Many of us who grew up around firearms have been warned for years never to dry fire any firearm. But can you really damage your firearm by pulling the trigger on an empty chamber? The answer is, as you might have guessed, “it depends.” Most modern firearms are safe to dry fire, but there are some notable exceptions.
Rimfire rifles and pistols should never be dry fired. The reason is due to the design of rimfire chamber. When a rimfire firearm is dry fired, the striker hits the outside mouth of the chamber instead of the soft brass rim of the cartridge. This can not only damage or destroy your firing pin, but over time will peen the barrel face. Extensive peening can be so bad that ammunition will no longer chamber.
Many older pistol designs had notoriously brittle firing pins, such as the CZ-52. Pull the trigger on an empty chamber with that pistol and you’re almost assured of having a broken firing pin in just a couple dozen strikes. The problem with many centerfire designs is that the firing pin travels too far when dropped on an empty chamber. In many semiautomatic firearms, the firing pin is only stopped when it hits the end of the firing pin channel. Other pistols, such as older Smith & Wesson revolvers, have the free floating striker pinned to the hammer. Again, there is the same problem that when the firing pin over-travels, it can hit the frame potentially causing damage to the striker.
While you can safely dry fire almost any modern pistol, rifle, or shotgun, why take the chance? It’s obvious from a design standpoint that firearms were not designed to be frequently used that way. Modern firearms are designed to have the firing pin hit the primer, ignite the powder, and make the thing go “boom” while propelling a small projectile out of the barrel at a high velocity. They are not, by design, intended to be dry fired thousands of times. Dry firing a modern centerfire firearm does not result in the firing pin “hitting air” – something has to stop it if the primer or a snap cap isn’t there. That impact, whether it’s a pin, rivet, or just the firing pin channel, is what can eventually damage your firing pin.
Will a modern firearm hold up to it? Sure, modern metallurgy has enabled engineers to produce much stronger steel, virtually eliminating problems from dry firing centerfire rifles and pistols. But they’re not designed to, so why risk it? Snap caps and various other designs of dummy ammunition allow you to fire nearly any weapon without risk of damage to your firing pin, or any other part of the firearm.
Every time I purchase a firearm in a new caliber, I always pick up a pack of snap caps to practice with. They’re inexpensive, and are great not only for dry firing, but also an invaluable resource for practicing malfunction drills. I carry a snap cap in all of my bolt action rifles for use when the rifle is unloaded so that I can release the spring tension on the striker without dropping it on an empty chamber.
So, is it safe to dry fire your pistol? We contacted Ruger and asked their technical advisors to see what they had to say. According to them, dry firing is perfectly fine on all of their modern centerfire firearms for clearing the weapon, dropping the hammer/striker, or just trying out the trigger. However for practice, they said you should definitely use snap caps. And that just makes sense. When practicing for USPSA Limited Revolver, I’d regularly go through 100 trigger pulls a night, on snap caps as that was how I’d been taught. Ruger technicians confirmed for us that if you’re going to be practicing with your revolver or semiautomatic pistol, you should seriously consider using snap caps.
Rimfire firearms should never be dry fired without the use of dummy rimfire training rounds made of soft metals such as brass or aluminum, or polymer rimfire snap caps. Most modern centerfire firearms can be safely dry fired, but infrequently. If you’re going to be dry firing for practice, it’s always advisable to use snap caps. And as always, if you’re checking out your buddy’s rifle, or handling a new pistol you’re considering purchasing at your local gun shop, ask permission before dry firing.