Your gun has moving parts. These parts need maintenance. In order to keep it running, a wise officer will pay attention to potential problems before they happen. If you get nothing else out of this article, remember that being observant about firearms and related equipment can prevent problems when you need your gun the most.

 The other day, a friend texted me a photo of some commercially manufactured 223 brass that he picked up at the range. The brass had a strange defect, which was an asymmetrical raised area. It looked like it had been embossed between the shoulder and the base. There were dozens of similar brass; the patch appeared consistently in the same location.

My friends and I reload. We pick up any brass left behind on a range. 

I examined the photo the recovered brass. My friend’s question was whether the brass could be used for reloading. This is a viable question, but my first question was whether the gun was safe for shooting. I began to run all kinds of scenarios through my head about what could have caused the defect. By the way, this gun was not safe. It wasn’t the ammunition--the gun was defective with a damaged or cracked chamber. I put out an announcement to attempt to find out whose gun was spitting out this brass. Looking at your magazines, checking your cartridges and brass, and keeping your gun clean will keep you in the fight. 

Keep your gun clean

A malfunction is not a malfunction if a dirty gun caused the problem. A dirty gun is operator error. A gun should be clean before an officer starts his shift. Many, if not most, stoppages could have been prevented by cleaning the gun. 24/7/365, I carry an Otis Deluxe Law Enforcement System. I always ran a clean patch down my barrel before I went in service, no matter what, under any circumstance. I always began my shift with a clean gun. I always press checked my gun and duty light before I my screen said “available unit”. 

Check your magazines

Here’e the rule: Any magazine that is questionable comes out of service and becomes a training magazine. The first place to look for any feeding malfunction of any gun is the magazine. This could be bent magazine feed lips, poor seating in the magazine well, a bad follower or a weak spring. Anytime one experiences any problem with a semi automatic firearm, they should try to duplicate the problem with a different magazine. I have seen several cases where officers have spent money and time shipping their gun for warranty only to find out that the problem was a magazine.

Most duty magazines are easy to maintain. Products like the stainless steel Springfield Armory XD model magazines are the toughest duty magazines money can buy. They can handle severe abuse and maintain reliability. If they get damaged through mishandling, it will likely be very evident on inspection. It is easy and inexpensive to replace a spring, follower or baseplate.

Glock magazines are probably the least expensive and easiest to rebuild. 

I mark every magazine. I have always had a set of range practice magazines and a set of duty magazines. Right now my training magazines have pink bases because my wife was painting something pink and I have a surplus of base plates. I recommend going to Lone Wolf Distributors and purchasing some very inexpensive colored base plates. 

Before I began my shift I would empty out my magazines and fill them back up again. This way, I have inspected by ammunition and “flexed” the spring. About once a month, I would shoot all of the duty ammunition. When ammunition budgets ran a little low, I changed to once every couple of months.

I know that someone is going to say that modern magazine springs don’t lose their tension and don’t need to be “flexed”. Do it anyway. It can’t hurt. 

 Look at your cartridges

Every shooter should inspect the cartridges before they put them in the gun and after they fire them. One can determine a lot about a gun without complicated instruments. The brass part of a cartridge is the part that holds the charge. It is cylindrical and holds the bullet on one end, and the primer on the other. The loaded cartridge goes in the chamber of the gun where the bullet is expelled out the barrel.

Before placing duty cartridges into the magazine, empty the box of rounds on a flat surface. Briefly roll each cartridge. A quick check like this will identify any bulging cartridge, which should be rejected for duty. Now field strip your firearm and hold the barrel muzzle down. Drop the cartridges into the barrel and invert the barrel, letting them fall out under their weight. Again, reject any cartridge that doesn't slip in and out of the chamber smoothly.

Now line your cartridges, primer down, on a table. Any cartridge taller or shorter than the general height of the others should be rejected. With the bullets pointing up, see if any cartridge rocks or wobbles when you shake the table. Any cartridge that does not pass this inspection should not go on duty.

In training, when you fire your cartridges, inspect the brass randomly. Look for any type of deformation of the primer or brass. If the primer is deformed or punctured, it may be a sign of unusually high pressures. The primer should conform a little to the shape of the firing pin and the surface where it contacts the slide, but it shouldn’t be obvious. 

By this time, I know with the reader is thinking: Don't the ammunition companies do that? Actually they do. Cartridge manufacturers in the United States have some of the greatest manufacturing quality checks in the industry. When I talked to several different cartridge makers, they are pretty candid about this. Having said all this, I have been issued duty ammunition (and service ammo in the military) before where something was obviously wrong when I inspected it. Once, a bullet was seated in the cartridge, but the brass was cracked. Another cartridge that was issued to me had a bullet that was pushed too far into the brass. 

In both instances, I believe that the ammunition left the manufacturer in pristine condition. However, many hands will touch those boxes of cartridges before the law enforcement officer gets to them...and I'm not known for taking chances.

Audible pop

One time during a range training exercise I was shooting duty ammo and I felt the "audible pop" sensation. The “audible pop” happens when powder is either omitted or there is not enough charge to propel the bullet at its intended rate. Most often the bullet is lodged somewhere in the barrel. If the shooter doesn't recognize the lack of recoil, coupled with a “pop” right away, the next thing they will do is fire another bullet into the lodged one. This could be disastrous.

Immediate action on the "audible pop" sensation is to stop shooting, clear the gun and check for any obstruction in the barrel. 

Tap, Rack, Target (TRT)

The “tap, rack, target” method will clear almost all malfunctions in a handgun. Most shooters will know this as “tap, rack, bang”. I learned it as “tap, rack, target” because a law enforcement officer must assess their situation and target constantly. TRT is simple. If the gun malfunctions, briskly slap the bottom of the magazine with the non-firing hand. Reach over the top of the slide (without letting the hand go in front of the muzzle) and yank the slide to the rear, letting it fly forward. Engage the target. 

 TRT should be used WITHOUT any attempt to diagnose the reason for the stoppage. It will clear most of them. 

The next level of clearing, used only if TRT doesn't work, includes dropping the magazine. This is usually done when one has a doublefeed. This is when there is a cartridge in the chamber and the slide is attempting to strip another one from the magazine and put it into the chamber. It goes like this: TRT has failed to clear the stoppage. Drop and retain the magazine. Hold the gun upside down and work the slide three times, hard. Insert the magazine and TRT. How should a person practice stoppage drills? Use dummy cartridges. I recommend the Handgun Safety Trainer Kit from Brownells as one cannot confuse them with real cartridges. 

It’s not going to work

I’m sure everyone has heard me say this before, but I can’t take credit for it. Here it is: Anytime you use any type of force, anytime you pull the trigger, you have to tell yourself, “It’s not going to work”. Know how to prevent and clear malfunctions. Know how to transition to other means. Train well and don’t leave anything to chance. 

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