Ammunition|Firearms

What Causes Gun Malfunctions (and How to Fix Them)

clearing gun malfunctions

If you shoot a semi-automatic rifle or pistol, it is inevitable that you will have malfunctions (i.e. when you pull the trigger and nothing happens). Well, something happens, but it is not what you expected. The gun does not go “bang.”

Many people call this a “jam,” but the correct term is malfunction. And you can fix most malfunctions yourself. The problem turns into a jam when you cannot clear the issue and need the service of a gunsmith.

What Causes Gun Malfunctions?

A malfunction is due to either a problem with the ammunition, mechanics of the gun or the shooter. To get the most out of your training, familiarize yourself with the types of malfunctions and how to fix each.

To do this, you will need to perform those actions quickly in a self-defense situation. Your first fix for most malfunctions is an immediate-action drill known as tap-rack-bang! Here’s how that works:

  • Tap — Slam the bottom of the magazine with the palm of your hand to make sure it is seated properly.
  • Rack — Rack the slide a few times to clear the chamber and load a new round.
  • Bang — Pull the trigger.

gun chamber - clean

Malfunctions Due to Ammo or Gun Mechanics

Here are the different types of gun malfunctions and what to do about them:

Squib

A squib is a round that does not have enough powder charge to send the bullet down the chamber and out the barrel. Therefore, the bullet gets stuck in the barrel. A squib can be a danger to you and your firearm.

It is important that you are aware of what happens after you pull the trigger. A squib will only go “pop” as opposed to “bang,” and you most likely will feel less recoil than normal. If you do not notice a squib, you might be able to load and fire another round.

But that can really damage your gun. If you suspect you have a squib, stop shooting. Clear the action, make your gun safe and check the barrel. Squibs occur most commonly with hand loads, but factory ammunition can produce one as well.

Clearing a squib with tap-rack-bang! is not possible. You may be able to remove the bullet with a barrel cleaning rod. However, if you are unsure, take your gun to a gunsmith or call the range officer to remove the bullet.

cleaning tool - gun jams and malfunctions

Failure to Feed

A failure to feed is when a cartridge will not load into the chamber. A round that fails to feed is normally associated with a magazine problem—the spring needs cleaning, or possibly it is a bad follower.

It also is possible that the magazine was not inserted properly. In my experience, a little lubrication on the feed lips of the magazine and in the chamber fixes this issue.

After checking to see if your magazines are in good working order, your next step would be to switch ammo. Some guns are finicky.

Failure to Eject / Stovepipe

A failure to eject, sometimes called a stovepipe, means the case has not come out of the chamber after the gun fires.

This is when the case gets stuck standing up, preventing the slide from returning to battery. To fix a failure to eject, use tap-rack-bang! But first, roll your gun 90 degrees to the right. That will allow gravity to aid in removing the case.

The experts at Magpul teach students to swipe at the stuck round with your hand to remove it.

Hangfire

A hangfire is a delay between the time the firing pin hits the bullet’s primer and the round going off. Keep your gun pointed in a safe direction for at least 30 seconds to see if the round goes off.

After that—with the gun pointed in a safe direction—rack the slide to eject the malfunctioning round.

Slamfire

A slamfire is when a new round loads into the chamber and the bolt return causes the firing pin to hit the primer hard enough to cause the round to fire without the trigger engaged.

Double Feed

You have a double feed when two live rounds attempt to feed into the chamber.

To fix a double feed, first, remove the magazine. Then, rack the slide to eject both rounds. Once both rounds are ejected, insert a fresh magazine.

gun discharge

Short Stroke

A short stroke is when the gun does not complete a full cycle after a round has been fired. The round will successfully leave the barrel, however, the slide will not have gone all the way back, so the gun did not load a new round.

There is usually no indication that a short stroke has happened.

Misfire

A misfire is when you pull the trigger and the gun goes click. A misfire normally is due to a faulty primer. It may also be an issue with the gun’s firing pin.

If tap-rack-bang! does not correct the issue, remove the bad round and dispose of it safely.

clearing gun jams

Malfunctions Due to Shooter Problems

There are two common shooter issues that may also cause a malfunction:

  1. Being too gentle when you rack the slide. This was my problem as a noob and caused persistent issues with getting a round to chamber, known as failure to feed.
  2. Weak grasp. Another shooter problem is when you do not have a firm grasp on your gun; this is called “limp-wristing” and may cause any of the previously discussed problems.

You also will see malfunctions labeled Level I, Level II and Level III:

  • Level I malfunctions are the easiest to clear. (For example, a misfire is a Level I malfunction.)
  • Level II is a failure to eject, such as a stovepipe.
  • Level III is a failure to extract or a double feed.

It is important to practice clearing malfunctions and learning to do them quickly—especially with your self-defense gun. You can safely use snap caps to practice.

This Caleb Giddings video demonstrates the importance of thinking and clearing malfunctions quickly.

What is the worst malfunction you have encountered? Tell us in the comments section below.

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Editor’s note: this post was originally published in November 2012. It has been completely updated and revamped for clarity and accuracy.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (37)

  1. As to Ron R’s post about lubricating the inside of the magazine by pushing the follower down into the mag, I suggest cleaning and lubing the mag by removing the floor plate and spring, cleaning out any dirt, crud and dusty bunnies and then applying a light coat of lubricant to the inside and outside of the mag, wiping it all down well afterward. Too much lubricant in the mag can contaminate the primers of the new ammo.

    1. “Too much lubricant in the mag can contaminate the primers of the new ammo.” …AND, oil will collect dust, dirt and lint, otherwise causing feeding and follower functions. Real experts recommend silicon on a cloth and wipe down all components and wipe dry.

  2. Purchased 4 firearms in the last 2 years. A Taurus PT111 G2 9mm, Browning Buckmark Hunter 22, Savage 22 rifle, and a Smith & Wesson EZ 380 handgun. EVERY SINGLE ONE of them had MAGAZINE caused Failures to feed, failures to eject, Stove piping of fired AND non-fired rounds. The S&W 380 EZ was the worse. It FAILED 8 out of 16 times, with the 1st two magazines, I tried, New out of the box.
    I HAVE FIXED ALL of the handguns by LUBING the INSIDE of EVERY MAGAZINE with Dupont Non-Stick DRY FILM LUBE with TEFLON. Using a screwdriver or Popsicle stick, or small wooden dowel. Push the magazine “follower” all the way down (WITHOUT FORCING IT OR JAMMING THE SPRING). While holding the follower down SPRAY the INSIDE of the magazine on all 4 sides or surfaces. WORK the follower up and down to help distribute the lube, and lube the follower sides as well. The worse gun was the S&W EZ 380. AFTER performing the lube trick above, I loaded 4 different magazines FULL with 8 rounds each. Shot ALL of them, a total of 96 rounds, NOT A SINGLE FAILURE OF ANY KIND. If you want to save a little money. You can get the Dupont dry lube in a LIQUID Form, instead of the spray can, for about 1/3 the price. BE WARNED the liquid runs out all over the place, expect spills. When using the Liquid form, Place a couple of drops on a Cotton Swab, Push the magazine follower all the way down with a dowel, then swab the inside of the magazine on all 4 sides. You need to work fast, the lube dries fairly fast. It leaves a very thin film, and is pretty much dry to the touch. STILL HAVING ISSUES WITH THE Savage .22 Rifle. This HELPED, but still get occasional Failure to Feed issues, where it Jams & bend the bullet when feeding into the chamber.

  3. Several years ago I purchased a S&W 659 9mm, and getting ready for a weekend of shooting, I also purchased a thousand rounds of ammunition.
    Over the course of the weekend, I experienced several “fail-to-feed” malfunctions.
    I took the pistol back to the gunsmith and explained my problem, and he took the pistol and went over it. After test firing , we discovered that there was no problem with the gun. The problem was the ammunition. Apparently the reloads that I was using were not crimped correctly. I had no more ramping problems after I started using factory ammunition.

  4. Chronoing some handloads in my AR pistol. The first round clocked 3000fps. I should have stopped, we knew that wasnt right. A couple more rounds, and the magazine blew apart and bolt locked in the barrel extension. Got the bolt pried open and the case was blown out the back, extractor was bent. Obviously, we stopped at point. I was able to isolate the ammo batch and pulled bullets. To my chagrin, discovered contamination with pistol powder. Learned a valuable lesson and got really lucky.

  5. Two worst malfunctions: first occurred to me in Vietnam with a newly issued M16. Fired rifle and next round misfed with the round stick in the receiver with the bolt bending the round jamming it to where the cleaning rod was needed to knock it loose once I got the magazine dropped & bolt locked back. The bent round then dumped through the magwell.
    Next was a receiver failure of a 380acp. With the receiver cracked it would not retain its takedown pin. Had fired several rounds when the next round felt like it detonated in the magazine. What had happened was the round actually chambered and made the in battery safety, but the takedown pin had come out on one side causing the barrel hood to drop out of battery as the slide was moved by recoil allowing high pressure gasses to blow the .magazine out and then jam the action. My hand was black, slightly burned, and sore from the impact.
    After those two everything else is minor.

