Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Another observed S&W lock failure...

Gun writer Michael Bane reports a failure of the internal lock on his Model 329PD. It will be interesting to see how Smith & Wesson attempts to respond to this.

The internal lock on handguns is something that will probably not go away for the foreseeable future. They are standard on Taurus, HK, Bersa, Springfield Armory 1911-pattern guns, some Rugers, S&W revolvers, and optional on Glocks and some S&W autoloaders. I'm fairly agnostic on the whole concept; from a philosophical standpoint it's no better or worse than a separate locking device like the cable or trigger locks that some folks use religiously to store guns and others ignore. My main objections are aesthetic and mechanical.

The best lock would be one that is invisible, or nearly so, on the exterior of the firearm, especially on guns that are frequently bought for their aesthetics, such as revolvers or 1911-type guns and can be removed and replaced with no permanent alterations to the firearm. Probably the winner in this category is Springfield's ILS, which is contained entirely within the mainspring housing of the pistol, and can be swapped out with a standard 1911 MSH if one is so inclined. While some have complained that Springfield should make it optional, from a business standpoint it's probably cheaper to have one part and one box label and let the customer decide if they wish to leave it on the gun.

The one that has drawn the most fire is Smith & Wesson's revolver lock, and it's because of both aesthetic and mechanical reasons. First, S&W revolver buyers are generally a conservative lot, and aesthetics enter into their purchasing decisions; many of them will defend their loyalty to S&W revolvers over their Ruger counterparts on looks alone. Smith's lock design puts a keyhole right on the side of the revolver's frame, just above the cylinder release. While not particularly noticeable on a blued gun, it sticks out like a sore thumb on a stainless piece, and is also fairly disharmonius on the newer lines of "retro" revolvers S&W has been hawking.

Worse, from a mechanical standpoint, the lock requires internal bits to rotate towards the rear of the gun to engage the lock. On the new flyweight Scandium magnums, several bazillion "Gees" of energy are jumping the gun to the rear under recoil and reports have come in, Mr. Bane's being merely the latest, of that force being sufficient to partially engage the lock, thereby tying up the gun in a manner that requires tools to unjam. I myself have seen it happen to a customer's Model 357PD, a sub-2-pound flyweight shooting middling-heavy .41 Magnum ammunition.

I personally own two Smiths with the lock, a 432PD and a Model 21 Thunder Ranch, neither of which I'm particularly worried about as neither generates the sharp recoil that seems to cause this, and it never happened on my long-gone Model 325PD as apparently .45ACP in a 21.5 oz. package doesn't have the wheaties, either. I'd be leery, though, of the Scandium .357 J-frames and the .41 and .44 Magnum N-frames with the lock. Not good, as the former is designed as goblin-repellent and the latter two are marketed for self-defense in bear country. Were I to, for some unfathomable reason, wind up with one, I'd probably eighty-six the lock. Some things just don't need built-in failure modes, especially when a grizzly is gnawing on your ankle...

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't have a problem with internal locks and even consider them desirable in certain circumstances, but S&W's lock is terrible IMO. That mere fact that even a handful of people have experienced problems with it is enough to ensure I'll never buy a S&W with the lock. The Taurus lock is a much better design IMO and I haven't heard of any failures with it.

Chris

The Duck said...

In 04 I had a ccw class I called 4 students to the line, all had Bersa 380's (guess there was a sale) Once they were all loaded, I gave the commence fire call, all four tried, then laid the guns down & surried for keys, to unlock their guns.
It really was funny

less said...

Well, you could always replace the
internals, grind down the new set.

I know, those of us that would
object to "modifying a gun in the
eyes of the law", but I have my
doubts that they are going to
check the internals...

GeorgeH said...

"I'm fairly agnostic on the whole concept; from a philosophical standpoint it's no better or worse than a separate locking device like the cable or trigger locks that some folks use religiously to store guns and others ignore."

The gun with the trigger lock/cable lock will look a lot better after I lose the key and have to remove it with the Dremel Tool and a cutoff wheel. Grinding a hole in the frame of a new Smith to get at a problem is gonna put serious Dollar Hits on it's value.

