Man holding a handgun displaying a stovepipe malfunction

Types of Handgun Malfunctions and How to Avoid Them

While occasional handgun malfunctions may not be cause for concern, repeated issues could point to existing damage while creating dangerous situations for you, your customized firearm, and innocent bystanders. Whether it causes a gun jam that prevents you from using your weapon, you have a recurring pistol stovepipe issue, or your gun seems to fire an extra round randomly, these point to mechanical problems that need to be addressed. Let’s take a look at the most common gun malfunctions, how to identify the core problem, and what you can do to correct the issue.

Don’t Assume It’s Your Weapon’s Fault

Man shooting a 9mm handgun at an outdoor shooting range. He's wearing protective gear for his ears and eyes while aiming at his target

Firing a gun may seem as simple as pulling the trigger, but the weapon in your hand is a technological marvel relying on advancements in chemistry and physics, the evolution of our industrial capabilities, and the careful application of the knowledge housed in that muscle between your ears for it to function correctly. There’s a lot that can go wrong, and it isn’t always a firearm issue that causes a handgun malfunction.


Today’s modern handguns are engineered for performance and reliability but have plenty of moving parts that can catch, not-catch, or become damaged, leading to a handgun malfunction.


The ammunition you choose plays a role in weapon reliability. With so many bullet weights, pressure loads, and manufacturers–not to mention the popularity of reloaded ammo–performance may vary from round to round, sometimes leading to gun jams or misfires.

Skills and Technique 

As handguns become more intuitive and user-friendly, there is a tendency to forego basic handgun skills for a “grip it and rip it” approach that some gun and ammo combinations may not be happy with.

Common Handgun Malfunctions

Failure to Feed 

A failure to feed occurs when the next round doesn’t load into the chamber properly. This can have several causes, including a dirty or damaged feed lip, overly stiff or weak magazine spring, or ammunition that just doesn’t agree with your gun. Sometimes this will leave you with an empty chamber, while other times, you may have a pistol stovepipe or tip-up, with a live round sticking up out of your ejection port, causing a gun jam.

Failure to Eject 

This happens when a round you just fired doesn’t completely clear the gun to make way for the next round, either by becoming stuck partially in the chamber or getting caught in the closing ejection port of your slide. It can be due to over-pressurized rounds, a damaged rim on the cartridge, a weak extractor, or an overly stiff magazine spring that causes the next round to interfere with the smooth movement of the spent carriage back and out of the gun. It can lead to a gun jam, the potential damage from components not moving as expected, and lots of frustration.


A hangfire is when you pull the trigger, and nothing happens….then it does. This can be incredibly dangerous as it can be mistaken for a light strike or other misfires before firing an unexpected round. If you suspect a hangfire, keep your weapon pointed downrange and away from yourself or others for a few seconds before fixing the issue and moving on with your shooting.

Squib Load 

One of the most dangerous handgun malfunctions, squib loads are from under-pressurized loads that have enough power to push the bullet into the barrel and possibly cycle the gun’s action but not enough power to push the bullet out of the barrel. If you don’t catch this, it can lead to catastrophic weapon failure (Boom!). If you suspect the bullet has not left your weapon, wait to ensure there was no hangfire, then unload your weapon, make it safe, and check the barrel before resuming shooting.

Slam Fire 

When the next round is fired unintentionally by the weapon cycling, it’s called a slam fire, and there can be several causes. Overly sensitive primers, a stuck firing pin, dirty or defective springs, or an otherwise compromised bolt carrier assembly all may be the culprit. 

Close up view of a pistol - man doing clearance drills

Tips to Prevent Handgun Malfunctions

While no blog could cover every conceivable repair technique, there are a few methods that will give you “more bang for your buck,” as the majority of handgun malfunctions not resulting from component damage can be remedied by a few simple actions.

Tap, Rack, Ready  

You may have heard this from a shooting instructor, and it holds true. When you load a new magazine into the weapon, give its base a short, sharp tap, rack the slide, and present it for firing when safe. This better seats the magazine and can clear up failures to feed and eject.

Try Different Ammo 

Some guns like to shoot hot, while others want to take it easy. If you keep experiencing gun malfunctions, try using ammo from a different manufacturer, with a different bullet weight, or with different pressures. If you’re using reloaded ammunition, try commercial options, as you may have a bad batch, or the reloader may not have used the proper loading pressures for your weapon.

Keep It Clean 

Cleaning and maintaining your handgun regularly and properly will eliminate quite a few handgun malfunctions before they happen. Along with ensuring it’s free of dirt, grime, and caustic residue, you also have the chance to spot worn or damaged components that could lead to gun jams or worse.

Check Your Magazine 

Magazine issues are a frequent source of handgun malfunctions. Make sure you follow your manufacturer’s recommended “break-in” instructions, frequently loading the magazine to less-than-full capacity for a few boxes of cartridges to work the spring in. Dropping the magazines on hard ground, while providing realistic training, can also bend the lips of the magazine, loosen the baseplate, or otherwise cause damage. They are often easier and cheaper to replace than fix, and many shooters will make a small mark on the bottom of the mag when a gun jam or malfunction occurs after the magazine is worn in, replacing it when the number of marks shows a troubling pattern.

Quality Parts for Repair or Customization

Whether you’re upgrading a new gun, restoring a much-loved sidearm, or building your own legal handgun for personal use, we have you covered with the Second Amendment supplies you need. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to get our best deals delivered to your inbox. Fix your handgun malfunctions with quality parts from JSD Supply today.