  6. I think a couple of others mentioned this too, when you Tap, Rack, Bang, racking the slide a “few times”isn’t how that drill should be perforned. Racking the slide more than once just flings cartridges around, and if you’re T/R/B on a single stack mag more than once, you run the risk of losing too many cartridges (a real issue if your capacity is only 6 or 7 rounds).
    For speed, efficiency and shortest amount of time returning the weapon to battery, one rack of the slide should be taught. Anything more than one is potentially lethal, since Abdula Imakriminal from Buttheadistan isn’t going to wait for you to return the gun to battery before he shoots back.

  7. Kimber 380….
    First 2 rounds will not fire. The rest fire ok.
    Going back to range with different types of ammo to see if it’s the ammo. Also will check to look for indent of firing pin hit, if there even is on. Also will load the NO FIRED twds bottom of magazine to see if they fire…
    I’m stymied…
    It’s the wife’s gun and cant be trusted for CC. Gave her a revolver to use, 22lr Ruger.

  8. I guess I’m lucky, but the only issue I have had, was a squib in my Walther CCP. Unfortunately, it happened during a defensive training class. Come to find out, it was the ammo. The CCP does not like aluminum cased ammo. I’m guessing the feed ramp angle is too much for the aluminum case. Never had any issues with brass cased ammo.

  9. Won’t reveal the manufacture, because the malfunction was absolutely my fault for being lazy. Will not happen again.
    I edc in a belly band holster a 1911a1ms. I perspire profusely. I failed to clean the weapon for about three weeks, having not fired it. Luckily at that time I wasn’t carrying locked and cocked. The day in question I was with my friends at a country place where we can target shoot. Imagine my embarrassment when my turn came to fire and no matter how I tried I couldn’t pull the slide back. Finally we went to the garage and ended up putting the pistol in a vice and beating the hell out of it with a rubber mallet. We got it to slide back eventually, proceeded to feil strip a give a very thorough cleaning and lubrication. Went back to the target area and fired off four magazine rapid fire , no problems. Since that fiasco, I now carry locked and cocked and examine, dry fire clean every night.

  10. Nowhere did I see you mention the danger of feeding a round in a fail to extract condition which may cause the second round to have the projectile jammed back in the cartridge case which will cause an over pressure in that round. The shooter should be cautioned to inspect that round and the chamber thoroughly before continuing to fire. If the compressed round is chambered and fired, there is a danger of exploding the barrel chamber or worse. At the least, if the compressed round is chambered and it does fire without cracking or otherwise damaging the barrel and chamber, it may leave the case irretrievably stuck in the chamber. The case will swell and be too tight to remove by just pushing a cleaning rod or wooden dowel down the barrel. In my case, the rim and cap of the case came off. This was a 400 CorBon round. It took a lot of trial and error to finally remove the case without damaging the barrel.

  11. I’m an RSO at a local public range. Twice I’ve seen the following serious jam. After a round was fired normally in an AR15, the primer came completely out of the empty case and wedged itself between the BCG and the inside surface of the upper receiver. The rear of the BCG was partly in the buffer tube which prevented tha AR from being disassembled. The BCG was jammed so tight that it could not be budged. The jam was cleared both times by beating on the charging handle with a short piece of 2by4. This resulted in a bent charging handle and a deep scratch inside the upper receiver. What was common with both times was reloaded military cases where the primer pockets were reamed too much. One was 5.56 and the other 300 BO. Be careful when reloading for an AR that the primer pockets are not oversized or loose. There’s a reason military ammo has primers crimped in!

  12. A friend and I were at the range breaking in his new Bushmaster AR-15. After putting thru a little over 100 rounds the trigger froze up. So after packing up we headed to a gun smith friend of ours to have him check out the problem. He disassembled the AT an found a spent primer jammed in the trigger mechanism. He cleared it and the Bushmaster worked flawlessly again. We had policed our spent brass at the range so we went thru them and sure enough we found one without a primer. We were using factory ammo, so it goes to show that factory ammo isn’t flawless, and you have to watch out for Murphy’s Law.

