Common Firearm Malfunctions [and How to Clear Them]

A firearm malfunction, otherwise known as a “stoppage” can happen for many reasons, from poor maintenance, to unsuitable or incorrectly loaded ammunition, poor shooting technique, and even faulty firearm parts. But whatever the reason, every shooter will come across a firearm malfunction one way or another. While the majority of malfunctions are easy to fix, I often notice a lack of understanding and proficiency amongst shooters who would consider themselves to be fairly experienced or enthusiastic. For this reason, we are going to discuss the topic in some detail, starting with the following question: what is a firearm malfunction, and how do you fix it?

Simply put, a firearm malfunction is the failure of a firearm to operate as intended; it doesn’t shoot as it should, or it doesn’t shoot at all. Malfunctions can be as a result of an ammo fault, a mechanical fault, or shooter error. The majority of firearm malfunctions can be fixed with a simple “Tap Rack Bang” drill, which we will discuss shortly.

We are going to discuss the various malfunctions that may occur below, explaining why they may happen and what you can do to fix them. But before doing so, it is highly important that you understand and follow the 4 rules of gun safety, as failure to do so may result in severe injury or even death while trying to clear a firearm malfunction. So before going any further, please watch the video below, its a good one.

https://youtu.be/gnkxqsYydqg
Griffon Industries – 4 Rules of Gun Safety

3 Types of Firearm Malfunctions

All firearm stoppages can be broken down into 3 types, namely a Type 1, Type 2 or Type 3 malfunction. These 3 types of malfunctions will be broken down further into their individual problems and solutions later on.

Type 1 Malfunction

The Type 1 malfunction is commonly referred to as a failure to feed or failure to fire. It can often be diagnosed by an audible click but no bang when the trigger is pressed.

The Solution: Tap Rack Bang. For those who don’t know the drill, we will discuss it shortly.

Type 2 Malfunction

The Type 2 malfunction is commonly referred to as a failure to eject. It can often be diagnosed by a dead trigger, in other words nothing happens when the trigger is pressed; there is no audible click

The Solution: as per Type 1 – Tap Rack Bang.

Note: certain causes may require the shooter to improve on his shooting fundamentals or ensure sufficient propellant charge in handloaded ammunition.

Type 3 Malfunction

The Type 3 malfunction is the least common of the lot, and the most problematic to deal with. When they do occur, it is most commonly in the form of a double feed. The key symptom of a Type 3 malfunction is identical to that of a Type 2; a dead trigger.

The Solution: while muscle memory should naturally lead you to perform a Tap Rack drill, you should notice that in doing so the firearm does not go into battery and the chamber remains half open. In this case, the following drill needs to take place: Rip, Roll, Rack, Reload. This is otherwise known as a further stoppage drill.


The Tap Rack Bang Drill

The Tap Rack drill, otherwise known as the Immediate Action drill (IA) clears most Type 1 and Type 2 stoppages. It is a simple drill that should be rehearsed and instilled into your muscle memory so that the drill takes place naturally following a firearm stoppage.

  1. Tap – slam the magazine into the firearm ensuring that it is correctly seated.
  2. Rack – rack the slide or cocking handle to cycle the action and feed a fresh cartridge into the chamber.
  3. Bang – continue firing aimed shots at your target.
Tactical Rifleman – Immediate Action Drill

Warning: this drill MUST NOT be performed on a squib load (see squib load below).


The Further Stoppage Drill

The further stoppage drill, otherwise known as the Rip, Roll, Rack and Reload drill, is used when the immediate action drill does not clear the stoppage, and is mostly required during a Type 3 malfunction.

  1. Rip – remove the magazine. Some shooters will prefer to dump the current magazine, while others will retain it for the reload – the choice is yours.
  2. Roll – tilt the firearm over to its side so that gravity will assist in clearing the stoppage once we rack the slide/ cocking handle. The ejection port should be facing towards the ground.
  3. Rack – rack the slide or cocking handle for 3 full cycles, allowing the firearm to clear any issues that are causing the malfunction.
  4. Reload – insert your magazine and continue with the Tap Rack Bang drill.
NRA Firearm Training – How to Clear a Double Feed (Type 3) Malfunction

Note: in some cases you may be required to hold the bolt open and reach into the magazine well with your fingers in order to clear the stoppage. The situation will dictate, but for speed and efficiency, the Rip Roll Rack and Reload most often clears the malfunction.


