How Can I Know if a Gun Is Loaded or Unloaded?

As a general rule, you should always assume a gun is loaded. With handguns especially, it’s not always easy to tell if a gun is loaded just by looking or feeling the gun in your hand. That said, there are certain things you can do to determine if a gun is loaded or unloaded with certainty and some possible indications to look for as well. The firearms safety education experts from Gun Safety Training Pros, a top-tier provider of gun safety training classes, offer the following tips.

Look for Signs Suggesting a Gun Is Empty or Malfunctioning

If you’re in a situation where it’s imperative to immediately know if a gun is loaded or not, you may be able to quickly tell by paying attention to possible signs. Some guns, such as automatics, include slide locks. When this is the case, this lock will keep the slide into the open position if the magazine is empty. According to, signs a handgun is likely empty, malfunctioning, or out of battery life may include:

• A locked-back slide
• An ejection port or chamber that’s ope

Do a Proper Check to Know for Sure

As mentioned above, it’s not always easy to tell from a visual inspection alone if a gun is loaded or unloaded. For non-urgent instances when you need to know for sure if a gun you own or use is loaded or unloaded, take a moment to do a proper check. This process for a handgun may involve the following steps:

• Keeping the barrel in a safe position at all times
• Ejecting the magazine or sliding the cylinder out if you have a revolver
• Ejecting any shells to make sure they’re actually shells
• Pulling the upper receiver or slide back and locking it to the rear
• Visually checking the barrel and chamber for ammunition with the slide locked to the rear

This process differs with other types of firearms. For example, with a bolt-action firearm, lift the handle after opening the action and pull it backward. If the gun is loaded, the shell shot or cartridge will come out as the action is pulled to the rear. Check the magazine and chamber to further confirm the gun is unloaded.

Avoid Unsafe Methods

You may be able to tell if a gun is loaded or unloaded if you’re close enough to look directly into the barrel. However, this isn’t safe, since there’s the potential for a serious accident if you place a potentially loaded gun too close to your face. For this reason, it’s best to avoid any methods that could present a safety risk for yourself or others around you. Remember, always treat the gun as if it were loaded and never point the gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot.

Avoid Unreliable Methods

You might be able to tell if a gun is loaded or unloaded by the weight. You may also be able to make this determination by cocking the hammer and listening for differences in the sound. It’s best to avoid methods of this nature, since they are not at all reliable. With weight, there may be no noticeable difference if a loaded gun is almost empty but not completely unloaded. Also, some guns make the same sound with a full or empty chamber. 

If you’re a gun owner, safety should be your top priority, and that includes getting proper training on how to know if a gun is loaded or unloaded. If you’d like to learn more about any aspect of gun safety, call on the experts at Gun Safety Training Pros. We’re committed to providing the finest firearms training available. If you’re looking for a high-quality online gun safety course, we have everything you need. Contact us today at [email protected].

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