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October 26, 2010
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Lindsey J. Bertomen Police Products
with Lindsey J. Bertomen

Firearms Review: FNH Five-Seven

The Five-Seven as an excellent vest gun for a critical incident team member who needs a secondary tool — and a lot of bullets — in a hurry

I recently tested the FNH-USA Five-Seven, arguably one of the most unique law enforcement firearms in the industry. While most manufacturers are responding to the demand for heavier, larger bore Bullets, the Five-Seven delivers a lightweight projectile in a low-recoil way.

The Five-Seven is an auto-loading pistol designed to fire the 5.7x28mm cartridge, a high velocity bottleneck with a low mass payload. The SS195 LF cartridge has a 28-grain projectile that averages about 2,100 feet per second from the Five-Seven. The SS196 cartridge uses a 40-grain Hornady V-Max bullet, designed to reach 1,600 feet per second.

The Five-Seven has a chrome-lined barrel and a frame made mostly of polymer, with comfortable grip texturing molded into strategic places. At 20.8 ounces unloaded, someone unfamiliar with this handgun may think they were subject to a practical joke when handed the Five-Seven on the shooting range.

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I did, initially. I mean, although I knew about this handgun from the first press release, when I first put one in my hand, I thought, “This feels more like a hairbrush than a gun.”

The Five-Seven is impressive on the range. It has a crisp single action trigger with an AR-15-like reset. Within the glove-friendly trigger guard, I squeezed an initial 20 rounds, rapid fire. This is the magazine capacity, which is lighter loaded than many other magazines empty. My rapid-fire group stayed in the A zone at 7 yards, under 7 seconds on a B-27 target. One can deliver a lot of accurate rapid fire with this, with very low recoil. The muzzle climbed less than some .22 magnum handguns.

The Five-Seven has a grip angle similar their FNP model, which means it shares the pedigree of some of the most natural pointing guns in the industry. The magazine release is reversible and I found I could reach it with very little shifting in the hand.
The magazines are almost all polymer with a low friction follower, which effectively keeps the rounds aligned and protected.

The Five-Seven has a pivot-style safety, with the wings pointing toward the barrel. It pivots just above the fulcrum point of the trigger. If the shooter lays the trigger finger along the barrel, the fingertip contacts the engagement/disengagement lever. I found that I could also manipulate the safety with my non-shooting thumb on the other side. It was easy to work the safety and its positive detent was night-ops friendly.

During my tests, I could not dupe the firing mechanism to fire out of battery, nor could I induce any kind of failure in the firing mechanism.

The safety set up is a little different than most duty guns and departmental training should be heavy on drawing and engaging to “muscle memory”. I found the slide release was natural and unobtrusive.

The Five-Seven is a delayed blowback action, which differs from typical duty guns, which are generally recoil operated. The advantage is the fact that the barrel is fixed, meaning it does not tip when in the firing cycle. Provided the bullets are stripped from a shallow angle to the receiver, the operation is inherently reliable. On the Five-Seven, the reliability is increased by the fact that the cartridge is a bottleneck design. The pointy bullet has a big hole to find in order to be fed into the chamber.

During one range session, I was talking to some firearms trainers about the high muzzle velocity and theorized that the bullet drop would allow long-range accuracy, if the shooter had the shooting skill. I don’t, but we were curious.

I cannot attest to downrange effectiveness of the cartridge, but I can conclusively say that a hundred-yard shot in ideal wind conditions is not beyond the capabilities of this gun—even I was effective at 100 yards. I have to include the disclaimer here: This handgun was designed for situations which generally do not include long-range shots. I have included this information to illustrate the superior accuracy of the product.

The model I had was equipped with adjustable target sights. It is also available with low profile combat sights. I liked the option of OD green and flat dark earth colors.

The most attractive (and controversial) part of the package is the 5.7x28mm cartridge. The cartridge is attractive because it is very light and fires a bullet at a velocity once considered extreme for a handgun. It is controversial because many believe that a lightweight payload will never be as effective as a heavier, slower bullet.

Let’s put this to bed right now: The reason an officer has a handgun in his hand is because Big Sky is minding the shotgun or carbine (or both) back in the patrol car. There is no such thing as an ideal law enforcement handgun or an ideal law enforcement cartridge. The 5.7x28mm does what it claims with the limited data we have.

The other part of the argument is the reason the Five-Seven is a growing department wide purchase. First, an officer can carry this gun and several loaded magazines and still not have as heavy a belt as several other handguns. Second, I can’t shoot like Jerry Miculek, but I can put down faster accurate fire with this gun than any other duty handgun in the inventory. Using a PACT timer and a few minutes on the range, most shooters can demonstrate the same advantage.

Third, I tested some SS195LF bullets in ballistic gelatin. Admittedly, the amount of data produced here is not enough to be conclusive, but it is promising.

My first few shots in 10 percent gelatin were disappointing. The bullets destabilized quickly, tumbled through the gelatin and left the block after about five inches. The tumbling effect created wide channels as the bullet went end over end in the medium.

I stacked blocks in an attempt to capture the next few bullets. This worked. The channels varied from about 10-11 inches. However, they created channels (commonly called “permanent wound cavities”) about 1.5 to 2.5 inches.

The good thing is the fact that expansion is not an issue and the performance potentially may not vary in different climates, based on local clothing fashion.

What is promising about the results? Well, first I must reiterate, my tests did not generate enough data to do anything except theorize. However, if this bullet tumbles after a short trip through gelatin, it may prove to be safer in urban environments if it loses penetration power when it hits something like sheetrock. That is, rapid destabilization may be an advantage. If this proves to be true, the goal for cartridge design must be producing the ideal destabilization speed and fragmentation and effectiveness. The 1-in-9 twist may be conducive for this attribute.

I see the Five-Seven as an excellent vest gun for a critical incident team member who needs a secondary tool — and a lot of bullets — in a hurry. I foresee this gun improving the overall departmental qualification scores as a departmental wide purchase. I also see it as an excellent choice for officers who rotate in and out of investigations where the duty uniform is jacket and tie one day and t-shirt and ball cap the next.

Above all, it was a lot of fun to shoot.

About the author

Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer and retired military small arms trainer. He teaches criminal justice at Hartnell College in Salinas, California. He has a BS in Criminal Justice and an MS in Online Teaching and Learning. Lindsey has taught shooting techniques for over a decade. His articles on firearms tactics have appeared in print for over a decade. Lindsey enjoys competing in shooting sports, running, and cycling events.

Contact Lindsey Bertomen

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