The Reluctant Gun Owner

There are many different ways a handgun can fail. Some are merely annoying. Some can be fatal (to you). It is important that you know what to do when things go wrong.

The two main kinds of malfunctions are Cartridge Malfunctions and Mechanical Malfunctions.

Cartridge Malfunctions


A misfire (also known as a dud, or failure to fire) is a complete failure of the cartridge to fire. It can be caused when the primer or powder malfunctions. The end result is the same: The powder does not ignite.


A hangfire occurs when there’s an unexpectedly long delay between the time that you pull the trigger and the time that the powder ignites. Whenever you pull the trigger and the gun does not go ‘bang’, you should assume that it’s a hangfire. Keep the gun pointing downrange for 30-60 seconds. If the gun still doesn’t ‘go off’ after 60 seconds, you can assume it’s a misfire. Remove the cartridge and discard it. Some people suggest putting it in a bucket of water. You do not want the cartridge to fire after 70 seconds while you’re holding it in your hand.

Squib Load

This is an extremely dangerous kind of malfunction. This happens when the bullet doesn’t have enough energy to exit the barrel through the muzzle. This could happen because there wasn’t enough powder in the case. When this happens, you won’t feel much of a recoil. You may hear a soft pop or ping, as opposed to a big bang when you pull the trigger. Pay attention when you pull the trigger!

The danger is in what happens next. If you don’t extract the bullet, and pull the trigger a second time, the second bullet may run into the first. This will cause a tremendous buildup of pressure in the gun. The gun could explode, or the slide could come off and fly into and through your head, killing you.

The only safe thing to do when you suspect a squib is to remove the magazine, field strip the gun, and then look through the barrel. Have someone who knows what they’re doing remove any obstructions that you find.

Mechanical Malfunctions

There are many kinds of mechanical malfunctions. The most common are:

Failure to Feed

A Failure to Feed, or FTF, happens when the gun fails to feed the next round from the magazine into the chamber. It can be caused by worn or malfunctioning springs in the gun or the magazine, or by an overly dirty gun. It can also be caused by an insufficient recoil which usually is itself caused by not holding the gun firmly (also known as limp wristing).

Failure to Extract

This happens when the case of the just-fired round isn’t extracted from the chamber. This can happen if the chamber is overly dirty, or if the extractor claw is broken, among other reasons.

Failure to Eject

A failure to eject when the case of the just-fired round is extracted from the chamber, but not ejected from the gun. This can be caused by not holding the gun firmly (also known as limp wristing). It can also be caused by weaker than necessary recoils that are the results of faulty ammunition.

There are several other kinds of mechanical malfunction. You can find more at Wikipedia and Gun Digest.

Continue reading: Cleaning Your Gun

© 2019 Aijaz Ansari
The Reluctant Gun Owner by Aijaz Ansari is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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