The Seven Deadly Sins of Handgun Shooting: Inappropriate Racking

   07.02.13

In many jurisdictions, inappropriate racking can get you fined or even imprisoned for up to three days. But word has it you can get off the hook with a warning, provided you’re departing a Sunset Strip nightclub after 2 a.m.

Unfortunately for TMZ producers and folks who disable the default Google Images SafeSearch option, we’re talking about an entirely different kind of inappropriate racking.

This racking discussion focuses on racking the slide on semiautomatic pistols. For anyone not familiar with the terminology, racking the slide refers to vigorously drawing the slide all the way back in order to eject a chambered cartridge or spent casing and/or allow the slide to strip a new one from the magazine and jam it into the chamber. In plain English, racking most often completes the process of manually loading a semiautomatic pistol by moving the first round from the magazine to the chamber.

In the Seven Deadly Sins of Handgun Shooting series, we’re going to cover two types of racking offenses. The first is a simple misdemeanor infraction that doesn’t even warrant a ticket, much less a summons. The second can easily be considered a capital felony.

  1. The Needle Point
  2. The Side Slide Swipe

Today, we’ll focus on the less dangerous one: the Needle Point. This technique actually borrows from the cup and saucer grip we addressed in week one. Simply put, it relies on a dainty pinching motion on the back of the slide by the support hand thumb and index finger. It’s a lot like the way Sir Elton John might hold a teacup. The shooter then attempts to pull the slide backward using only the abductor pollicis brevis muscle to control the thumb. Or maybe it’s the opponens pollicis. I always get those two muscle groups mixed up as they all look the same to me. Clearly, as we all know, the lumbrical muscle gets involved to help out the index finger pressure.

The point of all this grey anatomy is that some really delicate, small, and comparatively weak muscles are used to do some seriously heavy work. Think about it. You use the same muscles to thread a needle and that only requires .00732 nano-pounds of pressure. Seriously, that’s a fact because I saw someone post that figure in the comments on a YouTube “Needlepointing for Dummies” video. On the other hand (Ha! Get it?) racking a pistol slide can require more than 20 pounds of force when you consider the resistance of the recoil and main (or firing pin) springs.

The result of this technique is a bunch of frustrated people who find they have difficulty racking the slide on a pistol that they might otherwise like. And far too often, people choose to buy and use an entirely different pistol because they can’t, or at least have difficulty, racking the slide.

Fortunately, and thanks to Bill Nye the Science Guy, some basic knowledge of physics can help. There’s a really easy way to use really big muscles to rack the slide. And nearly every person, with the obvious exception of New York runway models, has muscles more powerful than those pistol springs. I have yet to see this method fail.

Proper way to rack the slide - setup
With the gun held close to your body, jab yourself in the gut with your support hand thumb like this.

Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Take a firm firing grip with your shooting hand, making sure that you diligently obey Rule 1–keeping your finger off the trigger!
  2. Bring your shooting hand (with the gun attached of course) straight back towards your body. Just move your elbow backwards so the gun grip ends up almost touching you, with the muzzle still pointed straight downrange.
  3. Now take your support hand and flatten it, keeping your fingers straight. Think about how you naturally make a “down boy” or “calm down” motion with your hand. Your palm should be facing the ground.
  4. Extend your support hand thumb straight out, away from your palm and at a 90 degree angle to your fingers. Now rotate your arm so you jab yourself right in the gut with that thumb. Ouch! Your palm should still be facing the ground by the way.
  5. Move your still-flat support hand over the back half of the slide of your gun.
  6. Close your support hand fingers so that your palm is on one side of the slide and fingers on the other. Now you’re grasping that slide with large hand and arm muscles instead of thumb and finger mini-muscles. Squeeze!
  7. Keeping your support arm in the same place, push the bottom half (frame) of the gun forward like you’re going to jab the target with the muzzle.
  8. See what we did there? Rather than pulling the slide backwards, we tricked you into you into pushing the whole gun forward with your big arm and body muscles.
  9. When you have pushed the gun as far forward as the slide will allow it to go, quickly release the slide with your support hand. Let the springs snap the slide closed. Don’t ever try to ease the slide back gently as the gun was designed to work properly when the springs do their job with gusto and wild enthusiasm. If you try to be gentle and allow the slide to close slowly and gently, you’re just asking for a malfunction. And those are embarrassing, to say the least.

How did that work out for you?

So if you, or someone you know, is struggling with racking slides, have them try this method. Even though the Needle Point is only a misdemeanor, you still don’t want it on your record.

This article is the fifth part in a series on the Seven Deadly Sins of Handgun Shooting. To learn more about how not to shoot, check out last week’s article on the crossed-thumb grip here.

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