Reliability

My colleague Melody Lauer posted an interesting question on Facebook.

What malfunction to shot ratio would you accept on a carry gun (without said malfunctions being purposefully induced)?

Since this had been a topic of conversation with another colleague only a few days before, I posted the answer we both agreed on.

“How many magazines come with the gun? … It needs to be 100% reliable for the number of rounds in the magazine(s) that come with it or how many a person carries, assuming the person even bought a spare magazine. More than that is superfluous. For many autoloaders now that means one magazine plus the round in the chamber.

The multiple thousand round reliability tests that the ‘cognoscenti’ are in love with are meaningless except in a very narrow context. The desire for those kind of tests is generated by training junkies who want to make it through 2-5 day 1500+ round training classes without having a single malfunction. Their applicability in the real world of peoples’ lives is nil.”

I was unsurprised when many folks responded, in generally polite ways, that I was crazy. Most of the cognoscenti want to run at least 1,000 rounds through a carry gun before they ‘trust’ it. My comment relating to ‘Arbitrary Reliability Assessments’ was pure heresy. There was also a considerable amount of mathematical ‘logic’ in the discussion that I found obtuse. For instance, if a gun could be expected to have 5 malfunctions out of 1,000 rounds, it could also be expected to have 1 malfunction per magazine. That was difficult for me to understand but I was told that I just don’t understand math and statistics. If I’m going to have one malfunction per magazine, I’ll just keep carrying a revolver.

snub on belt

Let’s think about the issue in some depth. My questions are:

  1. 1,000 rounds of what kind of ammo?
  2. Under what conditions?
  3. With which magazines?
  4. With which guns?
    • Number 1 carry gun?
    • Backup Gun?
    • Spare carry gun?

Addressing those questions in order brings some other thoughts to mind.

  1. Ball or duty ammo? Often, guns shoot well with some ammo and other ammo, not so much. Because of that fact, running 1,000 rounds of ball through a gun and then a box of duty ammo through it doesn’t seem to me to accomplish any more than shooting the box of duty ammo alone. So, in the case of a Glock 19, 15 times 3 plus 1 = 46 rounds. Three magazines for those who like to carry two spares. That leaves 4 rounds out of a box. Always save the last one for yourself. Some folks are such terrible shots they better save two.
  2. Under what conditions? Unlike wheelguns, autoloaders are subject to the vagaries of the person/machine interface. That’s largely the crux of the reliability question.
    • Is the 1,000 rounds to be shot in casual range shooting with no pressure? I can’t count the number of people shooting IDPA matches who have said to me “I don’t understand it, Claude, my gun never malfunctions when I shoot it for practice.” Even small amounts of stress can have an effect on how the shooter holds and fires the gun. Perhaps it would be a good idea to involve at least some significant percentage of the test under conditions that might induce a malfunction, such as a State or Area Championship? Yeah but shooting competition will get you ‘killed on the streetz.’ Or maybe all 1,000 rounds should be shot under extreme pressure, such as the first two to three days at the elite Rogers Shooting School?
    • Is the 1,000 rounds going to be shot with both hands? One of the things I noticed at Rogers was how many more malfunctions occurred during one handed shooting. Should the 1,000 rounds involve some shooting with Dominant hand only? How about the Support hand only?
    • Since ‘everyone starts moving after the first shot,’ how much of the 1,000 rounds is going to be shot while shooting on the move? It’s probably a good idea to shoot some Box Drills and Figure 8s as part of the testing process. Perhaps including a 50/25/25 percent mix of Freestyle/Dominant hand only/Support hand only during at least half of that 1,000 rounds should be the protocol.
  3. With which magazines?
    • Magazines are often the weakest link in the reliability of any autoloader. Doing a reliability test with ‘training’ magazines and then switching to magazines ‘reserved’ for carry defeats the entire purpose of the test. It’s completely non sequitur.
    • But if a person only has three ‘carry’ magazines, that means the test may involve dumping them on the ground somewhere around 20 times apiece. How comfortable are you with those magazines after they’ve been beaten up a bit? You tell me, it’s your decision.
  4. Which guns to test?
    • How many people who carry a Backup Gun run the 1,000 rounds through it? Especially for those using small autoloaders such as an LCP, my guess is almost none. If you don’t run your Backup through the high round count protocol, do you still trust your life to it? If so, why is the main pistol any different?
    • I’m a firm believer that anyone who carries a pistol should have a spare. Regardless of the circumstances of a shooting, the police will take the pistol as evidence. If you don’t have a spare, preferably identical to your carry gun, then you’re going to have to go buy one and run it through the testing protocol before you can ‘trust it.’ Back to Square One.

