Causes and Corrections for Common Gun Malfunctions


Do you know how to recognize weapons malfunctions? What about whether or not a firearm needs to be repaired or replaced due to these malfunctions?

This is especially relevant for newer shooters that may not have as much experience inspecting or cleaning and maintaining firearms. Although, malfunctions happen to highly experienced people as well. Here’s one recent example of an officer who was injured when his holstered weapon fired in what is believed to be an equipment malfunction.

“Organic” Malfunctions vs. “Mechanical” Malfunctions

The first thing to discuss on this topic is the concept of “organic” malfunctions vs. “mechanical” malfunctions. An organic malfunction refers to the malfunction being caused by operator error. A mechanical malfunction is a malfunction caused by a dirty or broken part or in some cases simply by the internal design of some firearms. The next thing to discuss is some of the common malfunctions and to take a look at the organic causes vs. the mechanical causes.

Failure to feed/failure to fire malfunction

The first malfunction to discuss is the “failure to feed/failure to fire.” This is a common malfunction and its causes can be organic, mechanical or due to “bad” ammunition. This type of malfunction occurs when the trigger is pulled and the round does not fire or the round has not
properly been fed into the chamber.

One organic factor that can cause this type of malfunction is the magazine not being properly seated, which does not allow the slide to pick up a new round from the magazine and feed it into the chamber. To correct this: Every time a magazine is inserted, give it a good “love tap” to ensure that it seats properly. A mechanical factor that could cause this could be the magazine spring being worn and not fully pushing the rounds to the top of the magazine. We typically recommend inspecting magazine springs every six months, and if they look worn to replace
them. This can also be cause by the primer in the ammunition being faulty or not present. Read our “What Wears Out Gun Magazines” post for more info about this.

Failure to eject/stove pipe malfunction

The next type of malfunction to discuss is the “failure to eject/stove pipe” (as shown in the photo). There are organic issues that can cause this as well as mechanical. An organic issue that can cause this is something commonly referred to as “limp wristing” the firearm or not holding the firearm tight enough. This causes the firearm to recoil farther back that it should, which hinders the ejector from properly ejecting the casing away from the firearm. This can be fixed by correcting the shooters grip.

The internal design of some firearms does make them more prone to having this type of malfunction however, and in that case it would be a mechanical issue. To correct this: Replace worn out extractors or worn out springs.

Failure to extract/double feed malfunction

The other common weapon malfunction is the “failure to extract/double feed.” This type of malfunction can usually be traced back to a mechanical issue. The typical causes are extremely dirty or broken extractors, however ammunition can play a role in this as well. Special attention should be payed to the area of the extractor and the bolt face when cleaning firearms. The extractor tends to build up excess
carbon and dust and when this occurs, prevents the extractor from getting a good purchase on the base of the case. This in turn does not allow the extractor to remove the case from the chamber. Shooting steel cased ammunition excessively through a firearm can actually break the extractor over time due to the fact that the metal in the steel casing is denser than the metal of the extractor.  To correct this: If steel cased ammunition is going to be used, special attention should be paid to the extractor to ensure that it is in working condition. If it starts to wear or chip, it is recommended to replace the extractor.

Most issues can be fixed by replacing worn out parts as opposed to replacing the entire firearm. If there is anything questionable with the integrity of the firearm or an individual has less experience replacing parts, it is always recommended to seek guidance from a licensed gunsmith, and as always be careful about taking advice from “gun shop commandos.”