Anonymous said...

I, too, have a 329PD that experiences lock failure. Mine engages when firing 44mag FC 180gr JHP factory ammo. Hammer rebounds about half way up, flag flies up, revolver will not function. The only way to clear it is to pull the trigger firmly while thumbing back rather hard on the hammer, which releases SOMETHING, allowing the flag to fall and the hammer to be lowered. Takes about 5-10 seconds to clear, and isn't a huge problem, except, how stupid is it to have to PULL THE TRIGGER on a loaded gun to clear a malfunction. Oh, and the little issue that it disables my personal defense sidearm with every shot fired.

Formerflyer

Anonymous said...

Simple response by S&W.

"it did not happen"

They will get Clint or Charlie or someone to write up another scathing commentary about how it does not happen and if you believe it you are a dolt.

Just like last time.

Since it will be in Handgunner or something, everyone will believe it and the problem will go away.

Such is the proper management of the PR machine.

Anonymous said...

I commented on this issue at Bane's website, but for some reason it has yet to appear.

If you believe in the principle of form following function. The trigger lock creates a contradiction. Either you WANT or NEED an instrument of lethal force or YOU DON'T. The lock is an attempt to achieve both ends and like most overly ambigious attempts; it fails. In both form and function.

I own three S&W revolvers that came with these locks; one has now been removed, the others will follow in time. It is, however, far easier to ignore the guns with these devices and concentrate on those at gun shows in good condition that lack them.

All The Best,
Frank W. James

Anonymous said...

Is this a problem with just S&Ws, or have other makes of guns equipped with internal locks "locked up" during shooting? I've got one of the new lock-equipped Ruger single actions - a 50th Anniversary Flattop Blackhawk in .357 - and I've had no problems with it during the four months I've owned it...and the 600 or so rounds I've fired through it.

I haven't heard of such malfunctions reported with these Rugers, which is something I've been keeping an eye out for; I also keep my Blackhawk loaded for home defense. Although if the five rounds of buckshot in my twelve-gauge and the fourteen rounds of JHPs in my Beretta 9mm aren't enough to stop an intruder, six more shots probably won't matter...

At least Ruger was considerate enough to hide the lock behind the grip panels, unlike S&W. I'd love to have a good 686 as a complement to my Blackhawk...but I think I'll look for a pre-lock model.

--Wes S.

Diamondback said...

I have both the Bersa and a Springfield 1911 with the locks. The Bersa lock doesn't seem that it would turn without the key as it is pretty tight. The Springfield has had at least 1000 rounds through it with no problems so far. I figure I'll replace the spring housing in it though. I've heard there is a plug for the Bersa to replace the lock and some of the lock components can be removed but I haven't looked into it myself to verify.
Duck, I'm kinda curious how they loaded their Bersas as the slide will not move when locked?

Anonymous said...

The Taurus 1911 puts it's stupid lock in the hammer. Easy enough to change as well.

Tam said...

"Duck, I'm kinda curious how they loaded their Bersas as the slide will not move when locked?"

That was my first thaought as well, but I figured they must have put loaded magazines in the guns and then, at the 'make ready' command, went to charge their weapons and noticed something wrong.

From a mechanical standpoint, I've never seen anything go wrong with the lock on a Bersa Thunder .380, and I've sold a blue million of them. It's hrdly unobtrusive visually, but folks aren't buying Bersas for looks...

Mulliga said...

Had a chance to get my hands on a prelock 642, but it's hard to justify paying a $200 premium above and beyond your old 642 (that you've verified works fine after a couple cases of ammo) for an unknown quantity, lock or not.

Diamondback said...

Actually I quite like the look of my duotone Bersa 380! Made with same design as the Walther PPK and the Sig Sauer 380 without the sticker shook. I've shot all 3 and I have to say the Bersa is my favorite in looks and comfort. Also the lightest of the 3. Spare Magazines are a little pricey for the Bersa brand but function better than the other (forget who makes them). I think as far as 380s go it's pretty hard to beat on the price and quality.

diamondback said...

err...Sticker shock that is. Don't shake stickers people!