Does the Army’s $580 Million Handgun Have a Fatal Flaw?
Policy + Politics

Does the Army’s $580 Million Handgun Have a Fatal Flaw?

TexasWarhawk via Wikimedia Commons

Last January, the Army made a $580 million decision: It would replace its longstanding sidearm, the M9 Beretta, with a new modular handgun made by the U.S. arm of the German-controlled gunsmith Sig Sauer.

In choosing the P320, a gun that can be adapted to the shooter, the Army bypassed Smith & Wesson and Glock, the favorite of law-enforcement professionals.

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A miffed Glock filed a bid protest with the General Accounting Office, but its arguments were dismissed in a June decision.

Now the Internet is abuzz with allegations that the P320 — the M17 in Army lingo — has a flaw that could be fatal: discharging when dropped.

On Wednesday, the website reported that a Stamford, Connecticut, police officer on a special response team has filed a $7 million federal lawsuit against Sig Sauer, claiming that as he was loading equipment into a vehicle, his P320 dropped to the ground and discharged, striking him in the leg.

That report followed news that the Dallas police department had suspended use of the P320, which is not its primary weapon, because of concerns about accidental discharge.

On Monday, after conducting multiple tests in which the P320 frequently went off when dropped at a specific angle — muzzle up with the back of the slide striking the ground -- the gun retailer Omaha Outdoors suspended sales of the weapon.

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Only one of the four guns Omaha Outdoor’s Andrew Touhy tested did not go off no matter how many times it was dropped; that model has a lighter trigger shoe than the others.

The website The Truth About Guns replicated Touhy’s tests and got similar results.

In a public statement on Tuesday, Sig Sauer said: “Recent events indicate that dropping the P320 beyond U.S. standards for safety may cause an unintentional discharge. As a result of input from law enforcement, government and military customers, SIG has developed a number of enhancements in function, reliability, and overall safety including drop performance.”

The company said more information about the “voluntary upgrade” will be available on its website on August 14.

Sig Sauer also said pointedly: “The M17 variant of the P320, selected by the U.S. government as the U.S. Army’s Modular Handgun System (MHS), is not affected by the Voluntary Upgrade.” No word on whether the upgrades have been or will be incorporated into the Army version.