Order of Operations: The Safest Unloading Procedure

One Simple Trick to Never have a Negligent Discharge when Unloading Your Gun!

(Why the Order of Operations Matters)

If you’re like me, you are regularly administratively loading and unloading your firearms. I usually discourage people from excessive administrative handling of guns (e.g. gun selfies, pocket dumps, moving gun from belt to some car holster contraption), however sometimes it’s necessary. Whether it’s for nightly storage, cleaning, or for daily dry practice, I seem to be constantly unloading/loading my guns.

Better at hashtags than guns.

There is no shortage of people who have had negligent discharges (ND) while unloading, usually while cleaning guns that require pulling the trigger to disassemble. It goes like this (or a similar variation):

  1. Be distracted
  2. Remove magazine to remove source of bullets
  3. Be about to rack the slide to clear the chamber when something interesting comes on the TV…
  4. Pull down take-down levers and try to remember if you racked the slide, decide you probably did.
  5.  press trigger…*ears ringing*…Whoops…

Order of Operation Matters

I never gave much thought to the process of unloading. I’d just take the magazine out, rack the slide a few times, then look for an empty chamber and empty magwell, and I was done. That had worked well for me for a long time because I try to not be complacent. Then Claude Werner asked me a question.

CW – “What is the source of ammo into the gun?”

Me – “the… magazine?”

CW -“Everyone thinks the magazine feeds the gun. It doesn’t. The chamber does. Until the chamber is rendered safe, the gun is loaded.”

Me – 

Unload and Show Clear

As a small aside, I have also adopted Claude’s method of marking the bottom of my chambered cartridges after unloading with a sharpie. A single line next to the primer. Rotate a cartridge with 5 marks to the bottom of the magazine. When the whole magazine has cartridges with 5 marks, shoot that magazine. This allows 80 unloadings in a 16 shot gun. This technique will prevent projectiles from pushing into the case from countless chamberings and keep your defensive ammo more reliable.

A small alteration in technique can pay dividends over the course of your shooting career. I’ve made the switch to this more robust and foolproof method.

Let me know what you think. Thank you for reading.

Be Safe,

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13 thoughts on “Order of Operations: The Safest Unloading Procedure”

  1. This is new. Sometimes new is good. This is not one of them. Since you are not going to catch the chambered round but let it fall you are better off removing the magazine then racking the slide. With the mag removed it is impossible to make the fatal mistake of re-chambering a round. Definitely do rack the slide one or more times, lock it open and check that there is no magazine, and no round in the chamber. Look down the mag well, and you are done.
    I don’t see why you would want a loaded magazine in the gun while you are clearing the chamber. With the mag in the gun, if the slide goes forward you again have a loaded gun, which is opposite the goal of this entire procedure.
    The whole point of the new way is to negate the original error of distraction. And assuming you did something that perhaps you didn’t. Instead of wondering did I clear the chamber, just do it again. Done! Safe! Clear!

  2. Excellent article. Been handling guns since the mid 80’s, and the method described in the post is identical to the method I eventually decided was the safest order of operations. I also really like the idea of marking the rounds. I make an effort to rotate which round gets chambered, but it’s a guessing game without any identifying marks. I’ll be using the sharpie from now on. Thanks.

  3. While I see the merit in being able to observe the chamber I think I’ll stick with the mag drop as step one. Mainly because I’ve got reservations about this method when dealing with a malfunction such as a firing pin stuck forward or a dud/squib round. I’d also feel safer when clearing someone else’s weapon since I don’t know anything about the gun’s maintenance issues/history etc. Not to mention a number of “economy” designs which don’t even have slide locks.

    1. You’re right about no slide lock guns. I was only offering a way, not THE way. I’m still doing both methods, depending on if I think of it. Thanks for taking the time to post! Happy new year.

  4. Mark,
    I know you are trying to be helpful, but I can’t tell you how against this I am. You always drop the mag first. There is no penalty for doing so and there is a myriad of problem that can occur by not doing it. If you have ever had a slam fire, you can only imagine the problems if you accidentally let go of the slide instead of locking it back.
    If you “think” you have an empty chamber and are not 110% sure, you always always always check again. That is the solution to your distraction dilemma.

  5. Jim Cirillo did it this way (slide first, then drop magazine). If Cirillo was an advocate, you know he gave it serious thought. (I believe my source was “Guns, Bullets, and Gunfights”)

    1. I did NOT know that. But I’ll say, that makes me feel even more confident in the method. I wouldn’t be surprised if Claude got it from him too.

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