When a New Gun Turns on a New Gun Owner
Avoid seething anger and work through the steps to diagnose the problem.
A post on a gun subreddit got me thinking about some of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had with stubborn or malfunction-prone firearms, and how I would feel if such a gun were the first I’d ever purchased.
For a new gun owner, a firearm that’s finicky out of the box can be extraordinarily frustrating and mystifying all at once.
The guy who posted about his problems was a first time rifle-owner, had only owned handguns previously, and bought himself an IWI X95 bullpup in .223/5.56. The problem? He took it to the range for the first time and had 15 malfunctions, including double feeds and failures to feed, in 100 rounds.
That’s not good, and could definitely make someone frustrated with their expensive new rifle.
When a gun seemingly turns on you during a range sessions, it’s like a trusted dog that suddenly bites you. You can’t help but look at it differently, wondering if, when the time comes, it can be relied upon. In the case of the gun, you start building plans in the back of your mind to mitigate the problem—while also sort of thinking about keeping it in the back of your safe so you don’t have to look at it until the wounding has faded.
It can be a traumatic experience: You’ve pined over this gun for months, watched videos about it, explored accessories for it, put the MSRP in your mind in giant blinking lighted numerals as a goal to be worked toward. Then it finally happens. Your gun shop finally gets one at the same time you finally have enough to spend on it, a few spare mags, and whatever .223 you can lay your hands on these days. So, you go down and fill out your paperwork, pass the NICS check, get it home and try not to run reload drills ever 10 minutes. You finally get it to the range and finally get to the firing line. And it starts screwing up.
A gun that already feels unfamiliar has turned on you. It all falls apart. The mystique surrounding this long-sought-after firearm that you knew would just fit you perfectly and function like a laser in your hands has been destroyed—your money, and time, and effort wasted! And it’s just you and the gun, in your shooting stall, hearing your own breathing and heartbeat reverberating in your ear pro. It’s all over! You might as well just leave the gun on the shooting bench and walk out, right?!
Chill. It’s just a machine. It’s not magic. Troubles can be shot, solutions found.
In the case of a brand new rifle, you shouldn’t dig too deep before it becomes the manufacturer’s problem, but you do have to try a few things.
Break Down and Clean Every New Gun BEFORE Going to the Range
First, a new rifle should always be broken down when you get it home. Any thick grease slathered on by the manufacturer for storage should be wiped away. The gun should be cleaned and lubed in the appropriate locations and reassembled.
While you’re doing this, examine everything and make sure it looks to be in order. Also run a cleaning brush or a boresnake through the barrel.
This will also ensure that you’re familiar with the mechanics of the gun, so if you do encounter a malfunction at the range, you can clear it with greater confidence.
Diagnosing Feeding Problems in a New Gun
Per the example, the X95 doesn’t have an adjustable gas system, so you have what you have. If you’re running a gun that does have an adjustable gas system, you might have to tweak it a bit to get the gun cycling properly with the ammo you’re using. Consult your owner’s manual for the proper way to go about this, and always check for an instructional video online as well.
The Tavor X95, like the Tavor TAR-21 before it, was designed as a military rifle, and that means it’s optimized to work with certain types of ammunition and the pressures and ballistics that ammunition produces—namely NATO 5.56 ammo. That’s not to say it won’t perform well with match-grade civilian ammunition or budget bulk ammo—it means you shouldn’t be surprised that it doesn’t just gobble up absolutely any ammo you feed it.
In the comments, the poster admitted he used a mixture of brass and steel cased ammunition, and several brands of polymer magazines, including the Magpul Gen 3 PMag that comes with the rifle and Lancer mags. He couldn’t say if the malfunctions happened more or exclusively with the steel ammo, or with any of the magazines. It’s understandable. It was his first range session with the gun, he only shot two boxes of ammo, and the gun jammed on him 15 times. He wasn’t in the diagnosing frame of mind.
A mixture of failure-to-feed and double-feed malfunctions sounds like a pressure problem, as in not enough, which would be an ammunition problem in this case, but it could also be an issue with the magazines. This is what he, or anyone else with similar issues, should do on the next trip to the range.
Test Your Ammo
If you suspect the gun doesn’t like steel ammo, get two boxes of whatever cheapo steel you run, two boxes of plain-jane FMJ ball ammo, and a box of some high-end hunting or match ammo and go to the range.
Use one magazine. Yes, this will be slower going, but it’s a variable you don’t need at this point.
Shoot all the brass ammo and record any malfunctions, and then do the same with the steel. Be sure to take notice if a malfunction happens repeatedly at the beginning of the mag or the end. Either the results will be obvious, or you will have a mix of malfunctions with both types of ammo.
Its worth noting that steel-cased ammo is generally cheaper, because steel is cheaper than brass, but the price is also lower because that budget steel-case ammo from various overseas manufacturers may have questionable quality control. The propellant loads could vary quite a bit.
Your gun may not be finicky, your ammo may just be lousy and inconsistent. If it’s malfunctioning with steel ammo, but not constantly malfunctioning, this might be why.
Test Different Mags
If ammo comparisons yield no solutions or information. Then move on to magazines.
Load 10 rounds of the ammo that has performed best so far into three different magazines and start running them, again recording any issues. If a gun doesn’t like a magazine, it’s not going to run right. If you’re having problems with all three mags, switch ammo and see if that makes a difference.
Make Sure You’re Not the Problem
This shouldn’t be the issue with the example of the X95, but some semi-auto rifles and shotguns need to be firmly seated in the shoulder to function properly, just like semi-auto handguns can’t be limp-wristed, or the physics that make them cycle don’t work anymore.
See if making sure the rifle is firmly tucked into the shoulder makes a difference when it comes to malfunctions, just to be sure, before sending the gun in for work.
If, at this point, you find no discernible pattern, rhyme, or reason to the malfunctions, it’s time to get in touch with the manufacturer, if it’s a new rifle, and with a gunsmith if it’s not.
I will say of this example in particular: I’ve run all kinds of .223 and 5.56 through my X95 without a hiccup and found it to be utterly reliable. Still, things do happen on the long road from the factory to the gun shop.
If the OP is new to rifles and this is his first one, it’s fair to say that his magazines are all brand new too. Sometimes, things do need to get broken in a little bit before they work their best, whether that means putting a few boxes of ammo through a magazine and semi-auto rifle, or working the pump on a shotgun or the action on a lever gun over and over to smooth it up. Some people don’t consider a gun broken in until they’ve put 1,000 rounds through it.
The most important thing is to control your frustration as much as possible when things don’t go right, especially if it’s a new-out-of-the-box rifle that doesn’t perform perfectly on the first range session. It’s easier said than done, but getting frustrated and angry usually leads to doing something dumb and possibly breaking things that weren’t broken, causing more problems.
There are a number of variables, especially with modular rifles using aftermarket magazines, that have to be examined and potentially tweaked. Stay cool, and work through them.
And, of course, something may be hinky, or even broken, but often, you can’t know that until you’ve gone through the simple tests above.