How To Recognize An Empty Gun (Could Save Your Life!)


Recently, a video has been making its way across the internet of an armed robbery at a Jimmy John’s restaurant.

It’s become viral because the employee being robbed doesn’t seem very intimidated and/or he seems bored.

More importantly, I think it’s a learning opportunity for everyone because the armed robber appears to be using a malfunctioning gun!


Even if he wanted to shoot his victim, it doesn’t look like he could do it. Check it out:

Jimmy John’s Employee Looks Bored During Robbery

Here’s the (what appears to be a security cam) video of the entire robbery caught on tape.

Note at 0:34 in the video the bad guy goes to rack the slide on his handgun…

He makes the common beginner mistake of riding the slide forward instead of letting it go, which actually causes the gun to malfunction (Luckily, the bad guy looks pretty nervous and doesn’t notice his gun is useless at this point).

How To Identify An Empty Or Malfunctioning Gun

At about 0:46 in the video, you can see the bad guy threatens someone behind the employee at the counter (off screen) by shoving the gun in the direct eye-line of the employee:

The yellow arrow is the employee who has a clear view of the bad guy’s gun.

If you look at the bad guy’s gun there are at least three things that you can see that tell you the gun is out of battery/malfunctioning:

  1.  The slide is locked back, hanging over his hand
  2.  The ejection port/chamber is open – you can see the feeding malfunction and what appears to be brass.
  3.  You can see the shiny barrel sticking out from underneath the slide of the handgun, because the slide is locked back.

These are all three things you can look for to identify a malfunctioning/empty/out of battery gun. Take a look at this picture here:

You can see the same thing in my demonstration, the slide is locked back — hanging over my hand, you can see into the chamber, and the barrel is visible–sticking out from under the slide. This is because the slide is locked back, the gun is empty or malfunctioning or it’s out of battery for some reason.

You should be able to identify what a functioning gun looks like and what a malfunctioning gun looks like instantly.

If you’re a regular gun shooter, then this is not news to you. For other people, this could save your life.

How This Can Save Your Life

The robbery you just watched ended fine, the victim complied and the bad guy didn’t kill anyone. Everyone was lucky.

If the bad guy is already killing people or isn’t so nice, the best opportunity you might have to attack him to defend yourself is when his gun is malfunctioning.

Greg Ellifritz over at Active Response Training once wrote an article about weapon malfunctions in an active shooter event. Surprisingly, they are quite common!

“Take a look at some of the active shooter events in recent history. The shooter had a malfunctioning or empty gun in every one…

1988- Atlantic Shores Christian School. Shooter subdued by a teacher after his gun jammed.

1999- Columbine High School- Two shooters reloaded several times each

2007- Virginia Tech. Shooter reloaded several times

2009- NVCC Woodbridge College. Shooter’s gun jammed after 2 rounds

2009- Bridgeville fitness club. Shooter reloaded at least twice

2009- Fort Hood Army Base. Terrorist reloaded several times

2010- University of Alabama Faculty meeting. Shooter’s gun jammed and she was locked in a closet by coworkers until police arrived.

2011- Tucson Shooting. Shooter had to reload and had a jammed gun

2011- Norway shooting. Multiple reloads

2012- Chardon High School. Shooter fired 10 rounds with .22 pistol and then ran out of ammunition

2012- Oikos College. Shooter reloaded several times”

During a weapons malfunction or when the gun goes empty and the killer attempts to reload are both times when they can’t shoot anyone, and give you a moment of opportunity.

Long Arms (Rifles/Shotguns) Can Malfunction, Jam, or Go Empty Too

In Greg’s article, he also notes that the infamous Aurora Colorado Movie Theater shooting was cut short because Holmes’ AR-15 malfunctioned and that the AK-47 used by the terrorist on the Paris train attack also malfunctioned and that’s what gave the defenders the chance to take him out.

Rifles/shotguns jam, malfunction, or go empty too.

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to identify a rifle malfunction as it is a handgun malfunction.

I think the best strategy here, if facing a bad guy armed with a rifle is to wait for a stop in the shooting…

If you can then get visual confirmation that he’s messing with the gun trying to get it to fire again — that would indicate he’s experiencing a malfunction and would be an opportunity to attack/flee.

