Running the Gun


So, how will your defensive pistol be employed? You will probably be out and about, minding your own bidness, deep in WHITE, and BAM! You find yourself confronted by a predator(s). Things start moving way too fast. You wish you could have the last four seconds back. Too late. They're gone and no one cares. The totality of the circumstances lead you to believe that you are about to die. You are literally two heart beats from panic. You are barely holding on emotionally. You palm heel the adversary in the chin to gain a little distance. You step off to the side to put the adversary in front of a safe backstop, and to hopefully, get out of his line of sight. You draw your Blaster 2000, put the front site at the top of his nose, centered between his eyes and mash the trigger. Beyond a "click", nothing happens. He re-acquires you, and looks really mad...

Hopefully, you carefully selected your minimum acceptable caliber, quality defensive ammunition, and selected a pistol that is just big enough so that you can control it. You carry the gun in a quality holster that allows you to re-holster one handed. Now you need to learn how to "run" it.

The gun will inevitably encounter "stoppages." A "stoppage" is when the pistol stops working. Maybe you shot the gun empty? Maybe something broke?  If so, you are probably screwed. Buying quality guns is about the only thing you can do to prevent this. Additionally, I would suggest that you take your gun to a qualified 'smith, annually, for a detailed disassembly, cleaning, and worn parts replacement. Be sure to test fire it when you get it back to make sure he/she put it together right. Beyond that, there are a few things we can do to ensure that first round goes "bang."

 Maybe the ammunition was out of spec'? I have seen ammunition from reputable manufacturers come out of a new box that were messed up. This is very rare, QC is taken very seriously by most ammunition manufacturers, but sometimes things happen. I've seen cases get stuck in chambers. Possibly from a hot powder charge. I've seen case heads separate. If you buy quality ammunition the chances of you experiencing these events is rare. I advocate taking every cartridge that you plan on carrying and placing it into the chamber of your barrel (yes, the gun is dissembled). If a cartridge doesn't fit, discard it appropriately. This check will hopefully identify a cartridge that is out of spec'. If it seats unusually deep, or high, get rid of it.

Maybe the gun malfunctioned? I've seen a revolver lock up rock solid from a few grains of powder. Keep that in mind when spouting off about the reliability of revolvers. Yes it is rare, but if THAT happens, your revolver is just a poor but expensive club.  I can fix just about any stoppage of a semi auto pistol in just a few seconds, and as we should agree by now that pistol ammunition are poor fight stoppers, the large capacity of most pistols is an important consideration.

Why do pistols malfunction? Maybe the magazine wasn't seated? Maybe the magazine is worn out. If you start having problems with a specific magazine (label all of them so you can keep track), get rid of it and replace it (quality manufacturer, please).

Maybe your technique sucks and you "steal" energy that the gun needs to function. This is a big deal, and I see it frequently. You need to hold the gun firmly. The gun needs you to hold it firmly so the operating spring and the various bits and parts can function properly. If you "limp wrist" it, you steal recoil energy that it needs.

Keep your gun clean. I will not get into the weeds about durability/functionality tests. Most "main stream" defensive pistols can sustain a stunning round count with minimal maintenance or lube. HOWEVER, any mechanical device will work better when clean and lubricated. Keep your gun clean. Every time you shoot it, it gets cleaned. Odds are, the gun doesn't really "need" it.  But, it increases your "intimacy" with your gun (something I am convinced most civilians, and even law enforcement officers lack) and it gives you an opportunity to check the gun to potentially identify any issues. Read the freakin' owners manual! Clean your gun as recommended in the  freakin' owners manual!

While you have your pistol disassembled, ensure that the bore of your gun is absolutely bone dry, free from any lubrication. Yes, clean it appropriately, but once the gun is "going back in service" ensure that the bore is clean and dry. Oil kills ammunition. Similarly, ensure that the firing pin and firing pin port and channel is also clear from lubrication. Over time, oil will travel down the firing pin, drip on to the primer, eat through any sealant and kill the primer. I will also advocate shooting off your carry ammunition. I'd prefer you do this every six months, but I can live with annually, if you are cheap. If you are "switched on," switch out your WML batteries every six months. If you are really switched on, switch out the battery of your MRDS every six months. 

You cleaned your gun. You ensured the bore and firing pin, port and channel are dry. You "Administratively Load" your pistol. You watched the top round of the magazine feed into the chamber. You check the magazine and "yep!" it's one round short (the top round of the magazine was loaded). But, you doubt it (maybe it was taken by aliens?), so you "press check" the chamber. Pull the slide back 1/2", visually AND physically check that the round has fed into the chamber. Then you make sure the slide is fully back into battery.

There are two main philosophies about clearing weapon stoppages. One is the "Route Memorization" approach. This modality requires the shooter proceed down an "algorithm." This approach is useful in that it will eventually result in the gun being placed in a configuration to fire, with minimal cognitive thought. The second approach is the "Diagnostic" approach. This requires a fairly in-depth understanding of how the gun functions. The shooter, upon noticing a stoppage, literally diagnoses the stoppage and applies the appropriate resolution. The Diagnostic Approach is the most efficient. The Diagnostic Approach will either result in Immediate Action, Remedial Action, or an Emergency Reload being applied.

