“My gun is jamming! What’s the problem?” Four Factors To Consider

“My gun is jamming! What’s the problem?” Four Factors To Consider

Buyers of pistols for personal protection have an array of quality choices like never before.  But, as with any machine, certain parameters must be met for them to operate to their best capability.   There are a few things to consider when experiencing malfunctions or stoppages, especially when dealing with a gun whose quality is not under question.  Much of the same information can be applied to modern rifles such as the popular AR-15 platform, as well. 

MAGAZINES AND RECOIL SPRINGS:  Are your magazines OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) or if aftermarket, of top quality?  Magazines are vital to the proper feeding of cartridges, and poor feed lip geometry or improper spring tension can hamper the most capable firearm in terms of feed reliability.  Even if the magazines are of top quality, if they have been heavily used in training or competition—to the point where springs are weak or feed lips deformed–they will not function 100 percent and should be discarded in favor of new mags.  Remember: keep plenty of mags on hand for your carry or competition firearm and don’t be afraid to replace them when they begin to create feeding problems.   The same applies to recoil springs: Good quality coil springs as found in 1911s should generally be replaced every few thousand rounds, while the more durable flatwire springs found in Glocks and many other contemporary pistols can often go 15-20K rounds before replacement–but none last forever.  Whatever the type, buy extra recoil springs for your firearm in advance–they’re quite inexpensive–and prepare to replace them when necessary.  Not only will this insure continued reliable functioning, it will also extend the service life of your firearm by reducing battering to the frame and other components.  

AMMUNITION QUALITY:  You wouldn’t condemn a fine sports car or performance sedan for poor acceleration, hard starts, or reduced fuel economy if you fed it nothing but the poorest quality fuel, would you?  Similarly, not all ammunition is created equally: the overall length of the loaded rounds may be inconsistent, there may be bulges in the case caused by sloppy bullet seating that create nasty situations where the round ends up sealed into the chamber, and unable to be cleared by conventional tap-rack procedures.  In worst case scenarios, careless ammo quality control may catastrophically damage the firearm and cause severe injury to the user.  At very least, accuracy is often poor, and the ammo is dirty, which necessitates more cleaning of your firearm.  Stick with top quality manufacturers, and be very careful about choosing smaller companies that may or may not have adequate quality control in place. (Some boutique-type companies produce truly exceptional ammo, however.  Do your diligence!)  If shooting reloads or handloads, care must be taken that you or the loader of the ammo absolutely adheres to proper reloading protocols for safety and reliability.  Revolvers are not immune to ammunition-related stoppages, either: if the overall length is excessive, cylinder binding can occur, and if there are case bulges or expanded brass from excessive pressure, extraction can become difficult or even impossible without gunsmith assistance.   Despite the temptation from a money savings perspective, steel or aluminum cased ammo of all types are best avoided as well, and such ammo is often prohibited on many indoor ranges, including Bellevue Gun Club.   

CLEANING & LUBRICATION:  While many modern pistols (and guns of all kinds for that matter) are quite forgiving in terms of cleaning and lubrication schedules, all guns eventually need it, and some more than others.  Of the two, lubrication is particularly crucial.  A properly manufactured and set up 1911, for example, can be extremely reliable (particularly in .45 ACP and .38 Super) even when quite dirty, but due to a variety of factors, require more attention to lubrication than modern striker-fired designs such as Glocks, HKs or Smith & Wesson M&Ps.  The action and extractor star of revolvers can also accumulate a lot of grime and unburned powder particles, rendering them sluggish and eventually inoperable so care must be taken here too, from time to time.  Not only will handguns of all types eventually begin to experience issues due to increasing friction impeding the feed cycle, the increased grit and grime will wear metal to metal components faster than would otherwise be the case.  A cleaned and lubricated firearm, particularly one which a citizen depends upon for personal protection, will ensure it remains trustworthy in a defensive emergency. Follow a cleaning schedule relevant to the amount you shoot, and make sure your guns are in the best condition for reliability.  Guns which are seldom shot (perish the thought!) should not be neglected either: its astonishing how much congealed grime, dust, and lint can accumulate in the mechanical nooks and crannies, rendering them less than reliable at the moment they may be expected to perform.  The factory manual, or the friendly customer service department of the manufacturer(s) are a great place to get specific information if you are uncertain about anything related to the best maintenance practices for your firearm.  

TECHNIQUE: This is specific to semi-automatic handguns, which are the overwhelming choice of most modern shooters. Unlike revolvers, which are mechanically operated, semi-auto pistols require a stable platform from which to function during their recoil cycle: if your grip is not high and close to the bore axis, or not firm, or relaxes during the moment of firing, you may experience several types of feeding or ejection issues loosely (no pun intended) categorized as “limp wrist malfunctions”.  These can be very frustrating for newer shooters, but its important to understand that this is a very real cause of feeding issues in even high-quality, otherwise reliable semi-auto pistols produced by prestigious manufacturers.  This phenomenon can be more pronounced in polymer framed guns, where the material has an inherent capability to flex during firing, which means the user must be particularly certain their grip is high and strong throughout the process of firing the pistol, as well as follow through after the shot.   Those whose thumbs ride on the slide and press against it, can also induce malfunctions, as the pressure can interfere with the slide’s necessary momentum in moving forward to complete the feed cycle.  Shooters who gently ease the slide forward from slide lock during reloading can also experience issues whereby the first round fails to make it all the way up the feed ramp.  This is easily remedied by simply letting the slide go forward at full force, either after pressing the slide stop, or when “slingshotting” the slide: just let it go, and let that strong recoil spring do the work of getting the new round into battery.    

So…magazines, ammunition, cleaning/lubrication, and technique.  The above is a somewhat hasty overview, but do consider these factors–or a combination of them–when facing those pesky reliability issues with your firearm. 


By:  Adam Keith. – RSO and Instructor at Bellevue Gun Club

If you, your family or organization is interested in private or group training please contact us.

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