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Can you use your handgun to defend your family against a home invader? Find the right gun for you and practice now, before it’s too late.
(Photo by Jeff Rose)

Think about using your home defense handgun. It’s 3 a.m., and you’re suddenly awakened by the sound of breaking glass. As you roll over, half asleep, you reach for your bedside pistol and a flashlight. As you grab the flashlight, you also tighten your grip on the pistol. Suddenly there is a loud explosion and a flash. You have discharged a round through the wall and into the next room! Fortunately, the bullet lodges in a bookcase, and no one is hurt. But what if someone was?

Home Defense Handgun Tips

While the scenario is fictitious, I’m certain it’s happened more than once. Those serious about personal protection practice as often as possible. They also seek solid training when they can. However, there are no range drills that simulate being startled awake in the middle of the night. There are, however, some specific things we can do to safely and effectively respond to an immediate threat in the middle of the night.

Know Your Condition

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(Photo by Big Stock)

I keep my home-defense weapons in a condition that requires taking a specific action to make them ready to fire. In other words, I can’t simply pick up the firearm and pull the trigger. This can be accomplished by several methods depending on the type of pistol.

There are three generally accepted conditions related to the keeping of a pistol. Condition One, also known as cocked and locked, is when the pistol has a full magazine, a round in the chamber, a cocked hammer, and a manual safety in the on-position. While Condition One generally applies to 1911-style pistols, it’s also applicable to striker-fired pistols equipped with a manual safety. Condition Two is when the pistol has a full magazine, a round in the chamber, and in the case of a 1911, a hammer in the down-position. Condition Three is when the pistol has a full magazine but no round in the chamber.

When I Opt for Condition Three

I generally default to Condition Three when dealing with striker-fired pistols such as a Glock, Springfield XD or S&W M&P. The pistol is stored with a loaded magazine and an empty chamber. Also, the trigger is in the rearward (or fired) position. In the case of Glock pistols, this provides the user with both a visual and tactile indication that the chamber is empty. Should a threat present itself, the slide is pulled to the rear, which chambers a round and cocks the pistol.

While Condition Three works well for storing pistols in the home, it presents a problem for a daily carry pistol. Law enforcement agencies have discovered that manually chambering the same round on a daily basis can have disastrous consequences, exponentially increasing the risk of an unintentional discharge and, with repeated chambering, deforming or depressing the bullet and/or internally rupturing the primer. That can result in a failure-to-feed or a failure-to-fire malfunction.

Keeping a Round Chambered

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If your pistol is stored in Condition Three, you must chamber a round before engaging with the threat.

There are multiple solutions for those who keep a round chambered at all times. One method is to simply store the pistol in a holster. This works well, provided the holster has an active retention device or is closely molded.

Another solution comes from my friends at Raven Concealment. The VanGuard is a molded Kydex guard that is designed to clamp over the triggerguard and block the trigger. The forward edge of the VanGuard is tapered to allow it to be removed with a downward tug of the support hand’s index finger. In addition, the VanGuard features a length of paracord that, when tied to a solid anchor point, acts as a static line. When the pistol is retrieved, a sharp tug will release the VanGuard from the pistol. The VanGuard also allows the user to safely remove the magazine and cycle the slide.

For consistency, I only use the VanGuard when keeping my pistol in Condition Two, with a round chambered. This allows the VanGuard to act as a visual and tactile indicator as to the pistol’s condition. I have been using the VanGuard on several pistols for months and have come to appreciate the security of this simple yet effective design. The new VanGuard 2 incorporates a belt loop and can be used as an IWB  holster or a “triggerguard.”

Some pistols feature a magazine safety that prevents the pistol from firing unless a magazine is fully seated. This is a viable option, but it requires the user to locate both the magazine and pistol, then insert the magazine cleanly into the pistol. Having to locate two items and bring them together under stress isn’t my first choice.

Considering the 1911

I have lived with various 1911 pistols all of my adult life. I generally have one close by when I am at home or traveling. All three conditions require a conscious and specific action to bring the pistol to a ready condition. I tend to leave my 1911s in Condition Two unless they are being carried. As I pick up the pistol, I can thumb the hammer to the rear and make the gun ready for a fight.

Care must be taken when transitioning from a carry mode (Condition One) to a storage mode (Condition Two), as the hammer must be lowered on a live round. The specific method to accomplish this in a safe manner involves placing the thumb between the hammer and the firing pin before pulling the trigger. This is quite safe while done properly. Because there is no tactile or visual indicator to differentiate a 1911 in Condition Two from one in Condition Three, I do not utilize Condition Three for my home-defense single-action autos.


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Another home defense handgun option is the revolver. Contrary to reports, it is still popular. With trigger pulls of 10 pounds or more, revolvers are less likely to be unintentionally discharged. This is not to say that accidents have not, do not and will not happen. I treat a revolver the same as a striker-fired pistol. One of my travel pistols is a refinished S&W Model 642. I added a Crimson Trace Lasergrip and carry it in a Galco Ankle Glove.

In the past, I kept my little Centennial in an ankle holster, which I placed on the bedside table in my hotel room. However, I recently received a Raven Concealment Systems VanGuard for a J-Frame, so I will be using that in the future.

Long Guns

For those who use rifles or shotguns for home defense, the same process applies. I store my Remington 870 Police shotgun with a fully loaded magazine, an empty chamber, a cocked hammer, and the safety on. Having lived with an 870 most of my life, I find it intuitive to hit the slide release prior to racking a round into the chamber. A large Vang Comp Systems safety provides a tactile indicator at the base of my index finger that lets me know the safety is on. The use of the slide release and the crossbolt safety provide a dual process that is very deliberate. However, the process is not difficult for those accustomed to pump shotguns.

If you use an AR-style platform, I recommend storing it with an empty chamber, a cocked hammer, and the safety on. Having the safety in the “on” position while charging the rifle is critical. It’s too easy for the trigger finger to slip inside the triggerguard when manipulating an AR under stress. In addition, the horizontal safety lever provides a tactile indicator when gripping the rifle.

Final Thoughts on Your Home Defense Handgun

Where we store the firearm is the subject of considerable debate and one for another article. The key to deploying self-defense firearms is consistency and consciousness of action. Under stress and in the dark, the user should be able to understand immediately the condition of the weapon. This is accomplished by being consistent in storing your pistols and having both a visual and a tactile indicator of the pistol’s status

I hope that these few home defense handgun tips can provide you with effective home-defense options. Remember that these suggestions are not designed to prevent unauthorized access to a weapon. Also, they do not take into account the potential actions of children or visitors. 

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