The SIG P238 pistol is a single-action, semi-automatic pistol chambered for the .380 ACP cartridge. The pistol is considered to be very similar to the workings of a 1911 pistol and is said to have borrowed heavily from the design of the Colt Mustang pistol. Most likely, SIG SAUER purchased the rights to manufacture the Mustang from Colt, though under their own label: the P238.
The P238 was introduced by SIG SAUER at the 2009 SHOT Show in Orlando, Florida. At that time, there were few quality .380 ACP pistols on the market, but the 2008 introduction of the Ruger LCP proved there was an untapped market demand for them. Unlike other manufacturers who were mostly bringing DAO polymer guns to the .308 ACP pocket gun market, SIG SAUER went with a high-quality gun on a metal frame.
The SIG P238 has an anodized aluminum frame and a stainless steel barrel and slide. The pistols are single action guns that have a frame mounted safety. P238 handguns also have a trigger bar disconnect safety, an automatic firing pin block and a hammer safety intercept notch to enhance the pistol’s overall safety.
First P238 Pistols
In the first year of production, SIG only offered two variations of the P238: a standard black finish and a two-tone finish. The basic model was called the “Nitron,” which is the name of the special corrosion-resistant finish that gave the gun it’s black appearance. The Nitron was available with standard SIG “contrast” sights or night sights.
The two-tone model had a black frame with a stainless slide, slide stop, hammer and safety. The P238 grips were a stainless steel (silver) color. Both the original Nitron and the two tone models are still available from SIG SAUER.
The SIG P238 saw exceptional sales in it’s initial year, and sales of the gun have continued to be very positive. Since being introduced, SIG SAUER added numerous variations to the P238 line including various finishes, different grips and a variety of custom etchings.
Not because of what it accomplished itself – but because of what it inspired.
By most standards, the P250 was a lackluster offering from SIG Sauer. However, it paved the way for the incredibly popular P320 handgun and the adoption of the same gun by the U.S. military in the form of the M17 and M18 pistols.
Introduction of the P250
SIG Sauer introduced the P250 pistol in October 2007 at the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention.
The IACP convention is an annual meeting of law enforcement administrators that has an associated trade show. Few significant gun announcements are made at the event since the audience isn’t really a pro-gun crowd.
SIG, however, hoped to market the P250 to law enforcement due to its very special features that seemed able to reduce department budgets without compromising reliability. SIG believed that the gun would appeal to law enforcement administrators and went with the IACP launch.
P250 Interchangeable Modules
What kind of features did the P250 have that might catch the interest of a law enforcement administrator?
The biggest features was the design that made the gun’s internal chassis the gun’s receiver. In a legal context, the receiver is the part of a firearm that is serial numbered and requires transfer paperwork.
For many pistols, the frame – the grip assembly on which the slide rides – is the part with the serial number. For the SIG P250, a removable metal insert was the serial numbered part, not the polymer grip module. The metal chassis was named the gun’s fire control unit by SIG Sauer.
An end user would use the gun the exact same way he or she would use any other pistol. If, however, they wanted a more compact grip, the internal chassis could be pulled from one grip module and dropped into another.
Since the grip modules were simple polymer parts that were not considered firearms, they could be made inexpensively then sold and shipped without any onerous paperwork. For a department, this was potentially a huge deal.
Consider that police departments employ incredible diverse people of all hand sizes. What fits one officer may be wholly inappropriate for another. Having a single chassis that could drop into any one of several dozen different sized meant the department could improve officer performance for the cost of a few dollars per module rather than hundreds each for different sized pistols.
The use of modules also appealed to departments because there are different handgun needs within the agency. A uniformed patrol officer can easily carry a full-size pistol in an open security holster. The same gun would be a burden for many officers to conceal in an investigative assignment.
Traditionally, that meant the agency would need to have a second set of firearms in its inventory for detectives. Some departments might have further handgun requirements for its vice squad or SWAT breaching officers that would require a third or fourth set of handguns.
The P250 aimed to change all of that. SIG intended that a department could buy one gun with a few extra grip modules. An officer could then be issued a single weapon that changed sizes as the assignments changed.
