Like many of our readers, we’ve been watching the slow drip, drip, drip of lawsuits accumulate over the past couple of years against SIG Sauer. These suits allege that their ultra-popular P320 pistol can fire without the trigger being pulled. Some of the plaintiffs claim the pistol can fire without the trigger even being touched.
The latest of these suits was filed last week in US District Court in Massachusetts. It alleges that Walter Collette, Jr., a police officer with the Somerville (Mass.) Police Department, was wounded when his P320 duty gun discharged “without a trigger pull” while he was carrying it in a gym bag “wrapped carefully with a cloth.” Officer Collette was wounded in his left leg.
The modular SIG P320 is among the most widely-owned handguns on the planet. Not only is it now the designated sidearm of all branches of the U.S. military, there are over a million of them in civilian hands. They’ve also been adopted as duty guns by law enforcement agencies across the country.
People of the Gun are probably familiar with the early problems the P320 had regarding drop safety. Back in 2017, SIG instituted a voluntary upgrade program to replace the original production triggers with new “enhanced” triggers designed to fix the issue that we and others observed when the pistols were dropped onto hard surfaces.
None of the current lawsuits appear to be in any way related to the now-fixed drop safety issue and most, if not all of the allegations seem to involve upgraded pistols or those produced after the drop safety problem was identified by SIG.
The current allegations, then, are different, claiming that the P320 is prone to “un-commanded discharges.”
We’re not the only ones who have noticed the lawsuits. They’ve now come to the attention of the legacy media. ABC News ran two reports on the topic last week, highlighting one particular cop in Bridge City, Texas who is suing SIG for $15 million. She claims that her holstered P320 pistol “went off” while she was carrying it in her purse.
ABC ran their story on the P320 twice, but with some significant differences between the two reports. Here’s the version that ran Tuesday morning during the network’s Good Morning America program . . .
In this version, Bridge City Officer Brittany Hilton tells her story of what she says happened when her P320 discharged as she was carrying it in her purse in what appears to be a SERPA holster (which has had its own problems, but that’s another story).
Carrying a handgun in a purse, particularly one that isn’t designed specifically to carry a firearm, is problematic at best. There’s just too much other paraphernalia bouncing around in there. But as Officer Hilton says, “There is no way anything could have gotten into my purse…into the trigger guard and pulled that trigger.”
This ABC report includes an interview with Joshua Harrison, a firearms expert hired by the network to examine the P320’s design and give his opinion of its safety. Harrison stated that, “I have not seen enough to convince me that the upgraded version is dangerous.”
When ABC’s David Scott asked Harrison if it’s a mystery “what’s going wrong with the updated version” — though Harrison had just stated the upgraded pistol isn’t dangerous — Harrison said, “I do not have an explanation for why the updated version should have complaints from trained individuals. If it’s not legal momentum, it would have to be some other mechanism of failure.”
Keep the phrase “legal momentum” in mind.
Here’s the version of the report that ran later that night, during ABC’s Nightline program . . .
Note the addition of ominous background music in the second seven-minutes-longer version (there was no music in the Good Morning America version). The Nightline segment includes an interview with Major Peter Villani, an expert (paid) witness for Hilton.
When Villani was asked for his opinion of SIG Sauer, he said, “I carry SIGs, I own SIGs, I just don’t own a 320…nor would I ever.” When Scott asked Villani what he found when he took a P320 apart, he said, “I thought ‘Wow, they need to do their homework, they need to fix this gun.”
Asked if the guns in these cases could have been mishandled, Villani responds, “When I see videos of police officers getting out of their car and their weapon discharges in their holsters, nah, there’s a problem with the gun.” ABC then ran bodycam footage of a pre-upgrade P320 firing as a Michigan state trooper exited his patrol car in 2016 with no mention of the results of any subsequent investigation.
The second, longer version of the ABC story again included comments from Joshua Harrison, the consultant ABC hired to independently assess the P320. But this time, the sound bites used were different. The second version emphasized the upgrade to fix the drop safety issue and notes that Harrison believes that problem has been fixed.
