Col. Jeff Cooper, in all his glory, left us with more than a love for the 10mm and the rules of gun safety, he provided us with the conditions of readiness for carrying a firearm. These are in terms of how quick and easy the gun is to get into action.
Being from Cooper, the stages are in reference to the 1911 mode of carry, but I’ll explain/adapt some of the concepts to other pistol options. Sometimes, we may skip a condition that does not apply, for example, handguns with no hammer or manual safety.
Chamber empty, magazine removed, hammer down
This is the least-ready condition, meaning that it takes the most actions to fire the gun. The shooter must insert a magazine, rack the slide, disengage any safeties, and then… fire the pistol.
This is not a method in which many people carry a firearm. However, it is fairly common for storing in the household. Some take this further by keeping the gun in a locked safe. I won’t say that this is wrong — only you know the day-to-day conditions of your life or any children/guests that may be around, so only you can decide what is best for you. I will say that this is the least prepared condition for a threat. It will take you quite a while to get your firearm ready and engage the threat.
If you do carry in this manner, I assume it’s an off-body method, such as in a bag or vehicle. While you are more prepared than being unarmed, you are not in a position to engage an immediate threat.
Chamber empty, magazine inserted, hammer down
Also often referred to as Israeli carry because it is how the Israeli military trains, Condition 3 packs the pistol with a magazine loaded and the chamber empty. This was also standard fare for the U.S. military back when the 1911 was issued.
To ready the pistol, one need only to rack the slide to chamber a round. This is OK for industry use, as it keeps people from making mistakes. Using a pistol is also less common when you’re issued a rifle or on a military base.
This is not optimal for concealed carry where seconds are precious. You could get a jam when trying to chamber a round, you may not have a free hand to rack the slide, or you may just run out of time.
The psychological factor of having a firearm with a round in the chamber can be a big hurdle for some. Understanding the layers of safeties on your firearm can help. Most modern pistols feature a firing pin block, which prevents the firing pin from moving forward and striking the primer to set the round off. There are other passive safety options, such as a grip safety, which disables the gun from firing unless your hand engages it in a firm shooting grip.
If you are going to carry in Condition 3, train drawing the pistol and racking the slide to ensure you are proficient. This should become second nature as you present the pistol on target.
Round in chamber, magazine inserted, hammer down
In regard to a single-action pistol such as the 1911, this method is less than ideal. If you have chambered a round, you must manually drop the hammer (safely) without firing the gun. This renders the pistol useless until you recock the hammer. It also introduces a greater chance for an accidental discharge. One slip of your thumb when lowering the hammer, and you better have that muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
However, on a double-action/single-action pistol, this is the ideal carry condition for most. You have a round in the chamber and decock the pistol (often with a lever that does so without risk) and you need only overcome the long, double-action trigger pull for your first shot.
In most cases, you also have an exposed hammer that can be pressed with the thumb to further help secure the action when holstering and unholstering. If the trigger is snagged, you’ll feel the hammer pressing against your thumb, which will hold it forward and prevent any further travel of the trigger.
Round in chamber, magazine inserted, hammer back, safety on
Condition 1 was Cooper’s go-to, and it makes sense for a lot of people — especially if you carry a 1911. Your firearm’s ready to go, all you need is to disengage a button/lever for it to be ready to fire.
It’s also worth considering that most people, even those who carry every day, go their entire lives without ever needing to draw their pistol. It does, however, spend a lot of time on the hip and in the holster around non-threats, so perhaps an extra layer of safety is favorable. Many people prefer a gun to have a safety simply because it makes them feel more comfortable. If a threat should occur, it’s easy to disengage as you’re presenting the firearm on target.
For many decades, the 1911 was the go-to semi-automatic, and it just made good sense to utilize a thumb safety. It still does, if that’s the type of pistol you carry. It’s even the standard for the military, with most military pistols incorporating a manual safety (SIG M17/18, Beretta M9, HK USP).
Round in chamber, magazine inserted, hammer back, safety off
On a single-action 1911 with its light, crisp trigger, you’d be crazy to carry in Condition 0. However, if you carry one of the common striker-fired options that are so popular nowadays, you likely already do. Pistols such as the Glock or SIG P320 (no manual safety) tend to be carried with a round in the chamber, meaning all that’s required to fire the pistol is to pull the trigger. Increasingly, today’s offerings are coming with lighter triggers, some nearing that of a decent 1911.
Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A quality holster that has been form-fitted to your specific firearm, and proper trigger control, negates a lot of the risk. However, you must be conscious of some added risk.
On the other hand, this is the fastest method of carry to get the pistol into action. Just draw, aim, and you’re ready to shoot. In your heightened state of alertness, adrenaline pumping through you, you won’t need to remember to chamber a round or remove a manual safety. This allows you to focus on the threat and getting accurate shots. With the right pistol, this may be ideal. Of course, you can train to remove a safety or rack a slide on the draw stroke, so it’s not an issue and becomes second nature. However, that requires more time and training.
The condition you carry will depend on your comfort level. Many people just don’t feel safe with a fully-loaded firearm. I recommend those people get more training and familiarity before carrying. Others may only feel safe with a manual safety engaged, which is understandable.
Modern holsters with a secure, form-fitting mold do wonders to protect the trigger. This adds another layer of security.
Your condition of carry (and likely your comfort level) will also depend on your perceived threat level. How likely are you to believe an event will happen? How concerned are you by that event? Despite the world we live in today, I’ve met people who believe nobody actually ever gets attacked. I’ve also met those who believe — and some rightly so — that a threat lurks right around every corner. I try to reside somewhere in between, with an understanding of what might be.
Modern tactical thought dictates you should carry in Conditions 2, 1, or 0. This will depend on the type of firearm you’re carrying. DA/SA pistols such as the SIG P226 are typically carried in Condition 2, with the gun decocked. Handguns such as the 1911 tend to be carried in Condition 1 — cocked and locked. Many striker-fired pistols, such as the Glock, are toted in Condition 0, as there is no manual safety to engage. Keep in mind, which gun you’re carrying and the best method for you to carry it. Oh, and train, train, train!