Ron Cohen Interview
SIG didn’t limit its modularity pitch to law enforcement agencies. In an appearance on the Cam and Company radio show at the 2008 SHOT Show, the company’s CEO and president, Ron Cohen, appeared to talk about the pistol.
“It’s not a gun; it’s a system.”
SIG Sauer SEO and President Ron Cohen, Cam & Co. radio show January 2008
Cohen and Adam Pinchot, a SIG employee, then demonstrated how the grip module can easily be changed for another of a different size.
Cohen stressed that no single gun can fit all people well. As the P250 is not a “single gun,” it allows “the dealer to adapt it to your requirement,” he said. The P250 offers “a suitcase of options” that “lets you change caliber and size at will.”
Cohen promised, “There is no compromise on quality, accuracy, or safety.” Yet, Cohen said the MSRP on the P250 is “around $650,” which makes it one of the least expensive guns Sig Sauer has brought to market. MSRP on the SIG P250 ultimately landed at $699.
SIG Sauer made it’s handgun reputation on reliable, hammer-fired pistols like the P220 and P226. SIG bet that it could arrest the progress of the striker-fired revolution that had eaten much of its handgun sales.
The P250 was a double-action-only (DAO) pistol with a hammer firing system. Sadly, the system was the longer DAO system the company often used instead of the superior double-action Kellerman (DAK) trigger that was an option on the company’s metal frame pistols.
While SIG undoubtedly saw this as a selling feature to under-informed police administrators who were concerned about liability from the striker-fired boogeyman. It does not appear the bet paid off as many agencies continued migrating to Glock and Smith & Wesson M&P pistols. The pro-SIG agencies largely continued to purchase traditional guns like the P226.
By 2012, the company was fully invested in the P250 platform. This seems to have been the high water mark for the pistol, though it is my understanding that the company was already working on the gun’s replacement.
The P250 guns were offered in three sizes and five centerfire calibers for a total of 14 different configurations available from the factory. Further customizations could be accomplished with the choice of three different grip widths and two trigger reach options.
Centerfire caliber options included:
9mm (aka 9×19 or 9mm Parabellum)
From the factory, you could purchase the gun with either Contrast or SIGLITE Night Sights. The Contrast sights were the company’s non-illuminated dot and post sights. SIGLIGHT Night Sights used a tritium-powered 3-dot arrangement.
SIG Sauer also offered a rimfire version of the gun chambered for the .22 LR. Additional information about that model is below.
The full size SIG P250 had a stainless steel slide with a black Nitron finish, polymer grip and a M1913 accessory rail.
The P250 Compact was the middle size of the line up. Like the larger gun, it featured a Nitron-finished stainless steel slide, polymer grip module, a DAO trigger and an accessory rail. It added the option of a fifth chambering: .380 ACP.
In addition to the centerfire pistols, SIG offered a blowback-operated .22 LR version of the P250 called the P250-22. These units used the same fire control unit and grip module as the regular guns. However, the P250-22 had a new slide assembly.
According to SIG, the P250-22 was compatible with the centerfire pistols. So, you should be able to swap a 9mm slide assembly onto a P250-22 frame without issues.
The P250-22 had adjustable sights and a 10-round magazine.
SIG Sauer offered a number of variants in the P250 line. These were not always catalog items but instead would appear on the company’s website or as special runs for distributors.
For example, SIG offered the full and compact P250 pistols with a bright stainless finish on the slide. These were known as Two Tone models.
Additionally, there were grip modules offered with a desert-type Digital Camo and an All Terrain Digital camo pattern.
The P250 pistols I shot were all reliable and accurate. To me, the trigger pull was surprisingly easy for a DAO gun, but the pull seemed much longer than necessary for a modern defensive firearm.
One of the issues many people have with the traditional SIG pistols is the trigger reach. If you have long fingers, the P220/226 lines of pistols are no problem. Ditto for the P250.
