Sunday, September 18, 2022

Tap Rack Revisited--How to Not Blow Up Your Pistol.


This is an update to an article I wrote several years ago, spurred by a recent incident during a training session. 

I still routinely see competitors trying to catch rounds when they are clearing their pistols or holding their hand over the ejection port in an attempt to catch the round instead of letting it drop to the ground.  This is not a good idea.

I was always somewhat skeptical when I heard stories of rounds detonating in the ejection port. I now have personally witnessed two examples of rounds doing just that.  One as the shooter was clearing the pistol and one when the shooter (a cardiologist) was attempting to close the slide on a round that apparently had not gone into battery. Fortunately, although the doctor's hand was lacerated, no tendons were cut.

Recently during a training session, a shooter was clearing his 1911 pistol.  The round apparently managed to turn sideways in the ejection port and detonated from the primer striking the ejector.  The brass case departed stage right and we did not recover it.  The bullet struck some part of the ejection port and we found it on the ground at his feet. It had minimal damage and could have easily been reloaded and fired.

If the shooter had placed his hand over the ejection port, the brass case would likely have severely lacerated his hand.

At one point, a common response to the slide of a pistol failing to go into battery was to strike the rear of the slide. I do not see this too often as striker fired pistols have come into mainstream usage. However as we see in the incident discussed below, that may not be a very good idea and indeed could be very dangerous as well.

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 competitor 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 competitor's pistol had failed to go into battery and he had aggressively hit the back of the slide with his left palm in an attempt to clear the malfunction. As he did this, his 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 competitor's injured left-hand, a doctor at the scene determined that he was not seriously injured and only had some bloody but not serious cuts.The competitor was a heart surgeon so this was welcome news indeed!

When I retrieved and examined the pistol, I saw that the remains of the detonated round were still in the ejection port. The round had nosedived into the feed ramp and that in doing so it literally positioned the primer exactly over the extractor. When the competitor 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 above 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 (not the ejector--look at the picture) crushed the primer (pistol was a Kahr 9mm). This particular gentleman was very forceful when he manipulated his pistol. Photo #3 shows where the force of the detonation slammed the bullet into the feed ramp. Photo #4 provides another view.

In my classes I teach that the proper response to a click instead of a bang is to tap the magazine (to ensure it is properly seated) 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 and continue to fire if the circumstances warrant. 

After reloading, if it does not fire you probably have a broken pistol that's not going to be easily fixed on the spot. If you are under assault, the proper response at that point is to aggressively depart the area or take other necessary action.

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