I don’t understand it, Claude, my gun never malfunctions when I shoot it for practice.

There are other considerations such as the effects of and on weapon mounted lights, lasers, or red dot sights, but that’s gilding the lily perhaps.

For those who only have one gun, such as the great majority of gun owners, how long is it going to take to conduct this 1,000 round test? Even at 100 rounds a week, the test will take the better part of three months to conduct. In the meantime, how do you feel about the gun? Do you want to have that “I’m still not sure I trust this piece” feeling in the back of your head for three months? How will that affect the person/machine interface?

In the end, if shooting 1,000 rounds before you ‘trust’ the gun makes you feel better, then go for it. But if you don’t design and follow a protocol that really relates to how you’re likely to use the gun in a situation where you have to protect yourself or your loved ones, the whole exercise is just an excuse to go shooting. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

12 responses

  1. I’m just a shade-tree statistician , but the idea that 5 malfunctions in 1000 rounds implies one failure per magazine is just silly. 5/1000 malfunctions is a probability of .005. The probability of NO malfunctions in one 17 round magazine is .915. Unless there’s something in elementary probability theory that I missed in grad school, the argument is just wrong. As for the rest of your observations, yeah. What you said. Jack

  2. I’m just a dumb redneck, but I’ll comment.

    I think we should be looking at reliability as a relative term.

    Is the “average” Glock 19 more reliable than the “average” Kel-Tec, Raven or Lorcin. If so, I’d choose it over any of the other three.

    Anything mechanical can fail. And as a firm believer in Murphy’s Laws, potential firearm failures concern me.

    Testing to determine some “mean failure rate” is beyond my capabilities, and is probably beyond that of most gun owners. But the .mil folks, and some of the really large LE agencies apparently have, and utilize, such capabilities. If they determine that a G19 goes longer, on average, than a Beretta M9 (92FS), after shootig 1000’s of rounds through multiple guns, then I can make a “wiser” choice (the G19), and thus be comfortable that “statistically” I’m exposing myself to a lower probability of a failure.

    Shooting 31 rounds through a G19 and “calling it good” is probably OK — because we have empirical evidence that G19’s rarely fail. Absent that data, I’d be shooting a lot more than 2 mags of ammo through a carry gun before deciding that it’s GTG.

    Also (in my little redneck world) I think that “reliable” should encompass the spectrum of operating conditions — from pristine to filthy. I want a gun that can tolerate some grit/grime/blood/grass/mulch (whatever I might encounter in a physical confrontation before it morphs into a deadly force event). Glocks reportedly do better at this than some high-precision 1911’s built/assembled to some super tight tolerances — if so, then it’s a more reliable carry weapon.

    In a nutshell (TL;DR version), I don’t disagree with shooting 2 mags of carry ammo through a G19 and deeming it reliable. But only because there is a mass of data (track record with LEOs and .mil units) to support that conclusion —- not because two mags equate to an adequate test.

  3. Actually, it’s .918. Sorry.

  4. Since I am unable to predict when that malfunction might repeat itself regardless if it is one magazine of three, I tend to lose trust in the gun if it malfunctions once . . . after all I am betting my life it will work every time regardless.

  5. I have been shooting for a long time! In my entire life I have never had a malfunction after testing a firearm with 100 – 400 rounds shot. 2 guns I returned after shooting them for less than 200 rounds first time capability. In testing a new firearm I chose a variety of ammo #1 if it can’t shoot or has feed issues with a particular style than it is going to be troublesome in the future and needs to be a remote control boat anchor regardless. Problematic guns tend to show themselves quickly in this fashion.

