The military’s latest handgun might not be safe
Editor's note: This article has been updated (August 14, 2023) to include Sig Sauer's response to the allegations made in the lawsuit referenced here and here and here. The lawsuit, brought by a group of 20 highly-trained gun users, including federal agents, police, and civilians, sued global gun manufacturer Sig Sauer for damages related to gunshot wounds and permanent injuries suffered as a result of unintentional firings by its model P320 pistols. They join dozens of others who have sued the New Hampshire-based company and are calling for it to make critical safety design improvements. The lawsuit, (Bevacqua et al v. Sig Sauer, Inc. No. 1:23-cv-00209), filed in U.S. District Court by Saltz Mongeluzzi Bendesky P.C. (SMB), alleges the P320 is “the most dangerous pistol sold in the United States market" and states:
- The Plaintiffs in this action are a group of highly trained and experienced firearms
users whose lives were upended by a dangerously defective pistol: the Sig Sauer P320.
- Upon the information discovered through research and document production, the
Sig Sauer P320 is the most dangerous pistol sold in the United States market.
- The Plaintiffs in this action are federal law enforcement agents, police officers,
combat veterans, firearms instructors, and civilians who have dedicated significant portions of
their lives to the safe use of weapons.
- The Plaintiffs in this action trusted Sig Sauer to live up to its reputation as a designer
and manufacturer of safe and reliable handguns.
- The Plaintiffs in this action trusted Sig Sauer to live up to its promise that the P320
“would not fire unless you want it to.”
- The Plaintiffs in this action were lied to and let down by Sig Sauer, falling victim
to the dangerously designed and manufactured P320.
In 2017, the SIG Sauer P320 won the U.S. Army's XM17 Modular Handgun System competition. Adopted as the full-size M17 and compact M18, the P320 became the U.S. military's standard sidearm, replacing the Beretta M9. The P320 has also been adopted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as state and local police agencies. Foreign militaries and law enforcement, including Canadian Special Operations Forces and the Norwegian Police Service, have also selected the P320 as their sidearm of choice. However, SIG's flagship pistol is also the center of multiple unintended discharge investigations and lawsuits.
The P320 is a semi-automatic, striker-fired handgun. Glock's pistols, which popularized this format, feature three independent safety mechanisms that disengage sequentially as the gun is fired: an external trigger safety, internal firing pin safety and internal drop safety. After the gun fires and the trigger is released, the safeties re-engage to prevent unintended discharges. While the P320 can be had with a manual thumb safety, there is no option for a trigger safety like Glocks.
Sig Sauer's response: The original solicitation issued for the MHS program required the inclusion of a manual safety, and therefore manual safeties were included in the original design of SIG SAUER’s submissions for that program.
In 2016, during MHS testing, the Army noted nearly 200 "malfunctions" with the P320. Demanding that SIG Sauer address these problems, the Army agreed to accept the pistol only after an external manual safety was added. As a result, all SIG Sauer P320s sold to the military as M17s or M18s feature a thumb-activated safety on the frame. This option can be had on P320s sold on the law enforcement and civilian markets. However, SIG Sauer advertises the P320 to be safe, with or without the external safety. "We've designed safety elements into every necessary feature on this pistol," SIG says in its marketing material. "From the trigger, to the striker and even the magazine, the P320 won't fire unless you want it to.
Sig Sauer's response: Only one safety issue was identified in the Army’s testing of the M17/M18 platform, which SIG SAUER resolved, along with all other issues identified.
Despite this, there have been multiple cases of unintended discharges since the P320 hit the market in 2014. In 2017, in Stamford, Connecticut, another holstered P320 fell less than three feet to the ground and fired, striking a SWAT team member in his left knee.
Sig Sauer's response: This claim is not based in fact but rather from an unproven allegation contradicted by evidence. Based on an investigation of the evidence, it appears the firearm may have fallen from the roof of the involved officer’s vehicle, a much greater height than three feet.
Four days after a lawsuit was filed over this incident, SIG Sauer announced a voluntary upgrade to address drop-safety concerns. In February 2018, a P320 that fired uncommanded and wounded a Loudoun County Deputy Sheriff in Virginia was CAT scanned and found to have a defect in its internal safety.
