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How to quickly fix common AR-15 failures

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One evening, a group of friends was sitting on a porch playing cards in Florida.

One of the men, Donteau S. was continually losing money in the game. He was upset and left to get more money.

But when Donteau returned he had a gun. He pulled back the slide on the gun and fired a round into the porch. He then told everyone, “Empty your pockets.”

The group playing cards started running.

Donteau yelled again, “Don’t run, empty your pockets.” He then began taking money from the people playing cards.

He approached one victim and started hitting him on the head with his gun. He then pointed the gun at the victim’s head and pulled the trigger multiple times.

But the gun malfunctioned and didn’t fire. One of the men then knocked the gun out of Donteau’s hand.

Witnesses say that Donteau picked up the gun and sat down at the table. He racked the slide of the gun back and forth, but was unable to clear the malfunction, so he ran.

Police later located and arrested Donteau.

The victims in the case are lucky to be alive. Donteau was prepared to kill. Thankfully, he didn’t know how to properly clear a gun malfunction.

Now, for those who own guns from semi-auto pistols to rifles, malfunctions can and will happen, no matter what gun you’re shooting.

But with AR-15s a popular home defense choice, it’s a gun you need to know how to clear malfunctions on.

The good thing is that the majority of AR malfunctions are easy to correct. That said, here are a few AR-15 malfunctions and how to deal with them.

Failure to feed:

A failure to feed is one of the most likely gun malfunctions. It occurs when a bullet fails to load into the chamber from the magazine.

This can happen anytime, from your first to last round in the magazine.

The most common reason is your magazine. In this scenario, the best course of action is to tap and rack.

Tap the bottom of the magazine to make sure it’s fully seated in the magazine well (and also pull down to make sure it stays in there), and then run back the charging handle.

Press the bolt release and try again.

If this doesn’t fix the problem, the next step is to remove the magazine and try another one.

This is one of the many reasons you should never go cheap with your magazine. Always buy factory mags or quality brands such as Magpul.

Failure to extract:

A failure to extract happens when the empty cartridge of the fired round remains in the chamber, or the empty round gets stuck in the rifle.

While following safety rules, tilt the gun to see if the cartridge comes loose. If it doesn’t come out, lock the bolt back, and drop the magazine.

Try pulling the charging handle and give the AR a shake to try to remove the cartridge.

If you still don’t have luck, pull the charging handle and hold it open. Then, tap the butt of the rifle against the ground. Keep the muzzle aimed in a safe direction.

If none of these work, use a cleaning rod to push the cartridge out – but make sure you remove the magazine and any live ammo from the gun.

Failure to fire:

This is when you pull the trigger and nothing happens. The most likely reason is bad ammunition.

First, eject the round from your rifle. If the next round fires with no problem then it was likely just a bad round.

This is why I would avoid cheap ammo brands, especially those that use steel casings. Stay away from Wolf or Tula for your self-defense ammo.

Double feed:

A double feed is when two rounds enter the chamber at the same time.

This could occur if a live round gets stuck behind the previous round or an empty cartridge. A double feed is usually caused by the magazine.

The first thing to do is to remove the magazine. Pull the charging handle back to release tension and hopefully the mag will come out.

At this point, try to shake the rounds out of the rifle. Never use your fingers to try to clear a double feed. (Use a multi-tool instead)

To help avoid a double feed, I always load 28- rounds in my magazines and I encourage others to do the same.

Just because you have a 30-round magazine it doesn’t mean you should load 30 rounds.

Having two fewer rounds in your magazine will make a huge difference in avoiding malfunctions.


This happens when the spent casing gets caught in the ejection port as it’s being extracted. The good thing is when this happens you can usually see the empty casing.

In this case, you want to tap and rack. Make sure the magazine is properly seated and pull back the charging handle.

You might need to remove the magazine and pull the charging handle back to remove the casing.

Ideally, the casing will fall out and you can put the mag back in and get back to shooting.

If it keeps happening try a different magazine, and then different ammo if it still occurs. If the problem continues it could be a bad ejector or extractor spring.

When trying to clear a malfunction, always make firearm safety a priority.

If they occur often, try buying a new magazine such as a Magpul. If that doesn’t fix the problem, try a different brand of ammo.

If the malfunctions go beyond your comfort level I would take your AR to a gunsmith to have it looked over.

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