Inside The Gun Locker: FNH FiveSeveN

FNH-USA (Fabrique Nationale Herstal) recently introduced a new caliber to the commercial market that has been gaining a foothold among military and law enforcement personnel for awhile. This cartridge, in 5.7 x 28 mm, was designed to be light and fast for the type of modern combat that today’s armed forces encounter in the urban arena. FNH designed a carbine, the PS90, and a pistol, the FiveSeveN, to fire the same 5.7mm round. Commonality of ammunition type can reduce the amount of gear the operator has to carry when these two weapons are deployed together. Positive feedback from military and law enforcement circles compelled FNH-USA to expand the market for these two guns to civilians.

As with anything new that comes from the military market, the FiveSeveN pistol came with a somewhat exaggerated reputation. Much buzz was generated on the internet about a pistol that had the ballistics of a rifle and could slice through body armor. It was suggested by some that this should never be offered to the general gun-owning public. Naturally, when I heard this, I absolutely had to get my hands on one and see what all the fuss was about. FNH-USA obligingly sent me one for testing and evaluation.

One of the first things I noticed about my FiveSeveN FDE when it arrived was all the polymer. It feels very light in the hand. The frame is synthetic, except for parts that must be metal: the internal hammer and assembly, extractor and ejector, and the parts that marry the frame to the slide. The slide is steel, of course, but wrapped in a matte black polymer jacket. It looks very modern, the military influence obvious.

In deference to the harsh conditions to which a military sidearm will be subjected in today’s battlefield conditions, FNH went with a simple delayed blowback operating system. They also treated the hammer forged barrel with a hard chrome bore finish for long life. When field stripped, there is only the barrel with its captured recoil spring, the frame and the slide. There are no loose springs or pieces to lose track of,. A light lubrication is all that is required to keep the gun operating. With only the lightest film of lube on the slide rails, at no time during my testing did the FiveSeveN fail to feed or extract.

Field stripping is easily accomplished. The hammer needs to be cocked in order for the take-down lever to remain in the rearward position and allow the frame and slide to come apart. The owner’s manual never specifies this point in the disassembly instructions, only that the hammer must be cocked to re-assemble the pistol. The barrel and spring are easily removed. The gun comes with a cleaning kit which includes a take-apart brass rod, chamber and bore brushes and a brass slotted tip. All of these components store neatly in the handle of the rod in a compact case that is easily stowed in a pocket, range bag or on a belt for convenient access anywhere.

The FiveSeveN is a full-size gun designed to be worn as a working sidearm for military and police and not necessarily as a concealed carry piece. The grip is wide in order to accommodate the double-stacked 20-round magazines it uses. While this necessitates an offset hold for a small handed shooter such as myself, it isn’t large to the point of being difficult to handle. The controls on the FiveSeveN are easy to access. The manual safety is positioned just where, with the gun in the hand, the trigger finger would rest when properly indexed on the frame. It uses the common up for safe, down for fire system. A red oval shows when the gun is ready to fire.

The magazine release is set into the frame where it can be easily reached with the thumb without breaking one’s hold, yet still out of the way enough not to be accidentally pressed during firing. This control is reversible from right to left handed configuration with a tool that comes with the gun. I found the magazine release on my sample to be very stiff and slow. Everyone who tried it with me agreed that this is a point of annoyance at best, and a hazard at worst if a quick reload is required.

Another safety feature of the FiveSeveN is a magazine disconnect. Though this feature could be a lifesaver for a soldier or policeman if somebody is trying to take the weapon away from them, I find it more trouble than benefit for civilian concealed carry. I have always found these annoying for training, as I’m a firm believer in carefully ritualized dryfire both on the range when learning a new skill and at home to practice skills and stay sharp. Most range officers get a bit nervous when they see a magazine in a gun during a dryfire portion of a class. I found that with some practice, I could reset the action on the FiveSeveN for dryfire with a partial stroke of the slide. There is a half-lock point with an empty magazine in the gun that I kept hanging up on. When the magazine was released, the slide would snap forward from this position on its own in a rather startling manner. Thank goodness I didn’t have any parts of my hand too close to the chamber when this occurred! When the slide is locked fully back with an empty magazine, the magazine must be released, at least partially, before either the slide-lock can be used or the slide racked and released.

As is the case with many semi-automatic pistols on the market today, the FiveSeveN has the added safety device of a loaded chamber indicator. On this gun, it is a small, bright, silver-colored metal pin that protrudes slightly from the top of the slide when a round is in the chamber. It contrasts with the slide’s matte black polymer jacket pretty well, but is not big enough to be very eye-catching. It is, however, easy to feel with the hand and would be useful in low light conditions. The manufacturer recommends that the FiveSeveN not be carried with a round in the chamber, as the gun may not be drop safe, so this is a good little safety extra to have.

