Our good friends over at The Trace are running a story this morning about SIG SAUER’s P229. Specifically, how the New Jersey police claim that it’s a jam-tastic pile of junk. The unspoken question is, “if SIG SAUER can’t make a P229 that doesn’t jam, how can their new P320 be good for the military?” Well, let’s take a look at the facts of the case and see what’s up.
The SIG SAUER P229 was designed and created in response to the need for a more compact version of the P226. Folks like the Navy Criminal Investigation Service wanted a gun that was just like the P226 used by Navy SEAL teams, but more compact so it could be concealed and carried while on the job.
To that end the P229 is a chopped down P226 with shorter barrel and nearly identical frame and grip.
The firearms experts at The Trace claim that the P229 had a “reputation for jamming,” citing a handful of forum posts by anonymous individuals on the internet as proof of a widespread and well known issue.
If that were the standard of evidence required in court cases Donald Trump would be in jail for treason and genocide by now. But I guess The Trace is comfortable using these posts this way since it fits their narrative of a “flawed from the start” firearm that New Jersey was “duped” into purchasing.
To be fair they did cite one of our own reviews where the writer noted the handgun had a tendency to jam if not properly maintained. Later in the same article (after The Trace’s pull quote) the reviewer stated that when maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations the firearm works flawlessly. But that part didn’t make it in The Trace’s post.
The New Jersey State Police chose the P229 in 2014 and started placing it in service. Almost immediately there were reports of “failures to extract” or “FTE” malfunctions. That’s a situation where the handgun is unable to remove the spent cartridge from the chamber of the firearm. This causes a subsequent round to be fed behind it, locking up the firearm and requiring the operator to clear the malfunction before the firearm will work.
There are three primary causes for a FTE. The first is a bad extractor or extractor spring, typically worn out after thousands of rounds of use and no longer able to grab the rim of the cartridge properly.
The second usual suspect is a rough chamber which applies too much friction between the chamber wall and the cartridge and won’t allow it to come free.
The third is using crappy ammunition — either the cartridge is too rough and will stick in the chamber, or the rim is too soft and will tear off before the extractor can apply enough force to remove it.
I’ve seen — and diagnosed — all three issues personally in my time working with firearms. The symptoms and ultimate solution are usually easy to see. It sounds like the New Jersey State Police didn’t have such an easy time with their guns. According to the documents, the NJ staties went back to SIG SAUER for troubleshooting.
The Trace claims that they were provided with “extractor pins,” by which they probably mean external extractors (the part that grips the rim of the case). The Trace claim that these “extractor pins” are designed to “push spent cartridges out of the gun” which (A) isn’t how extractors work and (B) isn’t how any common modern handgun works.
The guns continued to malfunction with the NJSP. SIG SAUER came down to diagnose the issue, validated that it was a problem, and provided replacement extractor springs as well. This did not solve the issue, and replacement barrels were sent. Again, this failed to solve the issue.
In 2015, the NJSP demanded that SIG SAUER replace the P229 Enhanced Elite with the older P229 Legacy.
One of the changes in the “Enhanced Elite” that SIG SAUER provided was an improved and more powerful extraction system for spent cartridges. The NJSP believed that the extraction system was the cause of the issues and demanded that their firearms be replaced. Naturally, replacing a better system with a worse one failed to solve the issue (who saw that one coming?).
SIG SAUER then attended a test firing of the new (old) guns. As expected, the guns failed to extract the spent cartridges.
At this point the NJSP gave up and demanded a refund. They’re now suing for an additional $857k to cover the cost of replacement holsters.
Throughout the filing the NJSP note that the handgun failed with their ammunition, but it is never discussed whether the handguns malfunctioned with standard off-the-shelf ammunition.
Police departments go through a substantial number of rounds every year. It makes sense that they would try to reduce this cost by buying cheaper ammunition for their practice range. Cheaper ammunition is typically of lower quality and may be more prone to jamming. One of the three probable causes of an FTE is bad ammunition, after all.
The Trace is quick to side with the NJSP and claim that the P229 is a piece of junk that’s prone to jamming.
I’ve fired thousands of rounds through P226 and P229 handguns and haven’t had the same experience. I’d love to find out more about the ammunition used in these tests, and I’m guessing that when using half-decent ammunition the NJ cops’ guns will function just fine (SIG SAUER function tests every single firearm before it leaves their facility).
The real issue here may be that the NJSP is too cheap to buy anything but steel cased “budget” ammo and would rather blame SIG SAUER for their woes than accept that they made a mistake and should spend a little more for brass cased rounds.
We’ll keep an eye on this story as it develops.