A common trope I see in gun-forum reviews is that someone has absolute confidence in their gun because it never jams or has a stoppage. The reviewer, as a shooter, has very high standards but can safely pat themselves on the back for their fine purchasing decision. Is this review extremely important, or, is it a bit exaggerated?
Most guns, if shot enough, will experience some sort of jam. For the most part, they aren’t even the fault of the firearm itself. There are a handful of weak links when it comes to operating a firearm, as well and some operator errors that can cause a jam. When I read a gun reviewer tell me their gun has never jammed, I take it with a grain of salt.
Thanks to the miracle of reloading, I’ve been able to shoot my guns extensively for the last decade. I average about 10,000-12,000 rounds a year downrange, either in practice or competition. This has left me with a unique perspective when it comes to firearm responsibility.
Forum Cop Standard Disclaimer
The purpose of this series is to help other shooters wade through some of the BS that is said on gun forums. Sometimes the topic will be general, while other times it will be about a specific post. The goal of these discussions is not to motivate anyone to join a gun forum and argue with someone else. Unless the person making the original post is a public figure, I won’t directly link to the article. I will do my very best to accurately represent what is being said though. I don’t have any desire to argue against a strawman.
Do Good Guns Jam?
The real answer is that yes, a good and functional firearm can experience a jam. Even after the jam though, it can still be trusted if the source of the problem is discovered. Generally speaking, firearms made these days are very reliable, and being about to shoot lots of ammo though one isn’t difficult.
But how can a gun that jams be trusted afterward? If you are new to firearms then that is a very good question to ask. Odds are good, by the very nature of what a gun is, you could end up trusting it with your life. Below I will detail the most common reasons a gun can jam, and why it may, or may not, be a big deal.
For the purpose of this article, a jam will refer to a firearm failing to feed, shoot or extract a round of ammunition or spent casing. A stoppage will refer to a mechanical problem.
The Arguement: My Gun Doesn’t Jam
This is a pretty easy line of reasoning to understand. Someone bought a gun and it has been 100% for them. No jams, stoppages, break-in periods, or anything else that has kept it from going bang when it’s loaded and the trigger is pulled.
This isn’t an uncommon thing for people to say after their first range trip with a gun. In fact, shooting 100-300 rounds and not experiencing any trouble should be expected from a modern firearm. But the specific topic I am addressing is an extended use review, where the length of service is either stated or not, and the gun has never jammed or had a stoppage.
I generally find this unlikely, unless the shooter is very specific about the conditions he shoots under. Even then, a jam or stoppage is inevitable for all guns.
Ammunition is the Biggest Source of Jams
The most common kind of jams is failing to feed a round of ammunition from the magazine to the chamber of the firearm. How often this happens depends a lot on the type of gun, but can also stem from using reloaded ammo and non-standard ammunition. Most modern firearms are tuned to use ammunition of a certain power, so that can be a factor as well.
While ammunition is very important, it’s a one-use item and is made in massive quantities. By its very nature, less quality control can be given to it when compared to a firearm. Any number of things can cause ammunition to be sub-standard in quality.
A common cause of ammunition-related jams comes from the loading process, where the mouth of the brass case is belled so the bullet can be placed on top of it. This happens with both factory ammunition and reloads. After the bullet is seated in the case, this belling needs to be removed so the completed cartridge can be chambered. If it isn’t, the cartridge may not fully chamber and cause a jam.
Another common problem is ammunition is loaded weak. For auto-loading firearms, they need ammunition to be of a certain power level to cycle out the fired casing and cycle in the new round of ammo. These types of jams are almost common for inertia-driven shotguns until the owner settles on a specific load for their gun. It is also a problem in 9mm Luger pistols and any pistol using reloaded ammo.
The third common reason is one specific gun just doesn’t care for one specific type of ammo, but will function with others just fine. One of my pistols, a Smith and Wesson M&P40, will not feed Gold Dots unless it has almost brand new magazine springs. Other hollow points like the Hornady XTP and the Barnes TAC-XP, feed without a problem. Once again, many semi-auto shotguns struggle with this.
For the first problem, the gun cannot reasonably be blamed, even though the jam still occurred. For the second and third reason, the gun may play a factor but it can be easily remedied.
Magazines Get Dirty or Wear Out
Another common point of failure is the device that holds the ammunition inside the firearm. This is more a problem for guns that have detachable magazines, but also includes fixed magazines in all forms. These magazines are expected to wear over time and be replaced. The easiest way to know a magazine needs to be serviced or thrown away is when it starts causing jams when feeding ammunition.
Most magazines can be services and brought back to functional status with a new spring. These springs are sold for all common magazines and even some uncommon ones. It is usually a couple-minute fix to swap out the spring. Eventually though, the metal feed lips will wear, or the plastic body will crack, and the magazine is done for good.
There is also the problem of the magazine becoming dirty and binding up. Often referred to as a “salt ‘n pepper shaker”, because of the bullets freely rattling around on the inside, this can be caused by dirt, dust, mud, carbon from the gun, or the magazine follower deforming. It happens, especially to those who drop magazines on the ground when performing reloads.
Guns Break Small Part
Another inevitability is a small part will break and the gun will have a stoppage. For people who shoot high round counts, occasionally breaking a spring or a pin is expected every once in a while. Some guns have known weak points, such as the trigger return springs of anything CZ-75 based, while other guns just break parts at random.
And one might ask if this is to be expected, why not just do preventative maintenance? Lots of people do when they own a pistol with a known weak point. Every few thousand rounds, the old part will come out and the new part will go in. But, not every part has an expected failure point. An extractor could last for 4,000 rounds, or 50,000 rounds.
Rushed Firearms Handling Can Cause Jams
One of the final types of common jams is user-induced. Failing to fully seat a magazine, riding a slid forward, and not firmly holding a firearm can cause a jam. This is very common for newer shooters who are operating a firearm in some organized event, such as training or competition. They are, quite simply, outside of their comfort zone and make small mistakes.
There’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s good to learn from your mistakes in this format. Even experienced shooters make mistakes when doing something for the 10,000th time.
When I read someone writing about how their gun never, ever, ever jams, I make a few educated assumptions about the author. It is highly likely they are discounting any jams they actually do experience, chalking it up to not actually being the gun’s fault. And they are probably correct, but it’s still a jam.
Another possibility is they keep their round counts moderate, only shoot a perfectly maintained gun, and do so in a low-stress environment. They give themselves ideal conditions and enjoy ideal results.
None of the above is wrong, but it gives an unrealistic impression to newer shooters about how firearms work. When someone with a completely functional firearm experiences a jam or stoppage, they can look at these articles and start to think, should I trust my gun? It jammed, but this person online says their gun never does. Many times these articles contain a caveat that if the gun ever did jam, they would lose faith in it.
In reality, it depends on the nature of the jam, and if any reasonable steps can be taken to prevent it in the future.