Identifying And Clearing Malfunctions in Semi Automatic Pistols
Identifying And Clearing Malfunctions in Semi Automatic Pistols:
One of the common problems that shooters can encounter when firing a semi automatic pistol is a malfunction, or "jam." If not handled properly, a jam can ruin your day at the range. It can also ruin your weapon and result in an injury or even loss of life if the proper procedures are not taken. In this article I am going to go over how to identify several different malfunctions and list at least 1 procedure for clearing each of them.
There are many different ways to resolve some of these malfunctions. I don't profess to know them all and I am not attempting to list them all. I'm simply listing the basics that I was taught in the multiple law enforcement firearms schools that I've attended over the years.
Before I delve into this issue, I have noted that a lot of newer shooters have bed exposed to self acclaimed "experts" who claim that if you have a malfunction, always do the "Tap, Rack, Bang" drill before you do anything else. I will go over TRB and how to properly perform the drill in this article, but if your weapon fails to fire on the range please don't automatically start beating on your weapon and racking the slide. That drill works for a certain set of malfunctions. If it is used outside of that context, it can make things worse and possibly damage the firearm. The first thing that you should always do when you squeeze the trigger and don't hear a "bang" is THINK.
When you have a malfunction, for the purpose of this article, we will classify it in one of 3 categories.
1)Failure to feed
2)Failure to fire
3)Failure to eject
A failure to feed is any malfunction that involves a round not being fed into the chamber. A failure to fire happens when there is a round in the chamber, but it does not fire when the trigger is squeezed. A failure to eject is any malfunction that keeps the empty shell casing from being ejected from the chamber.
Failure to feed is usually easy to identify but can be difficult to clear. For the purpose of this article, I am including the double feed in this category. Failure to fire is usually an ammunition malfunction. For the purposes of this article I am including squibs, duds and hang fires in this category. As a failure to fire is the most dangerous malfunction and the hardest to diagnose and clear, I will address it first. Failure to eject is probably the most common malfunction, and is usually the easiest to identify and clear. For the purpose of this article, I am only addressing stove pipe jams as a failure to eject.
Failure To Fire:
A failure to fire is the most dangerous malfunction that you will deal with on the range. When you squeeze the trigger and you hear a click instead of a bang, you are dealing with a failure to fire. In a self defense situation, this is where the tap rack bang drill would be performed. But it's not a good idea to automatically jump to that drill while on the range.
If your weapon fails to fire on the first round, you probably are dealing with an empty chamber. Shame on you, you should always know the condition of your weapon before you fire.
If you are not sure if there was a round chambered, you can either treat it as a hang fire or bring the gun towards your chest, keep it pointed down range and gently pull back on the slide until you see than empty chamber or the back end of a shell casing. If you see a shell casing, assume its a hang fire and release the slide immediately. If there is no shell casing, kick yourself a couple of times and rack a round into the chamber.
If you hear a click and you are positive that there is a round in the chamber, automatically assume that you are dealing with a hang fire. A hang fire is a delay between when the primer is struck and the round actually fires. It is more common in older ammunition. You don't want to eject that round onto the range or put it in your pocket because if it is a hang fire, it will go off in a few seconds and could injure you or someone else.
Dealing With A Hang Fire:
1)Keep the gun pointed down range and count to 60.
2)If the gun doesn't fire, drop the magazine and eject the round.
3)Check for a dent in the primer. If you have a dent in the primer then you are dealing with a dud.
Dealing With A Dud:
1) Insure its not a hang fire.
2) Find the person responsible for loading your crappy ammo.
3) Throw it at their head.
If you don't have a dent, you have a problem with the gun. You can double check this by attempting to fire another round, or by doing a pencil check.
Performing A Pencil Check:
1)Verify that the chamber is empty.
2)Rack the slide to reset the trigger.
3)Drop a pencil in the barrel eraser first.
4)Squeeze the trigger.
If the gun is functioning properly the pencil will jump out of the barrel. I perform a pencil check as part of my functions check after cleaning all my pistols.
Another malfunction that I'm including in this category is a squib. If you squeeze the trigger and hear a softer "pop" instead of the normal "bang" sound, you are probably dealing with a squib. This is a serious problem both on the range or in a self defense situation. A squib results in the slug being pushed into the barrel but not all the way out. If you perform a "tap rack bang" on a squib, at a minimum you will ruin your barrel. Firing with a barrel obstruction can also result in your gun exploding in your hand.
Dealing With A Squib Load:
1)If you hear the pop sound, keep the gun pointed down range and wait a few seconds in case it's a hang fire.
2)Drop the magazine.
3)Gently pull the slide to the rear and remove the empty casing.
4)Verify that the chamber is empty.
5)Field strip the firearm.
6)Attempt to dislodge the projectile from the barrel with a cleaning rod.
Something else to watch for when dealing with a failure to fire is case separation. If at any point you observe large pieces of a fragmented casing, or case head separation, stop shooting, clear your weapon and give it a good stripping and cleaning just to be safe.
Failure To Feed:
A failure to feed can be caused by a dirty weapon, cheaply manufactured ammunition, broken or damaged parts, or loose/weak magazine springs. If your gun fires, the slide racks to the rear and ejects the casing but the slide stays there, you are either out of ammo or experiencing a failure to feed. The quickest and easiest solution to this is to attempt to drop the magazine.
If the magazine doesn't drop, you're probably dealing with a double feed. Diagnosing it is pretty obvious, when you pull the gun to your chest and look into the chamber you'll see 2 rounds butted up against each other.
Dealing With A Double Feed:
1)Pull the gun to your chest.
2)Lock the slide to the rear.
3)Depress the magazine release button hard
4)While holding the button, grab the edge of the magazine on either side between your thumb and fingers and forcibly strip the magazine out.
5)Attempt to dislodge the jam.
Ways To Dislodge The Double Feed Jam:
1)Lock the slide to the rear and slap the side of the gun.
2)Slap the bottom of the magazine well against the palm of your hand.
3)Attempt to use a dowel rod or other object to remove the jam.
In a self defense situation you may want to try rolling the gun over and racking the slide back and forth a couple of times as the third step instead. This may make the jam worse so it's not a good idea to try it on the range.
Don't do a tap rack bang drill on a double feed. Ever. It will probably jam the double feed into the gun even harder.
Failure To Eject:
This is the easiest jam to identify. The round will most likely be caught in ejection port somewhere, sticking up in the air like a stove pipe, or off to the side. Rack the slide to the rear and get on with your life. If that doesn't work...
Dealing With A Stubborn Stove Pipe:
1) Lock the slide to the rear.
2) Pull the shell casing out of the ejection port.
3) Rack the slide forward.
Lastly, I will cover the "Tap, Rack, Bang" drill. This drill can be used in a self defense situation as a reflexive "OH $&@#!" reaction that will fix most problems you might be experiencing. It is a BAD idea in a self defense situation to use this on a double feed and probably a squib load as well.
Tap, Rack, Bang:
1) Tap the magazine against the palm of your hand to insure it is seated properly.
2) Rack the slide.
3) Squeeze the trigger.
In a self defense situation, if you carry an extra magazine, some folks recommend dropping the magazine, rolling the weapon to the side, racking the slide to clear the jam and then inserting another magazine into the chamber as a more reliable method that is less likely to worsen a double feed jam.
If you are brand new to firearms, here are a few pictures of some of the firearms nomenclature included in this article: