Proofing Self-Defense Guns

By Dave Dolbee published on in Safety and Training

Here is a little tale that teaches a good lesson. While at the local gun show, I found a sweet deal on a new compact handgun. Having plenty of experience with the brand, I decided to offer it a home. The safe where it would primarily reside ensured it would be in good company. Due to its diminutive size, I planned to ensure it received plenty of time in the fresh air filling a role as my BUG (Back-up Gun). My new BUG looked so great, two of my buddies decided they needed to buy its siblings, so after a bit of paperwork and a few days, we walked out with three identical handguns.

malfunction clearance drills

A word to the wise—at some point practice malfunction clearance drills.

About a week later, I headed to the range with a handful of different loads. I needed to proof the gun before carry. My two buddies showed up, each carrying their new guns—unfired, loaded, and concealed. I did not agree, and wondered (silently) whether that was a smart idea…

Shrugging off the worries of what others were doing, excitedly I loaded up the BUG and started punching holes in the target. I made it through the first two rounds. After that, the gun would fire the round in the chamber, but failed to eject and therefore load a new round. I fieldstripped, cleaned, and lubricated the piece to no avail. I tried my spare magazines as well as proofing my magazines in the other two pistols.

A new pistol with a failure is a shame, but certainly not unheard of. While disappointing, I discovered the problem and quickly shipped it back to the manufacturer for repair. That is not the point of this story though, neither is the particular make or model.

How many times have you heard a friend or relative talk of owning a gun they had never fired, yet relied on it for defense? They bought the gun, loaded it, and locked it away for an emergency. Or, just as bad, they carried the gun for self-defense without function firing it to ensure it would tolerate a steady diet of the intended self-defense ammunition.

Walther CCP handgun showing a failure to feed

Any gun can have a failure. To mitigate some of the risk in 9mm, stick with 115- and 124-grain loads to reduce the chance of a malfunction. In any case, the high velocity 115- and 124-grain loads are excellent defense loads, or you can go all the way with a 147-grain load.

In manufacturing, failure rates are a fact of life. In fact, it is such an important part of reliable manufacturing; it is represented by the Greek letter λ (lambda) and calculated during the design process. This is important when we think of carrying a new gun before properly proofing or dumping it in a handgun safe by the side of the bed for home defense.

When the SHTF, you’ll be the one whose carcass is on the line, so be sure you are comfortable with the testing you perform. If you are unsure of how to, or how much, you need to test your handgun, the following regimen is a good minimum.

First, let me back up and caution you to not give up on a new gun too soon. While most firearms today are good to go out of the box, others will require 50-200 rounds to properly break them in and work off any rough edges. For this, I use less expensive range ammunition. It has the quality I need to trust the ammunition, without the added expense. Besides, to be dependable, the gun should shoot inexpensive ammunition as well as it does premium self-defense ammunition.

Practice trigger control at home with dry fire drills, and plenty of live fire at the range to proof the gun and hone your skills.

Practice trigger control at home with dry fire drills.

I start by loading all magazines to capacity with the ammunition I plan to load for defense. I fire the first 10-20 rounds one at a time, and check the gun and my grip after each shot. Next, I fire at least 10 rounds of double taps. After that comes at least 10 rounds fired while rotating the gun from 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock to ensure the pistol fires at any angle. All magazines are tested by shooting each, fully loaded, to ensure the magazine release holds when fully loaded and the last round feeds as well as the first did.

After passing, without a single failure to feed, fire, or eject, I give the pistol a thorough cleaning and proper lubrication. Finally, I fire a couple more rounds, just to ensure everything went back together properly, and before topping of the magazine and relying on the pistol for self-defense. Remember, this is a minimum. You’ll need plenty of practice to ensure you are fully comfortable with the handgun’s controls, reloading and sights. Live fire is always best, but dry fire practice is a critical element to developing these skills as well, and its free!

Have you ever carried or kept a firearm for self-defense without properly testing it first? How do you test your firearms? Share your testing procedure in the comment section.

SLRule

Growing up in Pennsylvania’s game-rich Allegany region, Dave Dolbee was introduced to whitetail hunting at a young age. At age 19 he bought his first bow while serving in the U.S. Navy, and began bowhunting after returning from Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Dave was a sponsored Pro Staff Shooter for several top archery companies during the 1990s and an Olympic hopeful holding up to 16 archery records at one point. During Dave’s writing career, he has written for several smaller publications as well as many major content providers such as Guns & Ammo, Shooting Times, Outdoor Life, Petersen’s Hunting, Rifle Shooter, Petersen’s Bowhunting, Bowhunter, Game & Fish magazines, Handguns, F.O.P Fraternal Order of Police, Archery Business, SHOT Business, OutdoorRoadmap.com, TheGearExpert.com and others. Dave is currently a staff writer for Cheaper Than Dirt!

