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Four Common Handgun Malfunctions and How to Deal with Them

By Luke Rohlfing

A firearm malfunction is a moment every shooter dreads.

The first few times it happens might even be a little bit scary. While there are many malfunctions that can happen with different firearms, we’ll highlight here four of the most common handgun malfunctions, why they happen, and how to deal with them, so your next firearm malfunction will likely be nothing more than a quick setback.

Malfunction 1: Failure to Feed

This malfunction is generally caused when a magazine is not seated securely into the magazine well of your handgun. It’s easily noticeable because the firearm will not fire, despite the shooter hearing a “click” when pulling the trigger.

What to do:

This is a very easy malfunction to work through, and with some practice, can be done in seconds. There are just three steps to clear this malfunction: Tap, rack, and bang.

Step one: Tap

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With the gun pointed in a safe direction, tap the underside of the magazine, forcing it firmly and securely into place.

Step two: Rack

Rack the slide of the handgun, chambering the next round in the magazine.

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Step three: BANG!

Pull the trigger, and unless there are further issues, your gun will fire without issue.

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Malfunction 1.5: Failure to Fire

This malfunction is very similar to the failure to feed, but is caused not by the gun’s magazine, but by a bad round, and is common when using reloaded ammunition.

What to do:

Solve a failure to fire malfunction in the exact same way as failure to feed, with a tap, rack, and bang.

If this problem persists, cleaning your firearm or switching to a different brand of ammunition could solve the issue.

Malfunction 2: Failure to Eject (AKA ‘Stovepiping’)

This malfunction is caused when a fired ammunition casing does not fully eject and is trapped by the returning slide. It looks similar to a smokestack sticking out of the ejection port, hence the term “stovepipe.”

The most common cause of stovepiping is limp-wristing your handgun, meaning you don’t keep your grip rigid enough through the wrist when firing, so stovepiping can usually be avoided by firming up your grip on the firearm. This malfunction can also be caused by underpowered ammunition, a dirty chamber, or a damaged case ejector.

What to do:

Clearing a stovepipe is done very simply with 3 steps:

Step one: Firmly grip your handgun with your dominant hand, while moving your non-dominant hand above the slide near the front sight.

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Step two: Sweep your hand over the trapped casing quickly, forcing it out of the ejection port.

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Step three: With the same hand you used to sweep the trapped round, push the back of the weapons’ slide in order to get the firearm into battery, and then fire your weapon.

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Malfunction 3: Failure to Go into Battery

As the name implies, a failure to go into battery is caused when the firearm does not go into battery when a round is chambered. It is either caused by a dirty gun, or a gun with extremely tight tolerances, like a 1911.

This malfunction can be identified by seeing the firearm’s slide slightly out of battery, as can be seen in the picture below. When a firearm is out of battery, you will not be able to fire the weapon, and you will not hear any sort of click when the trigger is pulled.

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What to do:

This is the easiest malfunction to clear, and only takes one step.

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Step 1: Once the malfunction is identified, take your non-dominate hand, and smack the back of the slide, forcing the firearm into battery. Once it is in battery, you will be able to fire like usual.

Malfunction 4: Double Feed

A double feed is the least likely malfunction you’ll encounter, but understanding how to clear it will make the problem painless if you are forced to deal with this problem at the range.

Say you’re at the range, and you attempt to pull the trigger, but you get a “mushy” or dead trigger. When you look into the ejection port, you notice a round in the chamber, and another round in the ejection port, as seen in the picture below:

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What to do:

With 5 steps, this malfunction can be easily cleared.

Step 1: Lock your firearm’s slide back.

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Step 2: Drop your magazine.

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Step 3: Rack your slide back multiple times until the malfunction is cleared.

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Step 4: Reload your magazine.

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Step 5: Rack your slide again to chamber a new round, and fire.

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If the issue persists, it could be an issue with your magazine, ammunition, or just another case of a dirty gun causing issues.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.