A semi-automatic must be racked, to put a round in the firing chamber, before it can be fired.

Is there a legal definition of “loaded” that considers option 2 of the following states of loadedness as not being “loaded”?

  1. Empty
  2. Ammo in the clip, but not in the chamber (pulling the trigger would do nothing)
  3. A round in the chamber, safety on
  4. Ready to fire (safety off)

Obviously option 2 is not relevant to a revolver, which only requires a trigger pull to bring the next round in front of the firing pin.

  • 2
    I'd say that the common meaning of the term includes all of 2-4. But if you want to know about a legal definition, you'll have to specify a jurisdiction (country, state, etc) and ideally a specific law (the term could be used differently in different sections of the law). Dec 19, 2018 at 16:47
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this is a question about firearm nomenclature not law. Try asking on English stack exchange.
    – Dale M
    Dec 19, 2018 at 19:40
  • 3
    I'm not sure it's off-topic. English usage is that a gun is loaded if there's bullets in it. The question is whether there's a legal definition somewhere that is less inclusive. Laws sometimes come with definitions to allow the body of the law to be concise but still have a well-determined meaning. Dec 19, 2018 at 19:53
  • Perhaps “armed” better describes 3 and 4, and “loaded” 2, 3 and 4. Perhaps the question is better answered from the “gun community” (but AFAIK there isn’t such a stack exchange site).
    – Bohemian
    Dec 19, 2018 at 19:56

1 Answer 1


It depends on your jurisdiction. Check the applicable laws; there's probably a section named something like "definitions" that gives the meaning of terms such as "loaded". For example, from RCW 9.41.010 (the "Terms defined" section of the "Firearms and Dangerous Weapons" chapter of the Washington State laws):

(17) "Loaded" means:

(a) There is a cartridge in the chamber of the firearm;

(b) Cartridges are in a clip that is locked in place in the firearm;

(c) There is a cartridge in the cylinder of the firearm, if the firearm is a revolver;

(d) There is a cartridge in the tube or magazine that is inserted in the action; or

(e) There is a ball in the barrel and the firearm is capped or primed if the firearm is a muzzle loader.

So in Washington State, any of your examples 2-4 would be considered "loaded" for the purposes of firearms-related crimes.


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