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Documents detail U.S. soldiers shot by their own Sig Sauer guns; military says no reason for concern

On Feb. 8, 2023, an Army sergeant was wounded when his holster collided with another soldier's holster, causing his Sig Sauer-made pistol--pictured here--to fire, allegedly without a trigger pull.
U.S. Army mishap report
On Feb. 8, 2023, an Army sergeant was wounded when his holster collided with another soldier's holster, causing his Sig Sauer-made pistol—pictured here—to fire, allegedly without a trigger pull.

Around lunchtime on Feb. 8, 2023, inside an administrative office at Fort Eustis in Virginia, a sergeant with the Army’s 221st Military Police Detachment stood chatting with his supervisor.

Another soldier on his way to an office refrigerator tried to squeeze past the sergeant in a narrow hallway. That’s when their gun holsters made contact.

“All I remember was the clanking” of the two holsters, the sergeant would later tell an Army investigator, according to a military report, “and [the] gun shot.”

A bullet from the sergeant’s own gun ripped through his foot, leading to surgery and six months of rehabilitation. Photos included in the Army’s report appear to show a bloodstained carpet.

“Don’t feel safe around those weapons anymore,” the sergeant later told investigators.

The gun that wounded the sergeant is manufactured by Sig Sauer, a New Hampshire-based firearms company that has faced dozens of lawsuits claiming its model P320 pistol has a design or manufacturing flaw that leaves it susceptible to these types of incidents: people being shot by their own gun, without a trigger pull.

Sig Sauer maintains that the P320 — which is now the standard-issue pistol for U.S. soldiers across the globe — is safe. The company noted in a statement to NHPR that it has prevailed in 13 legal cases in which a judge or jury ruled they weren’t liable for any injuries, though a federal jury in Georgia last week awarded a gunowner $2.3 million in damages after his P320 discharged while still holstered, leaving him with a serious leg injury.

The shooting at Fort Eustis is one of nine separate incidents involving the U.S. military detailed in documents obtained by New Hampshire Public Radio that echo the claims made in many of the lawsuits against Sig Sauer from individual gun owners and police officers who say their pistols fired without a trigger pull.

"I'm under a lot of pain on my foot, having bad dreams, don't feel safe around those weapons anymore"

The Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps incident reports, which were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, detail unintentional shootings between September 2020 and June 2023. This is believed to be the first time these unintentional firings have been publicly reported since Sig Sauer won a lucrative contract to supply the Army with new pistols for service members in 2017.

Soldiers at U.S. military facilities in Missouri, Virginia, Louisiana, and Amman, Jordan were seriously injured when their Sig Sauer gun unintentionally discharged, according to Army records. Though the incident reports are heavily redacted, in at least two of the six shootings involving Army personnel, witnesses stated that the soldier did not have their hand on or near the trigger when the gun discharged. Two other soldiers were shot by their own guns during training exercises.

[Scroll to the bottom of this story for links to all nine reports.]

A report released by the Marine Corps details an unintentional shooting inside a guard booth in Okinawa, Japan. Investigators reviewed surveillance footage and determined that the security guard did not mishandle the weapon, and that it fired despite the gun’s safety being in place. (NHPR has requested but has not yet been provided with a copy of the surveillance footage.)

The Army, for its part, denies the guns involved in these incidents displayed any “material flaws.” An Army spokesperson said the Sig Sauer guns were extensively tested and function well.

“The pistol remains in service with all the services at this time without restrictions,” the spokesperson said.

The military initially told NHPR that it worked with specialists from Sig Sauer to review these incidents, and that investigative teams found no reason for concern. But when asked for details about what role the company played in these investigations, an Army spokesperson reversed course and said that representatives from Sig Sauer were not, in fact, part of any military review.

In a statement, Sig Sauer said that “claims that the P320 is capable of firing without a trigger pull are without merit,” and that the gun remains trusted by armed forces around the world. NHPR provided Sig Sauer with copies of the nine reports, but the gunmaker did not address questions about the individual incidents.

