As with any machine that has moving parts, handguns do occasionally malfunction. If handled calmly and correctly these malfunctions are fairly easy to resolve. If you learn and practice these three handgun malfunction drills, shooting will be much safer, and you will be much more confident with your firearm.
Failure To Fire
One of the most common handgun malfunctions is the failure to fire. This is when you pull the trigger, the firing pin hits the bullet, but the handgun doesn’t fire. This is either the result of a dud round or a hang-fire. A hang-fire is when you pull the trigger but it takes several seconds for the round to go off. Either way, you deal with this malfunction similarly. The steps are as follows:
1. When the round doesn’t fire immediately hold your position. Keep holding the handgun like you would if you were still going to shoot for at least 10 seconds. Keep your finger OFF the trigger, and NEVER turn a malfunctioning firearm (or non-malfunctioning firearm, for that matter) in any unsafe direction, including at yourself. ALWAYS keep a loaded gun pointed down-range.
2. After 10 seconds if the gun still hasn’t fired, make sure magazine is fully seated and locked by hitting the bottom with your palm. (This step is for semiautomatics. Obviously if you are using a revolver, skip it.)
3. Clear your handgun. For semiautomatics you pivot the firearm sideways towards your non-shooting hand while keeping the barrel pointed down-range. Grip the rear end of the slide tightly between The base of your palm and your fingers. Rack it back all the way and let it spring forward by itself. Another round will go into the chamber and you’ll be ready to fire agin. For revolvers this step is also unnecessary. You should be able to just keep shooting. With both styles of handguns I like to take the dud and examine it and the handgun, just to make sure there is not some other malfunction or damage to the firearm.
Stovepipe (Failure To Eject)
A stovepipe is when the bullet casing doesn’t completely clear the ejection port and is caught by the slide, blocking the slide from fully closing. This malfunction is remedied by sweeping the fingers of your non-firing hand forcefully across the top of the slide towards the rear of the handgun. While sweeping, roll the ends of your fingers over the edge of the slide so that you are practicing a clearing method that will work for both a vertical or a horizontal stovepipe. Keep your finger OFF the trigger, and make sure that you are NOT placing your hand in front of the muzzle at anytime. Also, be careful not to rack the slide back too far while clearing your semi-automatic because this may cause a double feed. Neither stovepipes or double feeds occur in revolvers because revolvers and semiautomatics work differently and have different parts.
Double Feed (Failure to Extract)
A double feed occurs when the casing of the previous bullet fired is not ejected and the next round is fed into the chamber behind it. Your slide will lock back and you should be able to see both bullets. You can also manually cause a double feed by pulling the slide too slowly and too far, yet not far enough, back while there is already a round in the chamber. Here are the steps needed to correct a double feed:
1. Take your finger off of the trigger and turn the gun in your main hand so that you can use the slide release. Make sure you are keeping your handgun pointed down-range throughout the procedure. WITHOUT putting your hand in front of the muzzle, firmly grip the front end of the slide. Release the slide and push it back all the way. Lock it into place by engaging the slide release.
2. When the slide is locked back securely, use your shooting hand’s thumb to press the magazine release button, and remove the magazine. This should expel the rounds.
3. Rotate the handgun towards your non-shooting hand, while keeping it pointed down range. Next, grip the rear end of the slide with palm and four fingers of your non-shooting hand. Then rack the slide back and let it close by its own force at least twice to ensure that the chamber is clear. You are free to reinsert the magazine. As with the previous steps, I like to take a good look at everything before continuing to put rounds down the barrel.
I recommend practicing these handgun malfunction drills with dummy rounds (a.k.a. snap caps) so you are more prepared if one does occur. This is in no way a complete list of possible malfunctions, but these are the most common. The steps here are assuming you are on the range or other a safe environment. In a more tactical situation, these steps may need to be modified. Although knowing how to deal with malfunctions is a necessary skill, don’t let your inexperience keep you from the shooting range. There are usually range officers present to assist you. Even better, bring along an instructor or an experienced shooting buddy. Other shooters on the range may also know how to help as well. As long as you keep your loaded handgun pointed down-range at ALL times, things will be fine. Even if you do encounter a handgun malfunction.