Depending on the type of firearm you carry, you may have multiple choices when it comes to carry condition; which is to say that you may be able to carry with safety on, safety off, chamber empty, chamber loaded, hammer back, magazine loaded, etc. Many of my students ask my opinion on this, and except for a few rare circumstances, my response is the same: "Locked, Cocked, and Ready to Rock." Why carry a firearm if it's not ready to be used? If you need your firearm, you need it RIGHT NOW! I have seen and heard the arguments favoring the carry of handguns with an empty chamber; safety is paramount amongst them. Some of the reasons I hear include: "What if my child gets a hold of my gun?" Why does a child have access to your guns? "If the bad guy takes my gun away from me, I will have time to attack him before he can shoot me." Are you capable and physically ready to be involved in hand-to-hand combat? Consider this instead: You draw your handgun in a self-defense scenario but your other hand is carrying your child or shielding a loved one and you need to shoot NOW! Perhaps an attack comes suddenly and without warning, and the bad guys are on top of you and within bad breath distance; you must use your handgun in close quarters, tight to your body, and there's no room or time to rack the slide. Or maybe you accidently hit your magazine release during your draw - the magazine hits the ground, the bad guy knows it, and now you have ZERO rounds in the gun.
I have watched as people tried to demonstrate to me their ability to draw and manipulate the slide in one smooth motion. That is until I start yelling at them. Or I "cripple" one arm. Or I attack them from very close distances. Or they are fighting from an improvised position. Or it's dark, rainy, and cold. Suddenly their motor skills start to deteriorate, and with that certainly goes the ability and often the opportunity to rack the slide as part of the draw technique.
Consider the following video, taken from security footage at a jewelry store in Agra, India. The store owner is carrying a firearm with the chamber empty, but when armed robbers burst into the store and he draws his firearm in self-defense, his ability to get a round into the chamber and drive off the attackers suddenly becomes a task that he cannot master, as he tries in vain not just once but twice to manipulate his slide and load his weapon.
**WARNING** This video contains violent images of a man being shot and ultimately killed. But if you carry a firearm for self-defense, you need to see this. (If the video doesn't load, you can see it on our server by clicking here.)
The most important part of owning a firearm for self-defense is actually having access to it, such as carrying it! It still surprises me how many of my students do not carry regularly - I carry my firearm the same as I carry a spare tire in my truck, a medical kit nearby, or chapstick in my pocket. When I need it, I NEED IT! What condition you carry your firearm in is just as important, however. I wouldn't think to carry a flat spare tire so that I could air it up when I needed it. I wouldn't carry a medical kit not stocked with the life-saving tools I need most. I wouldn't carry an empty chapstick tube, and I certainly won't carry an empty firearm. And neither should you.
Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.