However, if you have small or medium sized hands, you really needed the Reduced Reach Trigger for optimum shooting. I much preferred the Reduced Reach Trigger on my P250. For what it is worth, I had the same thing installed on my P226.
You might ask who or what law enforcement agencies adopted the P250 as a duty firearm.
While we may never know how many departments selected the gun for a service weapon, the number seems to be quite small.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that departments looking for a polymer pistol tended to stick to Glock and Smith & Wesson M&P pistols. Further, agencies that were brand loyal to SIG, by and large, held on to the classic P220/226 models. It probably didn’t help that SIG continued to develop the classic guns like the P226 E2.
Nevertheless, there were some agencies that gave the gun a serious look. Most notoriously was the U.S. Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS).
Air Marshal Scandal
In the fall of 2009, the U.S. Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) announced the SIG Sauer P250 as the new duty gun for their agents.
Chambered in the highly potent .357 Sig cartridge, the FAMS upgraded to the P250 from the SIG Sauer P229. Specifics of the contract were not released by FAMS.
However, in April of 2014, Robert Bray, the director of the Federal Air Marshal Service resigned from that agency amid allegations of illegal gun sales going on during his watch. According to Fox News:
“Poulos [an FAMS supervisor] is accused of using the agency’s federal firearms license and his relationship with gun manufacturer Sig Sauer (sic) to obtain discounted and free guns. He then provided them to high-up agency officials for their personal use..”
an Air Marshal supervisor “may have accepted free firearms that were offered because of the employee’s official position in 2010, at a time when such firearms were being tested by FAMS for possible future procurement.”
SIG Sauer representatives declined a request from GunsHolstersAndGear.com to comment on the matter.
Much of the information related to the FAMS is considered classified. Bray’s timing of his resignation essentially prevented public disclosure of the results of the investigation. It is not known what, if any, wrongdoing was uncovered. In a phone interview with CNN, Bray denied any wrongdoing.
Influence on the P320
While the P250 may not have made history in the law enforcement market, it would ultimately make a giant impact on the gun world through its influence on the striker-fired P320.
I have to admit that I was underwhelmed when I first saw the SIG P320 at the 2014 SHOT Show. My thought was that the company merely pulled the hammer system from the P250 and dropped in a striker assembly in some sort of cost-savings measure.
While I can’t say that money never entered the minds of the folks at SIG Sauer, I can say that the P320 was an evolutionary advancement of the modular system the P250 developed.
The P320 really is a refined, premium version of the P250 pistol. SIG got a lot of things right with the P250 even if the shooting public wasn’t enamored with the gun. As soon as the company dropped in the striker unit, people began to flock to the pistol.
Compatibility with P320
As I’ve described, the P250 served as the test platform for the P320. But, are the parts interchangeable?
Let’s take a look at some of the main components.
Are Grip Modules Interchangeable?
Yes. You can swap the modular fire control unit between any grip module made for either pistol. In fact, I highly recommend looking at the carry-sized module made for the Wilson Combat P320 pistols.
Are Magazines Interchangeable?
Yes. Mags are completely interchangeable between the P250 and P320 platforms.
Are Barrels Interchangeable?
Yes. I urge caution, however, to make sure you don’t mix barrels with the wrong ammo. I’d hate to see someone run into issues because of an oversight.
End of the Line
All good things come to an end, and the run of the P250 line died in 2017. The final centerfire P250 pistols ended production in 2016 with the .22 LR version of the pistol being the sole pistol left in the 2017 catalog. By the following year, the rimfire was removed from the catalog as well.
While the pistol had less than 10 years of service as a defensive firearm, its legacy will stretch on for decades.
The SIG P250 was the proving ground for the modular platform that would become the P320. Where the P250 was met with tepid approval, the P320 enjoys gushing praise.
I know many people who have purchased a P320. Further, many law enforcement agencies are selecting the new SIG for its impressive qualities.
Most significantly, the United States military forces have adopted the pistol as the standard sidearm of our combat troops. This alone ensures the gun will be a long-term success.
And that, I think, is the legacy of the P250. It may never be appreciated for its own accomplishments, but its descendants will leave a lasting impression on the shooting world.