumb of your weak hand. The inherent problem with this method is the slide can get pulled too far back, which results in ejecting a round.
- Front of chamber method: There are a few methods. But most commonly the gun is rested in the palm of the weak-hand with the index finger and thumb wrapped around the barrel in front of the chamber. The strong-hand maintains grip of the gun around the pistol grip. The slide is pulled slightly to the rear, exposing the chamber.
- Behind the chamber method: Grasp the gun high around where the beavertail meets the slide. Form your hand into an ‘A-Ok' sign and wrap your fingers around the slide and sights. Pinch your hand together or think of ‘closing your grip.' The slide moves back far enough to see the chamber. You can conduct this with one or two hands depending on your gun and hand strength.
There are a few main reasons people use to argue against conducting chamber checks.
- My gun is always loaded, so I don't have to check it. My response would be: How does it hurt to verify?
- I have a loaded chamber indicator. While this could be one way to confirm a round is chambered, it is susceptible to error. I have seen dirty loaded chamber indicators stick, indicating a round in the chamber when there was none. And again, How could it hurt to verify with a visual check?
- You run the risk of ejecting a round. Sure, if you are doing it wrong. But I would advise against using an improper technique to justify not conducting a useful check.
- The slide may not go back into battery. This can be solved by simply checking the slide as part of your press check. Holstering could cause your slide to move out of battery. Usually, the gun will go into battery when drawn, but it is a great habit to provide forward pressure to the rear of the slide as you reholster.
- It Takes too long. No, I am joking, no one actually could use this argument because it literally takes seconds to conduct a brass check.
What Press Checks Are Not:
It is important to note that a press check has a different purpose from that of a safety check. The technique I described is used to verify that you have a loaded chamber. Doing this after chambering a round and before leaving your house with your EDC or while at the range would be appropriate.
Chamber checks should not be a substitute for ensuring a firearm is clear or checking the condition of an unknown firearm. In these cases, the source of ammunition should be removed and the slide locked to the rear. This provides you a full view of the chamber and allows you to also physically check for an empty chamber.
All in All:
I can't think of any legitimate reason someone would not want to verify beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have a round in the chamber, but if you choose not to it is definitely your prerogative. If you got the bum scoop about the drawbacks of press checks, hopefully, I dispelled them. I hope there are fewer guns going ‘click' when they should be going bang and less embarrassing moments on the range with an empty gun.
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