When the gun goes *click*

Posted: March 21, 2012 in Advanced, Beginner, Handgun, How To, Information, Intermediate

Sometimes it doesn’t even have the decency to do that, unfortunately. But sometimes, you pull the trigger expecting a bang and get what has been called “the loudest sound in a gun fight”. What do you do now?

Today we’re talking about malfunctions. Everyone has them, and they come in many flavors. What do you do about them, though? My perspective, as someone who carries for defense, might be different from someone who is shooting just for fun, or as a hunter. My view on it is that I need to get that gun back in the fight, and that means fixing my malfunction as quickly and efficiently as possible. It also means that when I have a failure on the range, I practice my malfunction drill there, too. When I pull the trigger and don’t get what I want, I perform a “failure to fire” drill, so that I train my body and my mind to do that automatically and without me needing to think about it. It’s a habit, and I think it’s a good one for me.

But what is a malfunction? Is it different from a jam? Are there different ways for a gun to malfunction? How do you fix them? All great questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them. First, I do differentiate a malfunction from a jam. A malfunction is something I can fix by manipulating the gun itself in very normal ways. A jam is something I need tools and time to resolve. There are different ways for a gun to malfunction and different ways to clear them. I’m going to be speaking here entirely of semiautomatics, as revolvers are sort of their own thing. Because of how revolvers work, you pretty much just pull the trigger again if it doesn’t do what you want the first time. For semiautos, it’s a little more complicated. Don’t be scared, it sounds way worse than it is in real life.

Okay, let’s define our malfunctions, first. We have three types, called Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3. This is another good summary, and has a video (I’ll try to take and post my own soon, but no promises).

Type 1 – Failure to fire (Click)

  • This covers any reason for a failure to fire. You pull the trigger, hear a click, but the gun doesn’t fire. Could be a bad primer, could be an empty chamber. Whatever it is, the slide is forward, the trigger is working, but the gun isn’t firing. This is by far the most common malfunction.
  • Solution: Tap the magazine, and simultaneously roll the gun clockwise 90º and rack the slide (“Roll and Rack”).

Type 2 – Failure to return to battery (No Click)

  • If your gun fails to go into battery (the slide doesn’t go all the way forward) it won’t fire, and you’ll have a spongy trigger. Again, there are a number of problems that can get you to this type of malfunction.  If the gun doesn’t eject the last case properly, the case can get stuck in the ejection port and keep the slide from moving all the way forward. If the next round in the magazine gets caught up and won’t feed into the chamber, your slide can fail to move all the way forward. Seeing a pattern? In a Type 2 malfunction, you don’t get a click, you just have a spongy trigger that doesn’t do anything. This is pretty rare with a gun that is well-maintained and quality ammo.
  • Solution: Tap the magazine, and simultaneously roll the gun clockwise 90º and rack the slide (“Roll and Rack”).

Type 3 – Double Feed (No Click)

  • This is the worst of the malfunctions, and is the only one that can’t be fixed with a simple tap and rack. What happens is that you have a failure to eject the last spent case, and then a new round gets fed from the top of the magazine by the slide moving forward. Unfortunately, the chamber es occupado, and the new round just gets stuck there. Tapping and racking won’t fix the problem, because the extractor on the slide is just going to eject the rearmost round, and then the slide going back forward will do the same thing again. This is by far the most rare of the malfunctions. I have never had one arise spontaneously in any of my guns. I have seen them happen to others, but there was usually a part that needed to be replaced.
  • Solution: You need to try to lock your slide back (to relieve some of the tension), pull the magazine out, roll and rack the slide to eject the spent casing from the chamber, then re-insert the magazine. You can either use the same magazine (if you retained it) or a new one (if you dropped the first one). Since malfunctions can often be caused by magazines, it makes sense to use a new one if you have it available.

Okay, that’s pretty much all there is to know about malfunctions. If you do a Type 3 clearance and the gun still won’t work, there’s pretty much nothing you’re going to do to it short of taking it apart and replacing pieces or something that will get it running again. So now you know how to identify each malfunction and how to resolve them. So that’s cool. You may notice that the first two (which cover the overwhelming majority of malfunctions) are solved the exact same way. I’m glad you noticed that, because I did, too. Rob Pincus noticed as well, and he has an idea that I think makes all the sense.

Rob has developed a “Non-diagnostic linear malfunction drill” as a response to a failure to fire. That’s a mouthful, and my friends like to make fun of Rob’s linguistic gyrations, but I like them. He’s very precise with his language, and he says exactly what he means. That’s cool. Anyway, you can call it the “Bang bang no worky” drill if you want. Actually, scratch that. Please don’t. We have a reputation to uphold. Okay, so what’s the idea behind this? Basically, if your gun doesn’t work, maybe 80-90% of the time, a tap and rack will fix it. The other 10-15% of the time, a slide lock reload will fix it. The last 5% is for stuff that you won’t be able to fix in the fight. Fair? Yes, you can inspect the gun and see which type of malfunction it is, and then take the appropriate action immediately. That’s what many people advocate, and it’s completely viable when you’re on the range, not under stress.

But you’re fighting for your life. It might be dark. You might be holding onto a loved one with your off hand. Someone might be shooting at you, grappling with you, or trying to take that loved one from you. This is not the best situation for you to be examining and diagnosing a complex mechanical system. So what Rob Pincus recommends is just fixing the problem, without diagnosing it first. The vast majority of your malfunctions can be solved by a tap and rack, why not just do that right away? Yes, if it turns out you actually had a Type 3, you’ll waste the half second it takes you to tap, rack and attempt to fire. But if you’re in the dark, in an actual fight, I’m guessing it would take you much longer to try to diagnose anyway. Just tap and rack and get back in the fight. If the tap and rack doesn’t work, you do a slide-lock reload. If that doesn’t work, it’s not going to work. Throw it real hard, maybe. But that’s the “Non-diagnostic linear malfunction drill” in a nutshell. Don’t look at it, just tap and rack. If that doesn’t work, perform a slidelock reload. No thinking, just reacting. You can do it in the dark, or when you’re scared out of your wits, because you practice it every time you go to the range. It’s a habit, and it just happens.

Speaking of habits, let’s take a moment to talk about “Tap, Rack, Bang.” You may have heard this as the appropriate response to a malfunction. I don’t think it is. Here’s my philosophy. “Tap, Rack” should be automatic. You get a failure to fire, you tap and rack without even thinking. You don’t want to train “Tap, Rack, Bang” because you don’t want to fire a round as an automatic action. Every single round you fire should be fired intentionally. What if you’re firing on an attacker, you have a malfunction, you tap and rack, and he’s already done fighting? You don’t want to fire a shot in that case. What if the environment has changed and now someone is between you and your target? You really don’t want to fire again. You might think that you’ll be able to recognize the situation and short circuit your training, but I don’t think you should bank on it. I am already surprised and impressed by how consistent my tapping and racking has become with practice, and I don’t know that I could stop myself in the middle, especially under stress when everything is happening so quickly. If you want to go with “Tap, Rack, Point In” that’s more reasonable, as long as you’re not automating the firing portion, and you’re always making the conscious decision to fire.

So there you go. That’s the deal with malfunctions and what to do about them. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading!


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