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Defend Thyself Personal Defense

Running the Gun: How to Clear a Handgun Malfunction

by Richard Nance   |  November 13th, 2012 13

No matter what type of pistol you carry or ammunition you feed it, there’s a chance you’ll experience a “click” instead of a “bang” when you pull the trigger. Should this occur, you need to have a plan to keep your gun running and stay in the fight.

The theme of the most recent episode of Personal Defense TV was clearing a malfunctioned handgun. While many firearms instructors focus on semantics such as classifying a particular type of malfunction as a Stage I, Stage II or Stage III, Handgun Combatives creator and 2010 Law Enforcement Trainer of the Year Dave Spaulding offers a more simplified approach consisting of just two techniques.

For any malfunction other than an in-line failure to extract, or “double feed,” Spaulding advocates the use of the “immediate action” drill. This sequence is also referred to as, “tap, rack and assess.”  After tapping the bottom of the magazine to ensure that it’s properly seated, many instructors teach their students to reach over the top of their gun and grab the slide with what Spaulding refers to as a “saddle grip.” When gripped in this manner, the little finger, ring finger and middle finger do most of the work. However, Spaulding believes there is a more physiologically efficient method for cycling the slide, one that affords you a better grip on the slide, is faster and is congruent with the technique for cycling the slide one-handed using your belt or holster.

Spaulding’s technique for clearing a malfunction is to tap the bottom of the magazine, roll the pistol inward so that the ejection port is facing downward — this allows gravity to assist you in removing the malfunctioned rounds from the gun — then grip the slide with your thumb and all four fingers.  Spaulding explains that the closer your fingers are to the thumb, the tighter your grip. Pull the slide to the rear and release. After the slide goes forward and a round is chambered, assess the situation to determine if firing is still warranted.

If the immediate action drill doesn’t remedy the problem, chances are your pistol experienced an in-line failure to extract. Here, Spaulding’s methodology veers slightly from tradition. Rather than lock the slide to the rear and then strip the magazine from the pistol, Spaulding prefers to depress the magazine release while working the action. This accomplishes the same task, but more efficiently, according to Spaulding. An alternate method Spaulding teaches involves stripping the magazine from the pistol first, then cycling the action.

In the same episode, Spaulding and I discuss the importance of communication and the use of cover when working with a partner. The last thing you want is for your partner to be moving from cover when your handgun is inoperable or vice versa. Finally, Spaulding poses the question, “Is it faster to clear a malfunctioned pistol or draw a back-up gun?”

Be sure to tune in to PDTV on Monday nights on The Sportsman Channel and feel free to contact us with any questions or comments. Thanks!

  • Mack Missiletoe


  • Tricia

    Next step is to figure out how I could insert a new clip with one arm in a tactical scenario without messing up my manicure:) Just kidding about the manicure. Any ideas?

    • Tricia

      Any ideas other than having spare weapons on hand please!!

      • Richard Nance


        That is a little too much to type as a "response" here but we will certainly address it in a furture blog. Thanks!

  • John Miller

    Most of my malfunctions occur because of a weak spring in my clip/magazine. This is caused by keeping fully loaded
    and unused. Solution – buy several (say 10) magazines (high cap if possible) and keep them half to 5/8 loaded.
    Buy more than 1 gun – for backup purposes. Periodically unload every mag. Learn how to remove the bottom. This
    accesses the spring. Stretch out the spring approximately 2X the length you find spring in. Repeat 3 to 4 times.
    Replace everything. And oz. of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Buy new springs -also.

    • SamF1911

      Keeping a magazine fully loaded will not weaken the spring. Loading and unloading a magazine over and over again will weaken it over time but leaving it loaded for long periods of time is o.k. I've had AR15, AK47, 1911, and Glock mags fully loaded for over a year only to pull them out of storage, take them to a training class and I've never had any problems with them. One thing I should add is magazings don't last forever so buy as many as you can afford and replace them as needed.

      • Spike1point5

        I've never had the problme myself with my SIG, but I've got a few mates who've said that leaving H&K USP mags loaded and unused has left them weakened conisderably

  • Robert Keith Ando

    Simplicity is by far the best. Who cares what a IIa malfunction is? It doesn't shoot. If you are confident about your magazines, just partly extract the mag and holding the gun upside down, rack the slide. Tap mag back in and rack the slide. Fire. You should not have bad magazines – not even for practice. Murphy is just waiting !!! Discard, stamp on any defective mag.

  • Ross Walters

    Watch out for the 'hangfire' jams too.
    My wife was shooting her .22 pistol, pulled the trigger and – nothing.
    Luckily I taught her to keep the gun pointed downrange at all times because as she was handing it to me to 'fix' the round fired.
    Remington Target standard velocity was the ammo brand. We fired the rest of the box without incident.

  • John

    One of the downsides of owning a 92fs; you grip it like you do in the video you put the gun on safe and have to reengage it.

  • Ian Sutherland

    pull the trigger again & thank god you've got a double action revolver.

    • Minarchist_1776

      Why was my comment deleted?

  • Steve

    It seems to me like the ejection port is aiming up, not down, when he rotates the gun to clear the malfunction. What am I missing?

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