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Common Handgun Malfunctions

by Ben Jimenez 4 min read

Handgun malfunctions can cause serious injury to the user or surrounding people. You can’t always prevent the following common handgun malfunctions, but you can prepare for them. When you know what could go wrong, you can make a better plan for how to respond.

We’ve also offered some advice on what you can and cannot do when you encounter a malfunction. Please use wise judgment. Guns can protect your life, but they’re only tools that follow the laws of physics.

Dud Rounds: One of the Most Common Handgun Malfunctions

If you fire enough rounds, you will eventually find a dud that doesn’t do anything. You squeeze the trigger, but nothing happens. You wonder whether you miscounted your rounds, but a quick inspection shows that you have a round in the chamber.

Dud rounds fail to fire for a variety of reasons. More often than not, you have a defective bullet that doesn’t have a primer or gunpowder. You could also have a problem with your handgun’s firing pin. If it doesn’t strike the primer or rim correctly, the round will not fire.

What to Do When You Have a Dud Round

Pull back your slide and eject the round. Hopefully, you just have one dud in your magazine. Aim at your target and squeeze the trigger. If the next round fires, you probably don’t have anything to worry about.

What You Should Never Do With a Dud Round

Never look down the barrel to determine whether you can see the round lodged in the chamber or barrel. And don’t point it at anything you do not want to shoot. You could squeeze the trigger a dozen times and get no response from the dud round. The 13th time could fire the round, though. Don’t take any chances.

Delayed Discharge, an Extremely Risky Malfunction

A delayed discharge happens when you squeeze the trigger but the round doesn’t fire immediately. Instead, it takes a few seconds for the firing pin to activate the propellant.

This is an extremely risky malfunction because many people assume that they have a dud round or they’ve emptied their magazine and chamber.

What to Do When You Have a Delayed Discharge

If your handgun doesn’t discharge immediately, keep your aim on the target and prepare for recoil. The worst thing that will happen is you waste a little time keeping everyone safe.

Try squeezing the trigger again to see if the round will fire. If it doesn’t, pull your slide to eject the cartridge.

What You Should Never Do With a Delayed Discharge

Never assume that you have an empty gun or a dud round. Treat your gun like a loaded weapon that could kill anyone near you. Don’t point it at anything you don’t want to destroy.

Incomplete Discharge: A Nerve-Wracking Experience

An incomplete discharge occurs when your round fires but does not exit the barrel. Instead, it gets stuck inside. Unfortunately, you have a very dangerous situation on your hands.

What to Do When You Have an Incomplete Discharge

Unless you have significant experience working with handguns, have a professional fix this problem for you. Most delayed discharges happen because rounds get caught behind metal bits in the barrel. Always clean your barrel after you spend time shooting.

What You Should Never Do With an Incomplete Discharge

No matter what you do, never try to dislodge the round by firing another shot. Doing so could permanently damage your handgun. It could also send the incomplete discharged round flying out of the barrel at a wide-angle or blow up in your hand.

Feed and Eject Failures

These are different, but related, handgun malfunctions. A feed failure happens when the magazine does not push a new round into the chamber. An eject failure happens when you fire a round and the cartridge remains in the chamber.

What to Do When You Have Feed and Eject Failures

Pull back your slide and try to eject the round. You can try to eject the magazine and pull the slide to eject the round. If that doesn’t work, assume that the round is stuck. You may need help from a professional gunsmith to remove the round safely.

What You Should Never Do With Feed and Eject Failures

Never assume that the round will not fire. It could shoot the bullet at any second. Point your muzzle toward the ground until you find a solution. 

Preventing Firearm Malfunctions

You can’t prevent all firearm malfunctions. A dud round that comes from the factory isn’t your fault. All you can do is take safety precautions when you encounter a dud.

Cleaning your gun regularly, however, can help prevent many firearm malfunctions. When you go to the range for target practice, bring your cleaning kit with you. After your practice session, field strip the firearm and clean every piece. 

If you only fire a few rounds, you might just need to use your bore cleaner to remove any dust or metal fragments. 

Even if you haven’t fired your weapon, you should oil it at least once per week. Regular oiling and cleaning help ensure that every part from the firing pin to the muzzle does its job properly. Malfunctions can still occur, but with significantly lower frequency.

Protect Your CCW With a Kydex Holster

Help prevent handgun malfunctions by keeping your CCW in a Kydex holster. Concealment Express makes all of its holsters in the United States from durable Kydex material. They hold your CCW firmly in position so you can access it when you need to protect yourself or others.

Browse our selection of IWB, tuckable IWB, OWB paddle, OWB belt loop, and hybrid tuckable holsters to find the perfect match for your CCW. Every item comes with a lifetime warranty, so you never need to worry about getting a product that disappoints you.

Ben Jimenez
Ben Jimenez


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