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‘Tap – Rack – Bang’

“My gun never malfunctions.” Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps your gun has been malfunction free for its entire existence. However, when I hear this from people, I immediately know two things are absolutely true. One, they don’t shoot that gun very much, and two, they definitely don’t train in any serious manner.

“Well, I’ve got 50,000 rounds through this thing with no issues whatsoever.” Well, now you’ve graduated from hyperbole to outright dishonesty. The fact is that guns are man-made, and man is fallible. Yes, even Gaston Glock – as much as it pains me to say it. So, today’s article is going to be about the most common types of malfunctions associated with magazine fed, semi-automatic guns, and how to fix those issues on the fly.

There are generally three common malfunctions associated with magazine fed, semi-auto guns. They are known as “failure to fire” (type 1), “failure to eject” (type 2) and the ever dreaded “double feed” (type 3). Let’s discuss these in order, shall we?

A type 1 malfunction is the most common. It could be caused by several different things, but basically a type 1 malfunction occurs anytime you press the trigger expecting the gun to go “bang,” but it goes “click” instead. Side note, hearing a click when you need a bang is one of the loudest sounds you’ll ever hear. Anyway, a type 1 malfunction could be caused by bad ammunition. I get it, that’s not necessarily the gun’s fault but it’s a malfunction, nonetheless. A type 1 malfunction could also be the result of light primer strikes because there’s a bad spring in the gun. This happens most often when someone thinks they know more than the engineers and puts after-market doodads inside their blaster. Just leave the after-market internals at the market, Jethro. Over-lubrication is a common problem, too. Semi-auto guns don’t need nearly as much lube as you may think. If you over-do the oil, or put lube where lube doesn’t belong, you’re likely to cause issues. All that said, the most common reason for getting a click where a bang should be is that the gun isn’t loaded.

A type 2 malfunction is commonly referred to as a “stove pipe.” This is when a round is fired and the spent casing doesn’t get all the way out of the ejection port, preventing the gun from cycling fully and returning to battery. This too can be caused by more than one thing. A loose or otherwise improper grip on your pistol can result in a stove pipe – as can something impeding the movement of the slide or bolt when firing the gun. Underpowered ammo can cause a type 2 malfunction also, and if you’re talking about an AR style rifle, the gun being under-gassed will likely produce the same result.

So, how do you fix these malfunctions? It’s true that there might be something so wrong with your gun that it needs to be repaired by a professional, but if you’re in a fight and you need to clear a type 1 or type 2 malfunction and get that gun back in the fight – tap the magazine to make sure it’s seated properly inside the mag well, rack the slide, (or run the bolt) and get back to work. It’s that simple. A magazine that’s not seated is the first thing you should check, because an unseated magazine can cause any of the three most common malfunctions. After that, cycle the action. After you tap and rack, you should be able to make the gun go bang. A properly executed “tap – rack” will fix a type 1 or type 2 malfunction.

A type 3 malfunction is a different animal entirely. This occurs when two rounds try to enter the chamber at the same time. This can be caused by damaged or worn-out magazines or by people “riding the slide” when they cycle the action. Stop handling them so gently, folks. When you run the slide or the bolt on a semi-auto gun, run it hard. If you limp-wrist it, you’re going to cause problems more often than not. It’s okay, they like it rough.

To clear a type 3 malfunction, you first have to remove the magazine from the gun. Some instructors say that you should lock the slide or bolt open first, but I find this step to be time consuming and wholly unnecessary. There will be pressure on the magazine, so you’ll have to forcefully remove or “strip” the magazine out of the gun. After that, there might still be a round or spent casing lodged in the chamber or ejection port, so you need to run the slide to clear any obstruction. Doing this with the ejection port toward the ground means you get a little help from our old pal, gravity. Once you’ve removed the magazine and cleared any obstruction, forcefully insert a loaded mag (maybe the same one, maybe a new one) and cycle the action. Bam! You’re back in the fight.

Most malfunctions are the result of operator error. Malfunction frequency will be greatly diminished if you use a quality firearm (which 99% of 1911 pistols are not) loaded with quality, factory loaded ammunition. However, when problems arise, clearing a type 1 or type 2 malfunction is done the same way – tap the mag, rack the slide, and you’re back in business. The steps for type 3 malfunction clearing are – strip, rack, insert, rack. Don’t think carrying a spare mag with your everyday carry pistol is because you might need extra ammo. It’s true, you could end up in a protracted gunfight, although it’s statistically improbable. The main reason for carrying a spare magazine is so you can fix your gun. Operator error and environmental issues can cause more problems than most folks ever think about when they strap up and leave the house. If a “tap-rack” doesn’t fix it, reload your gun because either your gun is empty, or you have a type 3 malfunction. In either instance the remedy is a loaded magazine. Without one, you’ll be in a gunfight armed only with a $600 paperweight.

Before anyone suggests that simply buying a revolver is the answer to keeping your handgun malfunction free, allow me to quash that notion. Revolvers absolutely can and do malfunction. This column isn’t about antiques, so I’m not going to waste your time with wheel gun talk, but if you don’t believe me, do a simple Google search of revolver malfunctions, and see for yourself. Lastly, for my fellow Kalashnikov shooters out there, remember, those magazines “rock” into place. So, when seating a magazine in your AK, hit the front strap of the magazine, not the base plate.

Until next week…

Avoid what you can. Defeat what you can’t.


Please submit your questions to Ryan via email at

(Ryan Barnette is not a licensed attorney and no information provided in “Slicing the Pie” or any other publication authored by Ryan Barnette should be construed, in any way, as official, legal advice.)