I didn’t think FNH would appreciate me doing an official drop test, in which I actually dropped the gun on a hard surface from a prescribed height to see if it would discharge. I didn’t have the facilities available to safely do so in any case. But when the manufacturer warns against carry with a round in chamber, it behooves the serious practitioner of concealed carry and defensive shooting to carefully consider the risks before carrying a firearm that is not drop safe.
The FiveSeveN comes with 3-dot combat sights. The factory will install sights with tritium inserts upon request. The rear sight is fully adjustable for both windage and elevation with a sight adjustment wrench that comes with the gun. Adjustment is easily accomplished, making the sighting-in process simple. I set off to the range to see what it would do.

One of the first orders of business was to see for myself whether this gun could really penetrate body armor with the rounds available on the commercial market. FNH sent me a quantity of 28 grain hollowpoint lead free rounds, rated at 1890 feet per second muzzle velocity, and I bought some of their 40 grain sporting loads, rated at 1650 feet per second muzzle velocity. To get a vest for testing, I asked a friend in my local police department, who was one of the officers in charge of putting on our Citizen’s Police Academy, if he might be interested in a demonstration for the class on their range day. He cheerfully let me tag along and provided one of his old level three vests. Our test was less than scientific and therefore inconclusive on the half of the vest we shot. He gave me the vest to play with. I chatted with one of the other officers in charge of the range day who had been an instructor with the Washington State Police Academy and was familiar with the FiveSeveN. He told me how they tested guns for penetration in the academy by placing the vest over a thick stack of cardboard targets. They had tested the FiveSeveN several times, and were unable to penetrate a vest with it.

I decided to try the test again with some backing that would at least somewhat simulate the force absorption qualities of a body behind the vest. I tightly bundled about 3-4 inches worth of glossy paper catalogs and strapped these to a steel silhouette target. I fastened the vest over this. I fired two rounds each of the 28 grain and 40 grain loads into the vest.

None of the rounds penetrated. The 40 grain loads didn’t leave any impact damage on the backing at all. The 28 grain loads went deeper, in part because they hit the vest closer together than I wanted to place them. Even so, they didn’t go through, and left impact damage to about 1.5 to 2 inches. I did a little research online to see what other testers had discovered about the 5.7 mm. round. In wood, ballistic gelatin and clay, it penetrated in the ranges of other pistol rounds tested. So much for the FiveSeveN’s reputation as a cop killer. It’s no worse than anything else out there. Another myth has been busted.

I called some of my shooting buddies to come out with me and test the FiveSeveN. Even though it was an unusually cold spring day, with everything from sunshine to hail and snow, we had a good time. The FiveSeveN is very pleasant to shoot. The 5.7 mm. rounds generate almost no recoil, and fast, accurate shots are easy. Though the gun is large, and all of us had to shoot it in an offset grip, it pointed well and naturally, even in low light conditions.

The double-action only trigger breaks cleanly after light take-up and a little bit of staging movement. My sample gauged out consistently for me at 5.5 pounds pressure on the trigger. Reset on the FiveSeveN is clean, and both tactilely and audibly distinct. Unlike most double-action only firearms, this one uses an internal hammer rather than a striker to actuate the firing pin. The consistent feel of each trigger stroke, though, is like its striker-fired brethren.

After we’d played on the falling steel range and in the darkhouse, I asked my good friend, Don Stahlnecker, if he would replicate the 25 yard work my husband and I had done early in the pistol’s break-in period. Don, who has an uncannily steady hand, agreed. Since we were working with such a fast round, we also decided to see what we could do with the FiveSeveN at 50 and 100 yards,. All distance work was done with the shooter seated and the gun rested on a sandbag or benchrest. The initial groups I had shot ranged from 2.5 to 5 inches at 25 yards with the 28 grain rounds. Don’s groups also went as large as 5 inches, though he had one as good as 1.5 inches for five shots with the light rounds. The 40 grain rounds had also grouped for him at around 2.5 to 5 inches. In light of its close-range accuracy, we had expected better, more consistent performance. At 50 yards, Don kept his shots 90 percent within the C-zone or better on an IPSC silhouette target. The rounds shot so flat that almost no adjustment in sight picture was required out to 100 yards, where all the rounds stayed on the silhouette.

The FiveSeveN performed well for the combat pistol it was designed to be. It’s a well-made gun and very user friendly. It’s easy to see why the light weight and high capacity magazines of the FiveSeveN would make it an attractive choice for military and law enforcement personnel, especially with the availability of the companion carbine in the same chambering.

For those of us in the commercial market, the FiveSeveN would be a nice gun for training in high round count classes. Anyone challenged with hand strength issues, or who can’t tolerate recoil well enough to enjoy training with firearms would find this gun to be a pleasant alternative that packs more punch than a .22 caliber. For self defense, it makes up for its light payload with high velocity and controllability that allows rapid multiple shots.

In my opinion, the major downside issues with the FiveSeveN would be its large frame that’s not conducive to the ease of concealment civilians require, and the prohibitive cost, and limited types of ammunition currently available for it. If it becomes better established in the commercial market, a wider variety of ammo will become available as major manufacturers see a demand for it. Perhaps FNH would see fit to offer the FiveSeveN in a smaller, more concealable version in the future. For now, however, these two factors could keep this gun from gaining much momentum outside military and law enforcement circles.