    #1. Maintain your gun

    #2 Learn your gun

    #3 Focus on realistic training and usage with your gun NOT MALFUNCTIONS

    #4 If your gun fails repeatedly throw it away!

    #5. then there is sim rounds so this has nothing to do with the gun but the ammo design or conversion design https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/simunitions-failures-issues-here-solution-we-bulk-order-mcgregor

    #6 DO NOT FEED YOUR GUN JUNK FOOD- JUST LIKE JUNK AMMO- UNCERTIFIED RELOADS- AND OTHER ISSUES

  6. Reblogged this on .

  7. The concept of a ‘completely’ reliable pistol exists only a conversation. ‘Reasonably’ reliable is possible. Ergo, carry a reasonably reliable pistol along with another reasonably reliable pistol. Of course, it could occur that two reasonably reliable pistols incur a failure in the same gunfight… in which case, you have two bludgeons. Edged weapon and/or H2H skills may save your bacon. On the topic of a 1K reliability test – any pistol fired at least a thousand times has worn parts that are subject to breakage or other failure. Extractors crack, springs weaken or break, etc. The more proven-in-service the pistol is, the closer it is to a failure. To add complexity, ammo can have problems. A fired case can expand jamming itself in the receiver. Even a revolver can suffer problems, some induced by the shooter, some caused by ammo, and it is possible that a part can fail. The components that rotate the cylinder are somewhat frail. Which is why grabbing the cylinder will prevent it from rotating, allowing a disarm and/or incapacitation of an attacker. Life is hard. Then, you die.

  8. Claude, you mention the stress of the elite Rogers Shooting School. Any swag at how many “malfunctions” per thousand rounds in the environment and how many were shooter induced? Speaking just for myself I have to admit that almost all “malfunctions” I have had were shooter induced. The lone exception was extraction issue on a M&P 9mm which seemed to be a “known issue” and fixed by replacing the extractor.

  9. I carried a sidearm as part of my normal attire for the better part of my working career. I still carry normally.

    I have never been in a shooting or potential shooting encounter that would require more than four solid hits. (Not rounds fired wildly into the great beyond, but HITS.)

    Therefore, if one is to ‘reliability test’ a sidearm for 1,000 rounds (even reloading that would be expensive) those 1,000 rounds should be fired no more than twenty rounds at a time, then clean the arm (including magazines and such). Shooting 100 rounds at a stretch is highly unlikely in the real world. (This excludes a wild afternoon at the range.)

    My experience currently is using my ‘carry gun’ in an ‘every other Friday’ ‘practical’ match requiring between thirty and forty rounds fired. I confess I am notorious for NOT cleaning my sidearm as much as I should. My last malfunctions were due to some reloads of mine which I had not properly seated the bullet deep enough. Not all of them fully closed the slide without ‘assistance’. (I’ve fixed the problem with the seating die.)

    Not really worried about my sidearm failing me. I am old though. I have an old bladder. That I worry about regarding malfunctions.

  10. Back in the day I noted that it was common for our duty revolvers, issued then was the S&W model 66 but 686s and Pythons were common for the personally owned guns, to not be able to make it through a 60 round qual course (ours back then was basically a PPC course…).
    About halfway through the qual the rangemaster would pass a M16 toothbrush down the line for everyone to brush the powder particles out from under the extractor. If he didn’t do this then many of the shooters wouldn’t be able to finish the qual without a jam happening. I say “jam” vs stoppage because it often took a mallet to get the cylinder popped loose to be able to clean the gun and keep going.

    In conversation Tom Givens as noted the same thing in his experience.

    No one cared though, because no one was carrying more than 18 rounds on their person back then.

    I prefer carrying a G17 now that will easily pass the “2000 round challenge”, but my BUG is a S&W 642 or Ruger LCR that clearly won’t ever complete such a challenge successfully. What I know the BUGs will do is go 100 rounds reliably through carry or practice ammo, and function reliably when pulled from the pocket carry conditions they’re subjected to daily.

    1. Why, Chuck! It sounds like you’re applying reasoning to this. I didn’t think that was allowed on the internet? 😉

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