Likewise, a pause in the shooting could indicate that the bad guy is out of ammo and needs to reload, also giving you an opportunity to make your move.

In the video on this page, you can see a student that fights back against an active shooter with a shotgun. He fights back at the perfect time, coming up behind the shooter when he is in the process of reloading his shotgun.

Make Sure You And Everyone You Care About Can Identify A Loaded/Unloaded Gun

This is an important safety tip even for people you know who aren’t into guns or don’t want to train with them.

Be sure to share it with everyone you care about.

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Caleb Lee is the #1 best-selling author of "Concealed Carry 101" and founder of He is a civilian (no law enforcement or military experience) who shares information about self-defense and becoming more self-reliant. He's a 1st degree black belt in Taekwondo, NRA Certified Basic Pistol & Personal Protection Inside The Home Instructor, Concealed Carry Academy Instructor certified & also a graduate of the Rangermaster firearms instructor course. He's also the author of numerous online courses including the course.


  1. Ah Caleb. To you it as though revolvers don’t exist. We should also note that a fully loaded revolver will display the bullet tips in the exposed end of the cylinder, though you can’t see the one in the chamber.
    I don’t know if most assailants fire double action with revolvers or if they fire single action. If double action, then you can see whether there’s a bullet about to rotate into position, even if the gun is partly empty. It may rotate from either direction depending on the make, so of course we need to look at the top of both sides and if there’s one there then it will probably fire.
    If single action you’re in bigger trouble because an excitable finger on a 4# trigger is a bad deal, plus you can’t see what’s in the chamber – though a hint would be if you see any bullets from the front it’s probably loaded.
    Counting shots works great – except we have 5, 6, 8, and even 10 shot revolvers.
    However since revolvers, being very accurate and extremely dependable, are passé so we need not worry.
    On another note, I’ve seen some pistols with s ‘loaded chamber indicator.’ What do you think of these? Seems a good idea, but the ones I’ve seen didn’t seem very digital – yes / no – to me even when shooting, much less as viewed from the wrong end.

    • JEEEZE! So All you wannabe chairborne rangers are actually going to stand there and possibly waste the last few precious seconds of your life analyzing if the mother fucking gun is loaded or not…are yah?

      If you were religionistically predisposed, you should be Thanking GAWD these incidents don’t occur too often in relative odds making. Otherwise, with this kind of critical time wasting more tombstones would be reading. ‘here lies Mr. Scrutiny eyes, who wasted valuable tactical time trying to figure out if the robber had a loaded gun, before he dies.’.

      And of course as I’ve always made a good living putting my money where my mouth is, I’ll bet even the most nit picking ‘authorities’ on checking an armed robber’s gun in your face to ‘see’ if it’s loaded in battery, like Jim here, will be way too busy controlling his bladder and nervously complying (or not) to even think about checking and focusing clearly enough to see if the gun in this big brute-ass’s ham fist is going to fire or not. If he even has time to do anything!

      Besides, this was a freakish one in many thousands of a likelihood of happenings. Far more common are robbers who use a realistic looking bb gun. which can actually hurt you pretty badly if shot at your face, or more likely, an unloaded automatic where you couldn’t tell if it was loaded anyway in normal presentation and movement, especially in poor light.

      Do yourself a huge favor and don’t even get into a mindset about first ascertaining if the gun somebody is pointing at your head is ready to fire, or not.

      Brand this on your cerebral cortex instead: Don’t think of anything else but getting out of danger or at least the line of fire by either taking him out first if you have a pistol and the wherewithal or complying and redirecting his shooting focus on you as a target.

      Because you Must assume that ALL guns pointed at you in a robbery attempt are real and loaded. You don’t play stupid games of trying to ‘guess’ if it’s not loaded. You STILL could be WRONG and DEAD, if you did something stupid because you THOUGHT it wasn’t loaded?

      I personally, and most of my advanced students, wouldn’t even be looking too closely at the gun in detail.
      The first instant I saw it, my subconscious autopilot would take over and do the probability of success math in a nano second and before the moron could even see the move., let alone react to it, I’d be using the gun that he doesn’t have anymore because it’s now in my hand for a proctology exam to emancipate his brains from his ass. permanently.

