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Reasons Guns Fail

Most modern, well-maintained firearms will keep going bang for a long, long time. But there are some things that could make your firearm fail.

Ah…the plight of the forgotten guns.  

Maybe you’ve spent a day at the range firing dirty ammo, then forgot to clean up your firearm until your next range session.  Then…you discover that your gun just won’t shoot. 

And maybe you’ve recognized that a gun needs a good cleaning, but your busy schedule causes you to keep putting it off until “later”…which ends up coming far later than you’d have liked.  

Rusty Marlin 366
Brand new Marlin 336 that rusted on the store shelf!

More guns are broken or made inoperable because of laziness and dumb mistakes than are put out of service by normal wear and tear.  

The answer is to know the most common problems and the corresponding best solutions.  

Protect your guns by knowing what is best for them so they’ll work when you need them to, withstand the elements, and be worth something should you want to sell them in the future.  

So now, without further ado, let’s talk about how firearms become damaged.

Wear & Tear

Just like anything else, guns wear out…although they are getting increasingly durable and resistant to wear. 

Springs are the parts most vulnerable to wear.  To a certain degree, you just have to accept that you’ll have to replace a spring here or there every so often.  On the other hand, guns also have lots and lots of moving parts that need to be cleaned and lubricated.  

wear and tear on turkey gun
Normal Wear and Tear on the Author’s Turkey Gun

Improper Storage

Most of the time guns rust out it’s because people have failed to store them in an environment that will protect them from the elements.  

If there’s a particularly humid day, or worse, you use a humidifier in the room where you store your guns, your firearms will come in contact with the moisture in the air and need drying out!

Otherwise you’re liable to see surface pitting and corrosion in a matter of a few days.  

Dirty Pistol
This gun was submerged in a safe for three days during Hurricane Katrina. You have no such excuse.

Careless Transportation

Few people get to walk out of their back door and start pulling the trigger.  That means you need to transport your guns to and from the shooting range.  

Safely transporting firearms means loading them into a padded case that holds them securely and prevents them from rubbing together.  

at Pelican

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

*Remember in some states you must lock the gun case while transporting to and from the range, contact your state officials when in doubt!  If you need some suggestions, check out our Best Gun Cases.

Over Tightening

When you screw down a bolt or any retainer…don’t over tighten it.  This includes the levers that secure quick detach mounts on Picatinny rails.  Hand tight, then a quarter turn!  Or even better…look at what the manufacturer suggests. 

You don’t get brownie points for cranking down the bolt and tripping out the screws.  

Aftermarket Parts

Anything you install on your gun needs to be thoroughly vetted and have an established track record before you can trust it.  That means…especially internal parts that make up critical parts of your gun.  Springs, trigger packs, bolt carriers, magazine catches…it all need to be tested. 

Modded Glock 40
It looks cool, but you need to make sure your aftermarket parts won’t damage your gun.

Looking to upgrade your gun?  Check out our Reviews section for specific suggestions.

Improper Installation

Don’t just let any monkey wrench on your guns.  

That includes you!  

If you swap a part or spring on your gun, make sure you know exactly what you’re doing and how it’ll affect your firearm.  Otherwise you may be sorry when you see the effects down the line.  

Internal Rusting

Most guns will start to show rust on the outside far before you notice the inside.  But it’s often too late by the time you notice.  

Internal pitting on rifling, or chambers is a death knell for guns.  

Cleaning internal parts of firearm
Keep the Inner Parts Nice and Clean

Flooding with Oil

Oil it’s self isn’t a problem.  

Flooding with oil that attracts lint and other debris is certainly a problem.  

Oil makes a good glue for unburned powder, carbon fouling, and general lint and sand to get gummed up into the action of your gun.  Over lubrication of a gun is just as big a problem as no lubrication.

Not Cleaning Out Solvents

Go easy on the solvents you use on your gun.  

