1911 Carry Conditions Explained

By Massad Ayoob
Posted in #Skills
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1911 Carry Conditions Explained

February 1st, 2024

7 minute read

What are the 1911 carry conditions? In today’s article, firearms expert Massad Ayoob explains the five conditions of 1911 carry, from one to zero. 

The late, great gun expert Jeff Cooper popularized a four-part series of terms to describe the level of readiness of his signature handgun, the 1911 .45 auto. He later supplemented it with a fifth. Cooper’s terminology has become virtually standard, and it applies to every other type of semi-automatic pistol. 

Shown in this photo is a Springfield Armory TRP pistol. The TRP is a 1911-style handgun designed for concealed carry. The purpose of this article is to describe the conditions of readiness for those who want to carry concealed a single action auto pistol.
A 1911 pistol like the new Springfield Armory TRP is excellent for personal defense. Do you know what carry condition you should choose for it?

The 1911 carry conditions identified by Cooper went like this:

Condition One was fully loaded, magazine in place and a live round in the chamber, with the hammer back and the thumb safety engaged in the “on safe” position. This became known as “cocked and locked.” 

Condition Two described a loaded magazine in the pistol, live round in the chamber, but the hammer lowered.  

Condition Three saw the loaded magazine in place but the hammer down on an empty chamber. 

Condition Four meant a pistol completely unloaded, with a full magazine hopefully somewhat readily at hand.

Later, when he learned of a military unit in another country that carried its P-35 pistols fully loaded with a round in the chamber, cocked and off-safe, Col. Cooper coined the term Condition Zero for that practice.

Let’s examine each method, in the order presented above.

What Is Condition One?

Long before the U.S. Marine Corps introduced a then-young Jeff Cooper to the 1911 pistol, such fighting men as the Texas Rangers had informally adopted the 1911 as semi-auto of choice and carried it full up, round in the chamber, cocked and locked. Col. Cooper recognized this as the most logical way to carry this type of handgun and may have done more than anyone else to popularize Condition One.

In this image, the author placed .45 ACP ammunition around the gun to represent carry in condition 1. The author recommends the use of the 1911 pistol in this mode with one in the chamber and the hammer cocked with the safety on. The manual safety is deactivated when the pistol is drawn.
In Condition 1 carry, this Springfield Armory Mil-Spec 1911A1 .45 has a full magazine in place, live round in chamber, hammer cocked, thumb safety “locked” in the on-safe position. Image: Gail Pepin

On the draw, the thumb of the firing hand is placed just above the thumb safety lever. When firing is imminent, or toward the end of the draw stroke in a draw-to-the-shot, the thumb presses the lever down into the “fire” position.

Cocked and locked carry has long been standard among American police and armed citizens for carrying this type of pistol. One advantage is maximum speed: skilled shooters with on-safe 1911s have been known to win draw-and-shoot contests against equally skilled shooters with “point and shoot” guns, since the safety is wiped into the “fire” position on the draw, and thus, no time is lost.

In this photo, the new Springfield Armory TRP is shown in condition 1. The hammer is cocked and it is ready to fire as soon as the manual thumb safety is deactivated. Most firearms instructors, including the author Massad Ayoob, prefer condition one. The 1911 platform is often considered superior to striker fired pistols like the Glock. 
This TRP is shown in Condition 1 with the hammer back and safety engaged. Cocked and locked is often considered the best way for most people to carry a 1911 for self-defense.

Another huge advantage of cocked and locked carry is its proprietary nature to the user. There are countless cases of Bad Guy getting a gun away from Good Guy, trying to murder Good Guy with his own gun, and failing because Bad Guy couldn’t find the inconspicuous little lever that “turns on the machine.”

Condition One is what virtually every living gun expert recommends for those who carry 1911 pistols for immediate, reactive purposes such as self-defense.

What Is Condition Two?

Said to once be standard among police in Mexico, hammer down on a live round with the 1911 makes on-safe carry impossible…and the gun must now be manually cocked before it can be fired.

Shown is the author's representation of a 1911 handgun in Condition 2. Cartridges are shown stacked as if in the pistol. This mode of carry is preferred by people who want to achieve a greater degree of safety. However, it is slower than condition 1 carry since the 1911 with the hammer down needs to be cocked. 
In Condition 2, the pistol’s hammer is down on a live round in chamber with a full magazine in place. It is not recommended by the author for single-action autos such as 1911. Image: Gail Pepin

More to the point, since the hammer is located so far back over the web of the hand compared to hammer placement on, say, a revolver, Condition Two is extremely awkward to perform, especially if the shooter only has one hand free to draw and get the pistol operational. The fingers lose strength to hold the gun in this position, so it can be easily knocked from the hand, particularly in a fast-moving high-stress situation.

Moreover, lowering the hammer on a live round to begin with requires pulling the trigger of a loaded pistol, which many of us today consider a safety violation in any situation where we DON’T want the pistol to discharge.

In this photo, the author is holding a Mil Spec M1911A1 and is cocking the hammer by hand. He shows how you have to break your grip to thumb the hammer back. The hammer must be cocked to fire the pistol. Carrying the M1911A1 is perfectly safe when cocked and you use the thumb safety. Nevertheless, Condition 2 carry adds another lever of defense to unintentional discharges.
The author demonstrates how the shooter has to break his hold to thumb-cock a 1911 from Condition 2. It is slow, awkward, fumble-prone and not recommended by the author. Image: Gail Pepin

Think about it. If you’ve been carrying hammer down, the hammer became cocked because you thought you’d have to shoot. A self-defense shooting is likely to trigger fight or flight response, in which adrenaline courses through the body.

