WHEN TEACHING STUDENTS new and old, it is always relevant to cover the topic of immediate action, what it is, how to perform it, what the expected outcomes should be and, most importantly, how to minimize the likelihood that it will ever need to be implemented. In any repeating firearm, immediate action is the procedure performed after the gun ceases functioning in order to put it back into operation in the least amount of time.

These procedures may vary dependent on the type of firearm, but the goal remains the same.

The need for immediate action is rooted in an interruption in the cycle of operation of a firearm. This interruption is often referred to as a malfunction, a stoppage or, more generically, a jam. Typically, these conditions can be traced back to the type of ammunition being used, poor cleaning and maintenance, lack of lubrication or poor handling on the shooter’s part.

As instructors and teachers, it is important to have our students understand the cycle of operation of their firearms and what the contributing factors are that cause interruptions. More importantly, we should teach our students how to avoid being put into a position of having to perform immediate action in a time of grave danger.

No matter why we shoot or carry a gun, it is prudent to know how to get it back in firing condition when it fails.

Space doesn’t allow getting into the intimate details of a gun’s cycle of operation, and the specifics of proper maintenance or the recommended ammunition for a particular gun are sufficiently covered in the owner’s manual and always available from the manufacturer. In reality, following the recommendations in the owner’s manual and practicing tried-and-true shooting techniques will greatly reduce the need for spending time practicing immediate-action drills.

All that said, our nemesis “Murphy” is often working overtime when the chips are down, which means if it CAN happen, it WILL — and at the most inopportune moment.

No matter why we shoot or carry a gun, it is prudent to know how to get it back in firing condition when it fails. This is important, and perhaps critical, when a life is in the balance.

There are several common methods taught for performing immediate action on magazine-fed, semi-automatic firearms carried for personal defense. More often than not, they are referred to as primary and secondary immediate action.

Primary Immediate Action

Primary immediate action refers to the procedure implemented on a firearm when the trigger is pulled and the gun doesn’t fire, indicating there is no round in the chamber to fire or the round in the chamber is a dud. Since it is important to get the gun into operation as quickly as possible, there is no time to analyze the situation. The most expedient thing to do is firmly tap the bottom of the magazine to ensure it is fully seated, retract and release the slide to chamber a fresh cartridge, and be ready to continue what you were doing when the problem arose. In short, primary immediate action is often recognized by most trainers as “tap, rack and ready.”

A variant of primary immediate action could be when an empty cartridge case is trapped in the ejection port, preventing the slide from closing and the gun from firing. In some cases, there may be other unseen issues, and performing primary immediate action doesn’t get the gun up and running again. This is where secondary immediate action will be necessary in order to get your sidearm back into the fight.

Secondary Immediate Action

Secondary immediate action is performed when it is apparent that primary immediate action failed to solve the problem. This usually happens when a cartridge case is stuck in the chamber, causing a double-feed, or when a faulty magazine fails to feed ammunition properly into the gun. In either case, since there is no time for analysis, the most effective technique is to clear the gun of ammunition and magazine and start over with fresh. This involves ripping the original magazine out of the gun, cycling the action several times to clear the chamber and ejection port, inserting a fresh magazine, cycling the slide to chamber a round and being ready to fire if the situation still dictates.

Secondary immediate action is described in training as “rip, cycle, tap, rack, ready,” referring to the actions taken to bring the gun back to operational status. Note that taking cover should always be considered any time the gun quits working simply because there is no way to tell how long it will take nor what must be done to get the gun up and running again. In a perfect world, you’d be able to take cover. But then again, in a perfect world, you wouldn’t even be in a gunfight.

In Training

In the interest of simplicity and efficiency, why not just train initially to perform an emergency reload when the pistol quits working? That’s about the only option we have with a revolver except for continuing to pull the trigger to turn the cylinder for the next round. As for autos, former Marine and retired rangemaster Larry Nichols says, “Reloading the pistol will solve 95 percent of your problems when it quits working. The other 5 percent will require more time than you have to fix, so it will be prudent to go to a backup gun or leave the area.”

I agree with this philosophy. If the problem can be resolved quickly, an emergency reload is a good technique with which to be proficient. Keep the primary and secondary immediate-action techniques as tools in the inventory — just in case — with the hope they will never be needed.

The greatest impact instructors can have in regard to any type of immediate action is to train students who will never need to implement such measures. Regular maintenance and inspection of the firearm and ammunition, combined with solid shooting techniques, will all but eliminate the need for immediate action in a time of peril.