March 22, 2022
By Richard Nance
As a defensive handgunner, you need to plan for contingencies like your pistol malfunctioning at the worst possible moment. Although your gun suddenly becoming inoperable in an armed encounter is indeed a dire situation, if you’ve done your homework, there’s no need to panic.
Mastering these malfunction clearing techniques will have your gun back to slinging lead in no time. Notice the use of the word “mastering.” These techniques aren’t something to “sort of know” or be “pretty good at.” Malfunction-clearing techniques need to be trained to the point that they’re so automatic you can execute them flawlessly, without thought, so you can focus solely on stopping the person trying to kill you.
There are several commonly taught malfunction-clearing techniques. These two are what I find make the most sense. They combine the ever-important elements of efficiency and reliability.
When you press the trigger of your pistol and it doesn’t fire, your default technique is called “immediate action,” which is also known as “tap, rack.” First, bring the pistol in close and orient the bottom of the magazine toward your other hand, as if you were conducting a reload. Then, strike (tap) the bottom of the magazine with the heel of your palm. This ensures the magazine is properly seated in the pistol.
Why is this important? When the magazine is in the pistol and the slide is cycled, it’s assumed that a round is chambered. However, if the magazine was not fully seated, the top round might have missed its ride to the chamber when the slide moved forward into battery. In this case, the gun may seem loaded but without a round chambered, pressing the trigger will result in nothing more than a clicking sound.
Even when a round is chambered, a pistol with a magazine-disconnect feature will not fire if the magazine becomes partially dislodged. This may be caused by inadvertently hitting the magazine release. Clearly, if the magazine were to fall out of the pistol, that would be a clue that a pistol with a magazine disconnect won’t fire.
However, if the magazine gets hung up in the magazine well, which is not uncommon, you might not realize there’s a problem until you press the trigger and your pistol doesn’t fire.
Regardless of the cause of the malfunction, the first step to fix it remains the same: Ensure the magazine is fully seated by giving it a firm tap. Next, rack the slide. This action will typically chamber a round and get you back in the fight.
To rack the slide, I prefer to rotate the pistol inboard and grab the slide with my thumb and as many fingers as will fit on the slide—without blocking the ejection port—as opposed to leaving the pistol upright and reaching over the top to rack the slide.
The latter relies on pinching the slide between your palm and little finger combined with however many other fingers the slide will accommodate. With the over-the-top racking method, your thumb is completely uninvolved. We have thumbs for a reason.
As Dave Spaulding of Handgun Combatives points out, if someone were to hand you a business card, you would grab it with your thumb and index finger because it’s more natural than trying to pinch the card between your pinky and palm. When it comes to gunfighting, a technique that comes naturally to you is definitely preferred.
The immediate action technique will fix all but the dreaded double-feed—or “in-line failure to extract,” if you prefer. Now is time for the “remedial action” technique.
Remedial action is going to take a few seconds, which can seem like an eternity in an armed encounter. If the attacker is at arm’s length, you can strike him with the muzzle of your malfunctioned pistol to perhaps buy you some time. Otherwise, you can move—preferably toward cover—while clearing the malfunction to keep you from being a sitting duck.
The first step to clearing a double feed is to strip the magazine from the pistol. If you have a spare, let the magazine in your pistol fall to the ground. However, if the magazine in your gun is all you’ve got, retain it.
Next, rotate the gun inboard and cycle the slide, as with the immediate action technique. If the spent casing in the chamber doesn’t eject, you may need to cycle the slide more than once. In any event, once the chamber is clear, either insert a new magazine or reinsert the one you removed. Cycle the slide again to chamber a round.
These techniques should be performed regularly using inert dummy rounds (at home) or with a combination of dummy rounds and live rounds (at the range). A good practice is to have a friend load your magazine, intermittently inserting dummy rounds. When you press the trigger and the gun doesn’t fire, you should perform the immediate action technique without missing a beat.
To stage a double feed, insert a dummy round or an empty casing into the chamber and then ease the slide forward. Remember to execute the immediate action technique first. When that doesn’t clear the malfunction, the remedial action technique should. If your gun were to become inoperable in an armed encounter, these techniques could save the day.