The loudest sound in the world is not the crushing noise of ammunition igniting in your pistol. No, the loudest sound in the world is the audible “click” you hear when you’re expecting a “bang.” In a deadly force situation this is when things get really interesting, fast.

When that blaster in your hand goes click instead of bang you have a choice. You can either fix it, get it back up and running rapidly or you can stand there staring at it like a hog looking at a wristwatch. How long do you have to clear a stoppage in a gunfight? You have the rest of your life. How long that life will be depends on your training and how quickly you act.

The Problem
From a technical standpoint, a stoppage is any unintentional interruption in a gun’s cycle of fire. While the cycle of fire varies slightly from gun to gun, the most common stoppage is “failure to feed, failure to fire.” In many training circles this is referred to as a “Type 1 Malfunction.” Although it’s difficult to put a number on it, the Type 1 is the culprit nine times out of ten. 

Failure to feed, failure to fire can include any number of factors. The chamber might be empty, as in, you did not properly load the weapon or the magazine has come unseated and it’s sticking out an eighth of an inch. In some cases there may be a problem with the magazine itself. The ammunition may have shifted or been loaded in the mag improperly. Of course the magazine spring might be stuck, kinked or not working properly.

Second Strike?
Another factor in the failure to feed/fire is the ammunition itself. A round was indeed chambered but did not ignite for some reason. While this is extremely rare, it happens. Yes, the majority of ammunition that did not ignite on the first primer strike will often ignite with the second one.

There are a number of gun manufacturers and firearms trainers out there that extol the virtues of the “second strike” handgun, the double-action (DA) or double-action-only (DAO) pistols that allow you to press the trigger a second time even though the round has not ignited. On the surface this sounds like a good idea. I myself would agree if it were not for one critical issue. You see, I rarely wear my X-Ray vision glasses when I shoot and I cannot peer though the steel of the slide and barrel to see whether or not there is a round that needs a second strike or if the chamber is completely empty. 

When I am expecting a bang and instead get a click, I don’t know why that happened. If the magazine has come unseated and a fresh round was not chambered or if I fouled up and didn’t load the chamber, then a second, third, fourth, etc. trigger press isn’t going to help out much. Remember, stoppages are unexpected occurrences that take us by surprise everytime. 

For the sake of argument, let’s say that you are sure that a round was loaded into the chamber and are determined on performing that second strike. In my current occupation, I work with over one hundred new shooters a month and we expend thousands of rounds of ammunition. During the last four weeks I’ve had students turn in rounds of ammunition that were duds; they did not go off at all with several strikes. 

If our students have a Type 1 they immediately clear it. If a round didn’t ignite it ends up on the ground. As instructors, we will later inspect it and, if it only has a slight primer hit, we will put it back in the training box. During two instances this month even after a second primer strike, the round would not ignite. 

For the record, we aren’t talking about someone’s basement reloads, the ammunition in question was factory fresh U.S. Military handgun ammunition manufactured less than a year prior and, yes, they were from different lots. Long story short, I wouldn’t waste my time, and potentially my life, hammering on an empty chamber or dud round.

The Fix
For those who still shoot DA revolvers, the solution to the Type 1 is to pull the trigger again and advance another chamber. There, you are done. Wasn’t that easy? 

Now for the semi-automatic pistol crowd the steps are a bit more complex but not exceedingly so. After all, it’s not rocket science. We call the fix “Tap, Rack, Reassess.” Yes, it used to be “tap, rack, bang” but we were teaching our people to snap the trigger the moment they clear the stoppage. Not a good idea for those who need to justify every round fired. 

Before you start working on/fixing your gun, bring it back toward your body. This is your work area and where human beings are most comfortable using their hands. The easiest way to do this is simply pull the elbow of your shooting/strong arm into your ribs. Keep the pistol held up in your chest area. This keeps your head and eyes up, versus looking at the ground. 

Step 1: Tap the magazine. It may not be properly seated; make it so. 

Step 2: Rack the slide firmly and deliberately to the rear. Let it go; avoid the habit or temptation to ride the slide home with your hand on it. Believe me, the recoil spring knows what to do; it doesn’t need your help sending the slide home. 

Step 3: Reassess the situation. Is the threat still present? Do you truly need to fire or continue firing? Is the target where it was two seconds ago? 

Lethal force encounters are fast and furious events and they are extremely dynamic. In the second or two it took you to clear your stoppage the threat may have moved out of your line of sight. More importantly, a friendly, no-shoot person may have moved into your line of sight. 

Parting Shots
Yes, there are other types of stoppages to include the stovepipe (slide obstruction) and the double-feed. For now take some time to focus on the number one reason that a pistol goes click instead of bang.

If you have dummy rounds or “snap caps,” they are fantastic training tools to aid in your practice. Take a few dummy rounds to the range and randomly load them into your magazines. It needs to be random so you aren’t looking for the stoppage. After a few training sessions the “Tap, Rack, Reassess” should be second nature.

How quickly should you be able to fix your pistol? Two seconds is a good benchmark to start with. Remember, in a gunfight you have the rest of your life to clear that stoppage. Until next time, you know what to do. Keep shooting straight and keep shooting safe.

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