How to Clear Handgun Misfires and Malfunctions

One important aspect of safe gun ownership that every person should know is how to quickly and safely clear a handgun misfire or malfunction.  By quickly and safely clearing a misfire, you are able to protect yourself, but also prevent an accidental discharge of your weapon.

Here are some tips to help you quickly and safely clear your handgun when a misfire or malfunction occurs.

Revolver – one of the biggest advantages of revolvers is if you have a malfunction, most can be solved by simply pulling the trigger again.

Semi-Automatic – the problem with semi-automatics is that the malfunctioning cartridge is blocking the next cartridge, so you need to know how to quickly clear the malfunction so you can defend yourself.

Types of Malfunctions:

TYPE I –> Misfire:  a misfire occurs when the firing pin strikes the primer but it does not fire. This is the most common type of malfunction.

SOLUTION: Instead of the “Tap-Rack-Ready,” I teach “Tap-Roll-Rack, then Access.” “Tap” – tap the magazine and ensure it is properly seated in the grip. “Roll” – roll the firearm approx. 90 degrees to the right while “Racking” the slide to eject the misfired cartridge. Now “Access” the target to determine if you must shoot.

NOTE: the “Roll” step of the clearing drill is not necessary during the clearing of this type of malfunction, but it is necessary during the Type II malfunction. I still teach to conduct this step for consistency.
NOTE: for those firearms that have a double-strike capability, I recommend following the above procedure rather than pulling the trigger a second time.  If it misfired once, there is a good possibility that it will do so again.

TYPE II –> Stovepipe: a stovepipe occurs when the casing that has been ejected is caught in the ejection port by the slide.

SOLUTION: I teach the same exact “Tap-Roll-Rack, then Access” procedure as used to clear the Type I malfunction.  Why? Under stress, it is important to react quickly and naturally. I believe if you have a different method of clearing each malfunction, you are more likely to panic or spend precious time diagnosing your problem.
NOTE: Now you should understand why the “Roll” step in is the clearing procedure. With a stovepipe, rolling the firearm 90 degrees to the right will let gravity help free the casing.

TYPE III –> Double Feed: this malfunction occurs when a round is in the chamber and a second round attempts to feed into the chamber. This results in a true jam. On most semi-auto’s, the slide has limited motion and the magazine will not eject by pressing the magazine release.

SOLUTION: When the firearm does not fire, immediately execute the immediate action drill –> “Tap-Roll-Rack.” Upon performing this with a Type III malfunction, it becomes immediately evident that you have a double feed because the slide will not function normally. The clearance procedure can be summarized as: “Unload, Clear, Reload.” First, press up on the slide release / slide-stop lever and lock the slide to the rear (I find that on most of my semi-auto’s, you can skip this step). Second, press the magazine release and strip the magazine from the mag well (remember, it will not drop free on its own with this malfunction). Third, rack the slide 3 times to clear it of all ammo. Fourth, insert a new loaded magazine. Fifth, rack the slide to chamber a round. Sixth, access your target and fire if necessary.

It is important to note that the immediate action drill for all three malfunctions are initially identical. If all three malfunctions were cleared differently, then under extreme stress, it would take time you don’t have to access the malfunction and decide how to clear it.