Mark Hatfield submitted this article.
Clearing Handgun Malfunctions
This article is specific to correcting malfunctions (jams) occurring in semi-automatic handguns particularly those which may occur during periods of intense social interaction, such as when you are attempting to shoot someone due to dire need.
Not long ago, one of the Loose Rounds founders asked if I might write such an article and I did but they wanted something more technically specific. ‘No problem’, says me, ‘When do you want it?’ Then just earlier today, I was perusing a hot off of the newsstand gun magazine while seated in the smallest room of my home and saw that there was an article nearly identical to that which I had planned to write. However I believe that my technique is slighter better and not everyone may see that magazine, so I will continue with my not plagiarized article.
Reduce the risk of malfunction by keeping the gun clean and correctly lubricated by whatever means is proper for that model. Many semi-autos will jam if ‘dry’, meaning not lubricated. Don’t carry a dirty gun. This can be important as well for legal reasons. Some situations can occur where the sight of your gun causes the problem person(s) to leave with no shots fired. If they later falsely claim that you fired at them the official police record of your gun being unfired can be important. NOTE: This also means that you never ‘just go home’ after such an event. ALWAYS report the incident to the police.
‘Limp wristing’ handguns has nothing to do with sexuality but all to do with your grip, wrist, arm, and stance, moving or standing still. Basically, for semi-autos, that big heavy part at the top of the gun moves when you fire it. If you allow the bottom part to move as well, the gun may jam. Even if you are shooting while walking or running, your grip and wrist must be firm.
There are a number of ways that the semi-auto handgun may malfunction. Instructors used to teach different methods for each type of malfunction, some even involved ‘karate chopping’ empty brass which might be sticking out of the ejection port. Here is a universal method. I do not remember which of my several teachers first presented this technique or I would give them the proper credit.
GET MOVING. If you are not already behind something which can stop the bullets coming at you, MOVE. Move to cover, concealment, or if nothing else only to confuse or delay your attacker. Don’t just stand there.
1. Remove the magazine.
2. Rotate the gun so the ejection port is facing the ground.
3. ‘Rack’ (move) the slide fully in both directions several times. Be certain the slide goes all the way forward and all the way to the rear.
4. Shake the gun, may be simultaneous with racking the slide.
5. Return the gun to the upright position and insert a new loaded magazine. If a new magazine is not available, quickly glance at the old one to see if the top rounds are not out of position or mag is defective, correct if necessary and then insert the mag.
6. Rack the slide fully to the rear, release it and let it go forward on its own.
How does this differ from some other methods?
The most common traditional method is currently called ‘Tap, Rack’ and previously known as ‘Tap, Rack, Bang’. One simply uses the support hand to vigorously slap or hit the bottom of the magazine to ensure that it is fully seated, rack the slide fully to the rear, release the slide, then continue shooting. This works very well if the round of ammunition was defective and simply did not go off but does not address other problems.
On the topic of racking and releasing the slide. Unless for the specific reason of a drill such as these, normally always allow the slide to go forward on its own, never move it forward or assist it. Let it go all by itself, malfunction drills can be the exception. Not letting the slide go forward on its own may result in the slide not going all the way forward. In that case the gun will probably not fire and if it should fire while not ‘in battery’, damage to the gun, your hands and face may result.
A technique previously taught for ‘stovepipes’ is where an empty piece of brass is trapped in the chamber but is mostly sticking out from the side of the gun, was to run the edge of the shooters hand along the slide like striking a blow, to knock out the offended brass while hopefully not damaging your own hand.
Another method taught by a major school is:
1. Release the slide (allow it to go forward).
2. Remove the magazine.
3. Insert new magazine.
4. Rack the slide to feed new round.
Once while attending a class taught by members of a prominent shooting school, it was repeatedly and firmly announced that the above method ALWAYS works. The instructors induced a malfunction in each students gun, first to practice ‘Tap, Rack’ and a second time to practice the above method which always works. It didn’t work.
Releasing the slide (assuming it is in the rear position) just moves a new round from the magazine into the place which is probably already filled with rounds competing for the same space or empty brass which does not want to leave. Removing the magazine first makes more sense. This allows the offending items to leave the gun through the ejection port or through the magazine well which is much larger and pointing down whereas the port is on the side of the gun. Releasing the slide or moving the slide forward on rounds or brass which are already wedged in that area may just jam them in further.
Another variation is to engage the safety lever (if present) before attempting any action. Generally, that’s a real good idea. However, it is an extra step in the beginning and an extra step at the end, removing the safety might be missed under stress further slowing you down.
You may have had a defective magazine. I currently have 7 new Glock factory magazines of several different production runs which refuse to release the ammunition which they so securely hold deep inside. I suspect that when Glock changed the mags to be ‘drop free’ they made errors on the interior dimensions. This is another reason to never carry only the one magazine which is in the gun.
What is even worse, your malfunction may have been caused by having a bullet stuck in the barrel, a primer which fell out of the case and into the guns mechanism, mud/snow/water in the barrel or other critical areas, a bullet which became too deeply seated in the case and caused excessive pressure, brass cases which come apart and portions remain in the chamber, broken or weak ejectors/extractors/springs, and other fun things, even from being clogged with gore from a person just shot at contact distance. Many things can go wrong which while thankfully rare, cannot be fixed easily or not at all during the hot action of a gun fight.
I know people from ‘high stress’ careers who never leave the house without at least two guns. Accessing the second gun may sometimes be wiser that trying to fix the primary one. A second gun can be handed to a trained spouse, partner or trusted friend. The second gun is also handy if the first is dropped or taken from you.
All of this is another major reason why is it always better when possible to de-escalate potentially violent situations and avoid trouble when you can.