Chances are you only need a patch or two, and normally only on the barrel.  If you get solvent in a hard to reach place like the gas key on an AR-15, then you might start to get corrosion there.  The purpose of solvent is to break things down, so don’t be surprised when that solvent eats your gun.

Flaking Finishes

Most guns come with a finish.  

Stainless steel and rust bluing are the best because they don’t come off.  The newer colored coatings like Duracoat and Cerakote can be problematic if you have the coating flake off in critical areas and gun the gun up.  

For example, if you Duracoat the frame of a 1911 or other pistol, make sure you keep the Duracoat off the slide rails.  It won’t hurt clearances while it’s in good shape but it will eventually wear off and cause problems.  

Flaking Winchester Rifle
Flaking On a Winchester Rifle

Don’t Be That Guy

If you haven’t noticed ,the key to not being the guy who abuses his equipment generals falls into three categories:

  • Know how to clean, use, and maintain each firearm your own
  • Use the correct equipment to clean and maintain your firearms
  • Have the equipment and know-how to properly store your firearms

The first step is to know what you’re doing.  Just like breaking your gun while taking it apart and putting it back together, you can ruin a gun by not using the proper cleaning solvents and lubrication.  

All you have to do is to read the manual. 

Google and YouTube are also your friends.  Just about any gun in existence has advice on taking it apart and putting it  back together.

The next step is to make sure you have the correct equipment.  

A stainless-steel wire brush is going to ruin the rifling of your barrel.  If you leave a heavy copper solvent on the finish of your pistol, it is going to pit and corrode it.  

If you over lubricate a striker fired pistol with a thick grease, it is going to have light primer strikes and misfires.  Have the correct cleaning and lubricating equipment and know how to use it.

at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

Finally, and arguable the most important part, is to store your firearms correctly.  

I live in Florida, and it is so humid here that guns literally rust while on store shelves.  If you have a gun safe or vault and don’t take steps to control the climate inside, you can ruin the function and value of a gun.  Look for ways to help mitigate these problems and create permanent storage solutions for your guns so you don’t have to be worried weather or no they’re rusting out. 

Finally, for the crowd who shouts “My guns are tools I don’t care how they look!”

I have two answers to this: reliability and tradition.  There’s no argument that a properly maintained gun will function better.  As said above, even the most durable firearm needs proper care and maintenance to meet its full potential.  Every single firearms manufacturer publishes information on the best way to clean, lubricate, and properly store their guns.  Follow their advice and the guns just work better.  

dirty ccw pistol
The Author’s Father’s Concealed Carry Pistol

My other answer for the “No clean” crowd is tradition.  

One of my most prized possessions is a .357 magnum two shot derringer style pistol my father carried for over 30 years.  It has its dings, its scratches, and a little surface pitting.  And to be honest… it isn’t a very effective firearm.  Still, it means the world to me that I have it now that he’s passed on.  

Firearms are intensely personal items and your children, or grandchildren will appreciate having such a personal piece of your history that you’ll leave behind.  Of course, you can only leave it behind if it is still in one piece.

What’s the worst case of gun neglect have you seen?  Are you guilty of weapon’s abuse yourself?  Tell us about your experiences in the comments.

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10 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar

    Could anyone identify the Hurricane Katrina pistol, make and model?

    July 21, 2019 1:24 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    I want to take my weapon into a store to be cleaned properly. How do I protect against swapped out parts?

    June 5, 2019 3:50 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    The worst case of neglect that I have seen was a CZ-75 that I loaned to my dad (although as we found out later, it wasn’t entirely his fault). After several months I asked for the gun back, offering to swap it out for another one. My dad retrieved the pistol from the trunk of his new car, and when he handed me the gun, which was in the original factory box, just as I had given it to him, it was clear that the box had gotten wet. When I removed the gun from the box, the gun was covered in rust. Needless to say, I was not a happy camper!

    He was at a loss to explain how the box had gotten wet. He told me that when I gave him the gun, he left it in the box and put it in the trunk of his new car, next to the spare tire that was under the floor of the trunk, and had not touched it since. So how did it get wet? Obviously the trunk was leaking water when it rained, or when the car was being washed, but there was no evidence of water anywhere else in the trunk, only in the area where the spare tire was stored.

