Why I Carry with an Empty Chamber — Should You?

By Will Dabbs, MD
Posted in #EDC #Skills
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Why I Carry with an Empty Chamber — Should You?

August 31st, 2023

6 minute read

I bought my first gun, a no-frills lever action Daisy BB repeater, with my own money when I was 7. I landed my first pistol at 13. It took me a solid year of toil as a janitor in a print shop to afford my first AR-15 in 10th grade. I’m as comfortable around guns as I might be with power tools or fast cars. I respect firearms, but I don’t fear them at all.

i carry with an empty chamber
The author’s approach to carrying a concealed pistol is tailored to his specific needs. Everyone should train with qualified instructors and find what works best for them.

By contrast, there are an awful lot of folks in modern society who just aren’t terribly durable. They hyperventilate in the very presence of a firearm. Actually touching a gun is adequate to induce the gyrating fantods. As the responsible gun owner strives ever to be a good citizen and courteous neighbor, this means that in some spaces you need to carry your weapon really deep.

Packing in church where legally applicable can be a sticky thing for some people. Unfortunately, there have been several horrific cases of late wherein psychopathic lunatics have committed acts of extreme violence against parishioners in houses of worship, taking advantage of areas where they believed no one would be armed.

stripped down hellcat rdp for carry
Stripped down to its essentials and equipped with the flush-fitting 11-round magazine, the Hellcat RDP is actually small enough to ride about in a large pocket. Note the author’s Apex Tactical trigger he installed.

In my state in the Deep South, anyone with an enhanced addendum on their concealed carry license can legally carry in church. So, I do just that. But I also strive to make sure it’s not obvious that I do. And I also have trained to carry this gun in a way that might be at odds with how you carry. You might even think I’m completely wrong. But more on that in a moment.

Smaller Is Better

If you are in church, at a crowded public function, or at a family get-together with crazy Aunt Ernestine, then there are quite likely folks in attendance for whom the obvious presence of a firearm might foment discomfiture. Regardless, there are still ways to go legally armed without anyone being the wiser. For starters, you’ll need a small gun.

small hellcat for discreet carry
As the author configures his pistol, the Hellcat RDP is not too much bigger than a full-framed smart phone.

In the past that meant some piddly little mouse pistol. While a .25 ACP, .32 ACP, or .380 ACP gun is certainly better than nothing, this deep into the Information Age we can do better. I started with my Springfield Armory Hellcat RDP.

[Be sure to read the complete Hellcat RDP Review here.]

I stripped off the red dot sight, binned my favorite Surefire weapon light and mounted up the flush-fitting magazine. I also have the option of pulling the compensator and putting a thread protector on the muzzle for even more compact dimensions. The end result packs 11+1 of 9mm Para into the same chassis that might have contained a mere half dozen or so .380 ACP rounds a generation ago. I have no idea how the wizards at Springfield Armory pulled that off, but they did.

Carry Options

I am living proof that a skinny guy in shorts and an untucked t-shirt can conceal some seriously impressive iron. I often slip my SA-35 Hi-Power into my waistband when I’m just out taking care of stuff. The SA-35 is trim and comfortable while remaining reliable and hard-hitting. However, if I bend over in Walmart or reach up to retrieve a can of peas for my wife in Kroger, I have to be careful to make sure I don’t reveal what I’m carrying. With a little creativity and a stripped-down Hellcat like mine, you really can stay stealthy most anyplace.

sa-35 and hellcat rdp
The Springfield Armory SA-35 (left) and the trimmed-down Hellcat RDP are both capable and effective defensive handguns. However, only the Hellcat will ride comfortably in a front pants pocket.

Inside-the-waistband (IWB) holsters keep me company every day at work. When riding on a good stiff belt, this solution is comfortable, fast and secure. However, even if you take the time to arrange that rascal properly underneath a tucked-in shirt, those two pesky belt clips will still show on the outside. If you’re at a wedding, your place of worship or any other space where you have to look respectable without alarming anyone unduly, there really is just one solution.

[Want to improve your CCW gear? Check out What Is the Best Belt for EDC? by Steve Behnke.]

Drop and Go

Sometimes I don’t take the time to gird my loins properly with traditional gunleather. If I’m in a hurry or in a non-permissive environment, then my stripped-down Hellcat RDP with an empty chamber and no compensator will actually ride comfortably just dropped into my front right pocket inside a simple Remora pocket holster. It’s a bit bulky in your khakis or 5.11’s, but no more so than a good-sized cell phone.

Retrieving your Hellcat using pocket carry is undeniably more laborious than the same chore with a decent piece of belt-mounted carry gear. However, I am living proof that you can pack a serious gun that way just about anywhere with no one being the wiser.

A Spot of Heresy…

We’ve talked about how I carry in social settings, but let’s now talk about how I carry at work. Break out your pitchforks, my friends. We’re about to slaughter some sacred cows. I’m not a cop. I don’t carry a gun as proof against an ambush. I carry a gun so it will be handy should I need it.

hellcat rdp in remora holster
This pocket holster from Remora Holsters slips into the front pocket of your khakis or 5.11’s and keeps your Hellcat RDP both properly oriented and secure.

As such, while at work I carry in Condition 3, which means my semi-auto pistol has a loaded magazine and an empty chamber. Now, take a few deep breaths and let’s proceed. I work in a medical clinic where I come into close contact with a lot of people — often facing a lot of distractions and stressful situations. I also work with a lot of children that are in close contact with me. To that end, I prefer the added layer of safety of having my gun with an empty chamber.

Personally, in this position and job, I’d sooner be helpless than run the risk of an issue. My thinking is, the gun you have on you — even if the chamber is empty — is still better than anything locked up in the gun box back home.

authors pistol carried without round in chamber
A tricked-out Springfield Armory Hellcat RDP is an exceptionally capable concealed carry pistol.

To make sure I can still effectively employ this firearm should I need to, I train to jack the slide on the draw stroke. Now, before you start burning me in effigy or picketing my home with rude signage, appreciate that I have actually retrieved my carry gun twice for real. In both cases I got the firearm out and charged it without conscious thought in time to affect the outcome — and I was glad I had it and had trained appropriately.

For me, if there is even a remote possibility that there could be an issue, jacking the slide is my final layer of safety. Your mileage may vary, but this has worked for me.


Every once in a while, a little old lady will give me a quick hug before she leaves my medical clinic, and her hand or arm might brush over my concealed pistol. Or, I might find myself reaching up at the store to grab something off the shelf and don’t want to reveal my carry gun.

To address these situations, I think I have come up with some good and adaptable CCW guidelines for how I need to carry to ensure I am always safe, secure and low-key — all while being protected. So, no matter the situation I might find myself in, I feel that I am as prepared as possible to face it.

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Springfield Armory® recommends you seek qualified and competent training from a certified instructor prior to handling any firearm and be sure to read your owner’s manual. These articles and videos are considered to be suggestions and not recommendations from Springfield Armory. The views and opinions expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Springfield Armory.

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Will Dabbs, MD

Will Dabbs, MD

Will was raised in the Mississippi Delta and has a degree in Mechanical Engineering. After eight years flying Army helicopters, he left the military as a Major to attend medical school. Will operates an Urgent Care clinic in his small Southern town and works as the plant physician for the local Winchester ammunition plant. He is married to his high school sweetheart, has three adult children, and has written for the gun press for a quarter century.

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