basic safety rules, breech, dry firing, Glock 44, handgun clearing, jam, magazine, magazine release, magazine well, malfunction, manual of arms, muzzle, semiautomatic pistols, slide release, trigger squeeze, Weaver stance
This article deals with basic semiautomatic handgun handling. Because the first article in this series—First Time Gun Buyers: What Do I Choose?–focused on the Glock 44 in .22LR caliber, and by design, all Glock handguns, I’ll illustrate the basics with a Glock 44, though the same techniques will apply to every other Glock handgun. As I noted in the first article of the series, I choose the Glock 44 because every shooter should have a .22LR handgun, and because knowing the manual of arms for any Glock means you know the manual of arms for all Glocks. Stepping up to a larger caliber is essentially seamless. Go here for my article on the Glock 44.
Basic—Universal—Firearm Safety Rules:
These basic rules apply to all firearm types in virtually all situations. If you follow them without exception, it is virtually impossible to have a negligent discharge: to fire when you did not intend to fire at something you did not intend to shoot.
1) All weapons must be treated as if they were not only loaded, but chambered: ready to fire.
2) Never point a weapon at something you do not intend to shoot/destroy, not even for a millisecond.
3) Keep your finger straight and in contact with the frame—“in register”—until a moment before you’re ready to fire.
4) Be absolutely sure of your target and what is beyond it.
Some authorities add a fifth caveat: keep all weapons on “safe” until it’s time to shoot. This is a good general principle, but doesn’t apply to Glocks in the same way it applies to other handguns. I’ll explain shortly.
All of these safety rules speak to the necessity of concentration and muzzle awareness. The muzzle is the end of the barrel, at the front of the slide, where the bullet exits the barrel. With handguns, even more than rifles, it is ridiculously easy to accidently point the muzzle at people or other objects. When handling firearms, you must put everything else out of your mind, and be always aware of where the weapon is pointing.
On a range, it’s relatively easy: keep the muzzle always pointed downrange—toward the targets/backstop. Outdoor ranges use high dirt berms for backstops. They’re very effective for all calibers of ammunition. Indoor ranges use steel bullet traps, which may not be rated safe for rifle ammunition—such ranges make this very clear. But indoors, in your home when you’re practicing dry firing or cleaning, you’ll have to always be careful to point your muzzle at something that would safely stop a bullet in case of a negligent discharge. Keep in mind even .22LR bullets will penetrate drywall, doors and similar barriers with ease.
Basic Handgun Clearing:
Whenever you pick up a handgun—actually, any firearm—you must ensure it is cleared: there is no magazine in the magazine well, the chamber is empty, and the slide is locked back. You cannot take anyone’s word on this, regardless of who they are. Professionals will expect you to do this and appreciate it when you do. Anyone insulted by this is dangerous and not worthy of your positive regard.
When someone hands you a handgun, clear it. If they’ve removed the magazine and locked the slide back, that simplifies, but doesn’t render unnecessary, your clearance. When you hand a handgun to someone, clear it. Before you clean a handgun, clear it. It’s that simple, and takes only a few seconds. Being aware of your muzzle, and keeping your trigger finger in register, here’s the process:
1) Remove the magazine and set it aside.
2) Cycle the slide at least three times in quick succession. This should extract and eject any cartridge or fired case. Note the trigger finger is in register—VERY IMPORTANT—and note the way the off/weak hand grips the slide.
3) Pushing up on the slide release, retract and lock the slide back/open.
4) Visually inspect the chamber to be sure it is empty; there is no cartridge in the chamber:
Inspect it with the tip of your little finger.
Visually inspect it one more time.
Again, refer to the way the slide should be gripped by the off/supporting hand. This uses the strength of the whole hand and ensures you’ll do every action appropriately. Whenever you manipulate the slide, you must do it energetically, “smartly” as some in the military might say. You’re trying to mimic the actual function of the slide when the gun fires. You cannot hurt the gun doing this properly. Firing will generate more force than you can apply.
After you’ve cleared the gun and you’re sure it’s unloaded, you can close the slide and practice dry firing, or simply store the gun unloaded. But before you load the gun, go through the clearing ritual again. You can never be too sure of such things.