    As I said, this was a new (at the time) car: a 1986 Chrysler Fifth Avenue. My dad had purchased it brand-new right off the showroom floor of the local Dodge-Chrysler-Plymouth dealership. My dad took the car back to the dealership to find the source of the leak, only to learn that unbeknownst to him at the time, had been sold a car that had its odometer disconnected and was driven by a Chrysler executive, during which time the car was involved in an accident, repaired and then sold to my dad as a new car.

    It turned out that Chrysler had done this many, many times: https://www.nytimes.com/1987/06/25/business/chrysler-is-indicted-over-mileage-shown-on-some-new-cars.html

    If it were not for a rusted CZ-75, my dad may have never known that he had fallen victim to Chrysler’s scam.

    October 23, 2018 6:19 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      A good wipe down with Eezox might have prevented that, or made rusting less severe - some people claim Eezox works miracles with corrosion protection, short of covering your guns with RIG or something else stupid before you lend your gun to someone else, might be worth a try, at least.

      August 23, 2020 6:42 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    There are numerous "new" cleaning and lubricating products on the market that one can safely use on your firearms. Personally, I've found M-Pro 7 & and Bore Tech Eliminator do a fantastic job of cleaning and lubricating internal parts and the bore. A light rub down using a cloth with Hoppe's gun oil and I've never had an issue. Brian Enos's "Slide Glide" works very well on my 1911 rails. They look as good as new after thousands of rounds. I'm not OCD about cleaning but I do make sure all copper and carbon fouling are out of my barrels before I take them out again. Otherwise it builds up in layers and can be difficult to remove.

    December 12, 2017 7:09 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Eric Hung

      Yup, I like M-Pro 7 and have heard good things of Slide Glide.

      December 14, 2017 1:00 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Great article! But I'd like to add an extra point regarding cleanliness- touching.

    While it won't exactly lead to the failure of the gun, the oils from your skin can lead to anything from light surface rust to possible pitting. Gunsmiths have told me of people that can put their hands all over a piece and it'll be fine, to people who can lightly touch a gun and you'll see some light surface rust by the end of the week.

    For whatever reason, it looks like it depends on the person, but it just underlines the fact that you should always apply a fine layer of oil (think wiping down with an oiled rag) to the outside of your firearm after cleaning for general protection from the elements and grimy paws.

    December 9, 2017 1:36 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    jerry the geek

    Actually, while it's possible to "over=oil' a gun, you have to work at it. A man who once owned the company which builds the most reliable of competitive pistols told me that. Then he went on to say something to the effect that "well, of course, you have to wipe off the excess oil".

    I think that's the genesis of the concept that you shouldn't use too much oil on a gun. The best approach is to give it plenty of oil of the appropriate quality and grade, let it sit for a while (to penetrate the areas where the oil cannot be applied directly), and then give it a good once-over wipe with a clean, dry cloth. That's all you heed to do to keep a gun functioning and minimize stoppages due to under-lubrication.

    In fact, the places where your (thin) oil can't directly lubricate benefit from a surfeit of oil; it acts not only as a lubricant, but also as a "wash" to get residual dirt and grime out of the moving surfaces.

    Is it possible to "under-lubricate" a gun? Yes!

    A firearm which receives less lubrication than it needs will not cycle correctly; in extreme examples, it will cause the action to 'stop' before the gun returns to battery. This is "A Bad Thing".

    The worst consequence of "over=lubricating" a gun, in my 30 years of experience in pistol competition, is that it might leak onto the grip and make it difficult to hold on to it.

    Okay, just a little bit facetious.

    December 8, 2017 9:47 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Tim Lange

    Carbon fowling? When are they in season? :-)

    December 7, 2017 6:32 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Eric Hung

      Lol, good catch!

      December 7, 2017 10:30 pm
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