The P320, from civilian model to military staple

Sig Sauer’s P320 model was first released in 2014 and went on to become one of the most popular guns in America, selling more than 2.5 million units, according to the company.

In promotional materials, the company touts a commitment to “safety without compromise.”

In 2017, the Department of Defense selected the P320 as its standard sidearm for soldiers, following a multi-year competition to replace the Beretta M9, which had been in use by the military since 1985. The military calls the gun the M17, as well as the M18, a compact version of the pistol.

Following an unintentional discharge on an Air Force base in Oklahoma, a combat arms instructor ran the gun through a battery of tests, and was not able to recreate the unintentional discharge.
Air Force report dated Apr. 10, 2022
Following an unintentional discharge on an Air Force base in Oklahoma, a combat arms instructor ran the gun through a battery of tests, and was not able to recreate the unintentional discharge.

The deal, valued at up to $580 million, called for Sig Sauer to provide weapons, ammunition and parts for 10 years. Following the Army’s selection of Sig Sauer, in 2018 the Marine Corps announced it would also issue the M18 to all soldiers who carry pistols. The Navy and Air Force have since followed suit.

To date, Sig Sauer has delivered nearly half a million pistols across all branches of the U.S. military.

But concerns about the gun’s safety emerged during early testing by the military. According to a Department of Defense report from 2018, military officials identified problems with the gun, including the risk of “drop fire” in which the weapon could go off without a trigger pull if dropped at certain angles. Records show that Sig Sauer worked with the military to modify the weapon after these findings, including changes to the gun’s trigger mechanism.

The company eventually outfitted the civilian version of the P320 with a new trigger as well, and offered owners of older models the ability to voluntarily return their guns for new components. Sig Sauer has maintained that the P320 is safe from dropfire, even with the older components.

Meanwhile, dozens of lawsuits have been filed against Sig Sauer over the P320, rooted in concerns about the gun’s safety. That includes an ongoing claim in the federal court in New Hampshire in which 20 victims allege their P320 discharged without a trigger pull under a variety of circumstances.

“We're seeing people who are in law enforcement or private citizens, who are responsible gun owners, who ultimately are experiencing life changing injuries when their guns are firing without their intent,” said Bob Zimmerman, an attorney involved in dozens of lawsuits involving Sig Sauer.

Sig Sauer settled out of court with at least two of the earliest known plaintiffs — both law enforcement officers — in 2018 and 2019. Both officers were injured when their department-issued P320s allegedly discharged. But the company has strenuously defended itself in other legal proceedings, denying the weapon poses a risk.

U.S. Marine Corps
A portion of an incident report following an unintentional discharge on a Marine Corps base in Japan.

In a statement to NHPR, a Sig Sauer spokesperson listed 13 court cases that were dismissed or where a jury found there wasn’t enough evidence to conclude the gunmaker was liable for injuries caused by its gun unintentionally firing.

Last week, however, a jury awarded damages to someone who claimed they were injured by their P320. Robert Lang, a lifelong firearms enthusiast who had previously “spent hundreds of hours behind the trigger,” according to court paperwork, was awarded $2.3 million in damages after alleging he was injured when his Sig Sauer P320 fired a bullet as he went to remove the gun from the holster without ever touching the trigger.

Zimmerman, who represented Lang in that case, said he expects more injuries among civilians and police officers who carry the P320.

“This isn't an instance where it's happened once or twice,” he said. “It is happening time and time again.”

In response to questions from NHPR, the Army said it is not conducting an investigation into the pistols at this time. The Army noted that it found “no reason to suspect the weapon was the root cause” of the six unintentional discharges it has disclosed publicly.

The gun “underwent rigorous military testing before being selected for U. S. service members,” the Army spokesperson added.