The Diagnostic Approach is superior. Once mastered, the shooter should be able to identify the problem and apply the proper solution by feel alone. Either way, please for the love of John M. Browning, check the status of your gun after each string of fire! The first, oh I don't know, 30 times I saw people working a scenario with their pistol dead, was because it suffered a stoppage they didn't know about. I was stunned. I am no longer stunned, but I am starting to loose my faith in humanity. Check your guns status after every string!

Immediate Action

As the name implies, Immediate Action (IA) is action you should immediately take should the gun go "click" instead of "bang." If it's the very first round, you may have forgotten to load it, the round is "dead" (bad from the factory or you left too much oil on or around the bolt face or firing pin and over time, because you never rotated your carry ammunition, lubricant got into and killed the primer, or something broke).

If the stoppage occurred during a string of fire, it could be the result of you "limp wristing" your grip which steals energy from the gun that it needs to function. Maybe the cartridge was out of spec' and didn't provide enough energy for the pistol to function. Maybe the extractor slipped off the case rim because of a weak extractor spring or because the case swelled inside the chamber. Maybe the magazine came out of spec'? Maybe the magazine wasn't seated? Who knows.

Immediately begin to pull the gun back to Position 3,  (about 8" in front of and centered on your sternum),  while rotating the magazine towards your mid-line, (while indexing your trigger finger), and slap the snot out of the magazine one time with the palm/heel of your non-dominant hand. Now, that you are in pos' 3, get or keep the ejection port orientated downward ("gravity assist") and roll your non-dominant hand onto the rear of the slide. Push the gun forward with your dominant hand, while pulling the slide vigorously to the rear with your non-dominant hand, allowing the slide to literally "rip" out of your non-dominant hand. Reacquire your grip and the threat and evaluate the situation. IA should be accomplished in less than two seconds. IA will resolve most stoppages.

A few words about slapping the snot out of your pistol magazines (NEVER slap your carbine magazine!): Some pundits opine that this step is unnecessary. I think that in most situations, this position is correct. HOWEVER, I have seen instances where the magazine release had been activated (usually during a physical confrontation) and since the magazine was swollen with ammunition, did not fall free. The gun fires the round that was in the chamber, but since the magazine had slipped down the magazine well, the next round was missed by the bolt as it cycled. Slapping the base of the magazine takes very little time and I think it is still a viable and important procedure.

Remedial Action

Remedial Action (RA) is applied if/when IA fails. Starting from position 4 (firing position), lock the slide to the rear as you bring the gun to pos 3. Remove the magazine, stowing it if you have time, rack the slide as in IA two to three times. Acquire and insert a fresh magazine, rack the slide, reacquire your grip and the threat and evaluate the situation. RA should be performed in less than five seconds.

RA will clear double feeds and possibly a stuck casing. Locking the slide to the rear will take the pressure off the top cartridge that is part way up the feed ramp, being "pinched" between the bolt face and the base of the case that remains in the chamber. If you use magazines fitted with extended bases, you may have enough purchase to rip the magazine free without locking the slide to the rear. Please don't forget to activate your magazine release while yanking on the magazine.

An additional word or two about RA. Some trainers will have the shooter start with a pistol that has a double feed already in place in their gun. I use this method as well to teach shooters how to clear it (RA). However, this is not how the stoppage will present itself to the shooter in the real world. I have yet to discover a way to cause a pistol to spontaneously double feed. The closest thing I can come up with is two dummy rounds loaded in a magazine back to back. Subsequently, the first dummy round should result in IA. This will fail as the second dummy round, obviously won't fire. This second Fail to Fire, should result in RA being applied, as we use RA when IA fails. I guess it is prudent to practice using both methods, but I would place emphasis on the double dummy round method.

Emergency Reload

Running your gun to empty, although sometimes necessary, is tactically unsound. If everything about your system is in spec', the slide should lock to the rear once the last round was fired. You should note this. If not, following the Route Memorization modality, will eventually result in you reloading your gun.

If you note your gun is empty (slide locked to the rear), Drop the magazine as you move to pos' 3. If you keep the magazine well oriented vertically, the magazine should fall free. However, I advocate dragging the support hand against the magazine as the magazine release is being activated to ensure a positive withdraw. Make no attempt to retain this empty magazine. It is worthless. You are in an ammunition management emergency. It's an emergency as there is an adversary in front of you that needs to be shot and your gun is empty.

As the gun arrives in pos' 3, tilt the magazine well towards your mid line, as your support hand acquires your "Emergency Reload" magazine. Your magazines should probably be stowed on the opposite side of your gun, bullets pointing forward. The front magazine is the "Emergency Magazine" as it is just a smidgen easier to get to. The next magazine is the "Tactical Reload Magazine" (more on this in a moment).

The index finger of your non-dominant hand is along the front of the magazine. Pull the magazine from the pouch, and bring it into the magazine well. A very efficient method for the next phase is to rest your dominant thumb just above the slide release. When you vigorously seat the magazine into the gun (beveled magazine wells facilitate this, but can increase the pistols foot print), the gun will shift in your hand, causing the slide release to function, releasing the slide and loading the gun.

