Common Firearm Malfunctions


Common Firearm Malfunctions: by Senior Police Detective Troy Edwards (Ret), The Crosshairs L.L.C.

When it comes to firearm operations, a major concern, or what should be a concern to you as someone who uses firearms, is a malfunction.  A firearm malfunction, also known as a “misfire” or “jam,” is the partial or complete failure of a firearm operate as intended.

Malfunctions range from temporary and relatively safe situations, such as a casing that failed to eject, to a potentially dangerous situation that could damage the weapon beyond repair and possibly cause severe injury or even death.

Malfunctions are sometimes considered a factor in negligent discharge.

If you make sure that you practice proper cleaning and regular maintenance of your firearm you can help to prevent malfunctions.

Malfunctions are generally placed in two types of categories “Cartridge” or “Mechanical.”  A Cartridge malfunction or “misfire” is the failure of the primer and/or the powder inside the cartridge to function as designed.  A Mechanical malfunction or “Jam” includes such incidents as when the firearm fails to feed, extract, or eject a cartridge; failure to fully cycle after firing; and failure of a recoil- or gas-operated firearm to lock back when empty. In extreme cases, an overloaded round, blocked barrel, poor design and/or severely weakened breech can result in an explosive failure of the receiver, barrel, or other parts of the firearm.  Some mechanical malfunctions are caused by poor design and cannot easily be avoided. Some malfunctions with cartridges can be attributed to poor quality or damaged (improper storage, moisture) ammunition.

Case Head Separation (Cartridge Malfunction):

Occurs when the walls of the casing become thin or fatigued. Upon firing the round, the case separates into two pieces near the head.  This is quite common in reloads.

Dud (Cartridge Malfunction):

Also known as a “failure to discharge” occurs when the trigger is pulled but the primer or powder in the cartridge malfunctions, causing the firearm to not discharge. I tell my students it like getting a “click” instead of a “boom” when they pull the trigger.  Dud rounds can still be dangerous and should be deactivated and disposed of properly.

Hang Fire (Cartridge Malfunction):

Also known as a “delayed discharge” is an unexpected delay between the pulling of the trigger and the ignition of the propellant. Whenever a weapon fails to fire, but has not clearly malfunctioned, a hang fire should be suspected. When this occurs, the correct procedure is to keep the weapon pointed downrange or in a safe direction for thirty to sixty seconds, then remove and safely discard the round. The reason for this is that a round detonating outside of the weapon, or in the weapon with the action open, could cause serious injury.

Squib load (Cartridge Malfunction):

Also known as a “squib, squib fire, insufficient discharge, or incomplete discharge” and is an extremely dangerous malfunction that happens when a fired projectile does not carry enough force and becomes stuck in the barrel instead of exiting. In the case of semi-automatic or automatic weapons, this can cause successive rounds to be fired into the projectile obstructing the barrel, which can cause catastrophic failure to the structural integrity of the firearm, and pose a threat of injury.

Failure to Feed (Mechanical malfunction):

Also known as “FTF” occurs when a weapon fails to feed the next round into the firing chamber.

Stovepipe (Mechanical malfunction):

Also known as a “smokestack” or “failure to eject (FTE)” occurs when the empty cartridge jams vertically in the ejection port of a semi auto firearm instead of being thrown clear, a condition usually caused by not holding the firearm correctly also known as “limp wristing” the weapon.

Let’s make shooting a fun and informative sport.  Remember to take your time, learn and most importantly, use your head!