The Baltimore County, MD Police Department has reported accidental discharges with their duty-issued FNS-40 Long Slide pistols. The reports are concerning, and appear to involve a mechanical issue of some kind, allowing the pistols to discharge when inadvertently bumped, or when being holstered or unholstered. Perhaps even more dangerous, the report advised the pistols may not fire at all when the trigger is pulled. The problem was identified and documented with at least (9) pistols, and included at least one incident where an officer was injured from the discharge.
Fabrique Nationale (FN) is one of the world’s most successful and respected firearms manufacturers. FN has produced dozens of firearms for militaries, law enforcement agencies, and civilian shooters for over 100 years. These firearms have been used in everything from combat to simple recreational target shooting. A firearms company does not become as successful as FN without producing superior products.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is merely an informational news publication. Nothing within this article should be construed as being a definitive statement on the reliability of FN firearms, or the FNS-40 Long Slide pistols in particular. BlueSheepdog has not conducted any independent testing of the FNS-40 Long Slide to confirm or deny the reports of malfunctions. As such, readers are encouraged to simply consider the reports in this article as informational only, and make their own judgments.
FNS Striker-Fired Pistol Discharges
The first reported investigation started with the Baltimore County, Maryland Police Department back in 2016. The investigation began when at least (9) BCPD FNS-40 pistols exhibited malfunctions resulting in accidental discharges (AD), and in some cases the inability to fire when the trigger was pulled. The ADs were reported during holstering, re-holstering, and in some cases simply when the pistols were bumped. From the reports by BCPD it does not appear the discharges are the result of a negligent discharge (ND), but are truly an accidental discharge (AD) caused by some kind of mechanical failure.
The Baltimore County, MD Police Department purchased 1920 FNS-40 pistols for their officers in 2013. With several pistols experiencing malfunctions, the BCPD has made the enormous decision to replace their FNS pistols with Glock 17 9mm pistols. The cost of this replacement is estimated to be $1.4 million and was approved through the county’s emergency sole-source provisions. It is not mentioned why BCPD has elected to move from .40 S&W to 9mm at the same time they are transitioning from FNS to Glock pistols, or if the new Glock 17 pistols will be Gen 4 or Gen 5.
The .40 S&W cartridge has been a major player in American law enforcement for decades, since the FBI made the move in the early 1990’s after the research following the Miami Massacre. However, in recent years manufacturers have made monumental improvements to the 9mm cartridge, and many LE agencies are starting to move back to the 9mm, including the FBI.
When the reports of malfunctions began to arise, the Arizona Department of Public Safety (AZDPS) conducted their own independent research on the matter. The research in Arizona seems to confirm, at least in part, the existence of a design flaw with the FNS striker-fired pistols, allowing them to discharge unintentionally. What is even more troubling in the AZDPS safety bulletin is the report these malfunctions can be repeated in FNS Compact, 4-inch, and 5-inch (Long Slide) models in both 9mm and .40 caliber.
FNS-40 vs. Glock 17 Comparison
|Feature||FNS-40 (Long Slide)||Glock 17|
|Slide Material||Stainless steel||Stainless steel|
|Overall Length||8.25 inches (Long)||7.95 inches|
|Barrel Length||5.0 inches||4.49 inches|
|Height||5.5 inches||5.47 inches|
|Overall Width||1.55 inches||1.26 inches|
|Weight||29.7 ounces (unloaded)||24.87 ounces|
|Trigger Pull||5.5 to 7.7 pounds||6.28 pounds|
|Sight Radius||6.9 inches||6.42 to 6.5 inches|
|Sights||Fixed 3-dot||Dot front, U-ring rear|
|Capacity||10 or 14 rounds||17 or 19 rounds|
FN America Response to Baltimore County PD Reports
FN America was quick to respond to the alleged accidental discharges (AD) from the FNS-40 Long Slide pistols purchased and delivered to the Baltimore County PD. In the response FN America claims an independent laboratory did not find any manufacturing defects in the pistols. In addition, FN America claims the reason for the few pistols having failures was the lack of routine maintenance The link will go directly to FN America’s website, but we’ve included their response here:
(McLean, VA – January 03, 2019) FN America, LLC has supported Baltimore County Police Department, above and beyond the call of duty, in their transition to the FNS™-40 pistol. The company made every effort possible to work with the department to alleviate officer concerns and to instruct the department on standard maintenance procedures.
FN America, LLC acknowledges the company was aware of occurrences of officer-induced accidental discharges with the FNS-40 pistols used by Baltimore County Police Department over the past five years.