Cartridge Malfunctions

Cartridge malfunctions can range from temporary and relatively safe situations, to potentially dangerous occurrences that may permanently damage a firearm and cause serious injury or event death towards the shooter and bystanders. It is therefore important as a firearm owner to be capable of identifying a cartridge malfunction and its cause, and how to safely clear the firearm, making it safe.

Squib Load

Otherwise known as an incomplete or insufficient discharge, the squib load is an extremely dangerous malfunction.

  • It occurs when a projectile does not carry enough force to exit the barrel, and therefore becomes stuck inside the barrel.
  • When a squib load occurs, the shooter will experienced an almost inaudible pop rather than a loud bang when the shot is fired, with reduced recoil and often a visual smoke discharge from the ejection port.
  • If a second round is fired following a squib load, it will impact the stuck projectile inside the barrel, which can cause catastrophic failure of the structural integrity of the firearm and may cause serious injury or even death to the shooter or bystanders.
  • In the event of a squib load, immediately cease fire, remove the magazine and clear the firearm. Disassemble the firearm, and inspect the barrel from the chamber end, seeking professional advice on how to remove the projectile if lodged in the barrel.

Misfire

Otherwise known as a failure to fire or dud, this malfunction is one of the most common.

  • It is most often caused by a faulty primer or defective propellant, but may also be as a result of a defective firing pin or excessive carbon buildup.
  • When the trigger is squeezed and the firing pin hits the primer, the cartridge will not fire.
  • The solution to the malfunction is to proceed with a Tap Rack Bang drill.

Note: dud rounds can still be dangerous and should be deactivated and disposed of correctly.


Hangfire

This stoppage is far less common, and can be described as a delayed charge.

  • It is caused by a fault of the propellant, whereby it burns too slowly until enough pressure has built to release the projectile.
  • A delay is experienced between the trigger squeeze and primer pop, to the ignition of the propellant, sometimes taking up to a couple of seconds before the shot is fired.
  • During a hangfire, the barrel must remain pointed in the direction in which you intend on shooting for at least 30 seconds, with your finger away from the trigger – unless the shot has been released.

Click here to watch a short video compilation on firearms that hangfire


Case Head Separation

Case head separation may take place in cases where reloaded brass has breached its point of structural failure.

  • It occurs when the walls of a cartridge case become thin or fatigued after being reloaded one too many times.
  • The case separates in two pieces near the head (just beneath the case rim). The majority of the case remains stuck inside the chamber.
  • If part of a cartridge case gets stuck inside your rifle chamber due to case head separation, cease fire and unload the firearm ensuring that the weapon is clear. Try using a barrel rod with a bronze brush to remove it. If this doesn’t work, you’ll need to get creative.

Click here to watch a short video on case head separation


Mechanical Malfunctions

Mechanical malfunctions can range from temporary and relatively safe situations, to potentially dangerous occurrences in the event of a runaway gun. They include Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3 malfunctions.

Failure to Feed

This Type 1 malfunction occurs when a firearm fails to feed the next cartridge into the chamber.

  • It can occur for a number of reasons, which include a damaged or ill-fitted magazine, an excessively dirty feed ramp, a damaged or incorrectly sized cartridge, an incorrect gas setting, or if the shooter is not providing a sufficient grip in the case of semi-automatic pistols.
  • When the trigger is squeezed, an audible click may be heard but the firearm will not fire; no bang will take place.
  • The solution to the malfunction is to proceed with a Tap Rack Bang drill.

Note: this includes an out of battery malfunction. In this case, the slide, bolt, or action is not fully seated or closed. This is often resolved by regular cleaning followed by a light oil of the firearm’s working parts.


Failure to Extract

This Type 2 malfunction occurs when a firearm fails to properly extract the spent casing from the chamber.

  • It can be caused by a number of reasons, which include an overly-dirty chamber, a broken extractor claw, and a case rim failure.
  • When the trigger is squeezed, nothing happens. The shooter feels a dead trigger, and there is no audible click.
  • The solution to the malfunction is to proceed with a Tap Rack Bang drill. If this does not work, cease fire and unload the firearm ensuring that the weapon is clear. Clean the firearm and inspect the extractor claw for damage.