If you’ve ever seen an alarmed person physically shaking or have seen the tremors induced when someone subject to anaphylactic shock is stung by a bee and has to take a hit from the epi pen, you can imagine such a trembling hand trying to perform the awkward procedure of lowering the hammer on a live round once the danger has passed. That’s true if even at that point both hands are free to perform the procedure.

In this photo, the author shows how dangerous it is to try to lower the hammer manually on a M1911 pistol. It would be extremely easy for the weapon owner's thumb to slip off of the hammer and the firing pin strike the primer of the cartridge in the chamber of the handgun. This is not a fail-safe situation and runs the possibility of injury from an unintentional discharge. 
Lowering the hammer on a live round is dangerous, awkward and fumble-prone with single-action autos. It can lead to negligent discharges, and it is therefore not recommended. Image: Gail Pepin

I cannot think of a single credentialed gun expert still living who recommends Condition Two with a 1911 or other single-action semiautomatic pistol.

Condition Two is best reserved for its natural habitat, the double-action semi-auto, and even then, is safest when the decocking lever is employed to lower the hammer, rather than doing so by hand. (Lowering the hammer by hand on some DA autos bypasses the internal safety shelf and renders the pistol no longer drop-safe.)  

What Is Condition Three Carry?

Full magazine and empty chamber goes back to the days of the original military 1911 and 1911A1, before manufacturers figured out that installing a lightweight firing pin as Springfield Armory does in all its 1911s or adding an internal firing pin safety as some other makers have.

This photo is an author made representation of carry in Condition 3. The reason many people like this way to carry the 1911 is because of Israel. To prevent problems with a range of questionably made firearms to contend with, the Israeli Army adopted this as the carry conditions of readiness for defensive use. This prevents many of the issues associated with half-cock and worn out sears. It does require running the pistol slide after drawing it from a handgun holster.
In Condition 3, the 1911 chamber is empty with full magazine in place. The slide will have to be racked before the pistol can be fired. Image: Gail Pepin

You see, those old original 1911s could go off if dropped, from an “inertia discharge” when the firing pin moved in its channel. The military reportedly determined that the force of a Paratrooper hitting the ground could be enough to cause such a discharge.

With this in mind, the pioneers of Israeli firearms training, knowing their personnel had a mish-mash of probably not drop-safe guns, adopted Condition Three. Indeed, “Israeli carry” is a synonym for Condition Three.

But it is not at all optimal for a reactive life-saving emergency rescue tool that might be needed at a moment’s notice. There is not a single domestic law enforcement agency I know of in the U.S. that carries Condition Three. This should tell us something.

If you are unfortunate enough to be carrying a pistol that can suffer inertia discharge, Condition Three is the only safe way to carry it. In a world full of probabilities, the likelihood of dropping the gun at some time in your life probably exceeds the likelihood of needing to fire it in self-defense. The best advice is to trade into a pistol that is drop-safe.

What Is Condition Four?

Condition Four is when the gun is completely unloaded, with a full magazine hopefully in readiness nearby. 

In this photo we see a M1911 handgun in a condition 4 representation. Massad Ayoob does not recommend this as a preferred carry method unless local laws require it. In this method, you have to load the gun and then rack the slide to make defensive use of the 1911. “cocked and locked is considered a superior method of carrying a modern 1911. 
In Condition Four, the pistol is completely unloaded with a full magazine readily available. Image: Gail Pepin

When I was a boy, the state I grew up in only required a permit for carrying loaded and concealed in public. Failure to abide was a misdemeanor (up to one year in jail) for first offense, and a felony for subsequent offenses. I was legal to carry Condition One inside my dad’s jewelry store, since doing so was a condition of employment, but before I stepped out into the street to go to the bank to make a deposit or went out at night for a walk, I was only legal to carry empty with a full magazine in my pocket.

Adulthood took me to another location or two where the rule was the same. I reluctantly complied, in the full knowledge that it would put me far behind the curve in a reactive self-defense situation.

In my opinion, Condition Four is NOT RECOMMENDED UNLESS NECESSITATED BY LOCAL LAW. In this case Condition Four is a whole lot better than “Condition Helpless” with your gun left at home.

Condition Zero

With a chamber-loaded, cocked and off-safe pistol carried on your person, you are extremely vulnerable to an unintentional discharge if anything from a fold of clothing to a finger presses that trigger to the rear as you slide it into the holster with the web of your hand already depressing the grip safety.

Condition 0 is represented in this photo. It is not a method considered safe by any reputable firearms expert or trainer. Really, don't carry like this. Seriously — no.
Shown above is carry condition 0 with a fully loaded magazine, a round in the chamber, the hammer cocked and safety off. The author does not recommend carrying in this way. Image: Gail Pepin

NO genuine expert will tell you that carrying a loaded 1911 that way is safe. Period.

Recap: Conditions of Carry for the 1911 Pistol

Santayana famously said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

The 1911 remains an excellent defensive handgun. Professionals carry them Condition One, and carry 1911s which are drop-safe, with modern internals like those produced by Springfield Armory.

Those uncomfortable carrying a pistol with its hammer back have many other handgun designs to choose from.

And yes, it is that simple.

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Massad Ayoob

Massad Ayoob

Massad Ayoob is a renowned firearms expert with decades of experience in the firearms community. He's the author of more than a dozen books and hundreds of articles and has extensive experience as a law enforcement officer, competitive shooter and expert witness.

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