Weapon Malfunctions in an Active Shooter Event

Written by Greg Ellifritz

Topics: Articles, News and Tactical Advice

  • SumoMe

Written by Greg Ellifritz



I was recently doing some research on historic active shooter incidents and found these articles about an election night shooting in Canada.  This shooting didn’t get much media traction in the USA, but it was an interesting case.  Read more about it at the links below:


Gun jams on active shooter in Montreal


16 Charges for Suspect in Montreal Shootings


The shooter was allegedly mentally ill and upset at the increasing levels of government bureaucracy affecting his business.  He began to shoot up a politician’s victory celebration at a public club.  He fired several rounds from an “assault rifle” before his gun jammed and he was apprehended.  An official police statement described the events:


“In fact there could have been many more injuries and possibly more fatalities — the reason for that is that the man had an assault rifle…and we’re hearing from witnesses the gun appeared to have jammed after only a few rounds were fired,”



The Quebec shooter…no one has been able to explain how he got past security and into the club while carrying a rifle and wearing both a balaclava and a bathrobe.


Jamming weapons are not uncommon in active shooter events.  In fact, another recent shooting with much more media coverage (the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado) had a similar ending…


Jammed Gun Saved Lives In Colo. Shooting


A federal law enforcement official told the Washington Post that a weapon malfunction likely saved lives by forcing Holmes to abandon the M&P15 he had equipped with a 100-round drum magazine after it jammed.”


Note that both of these shooters had weapon malfunctions.  Both also had additional firearms in their possession.



Even more recently, victims took the opportunity to flee after the terrorists’ guns jammed in last month’s attack on Paris.


Weapon malfunctions give victims time to escape.  They also provide opportunities for unarmed victims to violently resist the killer with less danger.  Similar opportunities are presented when shooters reload their empty weapons as well.  In looking at past active shooter events, it is exceedingly rare to find one where the killer didn’t have either a malfunctioning or empty weapon at some point in the engagement.



Take a look at some of the active shooter events in recent history.  The shooter had a malfunctioning or empty gun in every one…



1988- Atlantic Shores Christian School.  Shooter subdued by a teacher after his gun jammed.

1999- Columbine High School- Two shooters reloaded several times each

2007- Virginia Tech. Shooter reloaded several times

2009- NVCC Woodbridge College. Shooter’s gun jammed after 2 rounds

2009- Bridgeville fitness club.  Shooter reloaded at least twice

2009- Fort Hood Army Base.  Terrorist reloaded several times

2010- University of Alabama Faculty meeting.  Shooter’s gun jammed and she was locked in a closet by coworkers until police arrived.

2011- Tucson Shooting.  Shooter had to reload and had a jammed gun

2011- Norway shooting.  Multiple reloads

2012- Chardon High School.  Shooter fired 10 rounds with .22 pistol and then ran out of ammunition

2012- Oikos College.  Shooter reloaded several times


The shootings listed above were just the ones I could think of immediately.  There are likely many more occasions when an active shooter’s weapon jammed or ran out of ammunition.



Knowing that active killers often end up with jammed or empty guns really doesn’t affect the response priorities of armed individuals.  If you are armed and within range of an active shooter, your safest course of action will be to shoot the killer as quickly as possible.



If you are unarmed, things get a little more tricky.  Rushing a shooter with a fully functional firearm may or may not be successful.  Seeking cover and waiting for a better resistance (or flight) opportunity when the shooter’s gun stops working is a much safer strategy.  Knowing how to recognize and unloaded or malfunctioning gun is key.



Most modern semi-automatic pistols will look like this (slide locked to the rear) when they are empty.


Most shooters will understand what an empty or malfunctioning gun looks like.  If you are reading this article and you don’t know how to tell if a gun is jammed or malfunctioning, have a friend who owns guns show you what it looks like.  Such knowledge may one day save your life.



One of the more common handgun malfunctions…often called a “stovepipe”.


Even more importantly, do your children know how to identify jammed or empty guns?  They need that information as well.  Take the time to discuss some response options with your children if they are old enough to understand.  Stress rapid action, either by attacking or escaping, as soon as they notice that an active shooter has a jammed or empty gun.



Making your move when the shooter’s weapon is empty or jammed makes good tactical sense.  Two cautions are in order, however…..



Don’t wait until it’s too late.  Use this strategy only when you have cover or are hidden from the shooter.  If the shooter has you in his sights and is firing, act.  Don’t wait.



Many active shooters (like both of the ones above) carry more than one weapon.  Be prepared to deal with the shooter attempting to access a backup gun as you attack.  Don’t let your guard down until you are sure the fight is over.




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7 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Ben Branam says:

    Dude! Nice article. Defenitely something to add to my mental game. For everyone else out there, start listening to what it sounds like when shooters reload on the range and especially when a new shooter has a malfunction.

    Shooting to add: North Hollywood Bank Robbery. One of the robbers, after firing hundreds of rounds from a full auto AK had a simple stove pipe malfunction and abandoned the rifle for his holstered pistol.

