Known as condition readiness, the way in which you store or carry a firearm will affect both its function as well as safety. Storing your pistol with a loaded magazine and round in the chamber, for instance, will allow you to take defensive action in less time should a dangerous scenario present itself. But it can also increase the risk of accidental discharge, which is why it's important for gun owners to familiarize themselves with these different conditions of firearm readiness.
Magazine is loaded into the firearm with a round in the chamber. Safety is off. For Single-Action/Double-Action (SA/DA) pistols, the hammer is cocked back and ready to fire. Condition 0 requires the least amount of time to fire.
Magazine is loaded into the firearm with a round in the chamber. Safety is on. For SA/DA pistols, the hammer is cocked back and ready to fire.
Usually referring only to SA/DA pistols, condition 2 occurs when the magazine – or clip for revolvers, is loaded into the firearm with a round in the chamber. The hammer is left forward, not cocked back.
Magazine is loaded into the firearm without a round in the chamber. For SA/DA pistols, the hammer is left forward.
A condition 4 firearm has neither a magazine nor round in the chamber. The slide is pulled back and locked into place, revealing an empty chamber. For SA/DA pistols, the hammer is left forward.
Which Condition Readiness is Right for Your Firearm?
So which condition of readiness is right for your firearm? To better answer this question, you must first identify your needs for carrying and/or storing a firearm. If you plan on keeping a pistol by your bed for the purpose of self and home defense, you'll may want to use condition 1, as this prevents you from having to manually load a magazine into the grip and then ready a round in the chamber.
While most people can load an empty pistol within minutes, those “minutes” could mean the difference between life and death if an intruder breaks into your home in the middle of the night. Furthermore, pulling back the slide on a semi-automatic or SA/DA pistol will make noise, which could give away your position to the intruder. This is why many proactive homeowners prefer condition 0 or 1 when storing their firearms.
But there are also times when condition 3 or condition 4 is recommended, such as when children are present in the home. Condition 4 is considered to be universally safe, as it has neither a magazine nor a chambered round. Many range masters at indoor shooting ranges will ask shooters to cease firing and place their guns in condition 4 readiness. It's also recommended to use condition 4 when transporting your firearms to reduce the risk of accidental discharge.
* Image used by creative commons license, credited to mr.Smashy.