OK, show of hands: Of those of you who strap on a gun everyday—or even many days—how many of you do a press check every time before heading out the door? Yes, Mr. Newbie?
“Umm, I’m kinda new at this. What is a press check?”
Good question Mr. Newbie, and thank you for having the fortitude to ask. There are no dumb questions if you do not know. A press check is verifying the status of your firearm, either by touch with a finger or visually. It also includes a cursory verification of function.
With a semi-auto pistol, this means retracting the slide about a quarter of an inch to ensure there is a round in the chamber and reseating the slide ensuring it is in battery. In the case of a revolver, this entails opening the cylinder, verifying that all chambers are loaded, spinning the cylinder to ensure it is functional and returning it to the closed position. If you are carrying a Colt SAA, one of its clones or an old-model Ruger single action without a new transfer bar retrofit, a press check would include opening the loading gate and seeing a loaded round, closing the gate and verifying that the chamber under the hammer is empty. You do this, by the way, by looking at it from the side, not down the barrel.
In reality we should always press check every firearm we lay our hands upon. Though we are trained to always treat every firearm as if it is loaded—Rule 1—visual and/or physical corroboration is mandatory. That means rifle, shotgun or pistol, regardless as to whether you are hunting, target shooting, preparing to clean it or just showing it off to a buddy. I’m not sure of the origin of the term “press check,” but it’s what we use, so I am staying with it. The consequences of not making this a regular habit can vary from embarrassment to tragic.
Unfortunately, I am human and occasionally make mistakes. Because I handle firearms every single day and because I live alone, occasionally that old bugaboo of “Familiarity breeds contempt” can raise its head. Some time ago I found myself in a conversation with a couple of other shooters regarding conceal carry. I had on my 3-inch Smith & Wesson Model 24, and the conversation led to me bringing it out to illustrate a point. Pursuant to my regular habit of clearing a gun before handing it to someone, I attempted to open the cylinder. It was stuck closed, and I was perplexed. This revolver has been completely reliable, without so much as a hint of stutter. Profoundly embarrassed, I returned it to its holster. When I got home, I started checking it over. Not only was the cylinder stuck shut, it would not rotate either.
A few gentle taps with a rawhide mallet opened the cylinder, and I immediately saw the problem. At some time in the past I had fired a couple of rounds. In addition to not wiping the revolver down of firing residue, I had failed to replace the spent cartridges. Stupid, stupid, stupid me. Now, without fail, regardless of how I might be distracted or in a hurry, I open revolver cylinders and spin them before closing them and putting them on for the day. Every time—and I mean every time—I touch any semi-auto pistol, I press check it. Same with long guns.
It is our responsibility as gunners to know—beyond a shadow of a doubt—the status of every firearm we handle. I learned my lesson through embarrassment. It could have been a tragedy. There’s no need for the rest of us to suffer embarrassment or tragedy, so learn from my blunder.