What Causes Gun Malfunctions (and How to Fix Them)

Gun News

If you shoot a semi-automatic rifle or pistol, it is inevitable that you will have malfunctions (i.e. when you pull the trigger and nothing happens). Well, something happens, but it is not what you expected. The gun does not go “bang.”

Many people call this a “jam,” but the correct term is malfunction. And you can fix most malfunctions yourself. The problem turns into a jam when you cannot clear the issue and need the service of a gunsmith.

What Causes Gun Malfunctions?

A malfunction is due to either a problem with the ammunition, mechanics of the gun or the shooter. To get the most out of your training, familiarize yourself with the types of malfunctions and how to fix each.

To do this, you will need to perform those actions quickly in a self-defense situation. Your first fix for most malfunctions is an immediate-action drill known as tap-rack-bang! Here’s how that works:

  • Tap — Slam the bottom of the magazine with the palm of your hand to make sure it is seated properly.
  • Rack — Rack the slide a few times to clear the chamber and load a new round.
  • Bang — Pull the trigger.

gun chamber - clean

Malfunctions Due to Ammo or Gun Mechanics

Here are the different types of gun malfunctions and what to do about them:



A squib is a round that does not have enough powder charge to send the bullet down the chamber and out the barrel. Therefore, the bullet gets stuck in the barrel. A squib can be a danger to you and your firearm.

It is important that you are aware of what happens after you pull the trigger. A squib will only go “pop” as opposed to “bang,” and you most likely will feel less recoil than normal. If you do not notice a squib, you might be able to load and fire another round.

But that can really damage your gun. If you suspect you have a squib, stop shooting. Clear the action, make your gun safe and check the barrel. Squibs occur most commonly with hand loads, but factory ammunition can produce one as well.

Clearing a squib with tap-rack-bang! is not possible. You may be able to remove the bullet with a barrel cleaning rod. However, if you are unsure, take your gun to a gunsmith or call the range officer to remove the bullet.

cleaning tool - gun jams and malfunctions

Failure to Feed

A failure to feed is when a cartridge will not load into the chamber. A round that fails to feed is normally associated with a magazine problem—the spring needs cleaning, or possibly it is a bad follower.

It also is possible that the magazine was not inserted properly. In my experience, a little lubrication on the feed lips of the magazine and in the chamber fixes this issue.

After checking to see if your magazines are in good working order, your next step would be to switch ammo. Some guns are finicky.

Failure to Eject / Stovepipe

A failure to eject, sometimes called a stovepipe, means the case has not come out of the chamber after the gun fires.

This is when the case gets stuck standing up, preventing the slide from returning to battery. To fix a failure to eject, use tap-rack-bang! But first, roll your gun 90 degrees to the right. That will allow gravity to aid in removing the case.

The experts at Magpul teach students to swipe at the stuck round with your hand to remove it.


A hangfire is a delay between the time the firing pin hits the bullet’s primer and the round going off. Keep your gun pointed in a safe direction for at least 30 seconds to see if the round goes off.

After that—with the gun pointed in a safe direction—rack the slide to eject the malfunctioning round.


A slamfire is when a new round loads into the chamber and the bolt return causes the firing pin to hit the primer hard enough to cause the round to fire without the trigger engaged.

Double Feed

You have a double feed when two live rounds attempt to feed into the chamber.

To fix a double feed, first, remove the magazine. Then, rack the slide to eject both rounds. Once both rounds are ejected, insert a fresh magazine.

gun discharge

Short Stroke

A short stroke is when the gun does not complete a full cycle after a round has been fired. The round will successfully leave the barrel, however, the slide will not have gone all the way back, so the gun did not load a new round.

There is usually no indication that a short stroke has happened.


A misfire is when you pull the trigger and the gun goes click. A misfire normally is due to a faulty primer. It may also be an issue with the gun’s firing pin.

If tap-rack-bang! does not correct the issue, remove the bad round and dispose of it safely.

clearing gun jams

Malfunctions Due to Shooter Problems

There are two common shooter issues that may also cause a malfunction:

  1. Being too gentle when you rack the slide. This was my problem as a noob and caused persistent issues with getting a round to chamber, known as failure to feed.
  2. Weak grasp. Another shooter problem is when you do not have a firm grasp on your gun; this is called “limp-wristing” and may cause any of the previously discussed problems.

You also will see malfunctions labeled Level I, Level II and Level III:

  • Level I malfunctions are the easiest to clear. (For example, a misfire is a Level I malfunction.)
  • Level II is a failure to eject, such as a stovepipe.
  • Level III is a failure to extract or a double feed.

It is important to practice clearing malfunctions and learning to do them quickly—especially with your self-defense gun. You can safely use snap caps to practice.

This Caleb Giddings video demonstrates the importance of thinking and clearing malfunctions quickly.

What is the worst malfunction you have encountered? Tell us in the comments section below.


Editor’s note: this post was originally published in November 2012. It has been completely updated and revamped for clarity and accuracy.

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