PRESS CHECKS AND AWARENESS

April 9, 2013

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I am intrigued by the number of articles and comments related to press checks- for and against. It seems that those who are anti-press check are against press checks because of the number of people that do them at inappropriate times (i.e. combat reloads). Or they like to tease that this is some kind of over-the-top “tacticool” display of gun handling that only special forces guys and Hollywood actors do.

I have also heard some like to rely on chamber indicators and others claim you have no business handling guns if you need to press check, completely ignoring or not allowing for times where a press check might make sense. There are others yet who propose its an unnecessary risk due to the possibility of accidental discharge or causing the gun to malfunction.

Conversely the vast majority of those who advocate the pros of press checking a gun don’t really give a whole lot of details about when you should or should not press check. As a result I wanted to put my own very detailed “two cents” in as someone who trains and carries for personal defense.

ABOUT PRESS CHECKS

First for those who don’t know what a press check is… the press check is used to check to see if a round is present in the chamber of a semi-automatic firearm. It is accomplished by pulling the slide or bolt back just enough to see if there is a round in the chamber. Check this video for a demo and explanation of press checks.

Press checks are also known as chamber checks, pinch checks or administrative checks. A press check can be considered a form of a systems check to which I like to include a magazine check as well to make sure it is topped off with the correct ammo.

Before I go any further, if you are not skilled with your firearm or are uncomfortable handling it, don’t perform press checks with live ammunition until you practice it with your firearm empty or using dummy rounds.

A QUICK STORY

I have had a few instances in my time of handling firearms that gave me insight into the value of a press checking.

One instance that stands out to me was a late night encounter after work with a traffic officer during a stop. I think my vehicle had a light out or something to that effect, nothing big. The stop was back in 1995 or 1996- it wasn’t too long after conceal carry laws were passed in Texas.

The officer asked to see my license and insurance. I presented everything he asked for along with my license to carry and declared that I had a firearm concealed in the car. He asked me where it was and if it was loaded. I gave him the location and he proceeded to remove my gun out of the vehicle while he ran my drivers license and plates. A few minutes later he returns what I gave him and puts my gun back where he got it from in my vehicle.

The officer then asked me where I was going, I told him I was headed home. He ordered me not to touch the gun until I got home. He did not say anything else to me after I acknowledged his order.  I felt all of this was over the top, but I was young and new to conceal and carry, I was not about to ruffle feathers over his attitude and treatment towards me.

Sometime had passed, maybe a few days I went to the range to shoot. I proceeded to unload my Sig P229 of its defensive ammo to load target ammo and found the chamber was empty and I was minus one round in my magazine. I then realized the officer had unloaded my pistol in his patrol car. He either lost the round or didn’t bother to put the ejected round back into my magazine. Making this worse he did not tell me what he had done to the pistol I used for defensive carry, as a result I assumed nothing was done to my pistol. He let me leave believing my gun was in the same carry condition at the time he took it. As a result of the officer’s actions I was carrying a defensive pistol that was not chambered and ready to fire.

As much as I would like to blame the officer for his part in this. The fault was mine that I was unknowingly carrying a defensive gun in “condition 3“. Had I been more vigilant of my weapon’s status via press checking this wouldn’t have been a big deal. It would have been wise on my part to realize because my carry pistol was taken out of my sight and possession, I could no longer assume it was combat ready.

MY VIEW ON PRESS CHECKS

From my perspective, the press check is about awareness and confirmation of weapon status. I carry my gun as a defensive weapon. As a result, I want to know at all times what the carry condition of my weapon is.

As I mentioned earlier, some people rely on chamber indicators instead of press checks. While most of the time the chamber indicators probably work as advertised, they are still mechanical and can get stuck or otherwise malfunction in a manner as to not properly indicate if a round is in the chamber or not.

I am very much of the mind that people who carry or use guns should make appropriate use of press checks as needed.

OBSERVATIONS

In my limited experience I have seen a number of shooters point in with their pistol or rifle expecting it to fire when they pull the trigger and it doesn’t because they either didn’t chamber a round, the gun was not in battery or the magazine was not properly seated allowing the gun to properly cycle a round into the chamber.

A simple press check would have corrected each of the issues I mentioned.

