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[Dale Gerhard/The Press of Atlantic City via AP]

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New Jersey Attorney General Says Gunmaker Sold Defective Guns to Police

Lawsuit alleges “serious malfunctions” in pistols provided by Sig Sauer, which just won a massive contract to outfit the Army with new sidearms.

Mere months after the gunmaker Sig Sauer won a half-billion dollar contract  to supply the United States Army with a new service pistol, the New Jersey State Police are taking the company to court for allegedly providing faulty handguns they say could have put troopers’ lives in danger.

The New Jersey attorney general’s office hit Sig Sauer with a lawsuit late last month, alleging that 3,000 P229 9mm semiautomatic pistols the manufacturer supplied to the State Police in 2014 repeatedly jammed, to the point of being “inoperable.” The suit claims the State Police returned the sidearms to Sig Sauer for repairs and new parts multiple times over the following two years. Yet the problems allegedly persisted, even after the gunmaker took the step of replacing a whole batch of the firearms, and the State Police ultimately opted to take their business to another manufacturer. The suit against Sig Sauer seeks more than $2.5 million in restitution.

Before New Jersey troopers chose the P229 as their sidearm, the model had earned a reputation for jamming among some private gun owners. In one post from 2000 on the online forum The Firing Line, a user said he bought a brand new P229 only to have it repeatedly jam, even though he cleaned the gun after every use. The defect has periodically resurfaced on other discussion boards. One reviewer described it as a “high maintenance handgun.”

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The attorney general’s office and the State Police both declined to comment on the lawsuit, and Sig Sauer did not respond to an interview request. But the state’s complaint lays out a cascade of alleged snafus, unsuccessful remedies, and mounting safety concerns.

The problems started shortly after the State Police took delivery of the P229s. Police officials took a sample of the pistols to a range, where they allege that test firing revealed a performance issue that could be fatal if occurring in the field: some of the guns jammed after firing a single round.

Notified of the glitch by the State Police, Sig Sauer responded by replacing a part known as the extractor pin, which is supposed to push spent cartridges out of the gun. The issues persisted. Then Sig Sauer sent the police new barrels, thinking that part could be the culprit.

The second attempted fix was equally unsuccessful.

By October 2015, the State Police thought they had found the source of the problem: Sig Sauer had provided them with the wrong model of gun.

In 2011, when the State Police were looking for a new sidearm, the agency’s representatives had tested the Sig Sauer P229 Legacy. But after signing a contract, the company wound up sending the police a different version of the firearm, called the P229 Enhanced Elite. The two guns are essentially the same, except for a few parts — including those that make up the extractor system.

After the State Police flagged the switch, Sig Sauer agreed to replace the Enhanced Elites with 3,000 new P229 Legacies. But the problems continued, with some of the new guns malfunctioning in front of the company’s own representatives.

By January 2016, the State Police were ready to give up. The agency “was concerned about the risks that the unresolved…malfunctions posed to the State Troopers’ safety.”

In February 2016, the State Police abandoned the Sig Sauers, and acquired Glock 19 pistols for their troopers.

Along with a full refund for the P229s, New Jersey is seeking an additional $856,680.21, to cover the cost of now-useless holsters purchased to go with the malfunctioning pistols.