Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Michigan Concealed Pistol Class: Ammunition Malfunctions

A handgun is a mechanical device. As such, it can fail to operate as desired for a variety of reasons. One potential source of failure can be caused by an ammunition malfunction. Most ammunition malfunctions are caused by a dilution of the cartridge's powder charge potency. This article will discuss three common ammunition malfunctions: misfires, hangfires, and squib loads.

Most gun owners who properly store their extra ammunition in non-hostile environmental conditions, will not experience an malfunction. Keep your cartridges in their original boxes in a dry location devoid of extreme temperatures - hot or cold. However, be mindful that if you are open to buying remanufactured ammo at gun shows that you have no reliable guarantee as to their quality. Caveat Emptor.

One such ammunition malfunction is called a misfire. A misfire occurs when the handgun fails to discharge after the trigger is pulled. The only sound that can be heard is the firing pin punching the primer cap. This malfunction is caused by a total breakdown of the resident powder charge in the cartridge.

Another ammunition malfunction is called a hangfire. A hangfire occurs when the handgun does not immediately discharge after the trigger is pulled. There is a noticeable delay, sometimes as long as 15 seconds, before a bullet exits the barrel's muzzle. This malfunction is caused by a delayed ignition of the cartridge's resident powder charge by the struck primer cup.

Thus, it should be apparent that if a handgun does not immediately discharge when the trigger is pulled, that the identification of the experienced malfunction is in doubt; at that time it could either be a misfire or a hangfire.

Accordingly, the shooter should continue to follow fundamental firearm safety rules - especially Rule One. The firearm should be kept in a safe direction at all times, even during an ammunition malfunction. There are several documented stories in which a shooter of a handgun with a hangfire malfunction managed to shoot himself in the face while trying to trouble-shoot a misdiagnosed misfire.

Most handgun operator guides will instruct gun owners to count to 30 aloud before concluding that the suspected misfire is not a hangfire. In either scenario, the firearm should be pointed in a safe direction, just in case. If the malfunction was caused by a misfire, the unfired round should then be removed from the pistol and sequestered from other good rounds until it can either be safely recycled (i.e. reloaded) or disposed.

Moreover, a squib load is an ammunition malfunction that occurs when the bullet fails to fully traverse the handgun's barrel after the trigger is pulled. This malfunction is often diagnosed by both a discernible difference in the amount of felt recoil (i.e. kick) and the loudness from the discharge. Squib loads are caused by a deterioration of the cartridge's powder charge such that the resultant force wasn't strong enough expel the bullet from the muzzle.

If you think that you have a squib load, do not fire upon another cartridge in the handgun. If you did, it would be the equivalent of shooting a live cartridge at a bullet stuck in the barrel of your handgun. An explosion could result with the damage of your handgun, severe bodily harm of the shooter or other persons close by, or both.

Squib load malfunctions should be resolved by unloading the handgun while keeping the handgun pointed in a safe direction. If you are unable to safely unload the handgun, put it down and find a knowledgeable firearm user to assist you. Once the handgun is emptied, an implement should be used to push the bullet out of the barrel from the chamber side.

Bottom Line:
Ammunition malfunctions are not a common occurrence if a shooter only uses quality reloaded ammo or factory produced cartridges that have been properly stored in non harsh environments. However, all shooters should be aware of them so that they will know how to properly diagnose the issue and how to safely resolve them. In all cases, all fundamental firearm safety rules and admonishments from the operator's guide should be strictly followed.
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