You're enjoying a nice range day, firing away at a target with your pistol. Then suddenly, instead of going bang, it goes "click." What's the deal?

Last weekend I was taught a SD Enhanced Permit class. During the shooting portion of the class, one shooter had a malfunction. When everyone else finished shooting and the rest of the line was cold, I went to go check his gun. The malfunction wasn't a big deal. It just had not been able to shove the cartridge into the chamber.

The pistol he was shooting had been raced up a bit. It had a threaded barrel and a compensator screwed onto it to vent gas upward and reduce recoil. My brain immediately went towards a part problem.

"Did you put a lighter recoil spring in it?" I asked, knowing that it a was likely modification for a race gun.

"Yeah, but I don't remember how light it was," he replied.

I watched him shoot the next string and could see that the slide was closing slower than it should have been, even with a new lightened recoil spring. Then I realized the problem was likely much simpler.

"When is the last time you oiled it? Could it be dry?" I asked.

He laughed as he looked sheepishly over at me and said, "It sure could be."

Pistols malfunction for a lot of reasons. But there are some that are more common than others. Here are the most common ones I see in my classes.

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Insufficient Oil

Pistol Jam

Lack of oil is the most common problem I see in classes. Dry metal rubbing on dry metal doesn't make a pistol run well. It slows down the slide to the point it will not function reliably.

Any oil will do. I got one student's gun running again with oil from the dipstick in my car. 

On another occasion, a married couple whose matching 9mm 1911 pistols went down within about 10 rounds of each other. The slide on the husband's gun was noticeably slowing down more and more with every shot. I inspected it, dabbed some oil on it, it ran perfectly. After that subsequent string, his wife's gun slowed down so much that the slide wouldn't close on the cartridge. I gave her similarly dry gun a few dabs of oil and it also started running fine again.

I have no specific recommendations on gun oil. I mostly use whatever I have received for free at matches. I also like any gun oil that has a thin metal applicator tube to make it easier to control the amount put on. It doesn't take a lot. Too much oil doesn't really hurt it, but your hands will be greasy for a while.

Thumbs In The Way

CZ Thumb Malfunction

If you have a pistol that won't consistently lock open on an empty magazine when shooting, make sure your thumb isn't holding the slide stop down. That is typically a right-handed shooter, but it can be a lefty if the gun has an ambidextrous slide stop, like a Gen5 Glock or Smith & Wesson M&P.

A specifically left-handed problem is leaving a thumb in front of the ejection port. Since all pistols kick rounds to the right, a lefty with a thumb in the wrong spot can knock a spent case back into the breach and lock it up. I know this because I'm a lefty and it happened to me when I started shooting a CZ Tactical Sport. Fortunately, I quickly figured it out because I noticed a bunch of black marks on my thumb. But I know of another left-handed guy who spent hundreds of dollars chasing ammo and parts problems when all he was doing was leaving too much thumb in the wrong spot of his CZ Shadow 2.

Glock Not Going Boom

I have the most experience shooting and working on Glock pistols. There is not a more reliable pistol made. However, they do require maintenance.

If you are occasionally having misfires and see a barely dented primer, instead of the trademark rectangular stamp with a pit from the striker, your striker spring may be wearing out.

I have two teaching Glocks that both had trouble with going off every time when shot by students. While I have observed that even ammo from reputable manufacturers has been occasionally sketchy in the last year, I also know that both of those guns probably need the striker spring replaced. One is a G19 that I bought pretty well used four years ago and had not changed the striker spring. The other is a G34 and that had a 5-pound spring in it, just slightly lighter than factory.

Semi-Auto .22 Pistol Misfires

.22 LR semi-automatic pistols are a dump truck of fun. But they can have reliability issues. I don't have empirical data to support why I think semi-automatic .22's have issues. But I do think there are two likely reasons.

Bad Ammo/Pistol Combination

The first problem is you are shooting standard velocity ammo. This happens a lot in my classes. The "LR" in .22 LR stands for "long rifle." It was designed for single-shot rifles and was quickly adopted for use in revolvers and single-shot pistols. It wasn't designed for blowback actions.

I had a guy bring in subsonic 22 ammo for his Browning Buckmark. It would not run the gun. The ammo was good for its purpose (being shot suppressed at slower velocity), and the pistol was also of very high quality. But that combination was not good.

Cheap standard velocity ammo is cheap because they are cranking it out fast and they aren't putting a lot into quality control. I bought an 800-round box of cheap Federal ammo before the Covid pandemic and about one out of every 30-50 rounds would resist going off, or not go off at all in a bolt action rifle. In the Glock 44 that I briefly owned (because it is the pickiest gun for ammo ever devised and malfunctioned constantly, it's the only Glock I dislike), that cheap ammo only went off and cycled the slide about half the time. It functioned better in my Ruger Mark IV that I traded the Glock 44 in on, but it still wasn't great. We kept that for the bolt guns. 

The Ruger Mark IV is my favorite .22 pistol ever made. It runs on quality standard velocity ammo, like CCI standard velocity. I shoot that in Steel Challenge matches and it isn't a problem. I would guess any of the Mark series pistols would be the same. But any other semi-auto .22, especially those that have to cycle a slide, you must use high-velocity ammo. CCI Mini-Mags and Aguila high velocity have worked well in my experience.

Dirty Gun

Many of .22 pistols guns that come to classes don't get cleaned. Many of them have never been cleaned. Usually it is neglect. Sometimes it is a very new gun that has never been cleaned. All firearms ship from the factory with a type of oil that is made for preservation in storage on a gun store shelf, not for flawless function. 

Dirty guns can cause carbon and other gunk to build up in places that are bad for it. If too much gunk builds up behind the extractor it can cause it to not pull the fired case out. This can also be a worn out extractor, but since most people don't really shoot enough to wear out such a part, I lean towards dirty gun.


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