Hammer back and safety on, this Delta Elite’s in Condition One.Hang around shooters long enough and you’re bound to hear people talking about the carry status of their pistols, most frequently expressed as a bewildering condition number.
“I carry my Blastomatic in Condition One,” or “I think the only safe way to keep my Zapmaster in my purse is in Condition Three.”
Oh great, more jargon. What does it all mean? It’s generally assumed to trace back to military terminology for the old M1911 service pistol. In Condition One, the pistol had a round in the chamber, hammer back, and safety on, and was ready to draw and fire with no more effort than flicking off the thumb safety. This was considered to be the preferred way to carry the pistol when action was imminent, since it could be deployed at a moment’s notice, even if the soldier was caught off guard.
For most pistols carried in a quality holster, I am a proponent of keeping a round in the chamber.
Condition Three called for a loaded magazine in the weapon, an empty chamber, and the hammer down. It was for when administrative handling of the pistol was a lot more likely than the need to get the gun out and shooting without taking the time to chamber a round first. Carrying in condition three was reserved for rear areas, on guard duty, or wherever immediate action was deemed less probable.
While these terms don’t translate perfectly in this day and age, where there are nearly as many different action types as there are different snowflake patterns on a middlin’-sized ski slope, they have generally been redefined as “a round in the chamber, ready to fire,” and “an empty chamber and a full magazine,” respectively.
For most pistols carried in a quality holster, I am a proponent of keeping a round in the chamber. While I may not be a soldier on the front line somewhere, it is also true that the need to use my pistol might not be preceded by an engraved invitation. Even more importantly, I might not have both hands free when that need occurs, and being forced to chamber a round before firing turns my handgun into a handSgun.
Were I—and this is a weird hypothetical, but bear with me—forced to carry a pistol with a short, light trigger pull in some sub-optimal manner, like tucked in my waistband or stuffed in my purse without a holster, my aversion to unexpected loud noises might lead me to use Condition Three, but it’s not my first choice.
Remember my aversion to unexpected loud noises? I think the U.S. Military has that same aversion, and that might explain why the Beretta that succeeded the M1911 had a safety that automatically decocked the hammer.
Conditions One and Three imply a Condition Two, of course. This was the term for a round in the chamber with the hammer down, requiring the hammer to be manually cocked before firing. In addition to requiring an awkward and fumble-prone step before the pistol can be fired, with the single-action M1911, this also required the pistol to be chambered and then the hammer manually lowered by pulling the trigger and controlling the hammer with a thumb.
Remember my aversion to unexpected loud noises? I think the U.S. Military has that same aversion, and that might explain why the Beretta that succeeded the M1911 had a safety that automatically decocked the hammer. I try not to get dogmatic about Conditions One and Three, but I’ll freely admit that on single action pistols, Condition Two gives me the heebie-jeebies. Can you please not do it around me? Thanks.
[ Tamara Keel has been shooting guns as a hobby since she was eighteen. She has worked in the firearms business since the early 1990s. Her pastimes include collecting old guns, writing, and being bossed around by house cats. ]