Can Your Gun Be Loaded When You Conceal Carry?

An individual can conceal carry with their gun loaded in most states. In a dangerous situation, being able to trust that the gun is loaded is comforting in addition to saving time when it counts the most. Being in a bad situation with an empty chamber is scary, but not everyone is comfortable with carrying a loaded gun and state laws can vary.

Every state law is different regarding their concealed carry laws, and so reading up on them is important for anyone contemplating getting their license. Knowing where you stand with the law and being responsible when utilizing this constitutional right can make things go a lot smoother.

Loaded Guns and Concealed Carry Permits

Thanks to “legal-speak”, every state has a different understanding and way of defining its gun laws. The words they use can be very temperamental, and the word “loaded” may have different meanings within the bounds of individual state laws.

Technically speaking, what does a loaded gun even mean? Many people think that unloaded means there are no bullets in or near a gun, while others view it as meaning that the gun cannot fire by just merely pulling the trigger. That is why it is so important to read up on what your state views as being a loaded gun.

For California, it is strictly prohibited for a person with a permit to carry a loaded gun in any public place.

State understandings of the word ‘loaded’

Those who are confused as to the term loaded can just look up their states gun laws and find the definition there.

For example, residents living in Idaho will find that “loaded” means:  

“For a firearm capable of using fixed ammunition, that live ammunition is present in 1.  The chamber or chambers of the firearm; 2.  Any internal magazine of the firearm; or 3.  A detachable magazine inserted in the firearm. For a firearm that is not capable of using fixed ammunition, that the firearm contains: 1.  A propellant charge; and 2.  A priming cap or primer cap.”


On the other hand, in New York, the firearm can be completely void of ammunition, but if you are in possession of ammunition that can be used with the firearm, then the gun is viewed as “loaded”. The definition is given here:

“Loaded firearm” means any firearm loaded with ammunition or any firearm which is possessed by one who, at the same time, possesses a quantity of ammunition which may be used to discharge such firearm”.


Safety measures to take when carrying a loaded gun

You should always know and follow the 4 Cardinal Rules of Firearm’s Safety when handling a firearm. These weapons can be highly dangerous and result in serious injury or fatalities. Some people are not comfortable with carrying a loaded gun, and they cite plenty of reasons for that.

If you are wanting to conceal carry a loaded gun, but are nervous about your own safety, here is a list of some steps you can take to ensure that you and those around you are safe:

  • Treat every weapon as if it is loaded.
  • Never put your finger on the trigger or inside the trigger guard until you are ready to fire.
  • Be aware of your target, backstop, and beyond.
  • Never point your weapon in a direction where a negligent discharge may do harm.
  • When you’re not looking to use the firearm and putting it away, keep it secured in a safe place.

When Are You Justified in Using your Weapon

More often than not, people hesitate to use their guns in self-defense even though they are permitted to carry one and use it in a life-threatening situation.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are people out there who believe that just because they have this special license, that gives them the right to pull out their gun at every opportunity. Avoiding both ends is ideal to ensure the correct use of this right to bear arms.

Individuals mistakenly ask this question when in a dangerous situation: “Can I shoot?”. That is the wrong question to be asking yourself. Instead, you should ask, “Do I have to shoot?”.

Using this weapon should be a last resort when it is the only way to protect yourself or an innocent person from being killed.

Should you have to use your firearm, you must be able to prove the following reasons: ability, opportunity, manifest intent, and preclusion. Your attacker must have the ability to harm you.

If they are handicapped, the chances of them being a genuine threat and using your gun in that instance would be seen as unjustifiable.

Opportunity means the attacker must be clearly within seconds of hurting you. Manifest intent is your attacker making it clear that he intends to hurt and kill you. Preclusion is to say that there were no other options available.

Several doctrines have been set up in law to perform as a better measuring tool of what exactly happens in an altercation between two individuals and one is shot.

The Castle Doctrine: This gives any person who is in their home or just designated residence the right and protection to use a weapon against any intruder or threat.

The Doctrine of Competing Harms: This law is set in place so that if you feel you are in perilous danger, you are allowed to break almost any law justifiably if it helps you to evade that threat. There must be an identifiable cause and reasonable intent, but this is really great principle that gives people greater options for self-defense.

Transferred Intent: Should you accidentally harm another person while intending to harm your attacker, your intent will be unfortunately transferred to the innocent person and you will be responsible for that action.

Our Second Amendment giving us the right to bear arms is a defining characteristic of the United States, but it is important to remember that it is our duty to utilize that right with responsibility by understanding the laws, whether or not you are within your grounds in regards to the term “loaded”, and to make sure you know when and how to safely discharge your weapon.

Cody Martin

With over 18 years of federal law enforcement, training, and physical security experience, Cody focuses his time nowadays on both consulting and training. He regularly advises individuals, groups, multinational corporations, schools, houses of worship, and NGOs on security threats while conducting customized training as needed.

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