Modern pistols are far more reliable than those manufactured in the past. This is largely due to improved manufacturing methods, automation, and precision measurements that were not possible many years ago. However, pistols are simply machines with lots of moving parts and dependencies all of which must work in harmony in order for the pistol to function as expected.
Occasionally, a pistol will malfunction due to a stoppage in operations. Stoppages can occur for many different reasons and will occur on rare occasions. Stoppages include: Failure to Fire, Failure to go into Battery, Failure to Eject, or failure to eject cartridges. Consistent stoppages should not occur and may require an experienced gunsmith to take a further look at the pistol.
Failure to Fire
A failure to fire occurs when live ammunition is present in the chamber but does not discharge as expected when the trigger is pulled. This can also occur when ammunition thought to be fed into the chamber via a semi-automatic magazine fails to get loaded or fed as expected. The most common cause for a pistol not firing correctly is bad ammunition, generally from a remanufactured or hand-loaded bullet. The recommended procedure when ammunition is not discharged is to keep the pistol pointed down range for 30-60 seconds to ensure
the failure to fire was not due to hang fire (where the primer takes a significantly longer amount of time than normal to ignite the smokeless powder). An examination of the ammunition around the primer area will show if the proper firing pin indentation was achieved. If the pistol is experience weak primer strikes, it could be an indication the springs on the pistol need to be replaced.
Failure to Go into Battery Mode
Semi-automatic pistols rely on the operation of the slide to complete after each and every shot. Occasionally, the slide may not return completely in the front seating position, which will cause the pistol to not arm itself for a future discharge. This condition is known to be a failure to go into battery or firing mode. The problem can be as simple as a dirty pistol, or a bullet failing to complete the feeding process, or weak magazine springs.
Failure to Eject
A cartridge may become stuck in the slide at the ejection port during the ejection process, which is known as a failure to eject or a "stove pipe" stoppage due to its appearance. This type of stoppage can be due to an excessively dirty pistol, an ejector that is poorly adjusted, or with other internals such as the ejector or slide spring being weak. If this occurs regularly, the owner should take his pistol to a qualified gunsmith for further evaluation.
Failure to Feed
This condition occurs when the ammunition in the magazine fails to load properly into the chamber of the pistol. As with all other causes, it can be attributed to a dirty pistol, weak springs, poor timing, and bad ammunition. Occasionally, a gunsmith can rectify the problem by polishing the feed ramp allowing the ammunition to flow more smoothly.
Tap, Rack, and Access
For semi-automatic pistols, most of these stoppages can be cleared by simply tapping the bottom of the magazine (to ensure it is fully seated in the well), facing the pistol ejection port towards the ground, and racking the slide to eject the stoppage and load a new cartridge. Once the process is completed, the shooter can assess the situation and determine if this was a one-off type of stoppage or if is occurring more often than acceptable.
For revolvers, ammunition may not eject from the cylinder as anticipated, which is usually caused by over-sized, high-pressure ammunition being used or the cylinders themselves have become dirty. Oftentimes, a quick but firm slap on the top of the ejector rod will clear these cartridges. Be sure to slap the ejector rod using a straight-down motion, avoiding a side motion which could damage the ejection rod.
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