Two months after discovering gun’s flaw, all DPS firearms were fixed

By: - May 6, 2019 1:47 pm

Photo by Jerod MacDonal-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

After the Arizona Department of Public Safety discovered a flaw in the service pistols carried in the field, troopers were warned of the defect two months before the manufacturer was able to fix them for the agency.

Last summer, the Arizona Department of Public Safety discovered an issue with the FNS 9 pistols that is the standard firearm for every DPS trooper that causes them to fire unexpectedly – or not fire at all.

Documents obtained by the Arizona Mirror and interviews with DPS since that story was published April 22 have revealed how the agency reacted to learning the weapons were faulty, which included the manufacturer flying out a team to replace parts in all of the agency’s pistols over the course of a week.

Only after that story was published was DPS willing to discuss what had been done to fix the weapons.

striker mechanisms
The old striker (left) and the new one (right) that was put into DPS’s FNS Longslide pistols by technicians from Fabrique Nationale in October 2018. The design of the old striker mechanism resulted in the gun potentially firing unexpectedly or not at all. Screenshot from DPS technical report.

During testing of the weapons in 2018, DPS found that three Fabrique Nationale pistols – the FNS 9 Longslide, which is 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.

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.

The DPS crime lab found the issue on Aug. 14 and alerted FN the next day. On Aug. 20, the department internally released a safety video that was obtained by the Mirror which warned troopers of the issue.

“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.

Less than two months later, on Oct. 2, a team of FN employees flew to Arizona and, over the course of a week, replaced the part causing the issue, said DPS spokesman Capt. Jesse Galvez.

“This weapon has performed correctly in normal use or in critical use,” Director of DPS, Col. Frank Milstead said in a short video of him reading from a statement that was sent out along with the safety bulletin and obtained by the Mirror via records request. Milstead called the issue “anomalous.”

“Rest assured we are making strides to remedy this issue and move in another direction,” Milstead said in the short video.

What had to be replaced?

The exact part of the gun that FN came to Arizona to replace is called the striker.

The type of handgun utilized by DPS, as well as most law enforcement and military, is what is known as a striker pistol.

Striker pistols do not use a hammer as the main mechanism to fire the weapon. Instead, an internal striker mechanism is cocked when the slide of the gun is 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.

DPS discovered the issue with the FNS striker pistols entirely by accident.

Lab technicians were showing an investigator why an FNS pistol would not fire out of battery and, after they did so, placed the unloaded gun on a table and heard a click. Once they put a round in the weapon, they realized that the click was the striker, and they discovered the delayed fire issue.

“It was determined after disassembling the pistols that due to its design the striker would remain in the ‘cocked’ position, held back by the striker block,” said a draft version of a technical report about the discovery of the issue that was provided to the Mirror. “This was caused by a machined notch on the side of the striker.”

Once DPS and FN installed a new striker, they tried to replicate the issue and were unable to.

“Our concern was that we don’t want people to think like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m afraid to go talk to a DPS trooper cause their gun might accidentally go off,’ when that’s not the case,” Galvez told the Mirror.  

DPS also found that older and newer versions of the FNS pistols than what troopers carried had the issue.

The striker issue is not the only one that has been known with the FNS pistols.

Baltimore County Police Department found that a roll pin could come unlodged and get stuck, causing the trigger to be unable to be pulled.

DPS told the Mirror that it did not experience this particular issue.

DPS is currently changing its standard sidearm to a striker pistol manufactured by Glock, and roughly half of the agency’s troopers are already carrying the new weapons.

Read DPS’ draft technical document here:

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
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.