      Might even ‘Shoot him in the Dick’ while i’m in the area just for good measure!

  2. Also, something not mentioned is that if the gun is close enough, one can grab the slide and push back on it, effectively opening the chamber, thus preventing the firing pin from being able to strike the primer. Also with a revolver, if someone could be so lucky, to be able to block the hammer from hitting the firing pin would be extremely hard but is also possible.
    Thanks for all the info. It could save a few lives, or better yet, give us CCW time to draw and fire.

    • Robert. those tactics are obsolete. mainly because someone holding an automatic could usually react by quickly pulling back the gun away and actually recycling the slide and firing. And with a revolver simply gripping the cylinder will not always stop it from firing. you have to get a finger or grip between the hammer as it’s cocked. Which is pretty hard to do before it can easily be fired. If someone is of the mindset that they’ll go for a disarm/take out. if suddenly surprised with a gun point at them within arms reach. They should learn proper techniques and train/practice regularly.

  3. Jimmy John’s gun is jammed not empty .
    Look at the pictures you can see barrel in the ejection port of Jimmy John’s and not on the empty gun !

  4. The clerk is in the best position to see just exactly what the deal is, as noted he is blase about the whole thing which does indicate he knows the gun is not in battery and capable of firing. It appears to be a type 3 malfunction, which wold be a little more difficult for a person not familiar with one to clear it. Someone properly trained is still going to take a couple of seconds to get it done, someone untrained, as it appears the robber is untrained and it would take considerable longer if he was capable at all. If he knew what he was doing he would have properly racked the slide at the time or would have already had the gun loaded before he even walked thru the door, odds are he is untrained and incapable of dealing with it. The only thing he saved was the sound of the slide being properly racked, which if your are going to rob the place is a moot point and would serve to get everyone’s attention. The question at hand, is should the clerk have given him the money or hit him in the face with the cash drawer? Ir is a gamble.

  5. Has anyone identified what model pistol was used in the robbery? I do not believe it was a striker fired pistol but I could be wrong. Why would the robber bring an unchambered pistol in the store and then be so careless with his handling of a firearm? I guess if he had an accidental discharge and killed a young clerk then that would have been fine with him but he was also afraid he might shoot himself before the criminal act.

  6. Someone stated that if you want to spend the last seconds of your life analyzing whether a pistol is loaded or not…

    Actually, keeping a cool head is precisely what you want to do.

    Pistols and revolvers can easily be taken away from most assailants, but only if you know what you’re doing. There are easy ways to keep pistols from firing; similarly, unless a revolver is cocked, it can readily be stopped from firing.

    If the pistol or revolver is within reach, it can (1) be taken away easily and readily; and (2) deflected so that you cannot be harmed before the assailant can react.

    An assailant wants you to ‘lose your head’ and react in panic. A panicked victim is easy to rob, one reason why they scream at you while pointing a weapon at you.

    If you want to be a victim, by all means, do so. Unless you’re specifically trained, it’s better to comply with your assailant and do what they want: hopefully, they won’t take your life anyway.

    If you don’t want to be a victim, get training in military lethal self-defense and learn how SEALs, Army special forces, and Air Force special ops personnel are trained to disarm an assailant — and develop proficiency and skill at arms.

    You can also learn to carry a concealed weapon and not be a victim. A practiced shooter can hit two different targets, 90° apart, with two hits to each target’s center of mass, within 1.4 seconds — with training and practice. Knowing how and when is vital to your survival, especially as disaffected and radical minorities are planning a summer of violence.

  7. This article and the comments were all very interesting, informative and helpful I have permits for carry and have done so. The way the crime is, I think I should start again.

  8. IF you have a revolver pointed at you all you have to do is look in the cylinder and see if it i loaded you can see the shells from the front of it.

  9. in a revolver you can see the bullets in the cylinder if it is pointed at you. But why would you take the time looking, and not acting out your plan for protection. YOU would look at the cylinder and BANG, IF IT IS LOADED

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