A fact of life for those who carry semi-automatic pistols is that they’re more prone to jamming than repeaters.
Fortunately, if you know a little about what causes guns to jam, you can pretty much eliminate the problem. You just have to identify the issue first.
So let’s talk about the most common causes of jams in 9mm handguns. Starting with…
…Which is arguably the most common problem and the main reason that most 9mm handguns jam. Unsurprisingly, this is also a leading cause of jams for semi-automatic handguns in different chamberings. It is far from a 9mm-only problem.
Whether you shoot a gas blowback or a recoil-operated action, the gun needs you to hold it firmly or the recoil spring has nothing to work against.
If you limp wrist, the whole gun will move backwards, and not just the slide. Most limp-wristers will experience stovepipe jams, in which the spent case gets trapped in (or rather, halfway in) the action. If you’re limp-wristing really badly, the action might completely fail to extract and close again on the same spent round.
Hold the gun firmly and lock your elbows and wrists when you shoot. That should be the first thing you look at if you’re having trouble with jams.
The Chamber Is Ridiculously Dirty
A very dirty gun, especially if there’s a lot of fouling around the breech and chamber, can make it impossible for the extractor to engage the rim of the cartridge.
This can result in failures to extract, although it can also cause failures to eject. If you know the problem isn’t limp-wristing, clear the weapon and closely inspect the breech and chamber. If there’s a large amount of powder fouling, clear it before moving on.
You’re Not Shooting 9mm Full Metal Jacket Ammo
Unfortunately, the case that a 9mm full metal jacket feeds more reliably than even the best jacketed hollow point rounds is just a fact of life.
9mm full metal jacket cartridges are loaded with smooth, round-nosed bullets that slide easily up feed ramps and don’t have any sharp angles or corners that are inclined to get stuck on mag feed lips or chamber edges.
There are hollow points that are better than others, but all of them have ridges at the nose of the bullet that can stick on the feed ramp or catch on the chamber and prevent the action from returning to battery.
This could be your problem, if you switched from shooting 9mm FMJ ammo to hollow point ammo and started noticing jams.
The Extractor or Ejector/Springs Are Compromised
If the extractor or ejector breaks, or the springs get fatigued, you will immediately start noticing jams that will not stop happening until you replace the affected part.
It’s clear enough to see if the extractor or ejector is deformed, damaged, or missing, but if this isn’t the case, check the springs. These will fatigue long before the parts themselves wear out.
A good rule of thumb is to replace your extractor and ejector springs after about 7,000 rounds, preemptively. If you’ve gone longer than that without replacing them, it’s time to do so.
The Recoil Spring Is Fatigued
Recoil springs take more of a beating than any of the other springs in your handgun, and without the recoil spring, the slide has no power to return it to battery.
Fortunately, recoil springs are big, tough, and pretty reliable compared to the other smaller springs on your handgun. Typically, they last between 5,000 and 15,000 rounds.
The typical symptom of a fatigued recoil spring is a jam in which the weapon fires, then cleanly extracts and ejects the empty round, but does not fully feed a new round, or strips it off the mag and partially chambers it without fully resetting and returning to battery.
If this is what you’re seeing, when you strip the handgun, inspect and replace the recoil spring if necessary. You might also want to install a full-length guide rod which will help prevent kinking and extend the life of the spring.
Your Subsonic Ammo Is Too Anemic to Cycle the Action
This one is probably not the issue, but it’s worth noting because it is a possible cause.
Though they are uncommon, there is subsonic 9mm ammunition that you can buy and shoot. Some autoloading actions are extremely finicky with low-powered subsonic loads and will not feed reliably.
If you’re used to shooting “regular” rounds and started shooting “quiet” rounds, and you started seeing jams at the same time, switch back and see if that solves the problem. It likely will.
It’s the Magazine
Last but not least, let’s talk about your magazine. It may be causing the jams.
There are a few things to think about here. Some of the most common causes of magazine-induced jams are worn magazine springs or damaged or missing followers. If your mag’s feed lips are damaged or deformed, that can also cause jams.
Another potential issue is that the magazine isn’t seated properly. Open your action all the way and insert a mag till you hear a sharp click to indicate that it is firmly seated and has caught. Give the base plate a sharp tap with the heel of your hand to click it into place if necessary. Magazines are precision-engineered for a seamless fit with the platforms they feed. Close enough is not good enough; it has to be seated perfectly.
If the inside of the mag is dirty, it might not be feeding smoothly even if none of the parts are fatigued or damaged, so cleaning your mags can be just as important as cleaning your gun itself.
Stock Up on 9mm Full Metal Jacket Ammo
Some of these issues you’ll have to troubleshoot on your own, but on the chance that it’s the ammo you’re shooting, stock up on some 9mm full metal jacket handgun ammo that offers controlled recoil and reliable cycling - we also offer 9mm bulk ammo for target shooting so check that out while you’re here too.