When the heart-breaking massacre of the innocent occurred at Fort Hood in early November, I was already working on this article on the FN Five-seveN pistol. I found it ironic that the fanatical mass-murderer in Texas had chosen such a gun to commit his monstrous crime.
From the first day of the news reports, the media was all over the killer having used a semi-automatic (shudder!) pistol to commit his crimes, and when it was announced that the death weapon was the 5.7, there was a flood of anti-gun crap that reminded me of a sewer backing up. “Cop-killer pistol,” they cried, because the Brady Bunch had already so characterized the Five-seveN, despite the fact that no one could find a case of a U. S. cop being killed with a 5.7. Fort Hood may actually have been the first case of a U. S. police officer ever being shot with one.
The “cop-killer” BS had come out of the fact that the original iteration of the 5.7X28mm cartridge this gun fires had been a NATO round intended to shoot through enemy body armor and helmets. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives long ago banned the sale of that armor-piercing military ammo for the Fabrique Nationale gun, and every round sold legally in the U. S. today has been tested and specifically pronounced as non-armor piercing by the BATFE! But such are the “Big Lie” tactics of the anti-gun faction, and the mass media they have so effectively suckered over the years.
A Brief History
The 5.7X28mm cartridge began its existence circa 1990 in Fabrique Nationale’s exotic P90, a PDW (Personal Defense Weapon) designed for maximum compactness and firepower, and intended to fall in between a pistol-caliber submachinegun and a 5.56mm NATO assault rifle in power and wounding capability. The original “duty round” for it, dubbed the SS190, comprised a full metal jacket “ball” projectile weighing 31 grains and traveling at about 2,130 f.p.s. A key design parameter was that the bullet had to punch through body armor and still cause a “take-this-guy-off-the-battlefield” level of trauma in the underlying flesh. The bullet did so by tumbling end over end once it had hit soft tissue after going through Kevlar, Twaron or equivalent armor protection.
In 1996, FN came out with a pistol to fire the same cartridge, and that is the handgun under discussion here. There was some brilliant use of polymer applied, and the result is a physically large pistol which, with magazine removed, weighs only 20.5 ounces on my scale. That’s less than the weight of a snub-nose Colt Detective Special, but depending on the magazine, the Five-seveN carries ten, twenty, or even thirty rounds of 5.7mm, compared to six rounds of .38 Special in the snubbie. The Five-seveN has been loved and hated in the years since its introduction. It is one of the most controversial handguns of our time, and was so even before the Fort Hood atrocity.
Handling the 5.7
The first models came with double-action-only triggers that nobody seemed to like, whereas the current iteration tested employs a single-action trigger. With over 1/4” of take-up, this trigger system should not be conducive to negligent discharge. The gun also comes with a manual safety that takes some getting used to: it’s on the side of the frame above the trigger guard—ambidextrous, with a lever on each side—and is apparently intended to be operated by the trigger finger.
The magazine release is push-button style, behind the trigger guard. It’s not ambidextrous, but it is reversible for southpaw carry. The grip frame is not particularly “wide-bodied” despite a standard 20-round magazine capacity. (You can get up to 30-round mags, and a 10-rounder is available for those benighted jurisdictions that still have a 10-round maximum legal capacity.) The 5.7X28mm is a long cartridge by handgun standards, and that significant overall length necessitates a grip frame that covers considerable distance from front to back. In my “average size” adult male hand, I had to use the pad of the index finger on the trigger when shooting. It seemed like a long trigger reach, but petite Gail Pepin, the Florida State IDPA Women’s champ, was able to handle the Five-seveN just fine, so what do I know?
Takedown is different, but easy. The left-side-only slide stop lever is easy to reach, but takes a firm downward push to activate the slide-release function. The “up-is-safe, down-is-fire” safety switch makes some sense for a new shooter, since it creates one more reason to keep the finger off the trigger until the decision to fire has been made, but it is totally counter-intuitive to us old mossbacks indoctrinated on more conventional auto pistols, and requires some re-wiring between brain and trigger finger. It also forces the firing finger to multi-task, and I doubt that a quick-draw contest will ever be won with an on-safe Five-seveN. I did not find the three provided 20-round magazines difficult to load by hand. Speed reloads were snag-free, and smooth and easy to accomplish. The pistol had a magazine disconnector safety, preventing the chambered round from being fired if the mag was out—a feature I can certainly live with, and one I’ve seen save lives in documented cases.
Shooting the Five-Seven
Good news: There’s minimal recoil. It feels as if you’re shooting a loud .22 with a bright muzzle flash. The muzzle doesn’t jump, the sights just come back toward you and forward again as the slide cycles between shots. More good news: You can get used to running the safety with your trigger finger, and you can run it with the thumb of your support hand and go faster, though there’s no guarantee that this support hand will be there when you need to fire in an emergency, so you shouldn’t be depending on it.
Bad news: The trigger on our sample gun left something to be desired. It had a fair amount of “creep.” That is, you could feel it dragging as it moved to the rear. It needed a long forward movement after the shot to re-set for the next round. My digital Lyman trigger pull scale from Brownell’s found a very consistent pull weight that averaged 5 lbs. 13.5 ounces. The weight wasn’t the problem, the “creep” was. In fairness, though, there was no palpable backlash once the sear released and the bullet was on its way.
FN had provided some 27-grain, lead-free, hollow-point ammo rated for a bit over 1,900 feet per second, and I’d been able to buy some 40-grain blue tip V-Max rated for 1,700-plus foot-seconds. The “lead free” shot to the fixed sights, with two shots striking the 0.80” aiming dot, and delivered a 5-shot group that measured 1.95”—with the best three hits in 1.30”—at 25 yards from a bench rest. The V-Max centered its group about 2.5” below point of aim and that group measured 2.30” for all five shots, with the best three in 0.85”. The latter is testament to the high degree of accuracy other testers have found with this gun. Its high velocity gives it a flat trajectory that extends its range for delivering accurate hits. Our test gun came with fixed 3-dot sights, but FN also offers an adjustable rear sight as an option.
5.7mm ammo is not easy to find, and we only had 200 rounds to play with, but there were zero malfunctions. Straight-line feed combines with the 5.7’s bottleneck case to enhance reliability.
The Bottom Line
Ballistic testers are divided in their opinion as to whether the 5.7mm is a man-stopper or a mouse gun. Its paper ballistics are roughly those of a .22 Magnum rimfire rifle, and few police departments have adopted it, though many have tested it. Experts in terminal ballistics, ghoulish as it sounds, must await the declassification of autopsy and medical reports from the more than 40 people shot with it by the soulless monster at Fort Hood, and at this writing we don’t even know which 5.7mm cartridge he used. As for the gun itself, well, what happened in Texas wasn’t the fault of the gun, or Fabrique Nationale in Herstal, Belgium, or FNH-USA, the American importer (www.fnhusa.com). Suffice it to say that from the pure “gun” side of it, the Five-seveN is a fascinating design that deserves a place in modern gun collections, and which has written a fascinating and complex chapter in the evolution of modern handguns.