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http://www.newsobserver.com/102/story/419477.html





Model 64 is prone to misfires, prison officials say. Another model's barrel sometimes falls off.


State wants faulty guns replaced
Correction officers are experiencing serious problems with several Smith & Wesson models

Model 64 is prone to misfires, prison officials say. Another model's barrel sometimes falls off.


Dan Kane, Staff Writer
State prison officials want gunmaker Smith & Wesson to replace hundreds of revolvers after dozens failed to shoot and the barrels broke off of others upon firing in training exercises.
The company has witnessed the problems firsthand. Last month, three company representatives met with state prison officials at a shooting range near Smithfield to test about three dozen revolvers.

Four of the revolvers didn't fire when a state weapons instructor pulled the trigger. The cylinder that holds the ammunition jammed on two revolvers. Then, the barrel broke off as the instructor fired a different model with a longer barrel, just as 14 others had in practice shoots dating back to 2003.

"In one sense it's funny," said Chief Deputy Correction Secretary Dan Stieneke. "In another, it's alarming."

In previous tests of revolvers purchased in 2004, roughly one in four misfired. They are .38 caliber Model 64s, which have 3-inch barrels. The .357 caliber Model 65s had the problem with barrel breaks. Test fires of a third revolver, the slightly smaller Model 60, resulted in cracked or sheared barrels in four cases.

No weapons have failed in the line of duty. Stieneke said the guns will remain in service while the department tries to resolve the problems, but annual in-service training will cease until a solution is found. New hires will receive weapons training because there are enough reliable revolvers to train them.

"On the one hand, statistically [the revolvers' performance] is not bad, but it's just the safety issue," Stieneke said. "That kind of failure gets people's attention."

The weapons are assigned to probation officers who keep track of probationers with more dangerous criminal histories, and to correction officers who patrol prison perimeters and escort inmates outside the facilities. (Those correction officers often carry rifles and shotguns as well.)

Correction officers inside prisons do not carry guns because there is a much greater risk that they could fall into inmates' hands. They carry pepper spray and batons.

Correction officials have asked the company to replace the 500 Model 64s purchased in 2004. They might extend that request to replace all of the department's 5,000 revolvers.

If Smith & Wesson does not replace the guns, the department might file a lawsuit or turn to taxpayers for help. Replacing the guns, which cost about $320 each, would come to more than $1.5 million. The department also would have to replace ammunition, holsters and other accessories, and retrain its officers to use the replacement weapons.

"We're at a point where if we have to make a quick switch, it's going to cost millions of dollars, and it's going to take a lot of training and effort to get back up to speed," Stieneke said.

Smith & Wesson officials did not return repeated phone calls for comment. Based in Springfield, Mass., Smith & Wesson is one of the nation's largest gunmakers.

The company's guns have drawn criticism from other law enforcement agencies. In 2001, New Jersey canceled a purchase of about 3,200 semi-automatic pistols from Smith & Wesson for its state police because of high malfunction rates.

North Carolina prison officials have been using Smith & Wesson revolvers for at least 20 years, even as many other law enforcement agencies have switched to higher-powered, semi-automatic handguns that carry more rounds.

Stieneke said that no one noticed a troublesome trend with the revolvers until late 2004, when trainers began seeing misfires with the new batch of Model 64s. A misfire is when the trigger is pulled and nothing happens.

In March and April 2005, the trainers tested all 500 of the new batch of handguns at shooting ranges across the state. They reported misfire rates of between 11 percent and 43 percent.

In the meantime, another problem emerged: barrels dropping or flying off the Model 65s during firing. The department surveyed trainers across the state and counted up 14 cases of barrel failure in the past three years.

Both problems led to the visit by Smith & Wesson on Feb. 21.

Stieneke said the revolvers are no longer a popular item and that might be contributing to their unreliability. For example, the department has had to special order the Model 65s in recent years.

That, along with the weapon failures, has Stieneke thinking it is time to follow the rest of the law enforcement community and switch to semi-automatics.

Staff writer Dan Kane can be reached at 829-4861 or [email protected].



Ti.
 

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Ive read that and other accounts one guy said they looked like the worst treated guns out there..

I bet they just want a auto and are doing anything to get them for free..

Not that any maker doesnt make a lemon but so many in one department makes ya wonder
 

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If S&W were smart, they would negotiate a deal by getting their M&P pistols into the hands of that department.

I have an S&W 65 that hasn't given me any problems, thankfully.
 

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I do remember a poster on another forum commented that this could easily have been a special run of the model 64, some of which exhibit a poor fitting that can sometimes cause the kinds of problems they are experiencing.

And honestly if you have a few thousand of these things, 14 failures in 3 years is perfectly acceptable and no worse then any other service gun I can imagine. I realize that it's not a light matter for a service weapon to malfunction, but 14 out of 5000 guns is statistically insignificant. It confuses me that first they talk about a sample with a very high rate of malfunction but then go on to say that only a handful out of a huge pile have a problem.

