“We need a solution to positively get the gun up and running regardless of whether the issue is a dud round, failure to feed, stovepipe or whatever. Dump the mag, Rack the

slide rapidly three times to clear any obstructions, load a fresh mag and rack the slide to chamber a cartridge.”

― Dave Anderson

Problems with the “Tap-Rack-Whatever” method

The old version I was trained in of “Tap-Rack-Bang”! Which later became “Tap-Rack-Go” or “Tap-Rack-Assess” so the training would not encourage shooting the gun after the technique unless it was necessary: “Bang” to fire the gun, “Go” to get back into action and “Assess” to determine if any other action was appropriate, or if while you were busy, the situation had somehow resolved itself and you could relax.  The first two actions were designed to make sure the magazine was fully seated in the gun “TAP” in case it had somehow started to come out of the frame. Then “RACK” the slide to eject a dud round or cycle to insert a live round in the chamber. 

If still needed, you then pull the trigger. If you need a “BANG” but only get a “click, the next step is to use one of several techniques to clear the malfunction and get the gun functioning once again. In some situations, the “Tap & Rack” actions could induce another, more complicated malfunction, which you then needed to figure out and address. If it worked the first time, great. Otherwise, it would become very complicated, time consuming, and took a lot of practice to master moving through various steps to try and make the gun function. 

Another issue: after Tap-Rack-Whatever, if the gun didn’t fire, or had another malfunction that the technique hadn’t corrected, you then needed to stop and evaluate then diagnose the problem – a challenge in any conditions, but good luck doing that in darkness or low light conditions. Of course, most shootings occur in conditions of reduced lighting – so this not an unlikely condition to encounter. If you can’t see if there is a round still in the chamber, a case sticking out of the ejection port, or everything is clear – how can you expect to correct the problem. 

Being mechanically inclined, and a “gun guy,” I was able to perform these techniques fairly quickly. The problem, and I would see this on the range under the “mild pressure” of completing a shooting drill, was others would need to – under great stress – try and think, process, and analyze what had gone wrong, and then try and remember the process for what to do if the Tap-Rack-Whatever had not cleared the malfunction. Quite often they would struggle for a few moments trying to figure out “WHY” it didn’t work, then turn to the rangemaster for help, having given up any hope of clearing the malfunction.

As noted above, for some malfunctions the “T/R/W method” was great. For others it required a lot of time going through a series of motions that didn’t fix the problem, and then needed the shooter to stop, figure out what was wrong, and then perform another technique to make their gun function. The solution was to find a technique that didn’t require all these actions, and would clear any malfunctions that might occur. There are a lot of techniques out there, And I’ve tried and taught many of them, but I believe there is a better solution. 

The Better Solution:

In the late 1980’s, Larry Nichols, the rangemaster of the Burbank Police Department – whose department had just switched to Glocks – had the same problem most law enforcement firearms trainers had. How to teach a bunch of cops – few if any being mechanically inclined or firearms savvy – how to make their gun work again – and do so quickly – when it malfunctioned. Now any technique used within these parameters needs to be simple – really simple! 

Under stress you – or a law enforcement officer – will probably be scared, really SCARED! Your heart rate will skyrocket, as will your blood pressure and breathing. Your ability to do small and fine movements is deteriorated. You need to be able to do a technique with larger muscle groups and gross motor skills. And, you need a technique that doesn’t require you to go through a series of “If this, then… and If that, then…” processes which your brain being under stress, can’t effectively perform.

Begin with Things You Already Know:

For a technique to be effective, it needs to be based on things that you are already familiar with doing, because you won’t be able to master new motions, movements, or actions easily or without devoting a lot of time training. Let’s discuss how and why it works so well:

If you are typical CCW holder, in the morning, you load your gun before heading out. In the evening, as you are getting ready for bed, you unload it. Law enforcement officers have a similar routine at the beginning and end of their shifts. Even if you keep your gun loaded most of the time, at least once or twice a month you will unload it, wipe it down, blow the dust out of it, and then re-load it. With these regular manipulations, the load & unload cycle is familiar, and whether you realize it or not, with each loading and unloading cycle, you put one more repetition into your subconscious mind. 

With a semi-auto pistol, a simple explanation on how to unload it, is you remove the magazine, then cycle the slide several times to eject the cartridge in the chamber, and to double check and ensure that the magazine has in fact been removed – were you to have been tired, distracted, or otherwise the magazine somehow had been left in the gun, the slide being cycled several times would result in additional rounds being ejected, causing you to notice and then begin the process again, by first ensuring the magazine is actually removed this time, and repeat the cycling motions to ensure the chamber is clear. Once sure the chamber is empty, you might then lock the slide to the rear, and visually or even physically check to ensure the chamber is in fact clear.

Loading the gun, you insert a magazine into the gun’s frame, cycle the slide fully to the rear, then release it, allowing it to go forward unimpeded, and under full recoil spring pressure. Whether the slide is forward or locked to the rear as you begin the loading process, the slide is still pulled to its rear-most travel position, and then released. As the slide travels forward, it strips the topmost cartridge in the magazine out and pushes it forward into the chamber. You can then check to ensure there is in fact a cartridge in the chamber – feel the extractor poking out the side of the slide because a round in in the chamber, look through a access hole in the rear of the barrel, or do a “press check” bringing the slide slightly to the rear to visually confirm the cartridge in in the chamber.

As a gun owner, every time you unload, and then load your gun, you are essentially practicing a portion of a “clearance drill.” Let me explain. When you are shooting, and you run out of bullets in your magazine, what do you do to make the gun shoot some more? You start by “unloading” – taking the magazine out of the gun (when unloading you would typically cycle the slide several times to ensure the chamber is clear, but we typically forego that step when reloading). And once the empty magazine is clear, “loading” – putting a magazine filled with more cartridges into the gun, then cycling the slide to chamber a round. That action: of unloading, cycling the slide, and then loading, is essentially the same action and technique that will clear just about any malfunction in your semi-auto handgun.

There are Essentially Five “Malfunctions” That Prevent the Gun From Firing:

  1. Running out of ammunition – the slide typically is locked back, and there are no more rounds in the magazine
  2. The magazine was not fully seated in the gun, and as a result, the topmost round in the magazine was not chambered in the chamber, so essentially you have a gun with an empty chamber
  3. A “dud” “misfire” or “squib” – the round in the chamber doesn’t fire even though hit by the firing pin, and the now “useless” round remains in the chamber since it did not fire and was not ejected
  4. A “stovepipe” where the empty case did not fully eject, and is now caught halfway in and out of the ejection port
  5. A “double feed” a case or live round is in the chamber, and the topmost round in the magazine is pushed up against this chambered case/round, and is being held in place by the force of the recoil spring

The Problem: 

You are in a life-or-death situation. You were shooting at the threat and then the gun stopped working. You NEED the gun to shoot and it isn’t doing so. You might have someone shooting at you and you don’t have the time, nor with bullets flying, do you have the calm presence of mind to logically inspect the gun and spend time to diagnose WHY it isn’t shooting, you just need it to work again, and quickly. 

To say you are stressed is an incredible understatement. Your ability to function normally is either non-existent or severely deteriorated. Your heart rate, respiration and blood pressure are at all-time highs. As the vessels in your extremities are constricting, as blood is being directed into your central core, the heart, lungs and brain having the first priority to what is available. With reduced blood flow to hands and fingers, your abilities to perform fine motor skills are lacking – gross motor skills are still there, but somewhat awkward. Physical skills are still somewhat available, but your brain is focusing on trying to keep you alive, so creative thought and the ability to process things like the next move in a game of chess is not going to happen.

Any attempt to have your brain diagnose WHY the gun stopped working is going to be challenging, if even possible at all. The ability of your brain to walk you through a series of step-by-step actions, and make choices like in a decision tree as to what should be done next or in what order – well, good luck with that! If you have trained extensively, the mechanical motions repeated over and over as you have manipulated your gun, might be engrained in your brain, and might be able to help you solve the problem. 

The Solution:

Don’t waste time trying to diagnose the problem. It doesn’t matter WHY the gun stopped, you need to make it work again. So, do what you do every day, or at least a couple of times a week. Unload the gun. And then, load the gun. That’s it.

You have been doing this regularly, so the motions should be somewhat engrained in your brain. Even under stress, you should be able to unload and then load the gun, which will make the gun work again. You don’t need fine motor skills, you can use larger muscle groups to get the magazine currently in the non-functioning gun out, put in another, and work the slide. If you have been practicing these techniques, it should be even easier. 

Don’t over-think it. Don’t spend any time trying to figure out WHY! Just do this: While depressing the magazine release, get a firm grasp at the magazine’s base and aggressively pull the empty magazine down and out – vigorously cycle the slide several times, then fully seat a loaded magazine in the gun, forcefully cycle the slide and chamber a round.

That’s it?  Yup!  Let’s take these malfunctions in order: and in each case, use this same simple technique to demonstrate how to solve each of the problems:  

The gun is out of ammo:

You get a firm grasp at its base and aggressively pull the empty magazine down and out – vigorously cycle the slide several times, then fully seat a loaded magazine in the gun, forcefully cycle the slide and chamber a round.

Result: The gun is now loaded with a full magazine, and ready to fire.

The magazine is not fully seated in the gun:

You get a firm grasp at its base and aggressively pull the empty magazine down and out – vigorously cycle the slide several times, then fully seat a loaded magazine in the gun, forcefully cycle the slide and chamber a round.

Result: The magazine is now fully seated, and the gun is now loaded and ready to fire.

A “dud” “misfire” or “squib:

You get a firm grasp at its base and aggressively pull the empty magazine down and out – vigorously cycle the slide several times, then fully seat a loaded magazine in the gun, forcefully cycle the slide and chamber a round.

