Gun Review: FNS-9

I’m a polymer-framed 9 mm pistol kind of guy. Well, at least I fancy myself one. Truth be told, I haven’t shot enough of them to have the depth of experience to really qualify as a polymer pistol “guy.” But I’m working on it. And when Nick threw me the keys to his FNS 9 for an unspecified amount of time, it seemed like a good time to put another check on the list. Who knew that I’d find a new favorite polymer gun in the process? . . .

Some of the writers on here can just make a review flow flawlessly from one section to another. Me, I like to take the pilot’s approach: checklists. So let me outline some of the more important qualities I look for in a gun, and tell you how the FNS-9 fared in those categories.

FNS-9 (courtesy Tyler Kee for The Truth About Guns)

Reliability

When I asked Nick how many rounds his FNS had down the pipe, he made a vague hand waving motion and said, “Ehhhh like 4000, maybe 5000. I cleaned it at 2500. I do know that.” Leave it up to Leghorn to torture test a gun. To be clear, little maintenance, some oil, thousands of rounds and Nick reports that in that time, the only failure he reported was a hesitation in returning to battery when the gun was absolutely filthy. So long as it was clean, he says, it ran like a Swiss clock. Or a Belgian clock for that matter.

Naturally, I needed to put the gun through its paces as well to confirm Nick’s findings. Not that I don’t trust him, but a year of drinking the blue and white Kool-Aid can do strange things to people. But in my further several hundred rounds of testing I also experienced zero failures of any kind. Check and check.

Accuracy

Originally, I thought the FNS-9 might not be as accurate as my EDC XD(m) as it was throwing some wide groupings. Once I got used to the trigger, and really focused on my technique, I was able to produce some pretty great five-shot groups. In my opinion, it seems like the FNS-9 is capable of some great feats of accuracy.

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7 yards – 115 gr. Blazer

For me, a group like this one is pretty good. In fact, it’s better than I can get out of my other handguns. From the ground up, the FNS-9 seems better suited to me and my shooting style and lets me get the most accuracy I can out of the gun. But while I’m pretty accurate with it, Leghorn’s endless days of practice seem to have paid off.

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7 yards – 124 gr. American Eagle – shot by Nick Leghorn

Nick shot a single ragged 5-round group (with one flier) from that same 7-yard distance.

There’s no doubt that the cold hammer forged barrels in FN’s guns are well made. In fact, Nick reported witnessing a friendly shooting competition between Larry Houck and Tommy Thacker where they went head to head on a steel silhouette target at 100 yards with an FNS-9, rarely dropping a shot. And even after thousands of rounds down the pipe and being neglected in the bottom of a range bag all year, Nick’s FNS-9 still is as accurate as the day it arrived.

Sights

FNS-9 front sight (courtesy Tyler Kee for The Truth About Guns)

This particular FNS has the optional Trijicon night sights, but the factory standard are regular three-dotters. I found them to be very crisp, easy to use and their nighttime visibility is typical Trijicon. They’re bright without being blinding and easy to pick up in low-light and darkness.

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One thing that took some adjustment is that the point of impact differs from the point of aim by approximately two inches (low) at  seven yards. In the orange targets above, I lined up the horizontal plane of the top orange box with the top line of the sights to hit the bullseye. Nick confirms that he spent the entire competition season lining up the top of the rear sight with the middle of the front sight dot to address this problem.

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Tacticool operators will notice that the rear sight doesn’t have a flat or hook to use for one handed slide manipulations. I can take it or leave it, but I’d prefer to have the lip there in case I ever have to move my slide using my belt, shoe, or a countertop. One very nice thing about that rear sight is the V-shaped notch.

With my arm length, you can pick up some light between the edge of the front and rear sight which can be used to perfectly center the front sight between the rear. In my opinion, the V helps center the front sight perfectly because you can compare the amount of light coming through the V. This goes largely unnoticed when shooting quickly, but if the need for a great deal of accuracy is required, the V helps makes sure the front and rear are perfectly centered. Great work, Trijicon.

Controls

FNS-9 (courtesy Tyler Kee for The Truth About Guns)

All control are ambidextrous which our southpaw friends will appreciate. Yay!

The slide release is similarly small but that’s of minor concern since most training I’ve had or read advises manipulating the slide vs. relying on the slide release. I prefer it small and inconsequential so it doesn’t get in the way. This one obliges.

The trigger guard is quite generous which is nice for folks with big fingers, or those using gloves. Speaking of triggers, this is one of my favorites. In my overview video, I show the travel profile and find the break to come (crisply) at 5.25 lbs. There’s a decent amount of take-up which is common among striker-fired pistols. You hit a wall with just a smidge of creep, and then it breaks with very little overtravel.

