Almost every firearm will malfunction at some point, but this post is specifically for new owners of semi-automatic, magazine fed guns.
DID range safety officer Andrew Royce says that the best way of dealing with malfunctions is to avoid them in the first place. “You’ve got to clean your weapon.” Royce says it’s a good principle to clean your firearm after each time you shoot it, especially if you’re putting several hundred rounds or more through it at a time.
But even clean firearms sometimes malfunction. The “Tap-Rack-Bang” technique is a series of immediate actions that can safely be taken to clear most malfunctions efficiently. It is a common component of firearm training.
If your firearm has gone “click” instead of “bang”, and the slide/bolt is clearly NOT all the way forward, you probably have some variation of a “failure to feed”, sometimes shortened to FTF in discussion forums. Failures to feed can be caused by several problems:
“Limp-Wristing” - This failure to feed tends to affect new shooters the most, and is exactly what it sounds like. “They’re not putting enough force against the pistol for the slide to come back all the way and extract that brass, so it leaves a spent casing in the chamber,” Royce says.
You can see exactly what limp-wristing looks like in slow motion here:
DirtyAmmo / Uncleaned Gun - Royce says that using “dirty” ammunition will mean that you need to clean your gun more frequently. “Dirty” ammunition is the general name for ammo that doesn’t burn as cleanly as it could. It usually produces more smoke and leaves carbon and soot residue behind that can clog up slides and ejection ports. Royce says that the only way to know which ammo burns cleaner is to research (or come talk to our knowledgeable staff), but steel cased ammunition - especially military surplus or commercial ammo coming from eastern European countries - tends to be the dirtiest.
Stovepipe – The malfunctions look exactly like their name.
“Stovepipes usually happen because the magazine is crappy or wearing out, or because a slide or bolt went too fast and grabbed the empty brass before it got all the way out of the chamber,” Royce says.
Double-Feed – Again, this malfunction is exactly what it sounds like.
“Double feeds are where the slide or bolt tries to chamber two rounds in the barrel, which isn’t going to work,” Royce says.
Mag Not Seated – While your magazine may appear to be sitting properly in the firearm, it might not be fully locked into place. This can happen for a number of reasons. “A lot of people will try to load AR magazines like pistol mags, so they don’t seat properly.”
For all three of these malfunctions, the slide / bolt is usually stuck in the rearward position, sometimes with an empty shell visibly lodged somewhere in the chamber. To clear one of these malfunctions, we use the “Tap-Rack-Bang” technique:
TAP – Bringing the gun back toward you, firmly tap the bottom of the magazine with your weak hand to ensure that it’s seated properly in the gun.
RACK – Rotate your weak hand up to quickly pull the slide/bolt all the way back and release, allowing the firearm to chamber the next round.
BANG – Reacquire your grip and sight picture and resume firing.