Unloading any reciprocating-action gun—a pistol, rifle, shotgun or whatever—involves ejecting the chambered round. There are safe and unsafe ways to do this. With more than 1 million police officers in the United States, each of them loading and unloading weapons countless times a year, the law of large numbers is definitely operational. This means even if the unsafe ways of ejecting that chambered round carry a relatively small chance of injury, injuries will happen with predictability anyway.
The Wrong Way
The absolute wrong way to eject the round is to cup your hand over the ejection port to catch the round as the action retracts. Yes, Sonny Crockett did it in “Miami Vice,” countless other Hollywood stars have done it like that on screen and people you know, maybe even instructors, may do it that way. But it’s wrong—and dangerous. Here’s why.
As you cup your hand over the ejection port, you run the risk of partially obstructing it. When this happens, the retracted round can’t clear the weapon, and if you do it just right, the round’s primer is forced against the ejector as the extractor pulls the round rearward. Naturally, this will detonate the primer and the round will fire. To where? Who knows, but probably into your hand, and maybe worse. If the minimum happens and you lose only the function of your hand, you’ve really lost the function of that entire arm. There’s no happy ending.
The Right Way
The right way to clear the chamber is to retract the action and simply let the round fall to the ground. Lock the action open, determine that the gun is entirely empty, and then pick up the round. Yes, it’s a little more effort, but doing things safely usually is.
Of course, you must drop the weapon’s magazine before emptying the chamber. And it’s possible you might forget to do that and actually load the gun as you eject the round in the chamber. To guard against this possibility, I recommend the procedure advocated by Mike Conti of the Massachusetts State Police. He instructs his troopers to rack the slide vigorously four or five times as they eject the chambered round. This way, if they’ve forgotten to drop the magazine first, in Mike’s words, “Even the most tired, most distracted trooper can’t help but realize that something’s wrong as the rounds come flying out of the gun, one after the other.” Good advice.