After discovering critical flaw in gun, DPS quietly replacing guns issued to all troopers




A screenshot from a DPS safety bulletin video showing how hitting an FNS pistol that is out of battery can result in it firing without pulling the trigger.

Officer Richard Vankeuren had just come home from a day at the shooting range in April 2015 with a bag full of guns slung over his shoulder and his new duty pistol on his hip. The 20-year veteran of the Arizona Department of Public Safety was a firearms trainer and weapons expert, but he was about to experience a first.

As he lifted the bag off his shoulder, he heard a “boom” and smelled gunpowder. His first thought was that one of the guns in his bag had gone off.

Then he looked down.

Vankeuren’s Fabrique Nationale Herstal pistol had gone off in its holster, shooting him through the right leg.


The gun, an FNS 9, was one of the first Fabrique Nationale pistols purchased by DPS for use by its officers. Vankeuren was part of the Firearms Training Unit, the division within DPS that trains troopers and is also responsible for testing and evaluating new weapons for the force.

The investigation into Vankeuren’s accidental shooting determined that a key on the exterior of his bag had become wedged in the trigger.


But more than three years later, the Firearms Training Unit would discover an issue with the FNS 9 pistols that are the standard sidearm for every DPS trooper that causes them to fire unexpectedly – or not fire at all.

Shortly after the flaw was discovered, DPS began hurriedly replacing the roughly 1,500 FNS pistols it purchased over four years beginning in the 2015 fiscal year, when it ditched the SIG Sauer pistols that all troopers carried in the name of cost savings.

Faulty firearms ‘could cost people their lives’

In fiscal years 2015 through 2018, DPS spent about $281,000 to buy new FNS pistols, utilizing trade-ins to cut the costs of the new guns.

Dr. Michael Scott, a professor of criminology at Arizona State University who has worked with a number of law enforcement agencies across the country, said the problems DPS has discovered with the FNS pistols are concerning.

“This creates a higher risk for either accidental discharge or unintended failure to discharge, both of which could cost people their lives,” he said.

During testing of the weapons in 2018, DPS found that three Fabrique Nationale pistols – the FNS 9 Longslide, which was carried by troopers, and the FNS C and FNS 9 – all had two conditions that could cause them to either fire without pulling the trigger or not fire when the trigger was pulled.

It is unknown what prompted the additional testing some three years after DPS began arming troopers with the FNS pistols.

In a safety bulletin video released internally in August 2018 and obtained by the Arizona Mirror through a public records request, footage is shown of the weapons firing after being bumped or hit.

“A tap, rack, any side-to-side or up-and-down movement, a sharp jarring blow and even holstering and unholstering will cause the weapon to fire with no further contact with the trigger,” a narrator in the undated video says after explaining the conditions in which this malfunction can occur.

safety bulletin
Part of the video created by DPS showing the misfire issues.

The malfunction happens when the slide of the gun is slightly pushed back and the trigger and action does not fully reset. This is called being “out of battery.”

When a pistol is out of battery, safety mechanisms initiate to ensure the gun does not fire. However, DPS found that, in some instances when the slide was put back into position, the FN pistols would fire.

DPS also discovered that sometimes the gun wouldn’t fire when the slide returned to its normal position – but if the weapon was bumped or hit, it would fire unexpectedly.

Scott, the ASU professor and law enforcement consultant, said if he had experienced something similar in his department, he’d likely suspend use of that firearm immediately.

It has been roughly eight months since DPS learned of the issue. DPS is in the process of switching from Fabrique Nationale to Glock pistols for duty weapons. So far this fiscal year, DPS has spent more than $160,000 on replacement pistols.

But the department still has 540 FNs in use, meaning nearly half of the agency’s troopers are carrying a weapon they know might accidentally discharge – or might not fire at all when they need it to.

There are no known incidents in which FNS guns carried by DPS troopers have failed to fire because the firearm was out of battery.

