how to deal with a handgun jam

Why Semi-Auto Handguns Jam, How To Avoid It And Ways To Fix It


It can be easy to transition from a trained peace of mind to unexpected panic when squeezing a trigger only to be met with a gun jam.


By considering and understanding the various ways a pistol may malfunction, one can condition him or herself to react with gritty confidence to that momentary sinking feeling in the stomach.


A semi-automatic handgun is a piece of machinery, and because of that it is subject to malfunction, wear, failure, strenuous conditions, chemicals and the elements if the gun owner isn’t careful to understand why problems may arise and how to address them.


A Few Types Of Gun Malfunctions And Why They Occur


handgun malfunction

Gun malfunctions have the potential to do serious harm. As a self-defense tool, in many cases the inability to react with a handgun in the face of a lethal threat could mean the difference between life and death.


There are some known, prevalent types of gun malfunctions. Failure to feed, failure to fire, failure to eject casings, double feeding, squib loads and delayed discharges (hang fire) are just a handful gun owners typically must address at some point or another with their respective pistols for specific reasons.


Failure to feed occurs when the slide’s forward stroke does not adequately bring the next round of ammunition in a magazine through to the chamber and the firearm does not go into battery, according to NRA Shooting Sports USA. There are three commonly observed types of failure to feed: nosedive jams, half-in and half-out jams, and magazine-related issues.


In nosedive jams, the ammunition can be impacted when traveling or caught on a rough or improper feed ramp, which should be taken to a professional but can be polished with 1200-grit abrasive paper if careful, or if the edge of the cartridge is caught by the slide causing the nose to be stuck at the bottom of the feed ramp. A stiffer magazine spring can be a potential fix here.


A rough feed ramp can also contribute to a half-in, half-out jam where the cartridge is wedged in the chamber at an angle, but it’s “more commonly related to a rough breechface, an extractor that has too much tension, or a sharp edge where the cartridge rim slides under its claw,” according to NRA Shooting Sports.


Magazine defects will also impact ammunition uptake.



Failure to fire will occur with defunct ammunition when the primer and propellant is not fully ignited and therefore enable to fully fire the bullet from the cartridge. It also occurs with a dirty firing chamber, damaged magazines/spring, an incorrectly loaded magazine or a damaged cartridge, according to Ben Findley from USA Carry. Delayed discharge is another related issue, wherein the propellant may be inadequately ignited or is burning slowly, causing the ammunition to fire after a few seconds.


Cease fire if the round of ammunition is not properly fired from the pistol, and be sure to properly dispose of the dud cartridges because they may still be a danger.


Similarly related is the dreaded squib load, where the round fails to fully cycle and becomes lodged in the barrel due to improper propellant loading or when the primer fails to ignite the propellant. This type of gun jam can very well damage the firearm when another round is fired into the obstructed barrel.


Often when firing a squib load, the volume of the gunshot will be diminished, so if this is noticed, cease fire and strip the gun to address the issue by properly dislodging the round from the barrel. Understandably, a life-threatening situation isn’t going to pause for the gun owner to address the issue, but note that a squib load can lead to catastrophic failure of the gun’s integrity.


Failure to eject the spent cartridge case is often referred to as a stovepipe or smokestack because the empty shell gets lodged upward in the ejection port when being expelled from the firearm. According to USA Carry, it can be the result of lead or carbon build up, or even an issue with the ejector spring or extractor.


There’s a simple, well known response to this issue when it does happen: tap, rack, bang. Sharply strike the bottom of the grip on the magazine with the base of the hand, rack the slide firmly and attempt to fire (some prefer to simply assess whether or not the ejection port is cleared prior to firing), all while minding the direction of the muzzle and following gun safety protocol.


A similar measure is used to address double feed jams, which occur when a second round attempts to enter the semi-automatic’s chamber. Again, strike the bottom of the magazine, rack the slide, fire (or assess prior) and if there’s no response, release the magazine, cycle the slide until the rounds are unloaded, insert the magazine, rack and fire (or assess first, if inclined).


There are ways to circumvent these issues before they arrive, however.


How To Avoid Gun Jams


avoiding gun jams

Gun jams can be avoided by using the correct type of ammunition with one’s chosen firearm, cleaning and maintaining the firearm often, lubricating it correctly, taking care of magazines and avoiding faulty or questionably cheap ammunition.


Practicing racking the slide correctly will also help. Many new shooters may have an issue with riding the slide by pulling it backward too slowly or helping it move forward, which may contribute to double feeding.


Making sure to keep the firing pin free of debris will also prevent any issues. Many firearms owners will be sure to break the handgun down and thoroughly clean and lube it every time they return from using it on the range, and even doing the same with any newly purchased models prior to use.


Jake Smith 

About The Author


Jake Smith (@notjakesmith) is a copywriter and photographer based in the Pacific Northwest who enjoys shooting pictures and ammunition outdoors.

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