I too would question the upkeep of these revolvers. No offense to our resident LEOs who prove to be the exceptions, but most people in law enforcement are not gun people.

I think a big part of the problem is how revolvers are seen as modern service pistols: Here, you don't have a high threat job, so here's a revolver so we don't have to pay for any magazines or magazine pouches seems to be the attitude.

higher-powered
Higher powered than what? If they're talking about the Model 64s I can see where they're coming from, but a .357 Magnum holds its own agaisnt any of the traditional self loading service calibers in terms of sheer power.

I think it stinks like a fish. But I agree, if I were Smith and Wesson I'd offer to buy all of them back at a great rate and then credit that towards the new M&P line of pistols, then I'd sell the trade ins to CDNN and recoup much of my losses, and write the whole thing off to the cost of doing business and keeping customers happy.
 

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Question, when were this revovers manafactured? I wouln't be surprised if they were made during the British Years of S&W.

PS: No offense Chris.
 

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Wow, shocking if that turns out to be above-board.

I wonder what kind of ammo they are using?
 

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If the problem really is isolated to the NC DOC then it would seem to be a maintanence issue. If it isn't isolated then how come we haven't had widespread reports of catastrophic failures? Definitely a story worth following up on.
Jack
 

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Bad batch maybe? seems liek isolated to only 1 dept. atleast reported. I find it almost unbelievable, S&W has always made quality revolvers.
 

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Really! That's like finding out your Mom's apple pie isn't really homemade. Some things in this world are sacred. :wink:
Jack
 

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Thx for that link Steve - here is the text relevent.

I've been exchanging emails with C.E. "Ed" Harris, who many will remember from his days as the head of Q.C. at Ruger - when they experienced a similar problem. Here's what he had to say: ----------

"Old problem rearing its ugly head again, not really a new problem. A troublesome sporadic one when people forget about good shop practices and get sloppy.

Stress corrosion cracking is generally caused by contamination by solvents or cutting fluids too high in chlorides. Over-torquing barrels barrels creates a stress rise at the root of the thread which makes the problem worse. Microscopic examination of the failed barrels would be obvious to a competent
engineer, especially familiar to those with aerospace or nuclear power systems experience.

Ruger had a short run of this back in the 1980s when they first starting making stainless magnums. I saw a few dozen guns come back when I worked there. All were traced to one guy on night shift who was over-torquing barrels on Redhawks which didn't quite line up, instead of taking a pass off the front of the frame on a Blanchard grinder as he should have done. He also used a wrong, slippery high sulphur thread lubricant intended for chrome-moly instead of the anti-seize compound used with SS.

This condition is aggravated by tight fit of barrel threads, such as when using a class 3A, combined with high stress, high temperature, and high barrel torque. Ruger fixed their problem by changing to a looser 2A fit on the barrel threads and assembling barrels to the frames using a Loctite product to cement them solidly while reducing stress on the threads and positively preventing any seepage of cleaning solvents into the barrel threads after they left the factory."


This wouldn't be the first time S&W has contended with the problem; the Model 442 Airweight Centennials, particularly in nickel finish, are somewhat notorious for frame cracks under the barrel. A phone conversation with a S&W representative confirmed to me that those problems were caused by over-torqued barrels.

However, there's always the possibility of user error, such as the use of certain products that contain chlorine compounds (brand name removed for obvious reasons):


"Use of [lubricants containing chlorine compounds] "could" do it, as could any number of other cleaners, especially if used with an ultrasonic which enhances thread penetration."

There are certain "miracle" gun lubricant products out there that contain chlorine compounds, and have become popular amongst the more "martial" crowd. In addition, ultrasonic cleaners have been very popular at many police agencies over the last decade or so, and it wouldn't surprise me to find either (or both) in use at the affected department.

Given Ed's expertise, I suspect that his analysis is pretty close.

Comments welcome.

-=[ Grant ]=-
 

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Thanks for the info Chris. I'm a bit puzzled by the "nickle 442" mentioned - is he referring to the 642 or an early run of nickle plated, steel 442s?
Jack
 

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Jack - the 442 (.38 spl Centennial Airweight) - Satin Nickel with night sights was one option.

442 Introduced as newest alloy J frame Centennial 1993.

Became 442-1 1996, frame change and cyl to J magnum. Rated +P.

1997 deleted the Nickel finish, for 642-1 in stainless - which I take to mean the 642 takes over. Not sure.
 

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thanks Chris. Think I'll still keep an eye on that area when cleaning - though I'd think the folks in the shop would be particularly cautious of overtorque on an Al frame. Never though of the exterior front strap as a potential problem area, I usually watch for problems around the forcing cone and for flame cutting where the inner top strap meets the front strap.

Glad I've got leather coming for my Mil-Spec - no feel good locks, no bullet setback issues (I shoot std. pressure 230 gr.), just good ol' JMB engineering. :yup: Of course, my 642 will still get BUG duty and carried when the 1911 is too big.
Jack
 
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