If you’ve practiced shooting your firearm for long enough, you’ve probably experienced some kind of firearm malfunction. Because all firearms are manufactured pieces of equipment using manufactured pieces of ammunition, chances are that an error will occur with one or the other sooner or later. In addition, it should be noted that there is also a third variable that can introduce error into the firearm malfunction equation: the operator. Gun ranges have safety rules and procedures in place that anticipate firearm malfunctions, and it is important for customers and guests to be acquainted with the correct way to handle these malfunctions in order to ensure the safety of self and others.
Because we assume that all firearms are always loaded – even “jammed” firearms, and because we never point the barrel at anything we do not wish to destroy – regardless if fingers are on or off the trigger, many gun ranges recommend that malfunctioning firearms remain within the shooting stall with its barrel pointing downrange the entire time. After pointing the gun downrange while waiting between 60-120 seconds to account for a potential delayfire, assistance can be sought from a neighbor or from the range safety officer (RSO). For more information about delayfires and misfires, we recommend reading the article Gun Safety: Misfires & Hangfires found on the NRA Family blog. When a jammed or malfunctioning firearm is carried into the retail area or another populated area, there is an increased accidental discharge potential.
Never bring “jammed” firearms into the retail area.
Keep malfunctioning firearms in the shooting stall
There are several different kinds of malfunctions
There are several different kinds of firearm malfunctions: 1.) hangfire, 2.) misfire, 3.) failure to feed, 4.) stovepipe, 5.) squib load, and 6.) double feed. While each malfunction presents its own challenges and procedures to correct the malfunction, most indoor gun ranges craft their firearm malfunction safety rules to prevent a hangfire discharge in common areas such as the retail floor. For this reason, malfunctioning firearms should be kept in the shooting area within the shooting stall with its muzzle pointing downrange.
Ammunition malfunction: Hangfire
Hangfire describes an ammunition malfunction when there is a noticeable delay between trigger pull and bullet discharge. In other words, after the audible “click” following a trigger pull, there is not an immediate “bang.” However, inside the ammunition case, the process of discharge has begun and after an unpredictable delay period, the gun actually fires. The danger of a hangfire is that it is often mistaken for a misfire.
Ammunition or mechanical malfunction: Misfire
A misfire malfunction also occurs after a trigger pull like a hangfire, however, in the case of a misfire, the ammunition never fires. Misfires can be caused by either a light or incomplete firing pin strike on the primer (firearm related) or it can be caused by a defective ammunition (ammunition related). However, on the range it is impossible to distinguish between misfires and hangfires as both begin with a delay after the trigger has been pulled. In most cases, waiting between 60-120 seconds for the ammunition to activate with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction will reveal the difference between hangfires and misfires.
Ammunition or mechanical malfunction: Failure to feed
The failure to feed malfunction occurs when the bullet does not completely enter the chamber and can happen for several reasons: there is some defect in the magazine doing the feeding (spring, follower, etc.) , the magazine isn’t fully seated into the firearm, there is some defect with the firearm’s feed ramp, or there is some problem with the physical properties of the ammunition. Failure to feed malfunctions can also be caused by poor or zero gun lubrication. The end result of the failure to feed error is that the slide (handgun) or charging handle (AR) cannot travel the distance necessary to chamber the ammunition fully. To correct this error, remove the magazine first and the questionable round second. Ensure all firearms are cleaned and lubricated according to the manufacturer’s guidelines before shooting.
Operator malfunction: Stovepipe
A stovepipe happens when the ammunition/cartridge fails to eject properly after being fired and becomes trapped in a vertical position at the ejection port, resembling an old stove pipe. In most cases, the stovepipe firearm malfunction is the result of an improper grip or mushy hold on the firearm. The user’s wrist and arm act like an additional and unnecessary spring absorbing and reducing some of the momentum generated by discharged ammunition. In an ideal situation with handguns, the slide should be the only component that moves.
Ammunition malfunction: Squib load
A squib load reflects a problem with ammunition and if not addressed immediately will result in damage to the firearm and/or to the user. After a trigger pull with a squib load, the primer actives the powder inside the casing but the resulting energy from the ammunition is not enough for the bullet to exit the barrel completely. Rather, the bullet tip becomes stuck inside the barrel. If the user clears the defective ammunition without inspecting the barrel and removing the lodged bullet, then the next bullet will strike the lodged bullet. If this happens, the barrel will bulge or break apart with violent force while in the user’s hand and will cause serious injury. Squib loads “don’t feel right” and will make a weak “pop” or “thunk” sound and will not generate the usual movement with the usual power in the firearm. To address a lodged bullet in the barrel, drop the magazine and remove any ammunition while maintaining a safe direction – do not look down the barrel; use a bore light instead or run a rod that will not scratch the barrel through to ensure there are no obstructions.
Mechanical malfunction: Double feed
The double feed malfunction occurs when two rounds are picked up from the magazine and both rounds are fed into the chamber at the same time. In most cases, a bad magazine is to blame as magazines are designed to feed the firearm one bullet at a time.
Summary: If you experience a firearm malfunction and need assistance, leave the firearm inside the shooting stall and ask for help. For a comprehensive list of the various kinds of firearm and ammunition malfunctions, we recommend taking a look at the Firearm Malfunction Wikipedia Article.