Sig Sauer's response: This claim was never proven, and SIG SAUER expressly denies any such allegation. The physical evidence in this case showed that the involved firearm was partially removed from the holster at the time of discharge, and that the trigger was unintentionally depressed by the deputy’s finger or a foreign object. You also indicate that the firearm involved in this incident displayed a defect in its “internal safety.” That is not the case. The firearm involved was found to contain misaligned sear springs, but this condition was reviewed and determined not to have any impact on the safety of the firearm, or any contributory effect to the unintentional discharge.
Two months later, SIG Sauer announced a second voluntary upgrade for the weapon.
Sig Sauer's response: SIG SAUER has only ever had one Voluntary Upgrade Program for the P320, which was implemented in August 2017, and which remains available to owners of P320s manufactured prior to that date which
have not yet been upgraded. SIG SAUER has sent out notices to users reminding them of the availability of the upgrade program, but no additional upgrade program has ever been implemented or necessary for the P320.
After 18 months of service with ICE, reports of unintended P320 discharges that resulted in seven injuries were filed with the agency. Through December 2022, at least three additional ICE agents have been injured by P320s.
Sig Sauer's response: The ICE report referenced in the Article is heavily redacted and contains no information regarding the number of pistols fielded or any comparison between incidents involving P320 pistols and incidents involving other pistol models. Moreover, every ICE firearm involved in any discharge incident – intentional or unintentional – is examined by an ICE armorer. The ICE armorer has testified that based on his examination of multiple P320
pistols, he has no concerns with the safety of the P320 nor does he believe they are discharging without trigger actuation. Notably, after this report was issued, ICE renewed its contract for P320 pistols, reinforcing its satisfaction with the safety and performance of the P320 platform.
In November 2020, a Canadian Joint Task Force 2 operator was wounded in his leg by a P320 when it accidentally discharged. The weapon, which was only recently adopted by Canadian Special Forces at the time of the incident, was immediately pulled from service pending an investigation. SIG Sauer responded, claiming that the soldier used the wrong holster. A 2021 investigation cleared the P320 for use and Canada's Department of National Defence has since awarded a $3.2 million US contract for the P320 to equip its regular military.
Sig Sauer's response: Your discussion of the discharge incident experienced by Canada’s JTF2 and the findings regarding the cause of that incident are incomplete. Specifically, you notably exclude reference to the finding by SIG SAUER and the Canadian military that a foreign object entered the holster and pulled the trigger of the involved firearm.
On March 27, 2023, the Saltz Mongeluzzi Bendesky law firm filed a lawsuit against SIG Sauer for damages resulting from unintended firings by P320s. The plaintiffs include civilians, law enforcement officers and even an Army firearms instructor who were injured by P320s that fired when they weren't supposed to. "We are calling on Sig Sauer to do what it should have done long ago – recall the P320 weapon and redesign the gun with the types of safeties used by its competitors," said attorney Robert Zimmerman in a statement from the firm. "We fear that more and more Americans- law enforcement and responsible gun owners alike- will continue to fall victim to this weapon until Sig makes the reasonable choice to protect its customer base and the community at large."
On July 24, 2023, during an arrest in the lobby of the Montville Police Station in Connecticut, an officer's holstered P320 fired without the trigger being pulled. Although no one was injured, Chief Wilfred Blanchette reacted immediately and placed a $20,000 order for Glock handguns to replace his department's P320s. "I don't feel comfortable with our officers maintaining these [SIG Sauer] guns," Blanchette said in a department statement. "Montville police will be equipped with Glock 9mm handguns in the very near future." Despite over 100 reported cases of unintended P320 discharges across the country, there have been no reports of unintended discharges with the military's M17 or M18 pistols.
Sig Sauer's response: In your discussion of the recent unintentional discharge experienced by a Montville (CT) Police officer, you describe the incident as having occurred “without the trigger being pulled,” despite the fact that this allegation has not been proven, and none of the footage released to date clearly depicts the trigger of the involved
firearm at the time of discharge.