“There were a lot of changes. It was expensive. And they would not have done that for no reason at all. In my opinion, the only reason SIG would have done that is if they knew there was a safety problem with the original gun, otherwise they would not have done it.”
Scott says Harrison reviewed the claims in Officer Hilton’s lawsuit and said, “…it’s unclear to (Harrison) what could now be causing misfires in the upgraded guns.”
Scott then asked Harrison if he believes the P320 should be removed from the marketplace. Harrison responded, “No, I don’t think the upgraded version should be recalled, in fact I think the previous version should be recalled so that everyone has the upgraded version.”
Note that Harrison’s comment about these claims possibly being the result of “legal momentum” were edited out of the longer Nightline version of the report. What exactly did Harrison mean by “legal momentum?” That isn’t clear, but it’s easy to make an educated guess.
He’s talking about trial lawyers recruiting clients who’ve experienced negligent discharges with P320s and suing the gun manufacturer. Clients such as law enforcement officers whose negligent discharges could result in their being disciplined or fired unless it can be proven that the gun was at fault.
Both versions of the ABC report included comments from Officer Hilton’s attorney, Jeffrey Bagnell, who said, “It’s not credible to claim that people with this amount of training, this amount of skill are all shooting themselves. You would have to conclude there’s a problem with the product, not with the people.”
In the Nightline version, Bagnell says, “Firearms are not subject to federal regulation. They’re the only product that is not. If this were a car, a phone, a refrigerator, it would have been recalled long ago. So I think it is unconscionable, given the number of incidents of this gun defectively discharging without a trigger pull, would necessitate that someone order it to be recalled and only SIG can do that.”
TTAG talked to Bagnell, who told us that he wants it to be known that he is not anti-gun and doesn’t want to see more gun control laws in this country. He said he’s a gun owner and a concealed carry permit holder. He wanted TTAG to convey that he’s pro-Second Amendment.
Bagnell is representing a number of the police officers who have filed suits against SIG for “un-commanded discharges,” but wouldn’t disclose the exact number. He is acting as a consultant in the Collette suit that was filed last week.
Bagnell also represented Virginia Sheriff’s Deputy Marcie Vadnais who sued SIG when she said her P320 “went off on its own when she was removing the weapon from her belt.” Vadnais was featured in the Nightline version of ABC’s report. SIG ultimately settled that lawsuit.
Bagnell told TTAG that he believes the problem with the striker-fired P320 is an “inadequate sear/striker connection” (he has images he says illustrate this on his website). Bagnell said he thinks the discharges are due to both design and manufacturing flaws on SIG’s part.
Bagnell’s and other lawsuits — ABC claims at least 54 discharges and 10 suits against SIG — describe instances of P320s “going off” dating back to 2016, prior to the upgrade. The Collette suit, for example, lists 39 such discharges, all but five of which involved law enforcement officers.
Not much detail is provided in any of those other claimed incidents, but a few stand out. For instance there’s Lieutenant Thomas Ahern who was was “performing a routine function (test) of his P320 when it fired at him without any force towards the trigger, resulting in the bullet impacting his left thigh.”
Who function tests their firearm 1) with a round in the chamber, and 2) when it’s pointed at an extremity?
And then there’s Gunter Walker, a civilian, who says his P320 fired on its own “when he placed the weapon down on his nightstand, shooting him through the palm of his left hand.”
Have you ever put a handgun down with your palm in front of the muzzle? Would you?
There’s also an un-named Texas gun shop manager who says a P320 fired “as he cleared the weapon, blowing off one of his fingers. The weapon was out of battery when it fired.”
First, clearing a loaded firearm with a finger over the muzzle doesn’t exhibit even cursory adherence to the Four Rules. Second, pardon us if we’re more than a little skeptical that the P320 in question — or any other handgun — fired when it was out of battery.
Again, these are examples the plaintiff in this case is using to support his claim that the P320 is prone to “un-commanded discharges.”
