Another flaw found in new CHP pistols By Andrew McIntosh - Bee Staff Writer Smith & Wesson is recalling and replacing thousands of ammunition magazines it delivered with the California Highway Patrol's new semi-automatic pistols after officers reported bullets were not properly loading into the weapons' firing chambers. It marks the second time this year that parts have been recalled related to the CHP's new Smith & Wesson 4006TSW pistols, a purchase that drew criticism for its lack of competitive bidding. Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, likened the recurring problems with the guns to a comedy movie starring Bill Murray in which he keeps reliving the same day. "This is like 'Groundhog Day,' but it's not funny. It's an outrage," Romero said Wednesday. "It's potentially deadly for an officer." The CHP, however, maintains its confidence in the guns. "If we felt our officers weren't safe, they wouldn't be carrying these guns, period," said CHP spokeswoman Fran Clader. The department bought 9,736 new 4006TSW pistols in 2006, drawing fire from legislators like Romero -- who demanded a state audit -- and from a rival gun maker, which alleged the CHP had improperly restricted bidding for the guns to a single Smith & Wesson model. The CHP denied the allegations and the lawsuit was dropped, but a state audit of CHP contracting practices, announced in June, is ongoing. Problems with the new guns surfaced soon after deliveries began. Then, in March, Springfield, Mass.-based Smith & Wesson Corp. voluntarily recalled 3,000 of the CHP pistols to replace a defective metal catch. That catch, known as a sear, had failed during training shoots, rendering some weapons useless. The new pistols had an additional minor problem with a second part -- a slide stop release lever spring -- which Clader said the officers were instructed to fix themselves. The latest problem and recall -- affecting 684 guns and a total of 3,984 magazines -- arose Aug. 7 after 15 of the CHP's Inland Division officers reported concerns, Clader said. One officer in the CHP's Northern Division and a few cadets at the CHP Academy in West Sacramento also had trouble with the magazines, Clader said. The officers and cadets complained the slide on the pistol was prematurely locking and remaining bullets in the magazine weren't loading to be fired, Clader said. CHP gunsmiths worked with Smith & Wesson to determine the cause. Clader said the gun maker has voluntarily offered to immediately recall and replace magazines for the pistols shipped to the Inland Division. The recall may be expanded to include all magazines, she said, and is covered by the warranty the gun maker offered the state. Smith & Wesson spokeswoman Elizabeth Sharp did not return phone messages or an e-mail seeking comment. Rick Mattos, president of the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, a labor group that represents about 6,000 active CHP officers, also did not return phone calls seeking comment about the Smith & Wesson gun problems. But Clader emphasized the new problems did not put officers or cadets at risk and added the CHP maintains confidence in its newly purchased weapons. "This is far from catastrophic for the officers," Clader said. "They are well-trained on how to deal with weapon malfunctions through drills." If a magazine jams and the bullet won't load, officers are trained to rapidly remove the problem magazine and load another, carried on their belts, Clader added. Each Smith & Wesson 4006TSW issued to a CHP officer comes with six magazines, the hard rectangular metal containers that hold 11 rounds. Three magazines are painted black on the bottom and are used by officers only when on duty. The other three are painted red and used only during training. The latest division to receive the new pistols is the CHP's Coastal Division, which distributed them to officers this summer. Coastal Division spokesman Craig Rude said many officers there, including him, like the pistols and are finding them more accurate during training shoots than the older Smith & Wesson model.