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Tap, Rack--or How Not to Blow Up Your Pistol


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I was serving as the match director in our short-range match when I heard a loud pop instead of a bang as a competitor was completing a stage. I looked up and saw the safety officer walking toward me with the shooter who was holding his left hand with blood pouring through his fingers. His pistol was lying on the ground where it had fallen from his hand.

The shooter's pistol had failed to go into battery and the shooter had aggressively hit the back of the slide with his left palm in an attempt to clear the malfunction. As he did this his left fingers went forward over the top of the slide just as the round detonated in the open ejection port. Fragments of brass severely cut his left index and middle fingers. After examining the shooters injured left-hand, a doctor at the scene determined that he was not seriously injured and only had some bloody but not serious cuts.

When we retrieved and examined the pistol we realized that the remains of the detonated round was still in the ejection port. It was apparent that the round had nosedived into the feed ramp and that in doing so it literally positioned the primer exactly over the extractor. When the shooter slammed the slide forward with his left hand the extractor had crushed the primer causing the 9mm round to detonate. If you look at photo #1 you can get an idea of the quantity of brass fragments that struck the shooter’s hand. In photo #2 you can see where the extractor crushed the primer (pistol was a Kahr 9mm). This particular gentleman is very forceful when he manipulates his pistol. Photo #3 show where the force of the detonation forced the bullet into the feed ramp. Photo #4 provides another view.

I have always been somewhat skeptical when I've heard stories of rounds detonating in the ejection port—no longer. A common response to the slide of a pistol failing to go into battery is to strike the rear of the slide. However as we see in this case that may not be a very good idea and indeed could be very dangerous. Suarez International teaches that the proper response to a click instead of a bang is to tap the magazine and rack the slide—tap rack—this will often clear the malfunction. If it does not, the proper response is to lock the slide back, aggressively strip the magazine out, and then reload the pistol. After reloading, if it does not fire you probably have a broken pistol that's not going to be fixed easily on the spot. If you are under fire, the proper response at that point is to aggressively depart the area or take other necessary action.