Some slides will release when the magazine is forcefully seated, but this is unreliable. Using a thumb (dominant or non-dominant) to deliberately articulate the slide release can be problematic. Aftermarket extended slide releases are available for just about every modern pistol, and many shooters swear by them. Racking the slide as in IA, will almost always work, but takes a little time. This method also directs more force into the chambering process, perhaps increasing the reliability of extremely dirty guns.

An Emergency Reload (ER) should be done in under three seconds

Tactical Reload

I do not think most people are capable of reliably counting the number of rounds they fire in a dust up. I DO think it is reasonable to keep track of "about where" you are in the magazine. "I am about 1/2 way through this magazine." "I am about 3/4 through this magazine! I got to start thinking about doing a Tactical Reload (TR)!" The idea is to keep your gun fully loaded in case things suddenly get weird.  We keep the partial magazine in case things get really weird. 

Internet experts will say a TR should be done during a "lull" in a gunfight. I am not quite sure what a "lull" in a gunfight really is. I think it is safe to say that a TR is an "elective" procedure. Meaning that the situation doesn't force you to do it, you decide when/where to perform it. One situation where I am kind of set on doing a TR is before leaving a piece of ballistic protection or concealment. That way, if once I am moving, and a threat presents itself, I have a fully loaded gun to use to resolve the problem.

You finally calmed down enough to start thinking again. You know you fired some rounds, but don't really know how many. You got behind ballistic protection. You decided to TR your gun. Conduct a 360 degree scan of the area. Acquire your most hard to get to magazine, as you bring the gun to pos' 3. Slide your index finger from the front of the magazine to the side so that you are now holding the magazine between your index and middle fingers (non-dominant hand). Eject the magazine into your palm, pinching it between your thumb and index finger. Move the fresh magazine into the magazine well and seat it. Stowe the "dirty" magazine in the now empty TR magazine pouch. Re-scan the area. You should be able to get this done in 10 seconds or less.

I have no doubt that some of you slaves to dogma are screaming words to the effect of "WRONG! YOU IDIOT! NEVER, EVER put partial magazines in pouches with/near your full magazines!!" If you are rocking a rack with 5+ magazines, I would agree. That's why we have dump pouches. We are talking a CPL or low vis' application. We don't have a dump pouch, and I am asking you to keep track of three, T H R E E (3)  magazines. Just breathe a little. It'll work out.

I advocate using the same pouches we train with because we trained with them. You won't be surprised by a missing pocket, or a buttoned pocket or whatever. You have a pouch because you had a spare magazine(s). It makes total sense to just keep using it. The only time I am "OK" with using a pocket to stowe a magazine is during RA.


So how do you practice these drills? Every one of these drills can be practiced dry with snap caps or dummy rounds. A shot timer is a very worth while investment. It is wise to keep a log and track your performance. It is also wise to video yourself conducting drills. This allows you to look for "friction points" in your technique.

Try to get to a point where you can draw and fire an accurate shot in one second or less. This is tough, but doable. Load a dummy round in your magazine. When the gun goes "Click" on the empty chamber, you respond with IA. You can practice this live by randomly placing single dummy rounds among your live ammunition in your magazines. This way, failures will occur randomly, just like in real life. Remember, IA should take no more than two seconds.  

Two dummy rounds back to back either live or dry should "stimulate" you to perform RA. The first dummy round "stimulated" you to perform IA. The second dummy round results in another "failure" (IA "failed") which should result in you preforming RA. You have no more than five seconds.

A Base Line Drill can be used to exercise these drills. Start with a 5 1/2" target at 20'. Load two magazines with six rounds total, unevenly. Ideally, have a buddy load them for you. At the timers tone, draw and fire the six rounds. The gun will run out of ammunition at a random moment, conduct an ER. This should take no more than six seconds. Add a TR at the end for a total time of 16 seconds.

Load again, this time with one dummy round in one of the magazines. This should "stimulate" you to conduct an IA. If training IA, add two seconds to the "par" time.

If you only carry two magazines, try loading two dummy rounds back to back in the first magazine. This should result in IA (will fail) then RA. 13 second par time.

Some trainers advocate using fired brass in lieu of dummy rounds. I've used this method myself from time to time, but I have concerns and reservations. First, be sure you are using brass that came from your gun.  The brass, once fired, is "out of spec'." I don't think damage to your gun will result from using fired brass (from your gun/caliber), but why risk it? My reservation however, is that although the gun will have a stoppage, it will likely be in a format that is unlikely to occur with live ammunition. Who in their right mind would load fired brass in their magazines for carry? This approach forces the gun to function in a way that it was not designed to function. The resulting stoppages can be useful in teaching the Diagnostic Approach of clearing stoppages, because you will very likely have some bizarre stoppages to reduce. 

Anyhoo, these skills and drills will give you a solid understanding how to "Run your Gun." Practice them until you are "Unconsciously Competent." Until you can't get them wrong. Once there, keep practicing! Your goal is to expend as little brain power as possible clearing any stoppage, so that your higher brain functions are available to work the tactical problem.

Now, go Run the Gun!