Pro tips: Clear pistol malfunctions--tap, rack, bang

There is a lot of anxiety surrounding semi-automatic pistol malfunctions in a combat situation.  The concern is quite understandable.  Numerous examples exist of soldiers, cops and citizens who have been injured or killed after their firearm stopped working.  Some people pick a revolver over a semi-automatic pistol for the sole reason of perceived reliability.


We know from history that when a gun that stops working in a self-defense situation, disastrous consequences may follow.  It seems reasonable that anyone carrying a pistol for self-defense would want to correct malfunctions in the most efficient manner possible.

When I first started learning how to shoot handguns, I read a lot of wasted ink on the subject.  It seemed that every author and instructor each had a variety of different methods for fixing a gun depending on the type of problem encountered.

Many of the instructors would have the student first diagnose the type of malfunction, and then choose the best technique for clearing that specific type of problem.  All of the varied techniques seemed cumbersome to me, especially when I saw there was a single approach that would correct all of them.

Immediate Action Drill

The immediate action drill, also known as the “tap-rack-bang” drill, is the quickest way to solve most malfunctions with a pistol:  failure to extract, failure to eject, stovepipe, bad primers, light strikes, etc.  It is also the basis for correcting a double feed.

The drill is simple.  If your pistol fails to fire when the trigger is pressed, follow this simple formula:  tap-rack-bang.

Tap:  Smack the bottom of the magazine to ensure it is seated properly.  Don’t let the phrase is “tap” fool you: smack the magazine hard.


Rack:  Grab the slide and yank it backward.  Do not ride the slide forward with your hand; let the full force of the slide work.  This process will get rid of any bad ammo in the chamber, any brass hung up in the ejection port, and get a fresh round into battery.



Bang:  If the threat still exists, press the trigger to make the gun fire.



The above will solve the majority of shooter-correctable malfunctions.  However, a double-feed will not be solved by the above procedure.  But the above serves as the basis for correcting the double-feed.

With a double-feed, the slide will not snap forward in the rack step.  To solve this, depress the magazine release and strip the magazine from the gun.  Once the mag is clear of the weapon, rack the slide multiple times to clear any ammo from it.  Then re-insert the magazine, rack the slide and address the target.

At no point during the process do you have to determine what malfunction you have encountered and try to apply a specific technique to resolve it.  Every time there is a malfunction, just go to the immediate action drill.

Ka-booms, Broken Parts and Backup Guns

A catastrophic failure of the pistol is something that renders the gun completely inoperative, and nothing you will do under fire will get it working again.  For example, a broken slide will render the gun pretty much useless.

Catastrophic failures are impossible to predict.  While some inexpensive handguns may be more prone to complete failure than others, I have seen pistols from Glock, SIG Sauer, Smith & Wesson and others all fail.  No gun is immune.

The only solution to a catastrophic failure is having a second gun.  Many concealed carry permit holders do not carry a single gun all of the time, so asking them to carry two may be futile.  However, if the primary firearm is completely out of action, a new one will not magically appear to save the day.


Small, subcompact pistols like the Ruger LCP or Kel-Tec P-3AT are lightweight and very small.  Neither would be my first choice for a defensive handgun, but both could make my list as a backup to my primary pistol.  These guns can be easily carried in a pocket, on an ankle or in a bellyband.

A citizen carrying a backup gun may sound extreme to some people.  If you are serious about dealing with a catastrophic failure of the primary handgun, a second pistol is worth considering.

I hope you never have to use a gun for self-defense, but you might.  Make sure you get good training, understand the laws surrounding its use and you have it with you.

Join the conversation as a VIP Member