Dry firing is practicing trigger pull and sight alignment with a cleared gun, a gun with no ammunition, hence the “dry.” Glocks do not have an internal or external, exposed hammer. They employ, instead, a “striker,” which is essentially a large, spring-loaded firing pin. It is internal to the slide, and does not need to be removed for routine cleaning. Dry firing will not harm the gun. The basic principle of all semiautomatic pistols is simple. With a loaded magazine inserted in the magazine well and an empty chamber, cycle the slide once. This will reset the striker, or if the gun has a hammer, cock it. The weapon is now ready to fire the chambered cartridge when the trigger is pulled. Firing that first cartridge will recock the hammer/reset the striker, so you do not need to manually cycle the slide—firing a cartridge does it for you. This will continue until you’ve fired every round in the magazine. At that point, in most designs, the slide will lock back to notify you you’ve shot the weapon dry. Glocks lock back on an empty magazine.
NOTE: Some semiauto designs have a magazine disconnect. If the magazine is not seated in the magazine well, even if a round is in the chamber, you will not be able to fire the chambered round. For range guns, this isn’t a significant issue, but for a self-defense gun, it’s important to be able to fire, even if a magazine isn’t in the mag well. Glocks do not have a magazine disconnect; they will fire without a magazine in the mag well.
If you’re doing dry fire practice, and you should, you’ll need to manually cycle the slide after every pull of the trigger. This is a good thing, because it will build the muscle memory you’ll need to efficiently cycle the slide when necessary. Why dry fire? Dry firing, done properly, improves trigger control and accuracy with live ammunition, even though you’re not firing live ammo.
When I was learning to shoot revolvers back in the 1400s, we used to balance a coin on the front sight—on the flat, not on edge; that would be a real trick!—and practice pulling the trigger until we could do it without disturbing the coin. That’s what you’re trying to do: isolate your trigger finger from your hand so when you pull the trigger, you don’t disturb the alignment of the sights and the bullet hits where you want it to hit. That’s why we speak of “squeezing” the trigger—applying constant, non-stop pressure–rather than jerking it. Take a breath, release half of it, and then squeeze as the sights stabilize. Considering a Glock’s trigger pull is quite short and 5.5 pounds, as opposed to a double action revolver’s much longer and twice as heavy+ pull, and you begin to see why it’s easier to be accurate with a good semiauto. And yes, I could balance the coin—at least until my hand got tired.
Loading A Magazine:
The magazine of the Glock 44 is different from centerfire magazines in that it has loading assist tabs on both sides of the magazine. Placing the baseplate of the magazine on a hard surface, pull both tabs down only enough to slip a round into the magazine, pushing it all the way to the back wall of the magazine. Do the same for each round until ten rounds are loaded. Rap the back of the magazine on a hard surface to ensure all rounds are fully against the back wall of the magazine.
For centerfire Glock magazines, one must push the rounds into the magazine manually, though Glock does include a handy loading tool with all centerfire handguns. It helps to push down the rounds already in the magazine as you slide a new round down and back. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of it. Until you do, magazine loading will tend to get a bit tiring, particularly without a loading tool.
This is essentially the reverse of clearing:
1) Ensure your weapon is cleared, and if so, close the slide, leaving the magazine well empty.
2) Insert a loaded magazine (load them to their rated capacity; they’re designed for this, and there is no reason to load fewer rounds). When you believe the magazine is seated, rap sharply upward with your offhand palm to ensure it is seated/locked in place.
Notice the position of the off hand first finger. It’s on the front face of the magazine. That way, you can be certain you’re inserting it correctly: bullet points toward the front of the magazine well, toward the muzzle. We’re always aware of our first fingers, even in the dark. Position your magazines in a magazine carrier—bullets toward the front/center of your body–so when you draw them, your first finger is in that position. This is something you should practice with a cleared weapon and empty magazines.
Always remember this: smooth is fast. Always practice to be smooth and efficient and speed will follow. Don’t do anything faster than you can safely do it.
3) Being aware of your muzzle, smartly cycle the slide, which will chamber a round.