This leads me to an issue I have with one of the safety rules about always assuming a weapon is loaded. Before you get upset with me- allow me to explain:

If you come up on any gun you have not personally verified its chamber status you should absolutely assume its loaded. But after you have checked the gun, you should maintain awareness of whether or not the gun is loaded instead of assuming the gun is loaded. This of course assumes the gun has not left your possession or sphere of awareness. Having said that, this does not change proper handling of the firearm.

To be clear, I am making a distinction between awareness by visual or physical verification versus assumption because your following the rules.

The rule about always assuming the gun is loaded, while good for safety, also makes for a bit of mental laziness where the shooter may not concern themselves with the status of the weapon because they just assume its loaded by default.

REASONS TO PRESS CHECK

  • You are unsure about the status of your gun being loaded or not.
  • The gun has been unattended and its status may have changed while it was not in your presence or possession.
  • You may have forgotten to reload your gun after showing it to a friend, cleaning it, dry fire practice or a day at the range.
  • You have allowed someone else to use your firearm.
  • The magazine may not have been properly seated when racking the slide or bolt on your firearm causing a round not to cycle into the chamber. This happens frequently for folks who don’t use sufficient force/speed to seat the magazine. An improperly seated magazine can stay in the gun, but it does not sit high enough to allow a round to strip off into the chamber when the gun is racked. This is common when inserting a magazine into a firearm where the bolt or slide is in battery and presses against the first round when attempting to seat the magazine.
  • The firearm may not be in full battery after cycling a round. This can happen if there is a problem with the ammo, the magazine, if the gun is dirty causing the slide/bolt to not have enough force to cycle a round and go fully into battery. It also happens if the shooter rides the bolt or slide forward. When racking a pistol, let the bolt or slide do what it was designed to do without your help. Pull back and let go. Part of completing the press check is to confirm the slide or bolt is indeed fully forward.

WHEN TO PRESS CHECK

  • Before you holster the gun for duty or personal carry. If the gun never leaves your person, you will always know it is ready to fire if you need it.
  • At the end of the day when you are about to go to bed. Your primary defensive weapon should have its status verified under good lighting. Some prefer tactile as opposed to visual. Either way, you should not be press checking your weapon in darkness at 3 AM when someone has broken into your home.
  • At the range after you have loaded your weapon to start shooting. Press check before holstering to present or pointing in to shoot.
  • Status check home defense guns that have been unattended.
  • When you are knowingly going into a dangerous situation, but have not engaged yet. This is more for law enforcement and military. The extra second it takes to double check, provides assurance that your weapon is hot and ready to go.

WHEN NOT TO PRESS CHECK

  • To look impressive- if you know the status of your gun, leave it alone.
  • If your firearm has been on your body or in your possession, and it was press checked before strapping it onto your person; there is no reason to continually check it through out the day, the bullet is not going anywhere. 
  • Do not press check when the need arises to immediately and quickly use the weapon in a defensive manner.
  • During combat reloads… Press checking between mag changes while shooting will ingrain a bad training habit that will cross over into how you handle your gun in real world situations or competitions. Combat reloads occur while firing when the slide or bolt locks back due to an empty magazine. Changing out a magazine while the slide or bolt is back makes it pretty much 100% the top round will strip off  into the chamber. I personally have never experienced any misfeeds when the slide or bolt is back for a reload. This would be because there is nothing there to press back against the top round in the magazine when seating it. If you are careful to train magazine changes with sufficient speed and force, you should have no issues during combat reloads. You do not want to use press checks during combat reloads as that will delay returning the gun to engage the enemy or finish the competition. Further it will cause you to take your eyes off your shooting area and opens you to an increased chance of a malfunction. Another issue is when you are stressed or your adrenaline is flowing, you may unintentionally cycle a round out of your firearm.
  • During tactical reloads… Tactical reloads are performed to top off a gun during a lull in action. This is where the slide or bolt is still forward and the gun has a round in the chamber, but the magazine is less than full or completely empty. Press checking during a tactical reload is completely unnecessary because you know there is a round in the chamber. If for any reason there isn’t a round in the chamber because the slide or bolt did not lock back, then racking the firearm to cycle a round after reload is faster and safer than a press check. Press checks during tactical reloads has the same issues press checking during combat reloads Have. Press checks during tactical reloads hampers you from seeing what is in front of you, it opens you up to the potential for malfunctions, or even cycling a round out of the chamber because of stress or fumbling. Here again doing this during training will ingrain a bad habit for competition or facing real world violence.

