The “press check” is a gun handling task designed to check whether your weapon is chambered. Whilst in theory this sound simple enough, in practice the procedure has generated a considerable amount of argument.
The reason it simple enough – doing a check like this involves handling a potentially loaded firearm, which is when accidental discharges happen. Given this, it’s not surprising that many people recommend never doing such a check.
My approach is a bit different. Whilst it is true that press-checks can be dangerous if done incorrectly, doing them is an important part of owning a weapon. Knowing whether you have a round in the chamber is an important part of gun safety.
Whilst we obviously want to avoid unnecessary handling of loaded weapons, ignorance is always dangerous when dealing with firearms, and knowing the status of your weapon is important.
The whole idea of a press-check is to check whether your gun is chambered. Many newer weapons, especially pistols, have a “loaded chamber indicator”, or a little hole to allow you to check if there is a round in the chamber. This is a great feature, and I wish that it appeared on more handguns, but at the moment many weapons, and especially semi-automatics, require you to press-check.
Press-checks are generally done on weapons kept for self defense. This is because most hunting weapons are kept – or should be kept – unloaded and locked up when not out in the field. You unload your rifle when you get home, and simply remember that it is unloaded.
With a home- or personal defense weapon, the situation is more complicated. These guns are generally kept loaded, and for good reason. In a dangerous situation, you don’t want to be wasting time chambering a round. Many weapons kept at home for defense are therefore simply kept loaded at all times, and are obviously not going to be press-checked very often for the opposite reason to hunting rifles – they are assumed to always be chambered.
How often you press-check your weapon therefore depends on how you use it. If you carry a chambered pistol during the day, take it off and unload it when you get home, it is worth press-checking each time the status of the weapon changes. In short, you want to make sure the gun is not chambered when you are cleaning it, and chambered when you take it out for defense.
Thankfully, press-checking an auto-loading pistol is quite simple, as long as you know what you are doing. I stress that this description should NOT be used as your only resource for doing this – the first few times you press-check your weapon should be done under the supervision of someone who is an experiences gun handler.
As a reminder to those who need it, however, let’s let the folks over at Concealed Nation describe the process:
“With a firm grip on the gun with your dominant hand, while keeping your finger safely outside of the trigger guard and the gun pointed in a safe direction, pull the slide back only far enough to verify that you can see brass (the cartridge sitting in the chamber). You can pull the slide back by using the rear cocking serrations or front serrations if your pistol has them, or by firmly grabbing the front of the slide in a pinching grip. Be sure to keep your support hand clear of the muzzle during this entire procedure.
After the verification, be sure to let the slide go forward with unimpeded force to ensure that the gun goes fully back into battery. If you need to do the press check in the dark you can touch the brass in the chamber with the pointer finger of your support hand that is holding the slide back to ensure a cartridge is indeed there. It is critical to ensure that the slide is fully forward and that the gun is fully in battery after doing the press check.
After press checking as described above, remove the loaded magazine and inspect it to ensure that it is loaded and functioning properly. Be sure that the next round in the magazine is sitting properly and not nose-diving and look for any other possible failures. If all is well, re-insert the loaded magazine and be sure it is properly seated. Now you know your gun is ready to rock and roll, and it can be put in the holster with confidence.”