4) Holster or set the now loaded handgun aside, remove the magazine and add an additional round to replace the round you just chambered.
5) Replace the magazine, and don’t forget the seating rap.
NOTE: To ensure your Glock is loaded, you can merely feel the extractor on the right side of the slide. When the chamber is loaded, it will protrude slightly from the slide. Due to the difference between rimfire and center fire cartridges, this may not be obvious with the G44. However, the G44 does have a sort of viewing port above the chamber that will allow you to see brass—the chambered cartridge—without partially opening the slide. This is true of many other .22LR handguns of similar configuration.
For most semiautomatic handguns, use the method demonstrated in the photo below. You need only retract the slide enough to see brass. Be sure the slide is completely closed/in battery thereafter. You can rap the back of the slide with the palm of your off/supporting hand.
Many semiautomatic handguns have an external safety lever on the frame. Glocks do not have an external safety, but they are entirely safe without one. If you always follow the basic safety rules, your gun will never fire itself. Just like a revolver, when you pull the trigger, a Glock—if chambered–will fire. If you keep your finger in register until moments before firing, your Glock will not fire until the trigger is pulled.
Handguns carried daily for personal defense, or kept for home defense, should always be chambered. It is completely safe for them to be in this condition. Handguns not so intended should be cleared before storing, and always cleared before charging. Obviously, additional measures need to be taken where children are involved. Properly trained and disciplined children are safe children.
Glocks have a trigger safety—that’s the little lever in the middle of the trigger—a firing pin safety and a drop safety. Unless you fully depress the trigger safety and pull the trigger completely to the rear, the gun will not fire. If you drop the gun, it won’t fire, no matter how high the drop or how hard the surface on which it lands. If you follow the basic safety rules, the gun will not fire until you intend to fire it.
On The Range:
You know how to clear a handgun and you’ve put in your dry firing time. It’s time to shoot.
Hangfires: Rimfire ammunition may be somewhat less reliable than centerfire ammunition in chambering and firing. This is particularly so with inexpensive, bulk .22LR ammunition. If you’ve pulled the trigger and the round didn’t fire, keep the muzzle downrange for about 20 seconds. Sometimes a round won’t immediately fire, so keep the muzzle in a safe direction. What next? Read on…
Failures to Feed/Extract or Eject: If you pull the trigger and nothing happens, keep the muzzle downrange, and tilt the handgun enough to the side–not muzzle upward!–to see the ejection port. If you see brass, you have one of these failures. The drill to correct this, and a hangfire, is the same, and you already have the skills:
1) Pushing up on the slide release, lock the slide to the rear.
2) Remove the magazine; you may have to pull it out forcefully.
3) Smartly cycle the slide three times. This should extract brass from the chamber and also remove any other feedway stoppages.
4) Keeping the muzzle downrange, visually inspect the open slide to ensure the chamber is empty and nothing is blocking the slide.
5) Charge the weapon and try again.
Catching The Link: One interesting feature of the Glock design is catching the link. After firing one round, instead of immediately allowing the trigger to move forward to reset, slowly allow it to move forward until you feel and hear a distinct “click.” Don’t allow the trigger to move forward; hold it at that point. You’ll have a shorter, lighter feeling trigger pull. This technique can be helpful for long-range shots if you have the time.
Stance: I recommend the Weaver stance. Done properly, it enhances accuracy and controls recoil and muzzle flip. Take this link for an article that will help explain it, and reinforce proper slide cycling technique. The Weaver stance also maintains a rigid (firing hand) wrist. This is vital for semiautomatic pistols. If your wrist is not straight and locked, the pistol may not be able to properly cycle the slide, extracting and ejecting the fired brass, and chambering a fresh cartridge. If not, a malfunction will result. This is commonly known as “limp wristing.”
NOTE: A “malfunction” is a failure to feed or eject, or any stoppage that can be cleared in the field within a few seconds without tools. A “jam” is a stoppage that cannot be quickly cleared in the field, and usually requires tools, even a gunsmith, to correct.