DPS spokesman Bart Graves said the agency is replacing the pistols not because of the defects that DPS discovered, but because FN notified DPS that it intends to “cease production” of the pistol.

DPS began testing out different pistols in 2014 to determine what might become the next duty sidearm for troopers. An evaluation of the FN pistols by the Firearms Training Unit found that the cost of FN pistols and their ammo would lead to “potential budget savings for the agency.”

The Baltimore connection

DPS isn’t the only agency replacing its officers FNS pistols. Some 2,000 miles away, the Baltimore County Police Department is replacing all of the Fabrique Nationale guns it bought in recent years after DPS shared its findings with the agency.

Why DPS never informed the general public that the FNS pistols, which are popular among recreational and competition shooters, were prone to malfunctioning is unknown.

Baltimore County is in the process of spending $1.4 million to replace more than 2,000 FNS pistols used not only by the police, but by correctional officers and sheriff’s deputies, according to the Baltimore Sun.

In August 2018, DPS sent Baltimore County its safety bulletin video, prompting the agency to conduct its own safety tests.

And Baltimore County discovered something more when examining the firearm.

Inside the trigger, the roll pin could fall out, which would cause the trigger to separate from the gun, making it impossible to fire. The department found three guns that experienced this issue in the past two years, the Baltimore Sun reported.

The company responded to media reports on the accidental discharges and issues found by Baltimore County, saying that the delayed fire would only happen in “unlikely circumstances” and that it “posted a Service Bulletin to the public with an offer of a free striker upgrade for those who wished to send their pistol in.”

safety bulletin
Part of a video shared internally by DPS about issues with the FNS pistols.

The Mirror has requested all emails and memos between the two departments but was told the request will likely take up to 12 months.

In September 2018, a Baltimore County police officer carrying an FNS pistol shot himself while in training.

The officer was disassembling his sidearm when it misfired, the Baltimore Sun reported.

The series of pistols in question were created by Fabrique Nationale and are the company’s first striker pistols.

Striker pistols do not use a hammer as the main mechanism to fire the weapon, and are commonly used by law enforcement. Both Phoenix Police and Mesa Police use Glock’s line of striker pistols. DPS is also buying those Glock striker pistols to replace the FNS guns.

An internal striker mechanism is cocked when the slide of the gun is racked, or pulled back, which can only be undone by pulling the trigger. One reason DPS says it switched to striker pistols is that they allow troopers to shoot faster.

Fabrique Nationale has maintained that the weapons were thoroughly tested and that the situations that result in the misfires were unique and unlikely. The company did not respond to a request for comment from the Mirror.

Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joins the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. Jerod has also won awards for his documentary films which have covered issues such as religious tolerance and surveillance technology used by police. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.

26 COMMENTS

  1. Why DPS went to FN’s after all the problems in Baltimore is worrisome. The DPS study on Sig’s in the 80’s was a work of genius, a study and analysis worth of scienetific publication. They did their homework. So what happened when they switched to FN’s?

  2. I bought one of these up here in Canada and was able to replicate the out of battery striker drop issue seen above. Up here, we have no proper channel to address the problems with this gun. FN sends us to a Canadian repair center but there’s no information or any guarantee of a solution beyond that. I think for a company as known and established as FN, this is quite embarrassing. It appears as though they’ve ended production of this gun as well, and are offloading problematic pistols on unsuspecting gun owners in Canada without telling us about the problem. I’m fortunate enough to have been able to successfully acquire a refund for mine through the store where I bought it, but I would strongly discourage anyone from buying one at all. Especially if you don’t live in the US and your support options are next to nonexistent.

  3. The reason no Agency is commenting about the problems with the FNS is because FN will probably sue them for defamation.

  4. Forgot to mention, now that FN has provided a temporary fix, customers are reporting “light strike” failures as a result of lessening the spring weight. Thank you for your article Jerod. You’re gonna find a lot of dirt is you keep digging!

