Reducing Cleaning-Related Discharges of Striker-Fired Pistols
Every week, across the nation, there are news reports of negligent discharges associated with the need to press the
trigger to separate the slide from the frame with older-design, striker-fired pistols (e.g., Glock, S&W Sigma,
Springfield Armory XD, Kahr). Most of those in the news occur in the hands of private citizens but an unacceptable
number – typically reported because they have resulted in injury – still occur on police ranges and in other
Based on the principle that it is easier to teach an affirmative than a negative action, we offer the following as an
example of a protocol that can be adapted to suit your specific conditions:
- Remove all rounds from a spare magazine and place them in a container with a top that can be removed and replaced,
such as a coffee can or a plastic food-storage container.
- With the muzzle pointed in a safe direction and your finger outside the trigger guard, remove the magazine from the
pistol and place it in the container (fig. 1). Keeping the muzzle in a safe direction and your finger outside
the trigger guard, eject the round in the chamber. Place the ejected round in the container and place the cover on the
- On a range, a safe direction may be an impact berm or a clearing barrel. At home, it should be something solid
enough to stop any bullet that could be fired from that pistol. However, to prevent ricochets or spalling from the
backstop, it is ideal to cover it with a Kevlar panel. This may be an out-of-date panel from a ballistic vest or one
specifically made for that purpose, such as the Safe Direction pad.
- Insert a snap cap of the appropriate caliber into the empty magazine (fig. 2), then insert that magazine into
the pistol. With the muzzle pointed in a safe direction and your finger outside the trigger guard, rack the slide to
chamber the snap cap. With the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, press the trigger.
- Proceed with the disassembly of the pistol. When the slide has been separated from the frame and the recoil spring or
recoil-spring assembly removed, tilt the rear of the barrel away from the top of the slide, to disengage the snap
cap from the extractor (fig. 3), then tilt the barrel upward, to let the snap cap fall from the chamber. If the
snap cap does not fall free, use a thin ballpoint pen, pencil or your cleaning rod to dislodge it.
- Set the snap cap aside from the pistol parts and the container with the ammunition, to avoid mixing it with live ammo.
Once the pistol is reassembled and reloaded, the snap cap may be placed in the empty container for storage.
Alternatively, a magazine that no longer feeds reliably (or a Clinton-era magazine limited to ten rounds) can be
painted a distinctive color and reserved for use with the snap cap.
While snap caps are regarded as superfluous in some quarters, their use has been recommended to prevent battering of the
firing-pin-retention pin in Springfield Armory’s XD pistols. Their use in other firearms will do no harm and may even
reduce the risk of wear or breakage of parts such as firing pins or strikers. Beretta, for example, recommends the use of
snap caps for "long term" dry firing of the Nano pistol (which is equipped with a sear deactivation button, to
eliminate the need to press the trigger during disassembly) to prevent damage to the striker. On the other hand, the rim
of the snap cap - typically made of aluminum or brass - will get deformed with repeated use if it is placed directly into
the chamber of the pistol with the slide locked open and the slide is then released. This is why it is loaded into the
chamber via an otherwise empty magazine.
This protocol was suggested by my gunsmith friend Tim Sheehan.
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