Documents expose unintentional discharges, but shield findings

Other records obtained from the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps acknowledge serious injuries or near misses caused by the Sig Sauer-made guns unexpectedly firing, but the documents are heavily redacted, so it is unclear what investigators believe caused the guns to fire.

In incidents in Leesville, Louisiana, near Fort Johnson, as well as at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, soldiers were injured by their military-issued Sig Sauer pistols during training exercises, according to Army reports. There is little additional information about the incidents disclosed in the reports. In 2022, a soldier at Fort Belvoir in Virginia was shot in the knee after his gun discharged while he was preparing for an evening shift. The cause of the unintentional shooting has been redacted; the soldier spent two days hospitalized from his injury.

On June 17, 2023, a Sig Sauer pistol unintentionally fired, wounding an Army soldier inside of a guard shack in Jordan. It isn't clear what caused the gun to fire.
U.S. Army
On June 17, 2023, a Sig Sauer pistol unintentionally fired, wounding an Army soldier inside of a guard shack in Jordan. It isn't clear what caused the gun to fire.

The most recent incident, according to Army records released to NHPR, occurred in June 2023, when an infantry soldier stationed outside of Amman, Jordan was struck in the thigh by a bullet from his pistol. The incident report, which includes interviews with witnesses, is heavily redacted, including the findings of what caused the shooting and recommendations to prevent future incidents. The soldier was evacuated to a specialty hospital before eventually being transported to Germany for additional medical care.

In commenting on these incidents, the Army said its redactions were necessary to ensure that “individuals involved in the accident and accident investigation process may freely and openly provide uninhibited opinions and recommendations,” and to help the Army “prevent future accidents.”

“The Army has full confidence in the quality, performance and safety of the more than 244,000 M17 and M18 pistols issued to our servicemen and women.” The Sig Sauer pistol is “designed, built, and tested to military standards to endure the rigors of combat.”

The military also noted that its version of the gun includes a manual external safety intended to prevent it from firing even if the trigger is pulled. The pistol also has internal safety mechanisms to keep it from going off without a trigger pull, according to the military.

In April 2022, a senior Airman on Tinker Air Force base in Oklahoma told investigators that his gun fired instantly when he slid the external safety into the “off” position. He wrote in a statement that “all my fingers were underneath the trigger well.” A second Airman witnessed the discharge and confirmed the soldier’s fingers were not on the trigger. The incident led to an investigation, but no conclusion was reached for what caused the gun to fire.

The Air Force, in a statement to NHPR, said investigators “found no reason to suspect the weapon was the root cause of the discharge.”

At Camp Pendleton, a Marine infantry officer’s gun discharged despite the officer’s claim that they “never touched the trigger,” according to military records. The Marine was ultimately accused of mishandling the weapon, though the documents do not say whether the individual faced any discipline.

In the incident report following the shooting in a security guard booth in Okinawa, Japan, where a guard’s gun went off while still “on safe,” an investigator recommended that “an engineering review of the M18 be conducted.”

The Marine Corps told NHPR that professional armorers and engineers did inspect the weapon involved in that incident, and found it was “complete, functional, included all safety equipment, and was operating properly.”

A spokesperson added that “the weapon performed as designed, and the conclusion reached was the weapon will not fire unless the safety is off, and the trigger is pulled.”

The nine reports obtained by NHPR are available for review here:

Fort Johnson (formerly Fort Polk), Louisiana, U.S. Army, Sept. 15, 2020

Letterkenny Army Depot, Pennsylvania, May 29, 2021

Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, U.S. Army, Aug. 2, 2021

Fort Belvoir, Virginia, U.S. Army, Feb. 4, 2022

Fort Eustis, Virginia, U.S. Army, Feb. 8, 2023

Joint Training Center, Jordan, U.S. Army, June 17, 2023

Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, Apr. 10, 2022

Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan, Marine Corps, Apr. 4, 2023

Camp Pendleton, California, Marine Corps, Apr. 30, 2023

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University. He can be reached at tbookman@nhpr.org.