  5. Here’s an idea: Don’t buy firearms from obscure brands that no one has ever heard of. Seriously, they ditched Sig Sauer for this unknown brand? What were they thinking? Sig, Smith & Wesson, Glock. Stick with those three, and you’ll be fine (well, with Glock, you could end up with a bad case of Glock leg, and the new Sig P365, which has some design problems). So there are some caveats, yes, but generally speaking, if you go off-label for your firearms, expect problems.

    • FN an “brand no one heard of” :). Spec Ops carries FN Herstals as duty M4s, The FN 5.7 is used extensively in Europe as a duty sidearm. The FN 5.7 is a bad ass armor piercing firearm.

    • obscure brand? do you live under a rock? off label? the idiocy of your assertion shows the lack of knowledge you have. Yea the gun has major issues that make it unsafe to carry, but you think FN is an unknown brand? really?

    • Obscure brand??? What???? FNH? John Browning designed for FNH. FNH (Belgium’s national firearms manufacturer) started in 1889 making Mauser Model 89 rifles. They have made many, many famous pistols and rifles for over 100 years! Ever heard of the High Power pistol? Browning designed many FN guns. They’ve built M4’s, M16’s M2’s, BAR’s etc. for our military. They are the designers and manufacturers of the FN P90, FN FAL (the rifle of the free world!), FN SCAR, the M249 SAW is an adaptation of the FN Minimi light machine gun… and on and on. Wow, you are CLUELESS!!! Read a little history before makeing a f**l of yourself.

    • Obscure brand??? What???? FNH? John Browning designed for FNH. FNH (Belgium’s national firearms manufacturer) started in 1889 making Mauser Model 89 rifles. They have made many, many famous pistols and rifles for over 100 years! Ever heard of the High Power pistol? Browning designed many FN guns. They’ve built M4’s, M16’s M2’s, BAR’s etc. for our military. They are the designers and manufacturers of the FN P90, FN FAL (the rifle of the free world!), FN SCAR, the M249 SAW is an adaptation of the FN Minimi light machine gun… and on and on. Wow, read a little history, friend.

  6. The best solution to this is to return to using hammer fire double action pistol. This issue is not at all specific to FNS 9 but also Sig P320 that the military adopted as well as at least one or two other striker fired models from other manufacturers over the years. While Glocks are generally not known to have this issue, they are the weapon in use in most accidental shootings statistically. Given all the equipment that police are required to carry these days, it would not be unwise to make the switch to any polymer hammer fired line up of which there are many well made and safe models out there today.

  7. All individuals who might need to conduct a “Contact Shot,” should install a Dark Hour Defense Stand-off Device. Check them out at darkhourdefense.com
    I am not a paid spokesperson, I’m just a 29 years of service police officer.

    • Or simply use a weapon light like a Surefire X300 or Streamlight TLR-1. Gives standoff, illumination and muzzle ballast to reduce flip.

      Win-win-win.

  8. Oh yeah, cause Sig didn’t have a similar issue with the P320s last year lol
    You’re clearly not a knowledgeable or experienced shooter

  9. To the 29 year LE, there’s way more to it than just close contact malfunctions. BCOPD & AZ DPS members are not allowed to speak about the flaws in the weapon because there is an on-going libel suit.

  10. AZ DPS had a perfectly safe and sound weapon in the Sig and they switched to FN for cost? What is the cost in lives or potential lives lost or injured. The start of the story was a key wedged into a holstered weapon caused a training officer to sustain an accidental gunshot wound, one needs to also take a careful look at holsters designed to mitigate this issue. From the picture, that holster never comes close to covering and protecting the trigger. Somebody is making some really bad decisions at DPS. A 10lb Double Action trigger may have helped prevent the holster accident, and a hammer fired weapon would certainly prevent the FN related accidents, though it does take more training to fire a Double Action / Single Action weapon, the safety aspects are well worth it.

  11. The baltimore county officer shot himself while disassembling his firearm? Apparently he never learned how to do that because you first need to make sure the weapon is clear. That is a case of user error and does not belong in this article.`

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