Skip to main content

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!

Current Magazine Cover

Enjoy articles like this?

Subscribe to the magazine.

Get access to everything Guns & Ammo has to offer.
Subscribe to the Magazine

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Pocket-Pistol Carry Tips and Tricks

Pocket-Pistol Carry Tips and Tricks

Pocket carry, as a method of concealed carry for a defensive firearm, can be a practical option when done right. This is especially true during the colder months when heavy outer garments can obstruct access to a traditional waistline holster. Former U.S. Navy SEAL Jeff Gonzales, president of Trident Concepts, joins G&A contributor Kimberly Heath-Chudwin to discuss guns, training and gear, including Blackhawk's TecGrip holster that can make pocket carry more successful.

Air Gun Reviews: Why Shoot Airsoft?

Air Gun Reviews: Why Shoot Airsoft?

In this Guns & Ammo TV segment, Gun Tech Editor Richard Nance and Pro-Shooter Jim Tarr discuss the benefits of airsoft training for uniformed professionals and armed citizens alike.

Shooting 600 Yards with .300 Blackout

Shooting 600 Yards with .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout cartridge was developed to provide greater effectiveness than a 9mm at short and medium ranges when fired from a short-barreled suppressed firearm. Just because the cartridge wasn't designed to go long doesn't mean Rifles & Optics Editor Tom Beckstrand won't take it there, using a large-format pistol, no less. Armed with SIG Sauer's 9-inch-barreled MCX Virtus Pistol loaded with Black Hills' 125-grain TMK ammunition, Beckstrand attempts to ring steel at 600 yards with help from Hornady's 4DOF ballistic calculator in this segment of “Long Range Tech.”

Trijicon RMRcc Reflex Sight – Perfect for Optics-Ready Concealed-Carry Pistols

Trijicon RMRcc Reflex Sight – Perfect for Optics-Ready Concealed-Carry Pistols

The people asked and Trijicon answered. Introducing the RMRcc miniature red-dot sight for compact, concealed-carry pistols. Trijicon's new RMRcc features the durability and reliable controls that have made the RMR so successful, but its reduced dimensions make the “Concealed Carry” model better suited for the popular small-frame pistols designed for discreet carry and personal defense.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Small, lightweight and purpose-built for sub-compact carry guns, Surefire's XSC pistol light takes on EDC illumination segment.Surefire XSC Micro-Compact Pistol Light: First Look Tactical

Surefire XSC Micro-Compact Pistol Light: First Look

Jeremy Stafford - September 10, 2020

Small, lightweight and purpose-built for sub-compact carry guns, Surefire's XSC pistol light...

Some guns are easier to work with than others, but the Ruger American Rifle doesn't require an engineering degree to tinker with; here's a look at some upgrade options to take your Ruger American to the next level, and make it something a bit different.Top Ruger American Rifle Upgrades Accessories

Top Ruger American Rifle Upgrades

Philip Massaro - March 15, 2018

Some guns are easier to work with than others, but the Ruger American Rifle doesn't require an...

The Winchester .350 Legend straight-wall cartridge is ideally suited for hunting hogs and deer; here's everything you need to know to make it work for you..350 Legend Cartridge: Everything You Need to Know Rifle

.350 Legend Cartridge: Everything You Need to Know

Tom Beckstrand - April 02, 2019

The Winchester .350 Legend straight-wall cartridge is ideally suited for hunting hogs and...

9 Commonly Misused Gun Terms How-To

9 Commonly Misused Gun Terms

Kyle Wintersteen

"Assault weapon." Sixteen-round "clip." A box of "bullets." When it comes to guns and gun...

See More Trending Articles

More News

We all have mentors in life, but for many of us the most influential among them are our dads. As Father's Day approached, I found myself reflecting on my own.Father's Day Thoughts Industry

Father's Day Thoughts

Keith Wood - August 20, 2020

We all have mentors in life, but for many of us the most influential among them are our dads....

On Friday, August 14, 2020, the a three-judge panel from the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit released its opinion in Duncan vs. Becerra, a case that challenged the California ban on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.California Magazine Ban Update 2nd Amendment

California Magazine Ban Update

Guns & Ammo Staff - August 18, 2020

On Friday, August 14, 2020, the a three-judge panel from the United States Court of Appeals...

Perspective from the National Shooting Sports Foundation.NSSF: Sen. Tammy Duckworth's Gun-Control Talking Points in Everytown Veepstakes

NSSF: Sen. Tammy Duckworth's Gun-Control Talking Points in Everytown Veepstakes

National Shooting Sports Foundation - July 28, 2020

Perspective from the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

9mm and .380 ACP ammo are hard to find, but .38 Special might be challenging them as the ultimate buy-it-when-you-see-it pandemic ammo purchase. It's worth considering a gun purchase to include .40 S&W police trade-ins or a pistol in .45 to better round out your options if you don't already own handguns in those calibers.Ammo Update: Panic Buying Continues News

Ammo Update: Panic Buying Continues

Brad Fitzpatrick - August 06, 2020

9mm and .380 ACP ammo are hard to find, but .38 Special might be challenging them as the...

See More News

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Guns & Ammo App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Guns and Ammo subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now