The Problem You have learned how to load and unload your new defensive pistol, but what do you do when the gun unexpectedly quits working while you are shooting? What are these things called stoppages and malfunctions or interruptions in the cycle of operation? What do you do to prevent these things from happening? Your instructor may have mentioned these situations in your class, but there was a lot to learn in a short period of time.
The Solution While definitions may vary slightly, your understanding of what takes place to cause your gun to quit working can be addressed by studying the eight steps of its cycle of operation. An interruption or failure to complete one of these steps will cause the gun to cease operating. This condition is most often referred to as a stoppage, since the gun has stopped working due to an interruption in the cycle of operation.
The following is a brief description of the eight steps in a semi-automatic pistol’s cycle of operation to help further the understanding and diagnosis of what causes the gun to unexpectedly quit working.
Feeding is when a cartridge is moved from the magazine up the feed ramp of the barrel.
Chambering is the process by which the cartridge aligns with and seats in the chamber of the barrel.
Locking is when the barrel and slide lock together, sealing the cartridge in the chamber. (In a blowback-operated pistol, there is no mechanical lock of the barrel and slide. However, the slide does rest against the back of the barrel under recoil spring tension to seal the chamber, which is often referred to as “Closing.”)
Firing occurs when the trigger is pulled, causing the striker or hammer to impact the cartridge’s primer, making it fire.
Unlocking is when the barrel and slide separate, unsealing the chamber.
Extracting refers to the cartridge case being “pulled” from the chamber of the barrel by the extractor as the slide moves rearward.
Ejecting is when the cartridge case contacts the ejector as the slide moves rearward, “pushing” the cartridge case up and out of the ejection port.
Cocking takes place when the firing mechanism is returned to the ready-to-fire condition as the slide cycles to start the process again with feeding.
Any interruption in one of these steps will cause the pistol to stop working, which can be referred to as a stoppage or an interruption in the cycle of operation.
If the gun is in good condition, reasonably clean, adequately lubricated and is being shot with quality ammunition, there is little likelihood of it failing to function as intended. Of course, there is always the possibility of shooter-induced interruptions in the cycle of operation, which can be eliminated by practicing good shooting techniques.
A malfunction is a bit more serious than a stoppage in that it generally refers to a part or parts of the gun that are not operating as they were intended.
There is some crossover in terms depending on what really caused the problem being experienced. An example would be failure to extract the fired cartridge from the chamber during firing. A dirty chamber or substandard ammunition causing this would be considered a stoppage. A broken extractor, on the other hand, would be considered a malfunction. Both would result in an interruption in the cycle of operation, but for different reasons. One could be remedied by cleaning the gun and changing the ammunition, while the other would require the attention of an armorer or a gunsmith to replace the extractor in order to put the gun back into service.
Although it is good to understand what causes stoppages, malfunctions and interruptions in the cycle of operation, it is even better to learn how to prevent them before they happen.
Good cleaning and lubricating habits as well as using the recommended types of ammunition will all but eliminate failures of your pistol to operate when and as expected.