PRESS CHECKING TIPS

  • If you have never performed a press check or feel uncomfortable with performing one, practice without ammo and the magazine, or use dummy rounds to simulate live ammo. It is also helpful to find someone who knows how to handle a firearm and is familiar with press checks.
  • Be mindful of where you point your gun for obvious reasons when press checking. Don’t muzzle yourself, anyone or anything you would not want shot or destroyed if there was an accidental discharge.
  • This concerns pistols more than long guns. Watch the placement of your hand and fingers on the gun so that under no circumstances should they get in front of or too close to the muzzle. I say this because of a story from a medic about someone press checking their pistol and putting a round through their own hand. There were no details on how this happened. My best guess is they pressed the slide with their finger tips from the front of the gun with the muzzle pointed directly at the palm. Don’t do that. While I am at it, avoid the Steven Seagal pinch check (the 1911 pinch check was around before Seagal popularized it in his movies).
  • Practice good trigger discipline, do not allow your finger to fall onto the trigger. Avoid tensing your trigger finger against the side of the gun, for the most part it should not be involved in executing the press check. For me personally, when I handle any firearm, my trigger finger is straight along side the gun, and angled upward away from the trigger. I also do not press or curl my trigger finger on the side of my weapon, I feel that is asking for an accidental movement that lands the finger on the trigger.
  • When performing a press check, be mindful not to press or pull your slide/bolt so far back that you cycle a round out of the chamber. Here is where practicing with your gun unloaded or with dummy rounds would be useful until you find a method of press checking that is safe, effective and does not cycle a round out of the chamber.
  • When you have observed that there is a round in the chamber, be sure when returning the slide or bolt to its forward position that it is in fact in battery. This means the bolt is as far forward as it can go, or the slide on a pistol is fully forward sitting flush with the rear lines of your pistol frame. You can also bump or hit the rear of the slide or bolt handle with your palm or the side of your palm to insure full battery. One exception to this is the AR-15 rifle which does not lend itself well to this form of press checking. I suggest watching this video for a very good explanation and demo on an alternative press check for AR-15 rifles.
  • Press checking double action or single action pistols may offer a bit more challenge due to additional tension or strength required to press back the slide against the hammer. I have heard varying advice for and against cocking the hammer for a press check. I advise practicing without live ammunition before press checking live ammunition.
  • Know the status of your firearms before you need to use it. Press checking under bad lighting, during mag changes, during a break in or any other time when you need to present and fire immediately is not a good thing.
  • Practice press checks safely in the dark or with your eyes closed using your finger to feel the round in the chamber. I am not wild about checking your gun’s readiness in the dark, but there maybe a time when that ability is needed, its good to know how to do it without your eyes. There are some skilled shooters who prefer tactile confirmation. I suggest going with what you are comfortable with, but know how to perform visual and tactile press checks.
  • When training, be sure to practice safe press checks when going live on fresh magazines that are not a result of combat or tactical reloads. This will ingrain familiarity and comfort with executing a press check.
  • Practice press checks with your weak hand. Its good to train both hands to do it. Here again I advise unloading your gun in the beginning to practice with your weak hand.
  • Perform a mag check with your press check. Check to see your magazine is properly loaded with the correct ammunition and how much is in the magazine. What you are looking for will depend on the situation. Are you shooting at the range or checking the status of your pistol before carrying it for personal protection or duty? When re-seating your magazine. Be sure to slap it in firmly so there is no question about whether or not it properly seated. Pull on the bottom or floor plate of the magazine if you can to confirm the magazine will not fall out.

Done properly and at appropriate times, press checks are good for raising awareness of your gun’s status and providing peace of mind that you know your firearm is ready for when you might need it.

What do you think of press checks?

Post by Chris Harris @ Between the Temples.

{ 2 comments }

Michael G April 14, 2013 at 11:25 AM

Great article Chris! I am a fan of press-checks too.

The firearm is not only a weapon, its a tool. If you pull your lawnmower out of the garage and try starting it for 20 minutes to only realize there is no gas in it, maybe you should have press checked it! Thanks again brotha.

MG

Chris Harris April 21, 2013 at 10:57 PM

Exactly ;)

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