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Running the Gun: How to Clear a Handgun Malfunction

Running the Gun: How to Clear a Handgun Malfunction

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!

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