Basic Handgun Handling Skills

The following are some of the basic gun handling skills you should master. When you perform any of these skills, you should follow all the rules of gun safety. Please review the section on Gun Safety now if you do not remember them clearly.

In addition to following the rules of gun safety, practice these skills with an empty gun or with snapcaps until you have mastered the skills. They should not be practiced with live ammunition.

Removing the Magazine on a Semi-Automatic

Hold the gun so the grip is pointing down. Press the magazine release and the magazine should drop out of the grip. For self-defense, you should get used to letting the magazine fall to the ground. If you get used to catching the magazine when it comes out, your hand will remember to do that in a self-defense situation, costing valuable seconds and possibly your life.

The cost of this, of course, is that occasionally a magazine will be damaged in falling to the ground.

Putting a Magazine into a Semi-Automatic

With the ammunition pointed toward the muzzle of the gun, push the magazine up into the grip of the gun. Tap it solidly to make sure it is seated correctly.

Putting Ammunition in a Magazine

Place the round on top of the magazine so it clears the feed lips (the flanges that block the rear of the magazine) with the bottom of the facing near the flanges. Push the round down and slide it under the flanges. Repeat until the magazine is full.

Removing Ammunition from a Magazine

Using your thumb, push down on the top round in the magazine and slide it out. Repeat until the magazine is empty.

Racking the Slide on a Semi-Automatic

With your non-shooting hand, firmly grasp the slide at the rear of the slide. Push the frame forward with your shooting hand. The slide should move back. This is called “racking” the slide.

A few notes about how to do this correctly:

  • Keep your non-shooting hand clear of the ejection port. It can get caught with painful results.
  • Be aware of where your elbow on the non-shooting hand is. A lot of shooters place the elbow in a spot where the muzzle of the gun is pointing directly at their elbow.
  • When you move the slide forward after pulling it back, just let it go. It will snap forward. Don’t gentle the slide forward. This will jam the gun and prevent rounds from seating properly in the chamber.

Locking the Slide on a Semi-Automatic

When you are racking the slide, push the slide lock up with the thumb on your non-shooting hand. This will catch the slide and hold it in the locked-back position.

Clearing a Jam on a Semi-Automatic

If you are in an emergency situation and your semi-automatic jams, follow the tap-rack-shoot sequence. You tap the magazine to make sure it is seated. You rack the slide and continue to shoot. This procedure is to be used only for emergency self-defense situations because it is possible to injure yourself or damage your gun this way if, for example, the gun would not fire because of a squib load.

If you are in a non-emergency situation, drop the magazine. Try to rack the slide and clear the ammunition out of the gun. If that does not work, lock the slide open and inspect the chamber and ejection port. It may be necessary to manually remove stuck ammunition.

Opening the Cylinder on a Revolver

Push forward on the cylinder release and push the cylinder out with the middle fingers of your non-shooting hand.

Opening the cylinder of a revolver using the non-shooting hand