Failure to Eject [Stovepipe]

Otherwise referred to as a stovepipe, this Type 2 malfunction occurs when a spent casing is extracted from the chamber, but is not ejected from the firearm, causing the next round to fail to feed, or the slide/ bolt to fail to return to battery.

  • The stovepipe often occurs when reloaded ammunition does not contain enough propellant to fully cycle the action, when too much propellant is present causes an excess cycle rate, or when the shooter is not gripping the firearm firmly enough in the case of semi-automatic pistols.
  • When the trigger is squeezed, nothing happens. The shooter feels a dead trigger, and there is no audible click. Upon inspection, you will notice an empty cartridge case caught in the ejection port instead of being thrown clear, preventing the firearm from reloading.
  • The solution to the malfunction is to proceed with a Tap Rack Bang drill.

Note: in some causes the shooter may be required to tighten or alter the grip position of the shooting hand (pistol only).


The Double Feed

This Type 3 malfunction occurs when two live rounds are picked up from the magazine and both attempt to feed into the chamber at the same time, or when a second live round is making its way towards the chamber while one is already present (typically after a failure to extract).

  • A double feed is often a result of a defective magazine, a stuck case, a defective recoil spring, or following a failure to extract malfunction. In some cases, the slide may pick up two rounds simultaneously instead of one when returning to battery.
  • When the trigger is squeezed, nothing happens. The shooter feels a dead trigger, and there is no audible click. A Tap Rack Bang does not solve the problem.
  • The next step is to follow a further stoppage drill as explained above; Rip, Roll, Rack and Reload.

Slamfire

Otherwise known as a runaway gun, a slamfire is a premature, unintended discharge of a firearm that occurs during the reloading process.

The bolt slams forward and the firing pin makes contact with the primer, which may lead to uncontrollable fully-automatic operation.

This malfunction is uncommon in modern firearms. If a slamfire takes place, the magazine must be removed immediately, or in the case of a belt-fed machine gun, the belt must be manually twisted to prevent further firing of the gun. The firearm must then be sent in for inspection by a professional.


Conclusion

You should now have a good idea as to what may go wrong when handling a live firearm, and hopefully how to solve the problem when things don’t go according to plan.

While the Tap Rack Bang fixes most firearm malfunctions, you may in some cases need to proceed onto a further stoppage drill. These drills should both be rehearsed during dry-fire training so that muscle memory develops.

Please remember to pay particular attention to the squib load, and make sure that you understand the dangers involved in firing a subsequent round when a squib load occurs. To this end, always concentrate and remain alert when handloading ammunition.

If you enjoyed this article, please leave a comment below, and check in regularly for our latest blogs.

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4 Responses

  1. Immo says:

    Hi Matt,
    I was just reading through some of the older articles here and I liked this one especially since it is a good repetition for me.
    Nice overview with the accompanying vids.

    We did some shooting training with stoppage drills recently, so I wanted to refresh my knowledge about this topic.

    A Squib a shooting colleague had experienced once with a revolver some years ago and he was very lucky. In the end there have been three! projectiles in the barrel when we checked it, but it did not burst.

    Cheers,
    I

    • Matt says:

      Hi Immo,

      Thanks for your comments. I’m glad that you enjoyed the article, and good work on refreshing your knowledge and applying this out on the shooting range.

      This is the first time I have heard of 3x subsequent squib rounds being fired – very interesting to know. And your friend is lucky his barrel remained in-tact! It would be a good idea to have the firearm inspected professionally following a malfunction of this nature; to ensure there was no bulge or fractures following the malfunction. But very interesting to know 🙂

      Thank you for your comment! Matt

  2. Carol says:

    What a clear, concise, well-written post on common firearm malfunctions. I am a concealed carry permit holder in the USA and I recently became certified by the NRA to teach basic pistol fundamentals. The basic pistol instructor certification course does not go into great detail about malfunctions, so in my effort to be better informed, I searched around the web for some quality information. Your post is exactly what I was looking for. Thank you so much!

  1. July 15, 2020

    […] It is even possible to simulate stoppage drills through dry fire training. For more information on stoppage drills you can read the following article: Common Firearm Malfunctions [and How to Clear Them]. […]

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