Result: The faulty cartridge has been removed, the gun is now loaded with a fresh cartridge, and ready to fire.

A “stovepipe:”

You get a firm grasp at its base and aggressively pull the empty magazine down and out – vigorously cycle the slide several times, then fully seat a loaded magazine in the gun, forcefully cycle the slide and chamber a round.

Result: The case obstructing the ejection port has been removed, the gun is now loaded and ready to fire.

A “double feed:”

You get a firm grasp at its base and aggressively pull the empty magazine down and out – vigorously cycle the slide several times, then fully seat a loaded magazine in the gun, forcefully cycle the slide and chamber a round.

Result: The round in the chamber has been removed and ejected, the topmost round formerly in the magazine has been removed, the gun is now loaded and ready to fire.

OK! That’s sounds too simple, what’s the catch? 

Nope, that’s it – in the 99+% of situations that can be fixed in the field with your bare hands, this will get your gun up and running once again. A couple of things to note: 

  • If you don’t carry a spare or extra magazines, when you take the magazine out – if it was the problem or cause of the malfunction, you have no efficient way to put more bullets in. You need to have extra magazines, you need to ALWAYS carry extra magazine(s) on your person. Having additional rounds available is good, but IT IS NOT ABOUT THE ROUND CAPACITY! Malfunctions happen, and with another magazine, you can get your gun working again – without another magazine – you basically have an expensive paperweight.
  • While this technique will work if you do it right – you can screw it up. You need to be comfortable and well-practiced in performing it. If you need to do this “for real,” chances are there will be really bad things going on, it can be dark, you might be on the ground, etc., so you need to good at doing it. That means you need to practice – a lot. On the positive side, each and every time you load or unload your gun, you can be intentional in making that activity a training reinforcement opportunity. 
  • Wait, if your gun is just out of ammo, why, after you remove the magazine, are you going to pull the slide back and release it several times, when all you need to do is insert a new magazine? If your gun stops working, you can stop and diagnose the problem, and then take an action to address that specific issue if you so choose. But if you are under great stress, in a reduced lighting environment, and have no idea how many rounds you have fired, your priority is to get your gun working again. If the action of “working the slide several times” is done and not needed, so what. When you put that fresh loaded magazine in the gun, you know it will function. If you believe you are only out of ammo, and go ahead and put in a new magazine, and it turns out there is a malfunction, you will spend a lot more time fixing that malfunction after you have tried unsuccessfully to reload the gun.
  • As critics of Burbank Rangemaster Larry Nichols pointed out – if you discard the full or partially full magazine that was in the gun, you are potentially putting a number of live rounds on the ground, even though the magazine may not be the cause of the malfunction. That is true – however, your gun is not working. Is it more important to take a few extra seconds and retain a few bullets or test the magazine for proper function, or is the priority to get your gun working again so you can shoot to defend yourself? The Burbank PD officers carried the fully loaded Glock 17 and two extra magazines – a total of 52 rounds. Discarding even a full magazine still would give you 34 rounds, rounds that you can now shoot because your gun is working again.
  • What about…., and what if….? Yeah, yeah – there are some things that won’t be fixed by doing this. Examples: if your firing pin breaks, if your trigger bar bends and locks up the internal parts you can’t shoot the gun. If the extractor breaks, you will have a single shot gun that needs to be manually manipulated for each round, etc. Each of these problems would require disassembly, tools, and parts to fix, they can’t be repaired in the field anyway. However, for those issues that cause the very vast majority of malfunctions (magazine and ammo issues), this works!

Now, if you have been carrying a gun for many, many years, and have engrained in your brain a specific sequence to clear a malfunction, and a follow-up if that first sequence isn’t successful – this might not be for you. Changing everythng you know, and are used to doing, maybe for many years – even if the technique is easier and much simplier to do – could be confusing when you need to perform the technique under stress. However, most of my clients are at the other end of the experience curve. They may have shot their gun a bit, but they have never tried to reload their gun under stress, nor have they needed to get a malfunction cleared so they can keep defending themselves against a threat.

For these folks, I can teach them – and they can practice and get pretty good pretty quickly with – a single, simple, technique that uses the same motions they use when they are loading or unloading a gun. Many new shooters are wary of carrying a firearm, and the gun store and internet myth of “semi-auto pistols always ‘jam’” is sitting there, quietly lurking in the back of their brains, causing subconscious fears. “What will I do if my gun stops working?” – they worry to themselves. Well, this not only clears malfunctions, it helps clear away the worries of having a gun that won’t work when you need it too. And those are a couple of pretty good things.

Nichols came up with a brilliant solution. Of course, like so many great ideas, those who are stuck in their “Old Ways” and cling to their “Old Ideas” will poo-poo such solutions, and as a result, it seems this technique is not widely used, or even known about in many circles. I don’t really care if something impresses someone or not. I want a technique that works. It might be a bit slower, but if one action that ALWAYS fixes the problem, AND is essentially intuitive to those who regularly handle a firearm, I’m a fan.