What to make of all of this, then?
First, keep in mind that allegations made in lawsuits are not statements of fact. They are plaintiffs’ versions of what they say happened. Remember also that with a handful of notable exceptions, modern firearms do not just “go off,” no matter what is later claimed by those who may be held responsible.
ABC’s own hired consultant, who appears to have no dog in these fights, asserted that he could find no reasonable explanation for these claims and that he considers the upgraded P320 pistols safe for sale to law enforcement and the public. It’s interesting that ABC chose to leave that point out of one of their reports.
Then there’s the fact that the branches of the military have put the P320 design through their own batteries of testing and found it duty worthy. They have hundreds of thousands of P320s in regular service now and, despite a search, we couldn’t find a rash of reports of soldiers claiming their pistols are firing on their own.
While we don’t have the actual numbers of similar lawsuits filed against other gun makers — actually no one individual or organization seems to keep track of these things and gun makers don’t want to talk about it — it seems highly likely that every major firearm manufacturer gets its share of a regular flow of lawsuits filed by both civilians and LEOs who claim SHAZAM! My gun just went off! I didn’t even touch it!
TTAG talked to SIG Sauer about the P320 suits and the ABC reports. The company didn’t want to comment on any specific pending litigation for obvious reasons. They did, however, note that when they were contacted by ABC, the company pointed out specific circumstances that were subsequently uncovered in the investigations of a number of these incidents. Circumstances that explained those “un-commanded discharges.”
SIG says ABC had intended to include some of those other claims in their reports, but after SIG informed the network of the additional information that was uncovered, those cases weren’t included in either of the segments.
Note also that ABC didn’t provide any context for the number of suits filed against SIG. The network’s report didn’t mention lawsuits filed by LEOs (or anyone else) against other gun makers claiming similar alleged design defects.
It seems safe to assume that while SIG is coming up fast on the outside, GLOCK is still most likely the reigning champ in terms of the firearms most often carried by law enforcement and other government agencies. And it doesn’t take too much Googling to find plenty of reports of LEOs suing the Georgia company as well (see here, here, here, and here for just a few).
We’re not saying that the suits against GLOCK are any more (or less) substantiated than those against SIG. It’s just that with hundreds of millions of firearms in the hands of more than one-third of the country’s population — including a lot of cops — some number of negligent discharges will inevitably happen. And people have a way of looking for ways to deflect blame for those discharges, especially when they stand to lose their job as a result.
It’s also interesting that there’s apparently no corresponding flood of civilian lawsuits against SIG with similar claims of guns “going off,” even though the public owns far more P320s than do law enforcement agencies.
So does any of this mean there’s something wrong with the P320? No, it doesn’t. What it likely means is that cops and other law enforcement officers carry and handle their guns far more often than the average Joe or Jane.
The more someone touches, loads, clears, cleans, holsters, un-holsters, or otherwise deals with their firearm, the higher the statistical likelihood that complacence kicks in. That focus drifts. That a shirt tail or jacket cinch cord slips into a holster. That a pistol will be carried in a way it shouldn’t (say, in a gym bag or a purse).
Attorney Bagnell held up the law enforcement officers he represents as examples of people who are highly trained in carrying and using firearms. People who know how to handle guns prudently and safely. He said there has to be something wrong with the gun if this is happening to individuals “with this amount of training, this amount of skill.”
While good firearms training and practices among law enforcement officers is certainly the case much of the time, we’ve seen far too many instances over the years of un-safe or downright dangerous practices by allegedly highly trained individuals to apply that kind of blanket endorsement to all cops or alphabet agency employees.
And those are exactly the kinds of plaintiffs who happen to make up the vast majority of the lawsuits filed against SIG. It’s difficult to believe that’s a coincidence.
UPDATE: We were just made aware of YouTuber BoomStick Tactical who produced this video the day before our post published. It nicely describes what has to happen in a striker-fired P320 for an “un-commanded discharge” to happen as the plaintiffs have claimed.