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How to Clear and Fix Common Handgun Malfunctions

If your everyday carry gun (EDC) is a semi-auto, you need to understand the common malfunctions and how to fix them.

When you are defending your life, hearing a click instead of a bang could mean the difference between giving the police a statement about what happened or ending up in the morgue.

There are several different reasons a firearm could malfunction. Some are caused by the cartridge. There are malfunctions that are caused by the gun mechanically failing in some way. This could be caused by improper maintenance or use. Both of these malfunctions affect semi-autos, as well as revolvers. There are also user-induced malfunctions, and while they are more likely due to happen to semi-autos, revolvers are not immune to having a malfunction because of something like an improper grip.

I know there are people out there that say they have fired (fill in the blank) number of rounds and never ever had a malfunction. It may be true or hyperbole, but the fact is no matter the manufacturer, no gun is impervious to a malfunction. This isn't to say all guns are created equal, far from it. But they are all machines with precise tolerances. And the number of factors that can affect any of these tolerances resulting in a malfunction are too numerous to rule them out completely.

Let's dive into how to identify some common stoppages with your semi-auto sidearm, how to reduce their likelihood, and get your gun back in running order quickly.

Type 1 Malfunction – Failure To Feed

Indicator: You have manually chambered a round or fired at least one round and pulling the trigger produces a click (hammer drop), without a bang.

Common causes:

  • magazine not seated fully- If the magazine is not fully locked into place when the slide moves forward, it will not strip the top round from the magazine and push it into the chamber.
  • ammunition not compatible with the model of firearm- This mostly occurs with hollow point rounds, when the nose of the bullet has an angle that does not slide easily on the feed ramp. The round never makes it into the chamber and the slide never returns forward into battery.

Remedy: The fix for a type 1 malfunction is simple, TAP, Rack, Bang. Tap (with force) the base of the magazine to ensure it is seated. Rack the slide deliberately and fully to the rear and let it go. Bang, assess the threat, sight in and if appropriate, attempt to fire. This is called an immediate action and should be performed as an immediate response to a click instead of a bang.

Type 2 Malfunction – Failure to Eject (Stove Pipe)

Indicator: You have fired at least one round and pulling the trigger produces no click (hammer drop) or bang.

stovepipe malfunction

Typically type 2 malfunctions produce a classic ‘stovepipe', and sometimes they don't.

Common causes:

  • Slide not fully cycling- If the slide is obstructed or the gun is gripped lightly it may not travel all the way to the rear. The slide must go all the way back in order to clear the rounds in the magazine and grab one as it begins returning forward. Because the slide only moves to the rear because of the pressures created by the burning powder charge, undercharged or fouled ammo can also cause the slide to not fully cycle. It's also possible to throw the gun out of balance and make it too difficult for the slide to cycle all the way to the rear by using a recoil spring that is too stiff.
  • Worn/broken ejector- If the tab that serves to eject the round is damaged, the casing may not eject fully from the chamber. When the slide returns forward the casing can be caught in the ejection port preventing the slide from going fully forward into battery.

Remedy: The fix for a type 2 malfunction is exactly the same as a type 1 malfunction, Tap, Rack Bang. Type one and type two malfunctions account for the vast majority of semi-auto malfunctions. So it makes sense to make Tap, Rack, Bang your immediate response to a semi-auto handgun malfunction.

Type 3 Malfunction – Failure to Extract (Double Feed)

Indicator: You have fired at least one round and pulling the trigger produces no click (hammer drop) or bang. Performing immediate action (Tap, Rack, Bang) does not work and the slide won't go forward.

double feed malfunction

A Type 3 Malfunction I experienced at a training class.

Common Causes:

  • Broken/dirty/worn Extractor- That little spring-loaded doohicky on the rear portion of your ejection port is your extractor. It is responsible for latching onto the case rim and pulling the spent case out of the chamber. If this doesn't happen, the next round will not go into the chamber, instead, it will ram into the back of the casing still lodged inside the chamber.
  • Stuck case- Ammo production and gun chamber sizes can sometimes vary ever so slightly. Sometimes cases are just wide enough to cause extracting issues in some firearms. Also, the material of the case can create problems with stuck casings. This is mostly seen with aluminum and steel cased ammo, where the casing expands just enough to create an issue.
  • Worn/broken magazine feed lips- The feed lips provide enough clearance for the rounds to be inserted into the magazine but not pop out on their own. Feed lips that are out of spec can allow rounds to exit the magazine and enter the chamber area. When the slide cycles forward and chambers another round, you have a mess.

Remedy: The fix for a type 3 malfunction is not as simple as type 1 and 2. First, you should perform immediate action, and then upon realizing it did not fix the issue, go into the process for clearing the type 3 malfunction.

Then, lock the slide to the rear. The purpose of locking the slide to the rear is to allow the magazine to be removed and to allow clearance for one of the rounds to fall from the gun.

However, some semi-autos do not have slide locks. And with certain guns, it is possible to remove the magazine without locking the slide open. Whether the slide is locked open or not, removal of the magazine will cause one of the rounds to drop out through the magazine well, and the slide will likely move forward.

Because type 3 malfunctions are sometimes caused by worn magazines, if you have another magazine you may want to ditch the one you just removed. This eliminates the possibility that you re-introduce the cause of the initial stoppage. If that is the only magazine you have, obviously retain it.

Deliberately rack the slide several times, ensuring you allow the slide to go completely forward. This is done so that the stuck casing is fully extracted and ejected from the gun.

Insert and seat the new magazine or the one you have retained.

Rack the slide and chamber a round. I prefer using the overhand method of racking the slide as opposed to using the slide stop, but if using your slide stop works that's your choice.

Type 4 Malfunction – I'm a Dummy Malfunction

Indicator: This has happened to EVERY shooter at some point. You attempt to fire your initial round and nothing happens.

Common Cause: Failure to initially seat the magazine or chamber a round.

Remedy: Conduct a chamber check and always know the condition of your gun.

You may fire thousands of rounds without even having to deal with any of these issues. However, it behooves you to understand how to fix your gun if it happens. Luckily, there are many ways to practice clearing these stoppages through dry-fire at home or live-fire on the range. Have you ever experienced any of these malfunctions? Let us know in the comments below.

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