  13. As a retired Federal LEO and 30 year agency firearms instructor, I’d like to make a couple of follow-up comments concerning the Tap-Rack-Bang malfunction drill. One of the commenters was spot on re: the author’s suggestion to “rack the slide a few times.” Doing so will only result in dumping good rounds onto the ground–rounds (and maybe time) that may be needed if this is a life or death situation. You tap (actually slap it) the magazine, rack the slide to eject the questionable round and load a new round, and press the trigger (bang).
    What wasn’t addressed was what if the gun still doesn’t go BANG!!!
    We then trained that the next step was: Rip, Work, Tap, Rack, Bang.
    Rip–Remove the magazine and, depending on the situation, either dump it on the ground or secure it on your person as you may need the rounds in the magazine–but not the magazine as it may be the issue.
    Work–Rack the slide, maybe several times, to extract the round if one is in the chamber. There probably isn’t one there as if there was it would have gone BANG.
    Tap–Insert a new magazine
    Rack–Work the slide ONCE in order to allow the slide to pick up a fresh round and insert it into the chamber
    Bang–Press the trigger

  14. I was shooting targets with a prestige 9-mm pistol when it jammed. The shell casing was lodged between the front part of the barrel chamber, the side wall, and the slide/ejector. I dropped the magazine, tried to rack the slide, but everything was like a solid rock. I tried to pry the casing, but it did not move. I used a slim-nose pliers to tear the brass casing, after a couple of strips were removed, the casing fell free. I continued to shoot without issue, but sent the pistol back to the manufacturer, because I considered the problem to be an unacceptable failure. The manufacturer fixed the difficulty without charge. No recent repeats, although there are occasional stove pipes using 147 grain munitions.

  15. I have a sw9sv I have a bullet in the chamber.it will not eject and the rackis stuck closed. I can’t get to it. And am worried about trying to fiddle with it to much to get it out in case of the round going off. Has anyone heard of this kind of jam.also how do I safely get it out?

  16. i have a reington model 511 scoremaster, some times it will fire the first time and then it will not fire. i have taken the bolt all apart and cleaned i good, and it still misfires, is it the firing pin or the bolt spring? thanks for your help

  17. For a Double Feed – in most cases, you need to first relieve the pressure of the slide on the cartridges. This requires you to lock the slide back, then strip the magazine out before your rack – rack and reload the magazine.

    Also for racking, many people find rotating your firing/grip hand to the inside is easier than rotating to the outside.

  18. Went to Vegas.
    Shot a AR15 for my first time.
    It jammed on me, so instructor took the clip out checked gun then put clip back in
    He gave it back to me, I tried to fire, but just click click
    He tried, but just click click, no fire.

    He brought the target back, checked the holes.
    There was one hole missing, but one hole was perfectly circular and twice as big as the others.
    He grabbed the other worker and they both looked at each other and just said ‘wow’
    They quickly took that gun away and brought out another.
    I didn’t understand at the time, but maybe I had a squib hanging out the end and then fired again and pushed both bullets to the target, making the front bullet mushroom? Just a guess.
    I have no clue what happened

  19. After working as RSO for a long time I have come up with the following reasons for jams in semi-automatic handguns.

    1. Limp Wristing – allowing the firearm to move in your hands. Almost all of the common semi-automatic handguns are powered by recoil. If you allow the firearm to move in your hands, you absorb recoil energy needed by the firearm to operate. In other words it runs out of energy before completing the cycle. Solution, change and tighten your grip. If this fails to help, go to step 2.

    2. Ammo Problems – some firearms, particularly small calibers such as .22’s are sensitive to different brands of ammo. Opinion, not fact; some of the newer ultra small firearms in .380 and 9mm are engineered to close to the edge and definitely need the energy required by hotter loads. Solution, change ammo brands and bullet weights. In today’s market this is expensive so buy the smallest box of ammo you can. If this doesn’t clear the problem go to step 3.

    3. Magazine Problems – most commonly bent feed lips but it can be spring tension or needed lubrication. Solution, change magazines and see if the problem continues. If you firearm did not come with multiple magazines you definitely need to at least obtain a second on. Sometimes on the range there will be someone with the exact same firearm you are having problems with. Ask to borrow on of their successful magazines. If this doesn’t clear the problem, go to step 4.

    4. Problem with the firearm – if your firearm is brand new and you call the manufacturer to report a feed problem, unfortunately you will probably be told to fire at least 500 rounds through the gun and call back when you do. I find this to be a dangerous situation on the firing line. At this point instead I would take the firearm to a reputable gun smith and have him find the problem and write up what he finds wrong and repairs. Then go to the manufacturer. They probably won’t do anything but a least you will have your firearm in working order sooner than later.

    1. Thank you for such a brief and precise explanation to the many problems gun owners often encounter.
      Yes, even a Glock can jam, and when it does this information will be vital. Typically before working on a gun Ill go on the range with the customer or friend, hoping the problem presents itself. Which most commonly, is “Limp Wristing”. Remember its not about strength, its about technique.