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Comments (26)

  • Gary

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    If I were to die the day after I bought a new gun, my wife would inherit a bunch of used guns (including the new one). After buying a new gun, I dry fire it a few times to check the trigger feel, take it apart and clean it, polish what needs polishing, and do a trigger job based on the dry fire feel. Then I lube it, and put it back together. If it is an auto, I will hand-cycle some dummy rounds, then take it to my range and run some cheap “blasting” ammo through it. Some double taps, other carefully aimed fire. If I have other guns in that caliber, this initial testing will be reloads.

    If it will be a carry, or home defense gun, then I will start testing factory defensive ammo. At this point the testing can vary widely depending on the initial results. It is also possible more gunsmithing can be involved, or other brands of magazines. I have discovered defective magazines on both 9mm sub-compacts, and full-size 1911’s during my testing.

    On firearms with optics, I will usually use a two-step process in zeroing the optic. Get it close during the initial cheap ammo tests. Then once a consistent, close grouping load is found, zero it at the appropriate distance. By the time all this is done, I will have shot a couple hundred rounds, and am confident with the gun and the ammo.

    Reply

  • Kirk

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    My dad has an Interarms 357 revolver he keeps in his closet zipped up in a soft sided case unloaded that he traded for another firearm.

    Never fired it! nor did the previous owner

    He stated that maybe he can hide in the bedroom long enough to get it loaded..
    Sure hollow door and the doorknob lock. Hope your quick because you have about 30sec or less before the door is breached.

    Great but when you put your booger hook on the bang switch and it does nothing or explodes in your hand what are you going to do then

    Reply

  • Bill

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    You have realized the threat exists and you have chosen not to be a sheep but a sheep dog–good. I would say that 500 rounds of live fire practice with the load you plan to carry w/o any failures would be minimum. If you can’t find reliable ammo for you’re semi auto get a revolver. As big as you can shoot well. You are betting you’re life and the lives of those around you. Can’t afford it? find something that works and then dry fire A LOT. T.V’s make good practice but MAKE SURE there is no ammo nearby–you can bet there are a lot of dead T.V.’s out there. Practice the draw. See how much distance someone can move before you can present the gun. Stay aware of you’re surroundings. Most of the time when seconds count the cops are minutes away.

    Reply

    • Danimal

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      Buy a shotgun, cheap ammo and effective, best bet.

      Reply

  • Juan Martinez

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    Just curious if your 938 has ‘loosened up’ some? I’ve had no issues with mine feeding a variety of different ball and hollow point ammo. I couldn’t tell you the brands of all what I’ve shot, there are so many but I use Remington 115gr hollow point a lot at the range since it’s about the cheapest hollow point out there. Ball ammo is the cheapest I can find on any given weekend.
    I can think of only a couple times when brand new where I didn’t stack the rounds properly in the magazine – the 7 round with the pinky tab is a bear to feed the last round into for the first few reloads then it ‘loosens’ up.
    I see a lot of debate over the 938 as a carry piece but it has not failed me yet at the range so I’ll keep trusting it on my hip.
    Oh, and I’m not an ace shot but I can keep it on vitals at 15 yards with anything that goes bang. It seems to be fairly accurate with everything.

    Reply

    • Retired Navy Spook

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      I have 3 factory mags for my 938. When I shoot, I use all 3, and yes, they have loosened up. I’ve got arthritis in my right hand, and have had the joint at the base of my right thumb replaced. A lot better than it was, but still hard to get that 7th round in without my Up LULA mag loader. My only complaint was that, at the price it sells for, Sig should use a better trigger. I had a Galloway hammer spring and a Wengineering stainless steel skeletonized trigger installed along with polishing of all the trigger components, and it reduced the trigger pull from around 8 lbs. to 4-1/2. I carry mine in a nylon pocket holster.

      Reply

    • Juan Martinez

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      I also installed a Gallaway Crusader trigger, increased strength return spring, and polished all my trigger contact points. I don’t have a trigger pull tester but it feels smoother though not much lighter. It has a certain amount of notchy-ness to it but I quite frankly don’t mind it as a CCW. If it were a competition gun that would be a different story.

      Reply

    • Retired Navy Spook

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      Sounds like you and I have had a similar experience. I was going to use Federal 147 gr. JHP as my carry ammo, same ammo I keep in my Glock 17 in the nightstand. It was very accurate, but occasionally mis-fed, two or three times in a box of 50 — not tolerable in a carry gun. I’ve got close to 1,000 rounds or more of the 124 gr. XTP hollow points through it without a malfunction. I rarely shoot at more than 10 yards, and most of my drills involve moving backwards or sideways while drawing and firing, usually in the 5′ to 20′ range.

      Reply

  • Ralph

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    Buy a gun and NOT fire it….? Then what did you buy it for? And I agree, NEVER carry a gun that you haven’t function-fired, and tested with your defensive-carry load. You need to make sure it’s going to fire more rounds than a muzzle-loader….

    Reply

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