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When Guns Break: The Why & How to Help Prevent It

As a seasoned gunsmith with years of experience, I understand the critical role firearms play in various aspects of life. While these tools are designed for durability and reliability, they are not immune to wear and tear and many are no longer made with heirloom intentions in mind when it comes to their quality. In this post, we will delve into the reasons why firearms may require repair work, and more importantly, how to prevent such issues.

Normal Wear and Tear

broken remington 1100 parts
Sometimes parts simply wear out and this is especially true of stamped metal parts.

  Firearms, like any mechanical device, undergo normal wear and tear over time. This can affect components such as springs, triggers, transfer bars, and barrels. Thankfully many firearms enjoy a long service life and comparably long manufacturing run. This allows for certain wear items to be well known and replacement parts to be plentiful. Routine maintenance is crucial to identify and address these issues before they escalate and turn into an expensive repair or find out that a well known failure part is no longer available.

Environmental Factors

Browning A5 jamming
Debris, such as what was found inside this Browning A5, can really interfere with a firearms proper function and cause premature wear on critical components.

Exposure to different environmental conditions, such as extreme temperatures, humidity, or dust, can impact the performance of firearms. Regularly I see firearms that fail to function due to foreign objects caught inside the action such as pine needles or fragments of tall grass. The old saying that "Guns have two natural enemies, politicians and rust" is very much the truth. While firearms materials and finishes have come a very long way, firearms that are hunted with are regularly exposed to extreme environments including rain and snow. I've seen bolts and firing pins freeze up to the point that when the trigger is pulled the gun misfires and the game being hunted is lost. Regular cleaning and proper storage are essential to prevent corrosion and damage caused by environmental factors.

Neglected Maintenance

Dirty Jamming Ruger Pistol
Cleaning, especially on 22 LR guns, is something that can extend the reliability and enjoyment of your firearms

One of the primary reasons for firearm malfunctions is neglected maintenance. Failing to clean, lubricate, and store guns appropriately can lead to issues like jamming, misfires, rust, deterioration and accuracy problems. Improper storage is the number one cause of firearm rust in my experience. Firearms should have their bare metal parts wiped down to remove any moisture and oils from your hands. While this may sound a bit extreme just look at any well used shotgun and you will quickly see where the bluing and finish is worn and rusted just ahead of the action where the balance point of the shotgun is from simply being carried in the field. Barrels should be cleaned prior to longer term storage such as between hunting seasons and this is doubly true for muzzleloader firearms or firearms which are fired with corrosive ammunition. Moisture trapped un the barrel over the course of several months can cause an extreme amount of barrel rust to form only to be found at the last minute when the gun is removed from the safe to start hunting. Proper firearm care is key to preventing these issues and this basic maintenance is cheap insurance against more expensive repairs down the road.

Conducting regular inspections is a proactive approach to identify potential issues before they become serious problems. This is something we incorporate into our cleaning service which allows us to identify abnormal wear on critical components long before they break and take out other parts with them. Gun owners can learn how to perform basic inspections and recognize signs of wear or damage to help keep their firearms running in top condition.

Ammunition Quality 

Rifle case explosion
This case locked the firearm up solid. Thankfully no one was injured during this event.

The quality of ammunition used can significantly impact the performance and lifespan of a firearm. Using low-quality or damaged ammunition can lead to malfunctions and damage to internal components. While we have already briefly discussed corrosive ammunition, there are other things we should look out for as well. One of the things that can come up is high volume use of lacquered cases which can lead to cases sticking in the chamber due to the buildup of the lacquer from the hot cases. This lacquer will need to be removed before the firearm will reliably function again. Using ammunition that is more powerful than what the firearm is setup for can also cause damage. An example of this would be using high brass magnum 12 gauge loads in a Browning A5 shotgun while the braking system is setup for low brass loads. This will cause the action to cycle violently and can damage the rear of the bolt and receiver. Many AR-15 rifles can be improperly setup for the current ammunition and require the gas system and buffer systems to be optimized for reliable function. Failure to perform this setup can result in broken bolt lugs and extractors. Emphasizing the importance of using reliable and well-maintained ammunition is crucial to proper function and reliability of your firearm.

Lack of Training

A 300 Blackout round fired in a 5.56 AR-15. This causes dangerous overpressure and breaks lots of parts typically.

Inexperienced users may inadvertently mishandle firearms, leading to avoidable damage. While this may sound a bit odd, I have seen many firearms come through the shop where the magazine has been forcefully inserted into the firearm backwards and the gun become hopelessly locked up. Another issue I have seen that would fall into this category would be attempting to fire improper ammunition into the firearm such as shooting 9mm through a 40 caliber pistol or, worse yet, firing a 300 Blackout cartridge in a 5.56 chambered AR-15. Getting comprehensive training on proper firearm usage, cleaning, and maintenance is essential for preventing these types of accidents and reducing the need for repair work.

Modification and Customization

AR-15 with IR laser and Eotech and flashlight
This rifle has many accessories but thanks to a solid plan it functions flawlessly

While customization is a popular trend among gun enthusiasts, improper modifications can lead to issues. Not all aftermarket parts are created equal and many are subpar in quality when compared to the factory parts. With todays firearms becoming more and more modular the ability to swap parts has become more prevalent and can lead to function issues. Users should be cautious about altering critical components without proper knowledge and consultation. A simple phone call or, even better, a consultation and outlined plan in conjunction with your local gunsmith can mitigate potential problems.

In conclusion, firearms, despite their robust design, are not exempt from the need for repair and maintenance. Addressing issues related to normal wear and tear, environmental factors, neglect, ammunition quality, lack of training, and modifications can significantly reduce the likelihood of firearm malfunctions. By promoting responsible firearm ownership and emphasizing preventative measures, we can ensure that guns remain reliable and safe for their users for many years to come. As a professional gunsmith, my goal is to empower gun owners with the knowledge and skills necessary to keep their firearms in optimal condition because we can do something about one of the guns natural enemies, rust, so they will be there standing ready to keep the other natural enemy at bay.


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25. Jan.
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Very useful, common sense information

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