How to maintain safe and operational firearms

Firearms, like automobiles, have a finite lifespan that can be drastically shortened without proper preventive care

Sep 20, 2018

What comes to mind when someone mentions firearms maintenance? If you’re like most shooters, you‘ll envision a field-stripped firearm on a table along with a toothbrush, a few rags and some solvent. While maintenance certainly involves periodic cleaning, firearms instructors might be selling our students short where maintenance is concerned.

As a firearms enthusiast, it is easy to forget that not everyone shares the same attention to detail needed when cleaning these complex machines. While even novice shooters might understand the steps involved to field strip a weapon, they may not know what to look for once the weapon is apart.

It is important to make sure you can identify unusual wear or broken parts and rectify the problem before it becomes a safety issue. Using some or all of the steps below will make sure weapons are always operational and ready. 


There are a series of simple checks that should be used any time a weapon has been reassembled after cleaning or even before going on shift. These include checking the functionality of the weapon’s safety, trigger, magazine release and sights. Make sure your officers know what they’re looking for while conducting their checks and what to do if a weapon fails the checks. Of course all safety rules apply. Make sure you’re performing checks with an empty weapon and with a safe backstop.


Identify certain key components that have shown to be prone to wear, chips or cracks in your particular weapon. Make sure your officers understand what they’re looking for and what these components look like both in proper working condition and broken. Save a small collection of broken parts as training aids so your people can see for themselves what to look for. In addition, keep a supply of new components on hand so they can be quickly replaced to minimize down time. 


These scheduled inspections will vary depending on the weapon’s use, round count and design but, at a minimum, it is a good idea to have all weapons inspected annually. This inspection should include anything that isn‘t easily checked by the user and may include some preventive maintenance like changing out recoil and magazine springs. New springs are a cheap and effective insurance policy against failure in the field and a prematurely abbreviated service life. 


Many of today’s manufacturers conduct basic and advanced armorer’s classes. These courses give selected officers the ability to thoroughly disassemble, inspect and repair service firearms while keeping any manufacturer’s warranties in place. Be sure to provide the manufacturer(s) with feedback. The firearms market is a competitive one and companies are always looking to improve the quality and durability of their duty products. If you’ve had a rash of feeding problems when a flashlight is attached or with a certain type of ammo, let the manufacturer know so steps can be taken to correct the issue. 


Using measuring gauges is generally not seen outside the military and benchrest communities, but that doesn’t mean there’s no place for gaging in the law enforcement environment. Using headspace and throat erosion gauges will help determine a weapon’s safety status and overall condition. Specific gauges are available from gunsmithing supply companies.


Firearms, like automobiles, have a finite lifespan that can be drastically shortened without proper preventive care. Using the steps above, you should be able to develop an estimated service life for your duty weapons and be able to budget and plan rebuilds and replacements accordingly. In a perfect world, you’ll be able to monitor and replace aging weapons before they are worn to the point of unreliability or become a safety hazard. 

About the author

Andrew Butts has served as a soldier in the Army National Guard and also served as a correctional officer in Montana, and is currently with a federal law enforcement agency. Butts currently holds an Expert classification in IDPA and an A classification in USPSA in both Limited and Single Stack Divisions.