Stoppage and Malfunction Clearing

There is no shortage of techniques for clearing a stoppage or malfunction; just trying to explain the difference between the two sets off a hailstorm of debate. Whatever works is what is important.

Stoppages most often occur in the cycle of operation of the pistol, usually caused by a dirty, un-lubricated pistol, bad magazines (to be covered in a future article) under power ammunition, poor grip (including unlocking the wrist while shooting). Yes, there are other contributing factors, but these are the primary ones.

A malfunction relates to a mechanically broken pistol that usually cannot be placed back in service on a short notice. I would like to deal with the stoppage techniques in this article and discuss malfunctions in a later article.

First, prevention or at least steps we can take to prevent this from happening are important, but please keep in mind there are no guarantees. It is hard to believe that in the year 2009 the primary cause of stoppages is still dirty, un-lubricated firearms. With all the training and preaching about the importance of cleaning and maintaining our side arms many of our fellow officers continue to not take this seriously. A properly maintained and lubricated firearm following the manufacturer's guidelines is as important to you and those that may have to rely on you as understanding sound tactics and techniques to survive a firefight on the street.

Every time a firearm is taken apart, cleaned, lubricated, and put back together, you should perform a function check. Often at the beginning of a training class I will have the students unload, make the pistol safe and perform a function check. I am often surprised by the number of officers that have been trained and carrying the firearm for some time that still do not know how to properly perform a function check on their side arm or a shoulder mounted weapon they may be using.

Inspection of our duty ammo before we load our magazines is as equally important. The primary objective is to keep our pistols at peak operational readiness so when we draw to place our firearm in service we feel confident it will perform, as we want it to when justified in its use. (Preventative maintenance guide coming soon.)

So, let's move on to some more terms such as in battery, out of battery, slide forward, slide out of battery, primary stoppage, secondary stoppage, and the list goes on. Bottom line, we need to identify why the gun did not work when we pulled the trigger and it should have fired, but it did not. However, looking may be a problem under reduced light conditions.

Here is a situation to think about not often addressed in training: Slide locks to the rear, gun is empty, no rounds in the magazine, (no mechanical problem with the gun) yet the shooter is still trying to fire the pistol (ever see this?). This wastes valuable time when they should have been reloading. The reason this occurs is the officer was never trained to understand how the pistol feels in the hand when the slide locks to the rear. While this may not be a stoppage by definition, it is a concern, especially under reduced light conditions.

A drill I have found helpful for the new shooter is to have them load all three of their magazines with three rounds, lock in on the center of the target at about 2 yards from the target, close their eyes, and on command fire all three rounds rapidly. Not only will they feel the recoil of the weapon, but they will feel the slide lock to the rear in their hands. This will help condition them to know when it is time to reload. Doing this a couple of times doesn't take too many rounds and helps the shooter progress.

Let us talk about what most of us call the primary method of immediate action. For most of us, when the slide is in the forward position and we have pulled the trigger and expected the pistol to fire and it does not, we tap the magazine floor plate, rack the slide and re-assess the situation, meaning fire if justified, hold fire if not. The issue here is that many of us continue to place our non-dominant hand over the top of the slide blocking the ejection port.

While this has worked for some, many times I have seen the palm over the ejection port knock the problem back into the ejection port, not clearing the stoppage, which then causes a major delay and in some cases confuses the shooter/officer as to what to do next. The only difference with what I suggest is we roll the pistol upside down into body center and sling-shot cycle the slide with the slide in this position (see video clip 1).

The benefit here is that what ever the problem, even a stove pipe will clear quickly and you will get a quick visual of a round going into the chamber and not risk knocking your problem back into the ejection port.

Now, let's talk about out of battery or slide not closed, often referred to has a secondary stoppage. I have had and have seen slides on pistols that did not close do to a failure to chamber. When this happens you look to see what happened. If the nose of the bullet is in the chamber, in most cases you can hit the back of the slide thus providing enough force for the slide to go forward. I suggest you only do this once because you will be wasting valuable time.

If the slide is out of battery with that rare but often feared double feed, traditional steps usually went like this:

  1. Lock the slide to the rear
  2. rip the magazine out
  3. cycle the slide to clear the chamber
  4. insert a new magazine
  5. tap the magazine floor plate
  6. rack the slide
  7. come back on target to assess, again meaning fire if justified hold fire if not.

