Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Firearm Malfunctions: Types of Malfunction

In our previous post, we studied about the stovepipe jam. But we got a little ahead of ourselves there. What we should have studied first is a general overview of different types of firearm malfunctions, before going into specific details. We will do that in this post.

Before we start, it should be noted that not all firearm malfunctions are equal. Some of the malfunctions are relatively minor and can be easily fixed, whereas other malfunctions are much more serious and can damage the firearm or be dangerous to people nearby. Proper cleaning and maintenance procedures can go a long way in preventing malfunctions.

There are two main categories of firearm malfunction causes, with numerous subcategories within each. The two main categories of malfunctions are:
  1. Ammunition malfunction: The ammunition doesn't work as expected. This is also called a "misfire"
  2. Mechanical malfunction: There is some problem with the firearm's mechanism, which causes it not to work properly.

Ammunition Malfunction

Within this category, we have some subcategories:
  1. Hang fire: This is also called "delayed discharge". The trigger is pulled, but there is a delay from when the trigger is pulled to when the firearm shoots. This was common with old-style firearms such as matchlocks and flintlocks because of poor quality of black powder. It also sometimes happens with modern ammunition though, especially if the ammunition has been stored improperly for a while. 
  2. Dud cartridge: The trigger is pulled and the hammer strikes the cartridge firmly, but the primer cap or propellant of the cartridge doesn't ignite and so nothing happens. If a dud round is encountered, the standard procedure is to keep the firearm pointed  at a safe target and wait for 30-60 seconds, to ensure that this is not a case of "hang fire" that we just studied in the previous paragraph. If it doesn't fire after this time, then it might be because of a dud cartridge. In this case, the procedure is to eject the round and dispose of it properly, as it may still be dangerous.
  3. Squib load: This is often caused due to insufficient quantity propellant in the cartridge case or because the ammunition quality was very poor. When this happens, the ammunition does not have enough force to push the bullet out of the barrel and the bullet stays stuck inside it. This causes an extremely dangerous situation if the stuck bullet is not removed, as the next cartridge fired will cause another bullet to impact the stuck one and may cause the weapon to explode.

Mechanical Malfunction

Within this category, we have some subcategories as well. Mechanical malfunctions are usually caused by dirt and rust, damage to parts, poor maintenance procedures, bad design etc. Some of its subcategories are:
  1. Failure to feed: Due to some mechanical problem, a cartridge could not be properly loaded into the firing chamber. Some of the reasons this happens is if the magazine isn't properly inserted into the firearm, or if the user forgot to manipulate the slide after the magazine is inserted, or there may be some damaged parts (dents or bulges) in the firearm, or there may be some dirt that causes it not to feed the cartridges properly etc.
  2. Failure to eject: The cartridge was fired, but due to some mechanical problem, it could not be ejected out of the weapon properly. The stovepipe jam that we studied in the previous post is a case of failure to eject.
  3. Failure to extract: The fired cartridge case could not be extracted properly and as a result, a second cartridge is loaded into the chamber without the first one being removed from it.
  4. Slamfire: This sometimes happens when a cartridge is ejected and a new one is moved into the chamber. The force of chambering the new cartridge sometimes causes it to fire, without the user intending it to do so. This is extremely dangerous, especially if a semi-automatic weapon unexpectedly goes full-auto when the shooter is not expecting it.
  5. Failure of safety devices: This may happen to a poorly maintained firearm, where the safety devices do not work and the firearm goes off accidentally without the user expecting it.
We will study all these malfunctions in detail in the following posts.

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