  20. Jamming problem with brand new Taurus .22 PT semi-auto (shoots .22 LR.) Most often–but can happen at any time– when one round is chambered and full magazine attached. The casing from the fired, chambered round will jam up against the newly fed, unfired round from the magazine. (The spring on the slide– to me– seems to be Far Too Strong, and it would take a gorilla to work the slide.) Any comments, ideas ? Does the gun just need to loosen up ? Or is one brand of .22 LR better than any other for this problem ? Help– this is a brand new gun !!!

  21. Am having an awful time with jamming (casing of fired round plus new, unfired round

    jammed together with the slide stuck just halfway advanced.) This is a brand new

    Taurus semi-auto .22 PT, which shoots .22 Long Rifle rounds. This can happen at any

    time, but most often when I have one round already in the chamber, the magazine full

    and attempt firing. I read somewhere that some semi-auto’s require 200 rounds to

    loosen up and quit jamming. One extra thing: the slide is Way Too Hard to operate,

    like maybe the main spring for the slide is Far Too Strong. Help !!!

  22. Squib load (handload…my own fault) in a revolver. The bullet lodgedbetween the cylinder and the frame, locking up the action and requiring removal of the cylinder to clear.

  23. I was at the range recently with a collector friend of mine. He had 4 WW2 Browning 380 German pistols. Upon firing one, the first round went off well, but the next round exploded sending shrapnel on my face and neck. I threw the gun about 10 feet and noticed my thumb bleeding profusely. On examining the gun, the action was open and there was a badly mushroomed casing stuck in the gun. My buddy said he saw the round go downrange. Does anyone know what happened? The folks at the range didn’t have a clue. We guessed that it was a war worn 60 year old gun that should have been put in a display case instead of being shot. BTW, I’m fine.
    I put a band-aid on my thumb and continued shooting the dozen plus guns we were punching paper with.

  24. Again, as with many of the articles I’ve read on here, this one could use some good editing by someone who knows more about shooting. First, you NEVER lube the ammo or the chamber! Doing so eliminates the cartridge’s ability to “grip” the chamber during firing and puts the entire force of firing against the bolt face/bolt locking system. Clean the chamber with a good chamber brush if it’s dirty, clean and perhaps de-burr the feed lips if necessary, but never anything that would put lube on the cartidge. That’s the main major problem I saw here but there were also several smaller issues, like leaving a hang-fire round lying on the ground/floor of the firing line (your instructions never said when/how to police the unfired round). Also, I would prefer to see typical causes listed for ALL the listed malfunctions (all have a cause, after all), not just some of them. Many of these articles appear to me to fall under the heading of “A little learning is a dangerous thing.”

  25. I have to agree with commenter number 4. Otherwise, exactly how many live rounds are you supposed to load and then eject onto the floor/ground before you return to firing… especially in a life or death situation???

  26. Working as RSO at a local range, I heard a squib from a lane with a new shooter. I stopped her from shooting again and had her lay the gun down on the bench and step back. I then did tap, remove the magazine and locked the slide back. After checking to verify the chamber was empty I inserted a bore light (pen light with a 90 degree light pipe) into the chamber and aimed the gun at the shadowed area under the bench. No light showed so I looked down on the end of the barrel and saw the bullet slightly protruding from the barrel. At that point it was necessary to field strip the gun, which I used as an opportunity to teach the new shooter how to do this, and run a rod through from the chamber end to expel the bullet. Reassemble the gun and examine the shooters ammo before allowing her to resume fire.

    It takes a while to write out the detailed steps performed but this entire evolution took less than two minutes.

  27. I think this is a very good article and thank you for posting it. There is one thing I think bears correcting. In your description of Tap, Rack, Bang, you say, in the Rack step, “rack the slide a few times to clear the chamber and load a new round.” I think that should be changed to “rack the slide ONCE to clear the chamber and load a new round.” Racking the slide a few times is appropriate after cleaning, but I am not so sure it would be a good idea with a loaded magazine in the firearm.

  28. A friend experience a squib at the range once and fired a following shot without thinking. I was to his right and the sound of the second round’s full report coming out of the breach directed towards me by the slide sounded like he had shot AT me. When I turned and looked at him he was about to fall down and had small bloody spots on his hand, arm and shoulder, from either powder burns or high-pressure copper burns. For weeks following he said strings of a green, fine wire looking material came out of his wounds, which I equated to high-pressure copper burns. It’s a wonder he didn’t lose an eye or get blood poisoning or who knows what. And with hearing protection on it is very hard to detect a squib, he and I only noticed the follow-up round. Gun in question was a Hi-Point 9mm but I honestly think it had more to do with him shooting any old ammo he had laying around. I remember one time he offered me an old 30.06 bullet he found in his stuff, the brass had turned green and I said no thanks, old bullets like that are very dangerous.

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