Your Gun Stopped Working…Now What?
My Gun Won’t Fire…What Am I Missing In My Practice Sessions?
As a firearms instructor, I along with others, often see gun stoppages in practice or qualification. While reading an article by Massod Ayoob in the October 2008 issue of Guns and Weapons for Law Enforcement I was reminded again for the importance of knowing how to fix a weapon stoppage. Last week my training partner and I participated in a qualification for an armored car company and we had a few guns that stopped working. That experience and reading Ayoob’s article got me to thinking once again about the importance of knowing how to fix a non-firing gun.
The article begins with an example of an officer not letting the trigger go forward far enough to reset. He was using a Berretta 92 semi-auto. After the failure to fire, he ran the slide to clear what he perceived as a bad round and inadvertently pushed the slide-mounted de-cocker to the down or safe position preventing the gun from firing, after which he kept pulling the trigger with no result. I cannot tell you how many times my teaching partner and I have seen a person present their handgun to the target in a timed fire and forgot to un-safe it so it could be fired. That can be remedied with correct practice, which we determined in nearly every case to have been neglected. Trigger reset and practicing to remove or up the de-cocker would have helped in these examples.
Sometimes old habits come back at the worst possible time. Another example in the article is an officer who had started his career with a revolver and was taught the support hand thumb over the back of the shooting hand technique that was abandoned decades ago. When transitioning to a semi-auto pistol, the old training resurfaced in a fight and he blocked the slide with his thumb, causing a stoppage. I often see this with new shooters who emulate what they have seen in a movie or TV show. Watch closely and you will see repeated instances of this in the media. People who don’t know yet, that they DON’T KNOW will do what they have seen in a movie and wind up with a stoppage and usually a severe laceration on the top of their support hand thumb!
Guns will stop if they cannot operate correctly. The article mentions an incident where an undercover officer fired a contact shot with his SIG Sauer and could not fire again due to the blow back effect of blood and tissue jamming the slide and barrel, preventing it from going into battery. He was killed, shot by another suspect when he could not get his gun to work. Revolvers don’t seem to have that problem. At the Action Target Law Enforcement Training Camp (LETC) several years ago, instructor Bank Miller taught our class a technique that overcomes (with practice) that problem. I won’t go into that here as less skilled people trying it could be seriously injured,
but we found it to be very effective. Knowing and then most importantly practicing skills, is paramount.
Maintenance must be done or the tool will not work when needed. Ayoob next reviews a case where an officer fired his S&W Model 39 after being surprised during a traffic stop. After two rounds, the gun stopped. Luckily the suspect fled, later to be caught. Examining the pistol showed it was bone dry. Ayoob points out, “All service autos require lubrication to function properly. Lesson: keep you autoloader clean and well lubricated.” At our last training a person had several stoppages. We found the firearm was extremely dirty, having not been cleaned for some time and was also bone dry. It was one of the Ruger P-95 models. Our experience has shown this gun to be reliable IF it is maintained. The part that concerned us the most; this person had had similar problems in the past and after initially fixing it, fell back into old habits. The lubricant can drain off or evaporate, so check it on a regular basis. I check my personal carry weapon at least every two weeks, and sometimes more often. If the tool must be functionally reliable, you responsibility is to do what is necessary to keep it that way.
Gun parts wear out or break. The final example in the article involves an officer’s H&K P7M8 that failed him and cost him his life. A part in the 15 year-old pistol had broken at the moment he needed it. After heavy training and practice, the part was worn out. Any firearm will wear with use and should be checked regularly to see that parts are not on the verge of failing. Revolvers can go out of time, semi-auto recoil springs fail and parts get sloppy from heavy use. I once had a recoil spring go out right in the middle of a house clearing training. Glad it happened there and not when it was for real. In doing handgun classes I have witnessed revolvers so far out of time that anyone standing in a cone shaped area to the side or behind were struck with pieces of jacket or lead. If the gun shows signs of wear, replace it or get it repaired.
After purchasing a Colt Commander a few years ago, I was firing it for the first time. Since it was used, I wanted to make sure things were working right before I started to carry it. After less than 20 rounds it stopped ejecting. I did the tap-rack-target drill, but it would not extract or eject. I scratched my head for a moment, and looked down through the ejection port. I saw that the extractor hook had broken off even with the face of the part. The gunsmith told me some one had been dropping a round into the chamber and then dropping the slide over it, instead of letting it load from the magazine. It caused the part to snap over the rim instead of the case sliding up underneath it as designed, thus causing the part to fail. Once more, I was glad it happened at the range and could be repaired, rather than finding out in a confrontation.
Loading and unloading incorrectly will cause stoppages. Often I observe people easing or following the slide forward while loading a semi-auto. This is a result of Hollywood gun manipulations again. I don’t know how many times an actor pulls the slide back on their weapon and helps it forward in a movie or television program. Most of the time it leaves the pistol out of battery, so it cannot fire. When someone tries it at the range, the gun will not fire. In some cases it causes a double-feed as one round comes out of the magazine and since the slide is not moving at full speed, another comes up, shoving the first on into the chamber and then tying up the gun.
Unloading revolvers is another issue that comes up. When done correctly, all the cases come out. If not, you get a train wreck of partially extracted cases. Observation shows a person opening the cylinder, pushing the ejector rod with a thumb or finger while holding the revolver with the firing hand. The cases can’t get out and the result is a mess. If you don’t elevate the muzzle straight up and use a gross motor skill smack on the ejector rod with your palm, you get the train wreck. At the last qualification a revolver user did the thumb push on the rod and wound up with a really bad problem when one case head got under the ejector star. He had no clue how to fix the problem. I was able to clear it after a few moments, and reviewed how to correctly unload the revolver. It was clear that no practice had been done since the previous training.
In closing, here is what Massod Ayoob said at the end of the article: “Guns are machines. Machines wear out and break, especially when not properly used or maintained…carry a back-up gun and always keep your weapons in perfect working order. Drill heavily on malfunction clearances. The life this protocol will save is going to be yours!” I whole-heartedly agree.
Until next time, stay safe, practice well and check six often.