    The other side of the equation, are you good a clearing malfunctions?

  2. Rich says:

    The best pistol malfunction clearance video that I have found is this one:


  3. Rob Berra says:

    For an unarmed individual, the generally correct options are (in this order)

    >Run. Get as much distance between yourself and the shooter as possible, preferably with concealment/cover between you as well. Every yard of distance degrades accuracy, especially with an un- or ill-trained shooter. Call 911 as soon as you feel safe to do so.

    >Hide. Find a place of cover/concealment. A locked door will seldom stop fire, but it will often stop a shooter unless it’s a flimsy hollow-core (and even then, the shooter may be so focused on the weapon as to forget “hey, I can kick this thing in!” And while he’s kicking, he’s not shooting…). Hollow-cores are most common in homes; most active shooter incidents are in other venues. Movies to the contrary, it’s almost impossible to “shoot out a lock,” and better to have the shooter expending time and ammunition on a lock than on people. Even if you can’t get behind a locked door, a shooter who can’t find you is much less likely to kill you. Obviously, you need to hide *effectively*; watch the Columbine videos for some examples of ineffective hiding. Call 911 if you can do so safely.

    >Engage. If you have no other option, attack the shooter. Throw anything you have at hand; while he’s ducking a book, his accuracy is garbage. Keep flinging until you can get close enough to grapple or hit. Improvise; a pencil, for example, can puncture soft tissue. A desk lamp can do significant crush damage. Anything that adds striking/penetrating power to your attack helps (be careful, though; if you subdue the shooter, continuing to attack can get *you* criminally charged–see “Facing Violence” by Rory Miller or http://www.nononsenseselfdefense.com for more information)

    Obviously, you may need to rearrange these if, for example, you have a small child or other vulnerable individual for whom you have responsibility.

    And if you have a firearm, well, that’s a different kettle of fish, and I’m not qualified to discuss it. Bear two things in mind, though. First, no matter what your range skills are, when your blood is full of adrenaline, your accuracy *will* degrade. Second, beware of overpenetration; don’t become part of the problem.

  4. M Holland says:

    And there was the shooting at Seattle Pacific University where the student pepper sprayed the suspect while he was reloading his shotgun.

  5. Snake Plisken says:

    All very good comments on protecting yourself and others in an active shooter situation.

    I have just a comment or two for the readers here.

    I have a CCW permit ( had have for a decade ) and I carry a S&W .38 Special revolver especially when at a mall or public functions. Why? Because revolvers are so much more functional than a semi auto. The downside is that you only have 6 rounds and in a high stress active shooter incident you might not have time to reload on the fly due to the adrenaline surge that naturally occurs in such events.

    I am often amazed that in active shooter events how many rounds a LEO will expend in taking out a threat. The shooting of that fellow in Chicago last year is case and point. 17 rounds from ONE officer to bring down this drug addled butt hole? Really? How about that brave Texas officer who killed two jihadists at the Pamela Geller moslem art contest? He actually ADVANCED toward the attackers and killed them both!

    Having said that, my favorite weapons are 1911 .45 caliber semi auto pistols and have never ” stove piped ” on me but I’m kind of a nut about keeping them very clean and well oiled. The 1911’s are just to heavy and obvious to carry concealed so if i carry one of them it’s in a holster strapped on my side and that tends to make people nervous and have great trepidation in public.

    Other folks will nod and smile while I’m at a Home depot or Lowe’s and don’t give me any grief.

    For intents and purposes though I prefer my concealed ” wheel gun ” that is hard to spot although I did have a local cop a couple of years back ask what I was carrying. I was kind of surprised that he had noticed the subtle imprint of my .38 and offered to produce my CCW card and he just smiled and said ” your fine “.

    One thing for sure, carry a revolver and keep calm if you can. Await the opportunity to take out an active shooter by out smarting them by hiding or waiting for them to reload and attack.

    I also suggest for those of you with CCW’s to seek out a strategic/tactical combat class at your local Community College. It is a real eye opener and a wonderful learning experience.

    Best regards, and Merry Christmas!

    Snake Plisken

  6. Eric says:

    A nit:

    “Even more recently, victims took the opportunity to flee after the terrorists’ guns jammed in last month’s attack on Paris.”

    I’ve watched that video a number of times, and I think that was just an empty gun, not a jam.

    It has been noted (on this website I think, among other places) that the terrorists in Paris expended about 100 rounds at each shooting location, e.g. two terrorists firing two magazines each, then moving on.

    In the video the guy who walks up to the window and tries to shoot the gal under the table doesn’t seem at all surprised when his gun doesn’t fire, and attempts no malfunction drill or reload. He simply acts like “Ok, I’m done” and goes back to his car to go to the next target.

    And yes for good guy who was armed and on scene, that would have been a perfect moment to take him out. Mais non,…

    • Greg Ellifritz says:

      I wasn’t talking about the video you referenced. I was speaking about the interview with the band where they stated they had waited for opportunities to move when the shooter’s gun jammed or when he was reloading.