Take a piece of equipment that contains moving parts, intricate components, extremely tight tolerances – then subject that equipment to a rapid fire series of 40,000 psi blasts. That is essentially what happens when a handgun shooter works his or her way through a magazine full of rounds.
While today’s modern guns are incredibly reliable, made to exacting tolerances and built using technologically advanced materials, Shooters are bound to come across an occasional malfunction. Part of being a safe and competent shooter is having a clear understanding of the types of malfunctions that can occur, how to troubleshoot them, and how to address them safely.
Failure to Fire
Shooters may not come across this issue too frequently these days, as the quality of rounds has improved to the point where misfires are almost a thing of the past. Those shooting rim fire rounds may come across this every once in a while as that type of primer is slightly less reliable than the traditional center fire primer, but the handgun shooter who experiences a dud round must approach the situation very cautiously.
First, keep the gun pointed down range for at least a minute. Once a minute has elapsed there is little risk of the defective cartridge accidentally discharging. Next, remove the round from the chamber and completely unload the gun.
You’ll want to inspect the primer on the defective or "un-fired" round to troubleshoot the cause. If there is a well defined indentation on the primer, this usually indicates a faulty round. If there is a shallow mark on the primer, the gun is probably dirty and the firing pin is suffering from carbon buildup. A thorough cleaning will likely help address the situation.
Failure to Feed
Failure to feed simply means that the cartridge does not fully seat within a chamber. Semi-automatic firearms can experience failure to feed issues due to the following:
- Damaged Magazines
- Weak Magazine Springs
- Dirt or Grease accumulation in or around the chamber
- improperly seated magazines
- damaged or faulty cartridges
If you experience this issue, remove the magazine from the gun and clear the chamber completely. You’ll likely need to clean your gun before using it again, but you can reload and try again. If you experience an additional failure to feed, and have confirmed that the gun is thoroughly cleaned and lubricated, there may be one other probable cause.
It's called “riding the slide.” This refers to the shooter getting in the way of the slide as it rides forward thereby getting in the way of the power of the recoil spring to seat the cartridge. Being conscious of this and it may help eliminate failures to feed.
Failure to Extract
This malfunction is often the result of user error. Failure to extract refers to the firearm’s inability to remove the spent cartridge from the chamber, and the subsequent double feeding of a new round from the magazine. This is a quite serious malfunction that can quickly cause an unsafe situation.
First, remove the magazine from the gun and then clear the gun by pointing it in a safe direction and racking the slide two or three times to completely clear the chamber. Complete a visual inspection of the chamber and magazine well to ensure that the gun is completely empty. You can then reload and try again.
A failure to extract is often caused by low quality or damaged magazines, weak magazine springs, or by shooters who do not maintain a firm grip on the gun or who ride the slide as it moves forward. “Limp wristing” can cause failures to extract – so ask your shooting instructor to gauge your grip, body position, and stance during a shooting session.
Failure to Eject
A dirty gun or a corroded chamber can lead to failures to eject, as can the lack of a firm grip on the part of the shooter. If this situation does occur, you’ll want to do what is called the “Tap Rack Bang” drill.
First, tap the magazine to ensure that it is fully seated. Next, rotate the pistol slightly so that the ejection port is at an angle to the ground, then rack the slide firmly. This will hopefully eject the spent cartridge and allow a new one to enter the chamber. The “bang” part comes from pulling the trigger while the gun is safely aimed downrange.
This malfunction is also commonly referred to as a “stovepipe”. This occurs when the spent cartridge is often trapped in the ejection port sticking straight up in the air.
Whether you are an inexperienced shooter or a seasoned pro, it is likely that you will come across one or more of these common gun malfunctions throughout your shooting career. Make sure that you know how to safely assess, troubleshoot, and clear any of the malfunctions listed above before you head to the range.