“Train Like You Fight” is a firearms training motto we all know by heart, even though few civilians can devoutly follow it. The idea is a good one, however: if you’re practicing to defend yourself, you shouldn’t just stand at a firing line and slowly shoot the bullseyes out of paper targets. Gunfights involve moving targets, moving shooters (which ought to include you) and other messy variables which drive Range Safety Officers crazy.
But it’s important, because the more realistic our defensive firearms training, the better we’ll execute the necessary skills and techniques under the real-life duress of an armed confrontation.
One of these necessary skills is how to clear a weapon jam or misfire during combat, and the simple mnemonic answer for a semi-automatic firearm is “Tap, Rack, Ready.” First Tap the magazine to ensure that it’s fully seated, then Rack the slide or charging handle to reload the chamber with a fresh round and reset the firing mechanism, and now you’re Ready to get back in the fight.
In theory, this immediate action drill should be so ingrained in your muscle memory that it becomes automatic, like a Top Fuel drag-racer anticipating the exact millisecond when the Christmas Tree will go green. If you’re going to do it every time in combat, the theory goes, you’ve got to do it every time in training.
Except when you shouldn’t. ‘Reflexive’ and ‘instinctive’ are two words which don’t usually mix well with firearms, except when applied to safety practices like keeping your booger-hook out of the trigger guard and not lasering anything you don’t want to destroy.
And so I have to confess: I don’t automatically run a Tap, Rack, Ready drill every time my gun goes click instead of bang. Just like Doctor Who I tend to stop, think first, and shoot questions later. This habit of occasional hesitation has prevented two pistols from being destroyed, and probably saved me from serious injury.
This photo (not mine) shows the perils of ‘reflexive’ immediate action drills. This anonymous shooter was blazing merrily away until his 1911 failed to eject. He didn’t know that a squib had left his barrel plugged, and so he followed his training. He dutifully Tapped and Racked, got back on target, and blew up his gun. He’s reasonably lucky that he didn’t suffer anything worse than a slightly toasted trigger finger, but he’ll be incredibly lucky if his gunsmith can salvage anything more than the frame from his 1911.
This same thing almost happened to me twice, and actually happened to my shooting buddy. He grenaded his Glock during an action shooting match several years ago when he cleared what he thought was a routine FTE and fired another bullet into an obstructed barrel.
And so my point is this: always Tap & Rack, except when you shouldn’t. Don’t let your malfunction drill become ‘instinctive’ or ‘reflexive,’ because instincts and reflexes aren’t adaptive enough to keep an ear out for the muffled report of a squib load lodging a bullet in your barrel.
Nobody is ever safe in combat, but we can be safe in our training. After a few very close calls with defective ammo I may prefer a slightly wider margin of safety, but that’s the way I call it.