While this technique does work the concern is that under the stress of a fire fight, the steps will be complicated to perform when the stress level is high; they are slow and they cannot be done with one hand. My point here is not to argue techniques but to share with you a few options that have worked for me and many others that hopefully will work for you. Then you can make an informed decision and decide what may work for you and those you represent. So rather than say this is better let's just say these are a few techniques to evaluate.

I refer to these three techniques that are used to clear a double feed as (1) the chop, (2) the slide manipulation, and (3) the magazine pull. Again, these are just a way as opposed to being pushed as the way. Considering the stress level we will be under in a firefight these may be worth looking at especially if you need a one-handed technique (the chop).

I also recognize that clearing a stoppage from behind cover is recommended and agree. However, it does not always happen. While I agree cover is a good tactic and should be taught a review of our shootings indicate we get caught without cover more than behind cover.

All three of these techniques do require some physical dexterity. (Meaning, Can you walk and chew gum at the same time?) Often when something different comes along and we cannot do it we want to point to the technique as too difficult or complicated. These techniques are not complicated, so failure means you may want to look to individual trying to perform it. Again, you may not like what you see but I thank you for at least trying.

Let's talk and demo the Chop. When the double feed occurs and you have looked to identify it, as a right handed shooter you must depress and hold in the magazine release all the way in. Then I raise my right leg while bringing my wrist down to meet the knee cap with some force. (see video clip 2)

The reason I do this is to keep the muzzle from pointing down at my feet and to generate enough force to clear the stoppage. If done correctly your knee will hit your wrist. This is important to remember because if the knee hits the floor plate on the magazine the technique will not work, in other words the magazine will not fall out.

This is what will happen and the logic behind it. If you keep the magazine release button depressed while performing the technique the impact going through the wrist and hand will drop the magazine out and may even clear the chamber. Even if the chamber is not cleared don't cycle the slide. Get a new magazine, insert it with the heel of the hand and then cycle the slide. This will clear and chamber a new round. If you are using only one hand, after you chop, place the pistol back into the holster insert a new magazine into the magazine well and make sure it is seated. Cycle the slide on your holster or belt; what ever works to clear and chamber a round. Be sure to keep the muzzle away from body parts when performing these techniques. With practice this technique can be done rapidly with two hands or one. Shield operators, dog handlers, injured hand / arm may require one hand, but when at all possible two hands should be used for accuracy and speed.

The next technique is slide manipulation. This technique requires again that the magazine catch be pushed all the way in and held there while the support hand comes over the top of the slide grabbing the slide at the cocking serrations. (Note: If your pistol has serrations at the front of the slide and the rear of the slide, we are using the rear serrations ONLY.) While we try not to cover the ejection port, the circumstances requiring this technique may be more important than that concern. So grab the slide and briskly using an isometric push and pull run the slide back and forth until you see the magazine drop out of the magazine well. Immediately draw a new magazine and seat with the heel of the hand and cycle the slide this will clear the chamber if needed and chamber a new round. (See video clips 3 and 4)

Note: The only pistol that I have seen that this technique does not work for is a .45 Auto caliber pistol. Not all, but some. Often in a .45 Auto when you fire a round, the next round in the top of the magazine moves forward and the nose of the bullet may drag on the feed ramp or inside of the magazine well. If you are doing the technique correctly and the magazine does not fall out odds are it will not work with your pistol and ammo combination.

The final technique I would like to share with you I refer to as the magazine pull. All this technique requires is when you identify the stoppage, immediately and forcefully pull the magazine out while holding the magazine catch all the way in. Pull the magazine completely out and slightly away from the magazine well because something may fall out like a fired casing or bullet. Immediately reseat the magazine and cycle the slide this will clear and chamber a new round. Reassess the situation. (See video clip 5)

Well time to shut this one down. I hope you found this article informative and educational. Again, these techniques have proven to work rapidly under stress and certainly give us other options to work with. Please recognize that if you have been doing something for a long time period you have probably programmed your subconscious or muscle memory. Therefore you may find it difficult to change. The videos should be helpful, but if I can help please contact me.

Take care and be safe.