You pull the trigger, nothing happens. What then?

September 18, 2012

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Tip: You pull the trigger, nothing happens. What then?

You respond to a domestic disturbance in a residential neighborhood and to your surprise you’re confronted by a middle-aged man standing in the driveway, pointing a shotgun at your marked unit.

You bail out to cover and draw down on him with your .45 H&K pistol. Repeatedly you command him to lower the shotgun. He doesn’t.

Your life at risk, you squeeze your trigger. The hammer drops — but your weapon does not fire.

Now what?

When that scenario played out in real life in Virginia a while ago, the threat never escalated further because the suspect at the pivotal moment belatedly decided to comply and peacefully laid down his weapon. Later, the involved officer’s agency said a department armorer had “failed to replace the handgun’s firing pin spring during routine maintenance.”

That’s a freak happenstance — other causes of stoppages arise more frequently, even though, in the opinion of well-known trainer John Farnam, “today’s law enforcement pistols tend to be the most reliable guns ever made.”

In training, Farnam sees officers unexpectedly unable to fire their semi-autos because of an empty chamber, a dud round, a slide out of battery (not completely forward), a manual safety that’s “on,” a decocking lever that’s inadvertently depressed...

In law enforcement, as Farnam reminds us, “There are things you can’t imagine but nothing that cannot happen.”

If a stoppage suddenly befalls you in a critical confrontation like the Virginia standoff, are you well-practiced in how to clear the problem and get your gun running again?

And if your clearing procedure fails, do you have the option of a backup gun?

“Now and then, an officer will ask why stoppage-reduction drills and transition-to-second-gun drills are necessary,” Farnam says. “But you need those procedures down pat. The possibility of a stoppage — not in the relative calm of the range but in the desperate fury of a gunfight — is easy to brush off... until it happens to you.”

He acknowledges that backup guns are disfavored by some administrators because of their “throw-down gun” connotation. But he considers the matter an officer-safety issue.

“No patrol officer should be out there without a second gun,” he told PoliceOne. “If you have one gun that’s not working, it’s unlikely you’ll have two that don’t work.”

The serial number of the backup should be recorded, to lessen the concern of it becoming a plant, Farnam suggests. And you should be required to qualify with the spare, the same as with your primary sidearm.

As for where to carry a backup, “a hide-out holster that attaches to your vest is a popular option,” Farnam says. “In any case, it should be carried concealed. Anything offenders can see, they can plan around.”

John Farnam, president of Defense Training International, can be reached at (970) 482-2520 or via email at:


About the author

Charles Remsberg co-founded the original Street Survival Seminar and the Street Survival Newsline, authored three of the best-selling law enforcement training textbooks, and helped produce numerous award-winning training videos. His nearly three decades of work earned him the prestigious O.W. Wilson Award for outstanding contributions to law enforcement and the American Police Hall of Fame Honor Award for distinguished achievement in public service.

Buy Charles Remsberg's latest book, Blood Lessons, which takes you inside more than 20 unforgettable confrontations where officers' lives are on the line.

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