Some rimfire pistols can be finicky about the brand of ammunition they ”like.” In other words, they are most reliable and accurate with one brand over another. The only way to discover if this applies to your handgun is to try a variety of brands, which may be a little hard to do these days. My Glock 44 has been entirely reliable with every brand I’ve tried, but be aware of this issue.
Glock provides a comprehensive manual with all handguns that illustrates this process. You won’t need any tools; Glocks don’t use a single screw, nut or bolt, and the few pins are necessary only for detailed, not normal, cleaning. To dissemble the handgun for normal cleaning, follow these steps:
1) Ensure the handgun is cleared. This is important because of these steps:
2) Pull the trigger. If you do not, you can’t take the gun down for cleaning. If you haven’t properly cleared it… you get the picture.
3) Grasp it as illustrated, and using the rear sight for leverage, squeeze the slide back about a half inch while pulling down and holding down the take down catches on both sides of the frame.
They’re stiff, so this may take a bit of practice. If you’ve done both tasks properly, you’ll be able to easily slide the slide forward off the frame.
If you do it properly, the slide will easily slide off the frame. You’ll see how to remove the barrel from the slide—remember its orientation as you do for reassembly—and the recoil spring assembly from the barrel. Remember its orientation for reassembly, and you’ll have these parts (you’ll be surprised how feather light the frame is):
Using a solvent, such as the ubiquitous Hoppes #9 and an old toothbrush, Scrub the breech and muzzle (the barrel), and the bolt face, the portion of the slide that comes into contact with the back/base of the cartriges. Rimfire ammunition is a bit “dirty,” so you should see obvious powder fouling. That’s what you’re removing. Set them aside to let the solvent work. Do not apply solvent or oil to the surface of the slide; it’s mostly polymer with steel liners for the frame rails, and those have a very hard, rust-resistant coating.
You’ll need a .22 caliber pistol rod, a .22 bore brush, a .22 patch holder, and .22 caliber patches. Q-tips and a clean cloth—you’ll throw it away when you’re done—are also essential.
Using appropriate sized patche–they come in different sizes for different calibers–and a .22 patch holder, run a solvent soaked patch through the barrel—breech end first—followed by the .22 bore brush. Do about ten forward and back strokes with the bore brush, completely though the barrel and back out again. Remove the bore brush and attach the patch holder and run patches through the bore, one at a time, until they come out clean, or nearly so. Then run a patch soaked with a quality gun lubricant, such as Break Free CLP, through the barrel—one back and forth stroke only–followed by a final, clean patch, one back and forth stroke only.
Then it’s clean up time. Using the cloth, and Q-tips for harder to reach spots, remove all traces of solvent, which by now has made it easier for you to remove any powder fouling. When all solvent has been removed, apply oil, sparingly, as the Glock manual directs. You don’t need much.
Magazines don’t normally need any more cleaning than wiping off any accumulated powder with a clean cloth. They do not need to be oiled, and never use solvent on them. Solvent can and will render primers inoperable, a bad thing when you need to shoot.
When reassembling, reverse the disassembly process. When putting the slide on the two sets of slide rails, if there is any resistance, you’re misaligning things. They easily slide on. Push the slide fully to the rear, just as you normally do when cycling it, and if you’ve put things back together correctly, the handgun will function as normal.
You’ll note my Glock 44 has a Crimson Trace laser sight (the Glock 44 article discusses this in detail). They’re quite effective, particularly for aging eyes, but adding accessories like lasers and lights can make it difficult to find a wide variety of holsters. While I use and even make leather holsters, I’ve come to appreciate polymer holsters and magazine carriers, and recommend Blade Tech and Alien Gear’s products.
For comparison of the Glock 44 with other Glocks, take this link to my articles on the Glock 19, the mid-sized standard, and the Glock 43, the “concealed carry/pocket pistol” standard. Generally, the larger caliber guns are easier to manipulate.
I also recommend The Complete Book of Combat Handgunning by Chuck Taylor. Disclosure: I hold instructor’s certification from Taylor’s American Small Arms Academy. It is one of the best basic texts available. Sadly, Taylor died last year. Used copies are still available at Amazon for about $22.00 as this article is posted.
Never fail to follow the basic safety rules, and above all, have fun!
Next Week: A basic rifle guide.