FN America, LLC is also aware that a report, generated by an independent testing lab following the first incident, certified that there was no manufacturing defect present that could cause the pistol to misfire. This report attributed the incident to an officer-induced accidental discharge.
According to Baltimore County Police Department’s statements to the media following an incident in 2017, department spokesman, Cpl. Shawn Vinson, acknowledged that none of the officer-induced accidental discharges, focused on by your media outlet, could be attributed to a malfunction of the pistol. Please reference the WMAR ABC Baltimore article published Dec. 11, 2018 by Brian Kuebler. https://www.wmar2news.com/news/region/baltimore-county/baltimore-county-police-set-to-spend-14-m-on-new-guns
Baltimore County Police Chief Terrence Sheridan provided two reasons in his Emergency Justification for a Replacement Service Weapon dated Oct. 30, 2018. The first being a reported condition that could cause the FNS-40 pistol to delay fire under a very specific set of unlikely circumstances, originally reported by an Arizona police department. Under manipulation in a closed lab setting, the slide of the FNS-40 was moved out of battery at a very small and specific distance and the trigger was pulled. The pistol functioned as designed and did not fire. However, it was discovered that if the trigger was held to the rear, the pistol could delay firing until the slide moved back into battery, or if force is removed from the trigger and the slide moves back into battery. FN has no knowledge of the condition ever occurring outside of a lab environment. Nevertheless, FN immediately addressed this potential condition with both the AZ department and BCPD by replacing the striker in each FNS-40, at no cost to either agency. FN subsequently posted a Service Bulletin to the public with an offer of a free striker upgrade for those who wished to send their pistol in.
Second, Chief Sheridan describes the potential of a catastrophic failure, attributed to three firearms out of 1,920 FNS-40 pistols in service with BCPD. Three pistols experienced a trigger pin either backing out or moving slightly out of position. This trigger pin is a component that requires routine maintenance and should have been replaced according to the armorer’s manual provided to Baltimore County Police Department range staff.
It is unclear whether BCPD range staff previously serviced any of the FNS-40 pistols in their possession according to the armorer’s manual provided. However, BCPD Police Chief Terrence Sheridan noted in his Emergency Justification for a Replacement Service Weapon dated Oct. 30, 2018, that BCPD range staff were able to quickly replace this trigger pin, returning the three FNS-40s to service.
Through both internal and independent testing of the FNS-40 pistol, FN America, LLC can emphatically refute the presence of any manufacturing defect that could potentially have caused Baltimore County’s officers to experience accidental discharges. FN America also asserts that if the FNS-40 pistols had been properly maintained, the occurrence of “catastrophic failures” described by BCPD would have been extremely unlikely.
The FNS pistol has been tested thoroughly and certified for law enforcement duty use. We stand firmly behind our product, our testing and quality practices.
BSD Final Thoughts
The failure of a duty weapon is always a serious problem, and a concern that must be remedied immediately to maintain the integrity and confidence of those who work the streets. It appears the Baltimore County PD have determined the FNS-40 pistols are unreliable to an extent it is justified for them to make a major, and expensive, decision to move away from the FNS pistols and purchase Glock 17 pistols as replacements.
The videos from the testing are disturbing and raise serious concerns. However, FN America has already offered to replace the striker in every pistol, at no cost to the police departments involved. Though not an admission of fault, it is a big step on FN America’s part to restore confidence in their pistols. Let’s not forget that Sig Sauer had to do similar replacements after videos were published showing their new P320 striker-fired pistol having accidental discharges similar to the videos of the FNS pistols. This was extremely embarrassing for Sig Sauer, who had just won the U.S. Army’s Modular Handgun System. An award worth as much as $580 million for Sig Sauer.
So far FN America has not issued a general recall on their FNS pistols. Readers should be aware that any mass-produced product is subject to a small amount of failures despite rigorous quality control (QC). The accidental discharges shown in the video testing are a major concern for any user, but particularly a government law enforcement agency that could be severely civilly liable for any damage or injury resulting from an AD.
However a particular note, worthy of serious consideration, is the FN America response to this reported problem. Though FN America claims the failures were from a failure of BCPD to perform routine maintenance, the pistols were less than 5 years old when they began to show failures. Despite every firearm having parts that will eventually need repair or replacement, these items are rarely to the point of failure after 3 years, or even 5 years. With that fact in mind, it may be more financially productive for FN America to issue a general warranty recall, and replace all the strikers (or other parts deemed ineffective) for their FNS pistols.