Safe Handgun Handling: Loading and Unloading

handling a gun properly

How To Safely Load And Unload Different Types Of Handgun Actions


General guidelines for loading and unloading firearms all share a common thing – treat every weapon as if it is loaded. And because we treat every weapon as if it were loaded, we always point the barrel in a safe direction where it can do no harm to other living things.


It’s a good idea to load and unload with the barrel facing a sand barrel. That way, if a negligent discharge should occur for some reason – the bullet has a safe place to go.


There are a lot of negligent discharges that occur every year by concealed carriers and open carriers for precisely the reason they don’t understand how their handgun action plays into the picture.




Single-action is most common in old style six-shooter revolvers. The Ruger Vaquero and other single-action revolvers are designed to recreate the look and feel of the Old West. However, this isn’t cause to start doing revolver flips or fancy Wild Bill maneuvers. That single-action is deadly swift and extremely accurate. The trigger releases the hammer after the hammer has been pulled to the rear and cocked. Not many single-action revolvers come with a decocker so in order to release the hammer, it is necessary to keep your thumb on the hammer and slowly let it down by pulling the trigger and keeping positive pressure on the hammer. Again, it’s always recommended that your muzzle is facing a sand pit or sand barrel.




A CZ-75B or Beretta 92fs – both share a handgun action. SA/DA works by having a hammer that is cocked to the rear. A trigger pull can either bring the hammer to the rear and let it slam down on the striker – firing the bullet – or it can release the hammer from it’s cocked position. The effect is largely the same. The big difference comes in trigger pull. For most SA/DA pistols, if they’re not cocked, there will be a longer draw time as the trigger pulls the hammer back. If the hammer is already back, though, they arguably have just as fast and smooth a trigger pull as a striker-fire.



Loading is pretty easy. You can do it one of two ways.

  1. Lock the upper receiver to the rear.
  2. Insert magazine into magazine well until it locks into place.
  3. Release the slide stop.
  4. Now a round is in the chamber. The hammer will be usually in the back position.
  5. If you have a decocker, you can depress this switch to bring the hammer down.
  6. Now you have a longer first trigger pull.


Unloading is also pretty easy.

  1. Pointing the muzzle in a safe direction, lock the upper receiver to the rear.
  2. If there is a round in the chamber, it may come flying out. It may not. Visually inspect.
  3. Depress the magazine release button. The magazine will drop out.
  4. With the upper reciever still locked to the rear, digitally inspect the chamber to ensure no round is loaded.
  5. If there are no rounds in the chamber or the magazine, it is now an unloaded firearm.
  6. You can close the upper receiver.


Striker-Fire And Double-Action Only

Many DAOs act like striker-fire in terms of loading/unloading procedures – and both require a strict adherence to safety first.



  1. Lock upper receiver to the rear.
  2. Insert magazine into magazine well.
  3. Release upper receiver, letting it slide back to a closed position.
  4. If a manual safety exists, you can now activate it.
  5. The firearm is now loaded.



  1. Keeping your finger clear and off the trigger, rack the slide back to the rear.
  2. Press the magazine release button (switch, in some cases). Magazine should come out.
  3. Visually inspect the chamber and magazine well for rounds.
  4. Inspect with your pinky to ensure no round is lodged in the chamber.
  5. Close the upper receiver.
  6. The firearm is now unloaded.


There are other handgun firing actions – but these are the most commonly found with concealed carry pistols. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions to determine the specifics for your model of handgun and always treat every handgun as if it were loaded.


guide to concealed carry guide to open carry


James England is a former United States Marine Signals Intelligence Operator and defense contractor with over two tours spread over the Al Anbar province and two more operating across Helmand and Baghdis. He is presently a writer focused on Western foreign policy and maintains an avid interest in firearms. A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, he presently resides in New Hampshire – the “Live Free or Die” state. He is finishing up his first novel, “American Hubris”, which is set to hit shelves in Fall of 2015.


  • kmschaefer

    You need to change the steps for unloading semi-automatic pistols. You always drop the magazine BEFORE racking the slide back. Your instructions are going to lead to a negligent discharge.