Handgun Malfunctions 101: Immediate Action

By on July 30, 2014

M&P 9 Malfunction, Stovepipe Malfunction

Guns are simple mechanical devices, but even the simplest break or don’t work as they should all the time.  Here is an outline of the most common handgun malfunction problems and their immediate fix.

A malfunction is anything that interrupts the cycle of operation not allowing the handgun to fire.  The simple cycle of operation is: Loading, Feeding, Chambering, Firing, Extracting, Ejecting.

Loading isn’t what you do; it’s the handgun stripping a round out of the magazine.  After the gun gets a round out of the magazine, it pushes along and starts feeding it into the chamber.  Then the slide closes, fully chambering the round.  You press the trigger and the gun fires (hopefully).  After the bullet leaves, the gun extracts the spent casing, pulling it out of the chamber.  Then the gun ejects that spent casing out of the gun to start the cycle again.

There is a plethora of things that could happen to stop any or all of the cycle of operation.  But the majority of the time it’s us, the shooter, that messes up the gun.

On the range, the top two user errors I see are failure to insert the magazine correctly and chambering the first round incorrectly.

If you put the magazine in nicely so it just barely clicks in, the gun may take the first round but won’t load the second round out of the magazine, giving you an empty chamber.  It’s a dead giveaway when the magazine falls out during recoil of the first round.  When it happens to you, it’s really not funny, but when it happens to someone else, you politely lean over to the shooter, who at this point is studying his gun like a monkey doing a math problem because he can’t figure out what’s wrong, and say “you dropped something.”

The other common problem is not racking the slide correctly so it can load the first round out of the magazine.  The gun was designed to have the slide slam back and forth under recoil.  But, for some reason, shooters want to ease the slide forward like it’s going to break if they let it go.  Doing this pushes all the springs in the gun out of balance and may cause a malfunction in the first or second round fired.  No, I don’t know why it affects the second round in the magazine, but seems to a lot.

So, simply treat the gun as it’s designed; roughly.  Slap the bottom of the magazine into the mag well sharply and when you rack the slide to get the first round in the chamber, pull the slide all the way back and let it fly.  You won’t hurt the gun and this will help you from being that guy who looks like a monkey.

Now that you know the most common problem with a malfunctioning handgun (you the user), how do you fix it when it stops working? Immediate action: Tap-Rack-Bang.  I’m sure you’ve heard of it.  You do need to practice it, and it does need to be in that order.

First the safety stuff: Immediate action works all the time and is safe.  There are two times when the action could be unsafe.  The first one is a squib round or audible pop.  This is an ammunition problem.  For some reason that round wasn’t loaded with enough powder to push the bullet all the way down the barrel and it gets stuck in there.  If you fire another shot after that, it generally looks something like this.

German Gun after a squib loading

Yes that can happen to your handgun.  Generally, with factory ammo this isn’t a problem.  If you shoot my old reloads, beware.  I don’t reload anymore, but when I did I wasn’t the most careful reloader and would miss putting powder in rounds all the time.  So I got good at what sound the gun made when only the primer went off without any powder.  The primer does have enough pressure to push the bullet into the barrel.  It’s a weird popping sound and that’s why it’s called an audible pop in the Marine Corps.  Just be aware, if the gun does something between click and bang, then there may be a bullet stuck in the barrel.  Firing the gun with a bullet already stuck in the barrel could make the gun blow up.  Even when it happens, the gun destroyed, but the shooter is fine.

The other reason is really rare, but have first-hand knowledge of it happening on a Kahr pistol.  It’s when the primer is detonated while the gun is open.  This can only happen by a round getting stuck with the primer against a sharp part wedged with the slide open.  When you go to clear the malfunction the round shifts, falls against the primer and ignites the round.  Then the brass splits and it comes apart in your hand.  Really rare, I’ve only verified it actually happening to one person in over 20 years of studying handguns.

With both of these problems, you will be fine as long as you are wearing eye protection.

To clear any other malfunction, use Tap-Rack-Roll to the right.  It’s a little different than the usual Tap-Rack-Bang, but works better and is just as fast.  Here’s how it works:


Tap – Slap the bottom of the magazine.  This makes sure you put the magazine in all the way or that it gets shoved back in if it started to fall out.  Remember the most common mistakes? This makes the magazine go home.


Rack – Sling shot the slide hard and fast.  To get as much leverage as possible pull the gun close to yourself, grab the back of the slide (don’t block the ejection port), thumb facing you, and then push with your shooting hand and pull with your off hand.  If something is in the chamber and the gun failed to pull it out, it’s probably stuck and will need some convincing to come out.  Force it out!


Roll to the Right – While you are racking the gun, turn the entire thing to the right hand side.  And it’s still to the right for both right and left-handed shooters.  You roll the gun to the right to have gravity help you.  With the gun straight up and down, only the spring from the magazine will push things out if something is not working right.  When you roll the gun to the right it points the ejection port down to get gravity to help you pull anything out of the gun that shouldn’t be there.

Now go practice immediate action.  You need to do it a couple thousand times until it becomes second nature.  Everyone that I’ve ever trained with that doesn’t work on malfunction drills screws it up when the time comes.  Even the ones that have been through training on how to clear a malfunction screw it up.  Do it during your dry practice sessions and you’ll be set.

Stay Safe,



Upcoming Courses!

March 3, 2018 Intro to Pistol Self Defense in San Antonio, TX

March 3, 2018 BCC Running the Gun in San Antonio, TX

March 4, 2018 BCC Vehicle Fighting in San Antonio, TX

Sep 22-23, 2018 BCC En w/ PDS in Centerton, AR

Shooter’s Culb Memberships

Click Here to Subscribe!


  1. Handgun Malfunctions 301: Locked up Guns | Modern Self Protection - […] is the third article in a series of posts about clearing malfunctions in your handgun. Handgun Malfunctions 101: Immediate…
  2. Handgun Malfunctions Bonus: Is it a Broken Gun? | Modern Self Protection - […] may malfunction is if it’s broken.  Go through all the other posts first (if you haven’t, read Immediate Action,…
  3. Handgun Malfunctions 401: Broken Guns | Modern Self Protection - […] Handgun Malfunctions 101: Tap-Rack-Bang we talked about immediate action and what you should do if you think your gun…
  4. Handgun Malfunctions 201: Intermediate Action | Modern Self Protection - […] weeks ago, I wrote about Handgun Malfunctions and how you can fix them with a simple Tap-Rack-Roll to the…

Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>