Handgun Skills: Clearing Malfunctions – Keep it Simple

Guns are machines and as such they can malfunction.  I have trained with a lot of people and it seems every instructor puts his or her own spin on how to clear malfunctions.  It almost appears that malfunction clearance is a badge of honor in which to stake out your own niche.  This is a problem.  There is one overriding principle that should dictate how we clear handgun malfunctions: it should be as simple, fast, and reliable as possible.  Some instructors seem to try and make it as complex as possible.  After analyzing these many different approaches and comparing it to what I have learned through many experiences of clearing malfunctions during training and in competitions I have synthesized the process into the most straight-forward form I can manage, and it is what I personally teach:

There are four malfunctions that a handgun can have, unless it breaks:

1 – Failure to feed or fire:  The round in the chamber is a dud or a round never went into the chamber.

2 – Failure to go into battery:  The slide did not fully close on the round.

3 – Stove Pipe:  An ejected case is caught and pinned between the slide breach face and the barrel outside of the chamber, blocking the current round from going into the chamber.

4 – Double-Feed:  The spent case of the round just fired does not extract and the next round from the magazine presses against it, fighting for the same chamber space.

Now, there are some other things that can complicate these four general problems.  For example, if using questionable reloaded ammunition a deformed case can get stuck in the chamber so tightly that even the common immediate and remedial malfunction clearance won’t actually fix the problem, but this is very rare and should not happen with quality defensive ammunition.  Generally, the four issues listed are those that you may encounter when shooting, and unfortunately they remain a possibility even if shooting for your life.

The good news is that the first three malfunctions are more commonly encountered than the final one, and all three can be cleared with great speed through our “immediate” malfunction clearance drill.  The final malfunction, the double-feed, requires “remedial” action.  Therefore, my advice is to practice and engrain these two malfunction clearance skills.

Immediate Action Malfunction Clearance:

If you are expecting a bang but get a click, or perhaps you feel a dead trigger, then the immediate action drill that will clear the first three malfunctions is to aggressively slap the bottom of the magazine to ensure that it is seated, then rack the slide as you would to load a handgun to chamber a first round.  The purpose of slapping the magazine is that a failure to feed can be caused by a partially unseated magazine.  The rack will clear any of the three malfunctions and rechamber a fresh round.  This is the movement that takes only a split second and it will fix the most likely problems and get the gun back in action.

Remedial Action Malfunction Clearance:

Historically, to resolve a double-feed, the method taught is to lock the slide to the rear to alleviate the tension it is putting on the round that is feeding into the blocked chamber, then eject the magazine, then rack the slide three times to ensure you clear the blocked chamber, then re-insert the magazine, then rack a final time to chamber a new round.  The problem with this is that it takes time, even if you are well-practiced.  This is usually at least a 5 second procedure.  That is too long when someone is trying to kill you.  There is a better way to do this:

If the gun malfunctions, step one, do immediate action.  Tap-rack is most likely going to fix the problem.  If the initial tap-wrack does not work, then we are going to “rip, reload, rack.”

Step one: Rip the magazine out of the gun by pressing the mag release and pulling it out by firmly grabbing the base plate of the magazine.  There will be some resistance as the new round being stripped off the magazine into the blocked chamber is still trapped by the magazine feed lips.  Once the magazine is ripped out the slide slams forward, thus the extractor will grab the rim of the stuck case in the chamber.

Step two:  Reload the gun with a fresh magazine.  The magazine that was in the gun may be compromised due to the round that was trapped.  They often turn upwards, thus inducing a malfunction is loaded back into the gun.  I advocate always carrying a spare mag, not only for the extra ammo, but also so that you have one available to clear such a malfunction.

Step three: Rack the slide now that the new magazine is inserted.  This should eject the stuck case and simultaneously chamber a fresh round.  This procedure is significantly faster than the traditional technique of locking the slide, racking three times, etc…,  Is it possible that the stuck case in the chamber does not clear?  Yes.  But that remains possible even if you rack three times.  Most often it will clear, and getting the gun back in the fight as fast as possible is the priority.  Keep it simple.

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