Reset is audible, doesn’t require much travel and there seems to be a bit of spring tension to “push” your finger forward. This makes “riding the reset” very easy and almost impossible to short stroke. Obviously, this gun has thousands of rounds through it, and the trigger has settled in. Michael Stephenson’s review of the FNS-40 Long Slide indicated that his trigger was gritty and heavy out of the box. Mine has a little more mileage on it. Yours – mileage, that is – could vary.

Last, the slide is covered in sharp serrations and the frame has plenty of aggressive stippling. This helps with the overall control on the FNS-9 and makes holding on quite easy, and slide manipulation a breeze.

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My feelings on guns with manual safeties mirror my feelings on drinking tequila. If you don’t, don’t. If you do, go big. When I think of manual safeties, I think of one of those big-ass flippers on a 1911. Fine motor skills are notorious for being nonexistent in a stressful situation, and the FNS safety requires some detail work to manipulate.

To be clear, I never had issues flipping the safety off in my testing, but I wasn’t on an adrenaline dump with my hands covered in gore like a true operator. I also realize that this pistol was initially marketed to law enforcement and they usually require a manual safety. Also, the FNS, like the M&P, is available without a manual safety, too. Still, if you have it, make it big.

Form

In the last few years, manufacturers have started taking advantage of interchangeable backstraps to help customize the size of the grip to the shooter’s hand. My M&P came with three, my Gen 4 GLOCKs come with four, and my XD(m) came with three. Those three brands all use some variation of a pin to hold the backstraps in place.

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The FNS uses two sliding plates (small & large) held with a spring-loaded plastic tab. Its a cool little system, but I worry that regular backstrap changes might break the spring loaded tab rendering the frame worthless until you’ve glued it back in place.

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Bore axis is low enough that shooting is a dream with very reasonable recoil, and the small beavertail keeps the slide from destroying your hand. The FNS-9 fits my hand well and the controls are in easy-to-reach places. I’m impressed with the layout and attention to detail. It seems that serious thought went into every component, and the end result is a great shooting machine.

GLOCK 19 Comparison

I’ve never been a GLOCK guy, but I own one now (the 19 pictured), and I’m going to make an honest effort to spend some time and give it a fair shake over the course of the year. Part of that is that the 19 is the gold standard when it comes to EDC guns. As a writer for the most popular gun blog in the world, I need to be able to compare pistols I’m reviewing to a gun that most people have handled. Having not done a lot of GLOCK 19 shooting, the followiing impressions are based on a lot of dry fire and manipulation in my house with the shades drawn.

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Slide length is very close

That said, the GLOCK is playing second fiddle to the FNS. First, the GLOCK is a piggy little bastard. Try as I might, I can’t seem to feel like I have a firm grip on it. All of that is due to my small(ish) hands. I wear medium gloves and run all my pistols and AR 15 grips in the smallest setting. If you have big hands, congrats, the world is your oyster. But if you have small hands like me, or 90% of the women out there a GLOCK is not always your friend. The FNS feels different. It seems so much thinner and easier to get a grip on.

Second, the stock sights on the 19 are not nearly as nice as a set of Trijicons. I know. I know. The Trijicons are aftermarket, but they come as a factory option, something GLOCK doesn’t offer. I think those sights and FN’s build quality contribute to the much better accuracy I am able to achieve with the FNS.

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Third, the FNS packs two extra rounds in a package approximately the same size as the GLOCK. That may not sound like a lot, but nobody ever left a gunfight wishing they brought less ammo. Assuming that each bad guy in a theoretical scenario takes three shots to go down, the FNS lets you hit six before you run out versus five plus one extra bullet. Or something like that. Anyhoo, more is better.

Last, I like the trigger better on the FNS. And yes, that’s about the most subjective argument I can make. The Gen 4 GLOCK has some aggressive texturing on the the trigger shoe that seems to rough up my delicate digits. The FNS doesn’t. And I like the tactile feel of the FNS better. You may disagree with me when it comes to stock GLOCK triggers, and I fully admit that I’m not the authority on what makes the perfect striker-fired trigger. I can only tell you that I prefer the FNS.

Final Thoughts

There’s not much more you can ask of a pistol than to hold 17 + 1 rounds in a fairly compact, concealable package, that also boasts great accuracy and provides nearasdamnit flawless reliability. I don’t love the manual safety, but I understand why it’s there. The trigger has a secondary safety so you can choose to carry with the manual safety off if you’d like or buy the version without the safety altogether.

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Specifications: FNS-9 with Night Sights

  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Operation: Striker fired
  • Sights: Fixed 3-dot or Fixed 3-dot night (tested here)
  • Magazine: 10 or 17 rds. (17 rounds tested)
  • Advertised Weight: 25.2 oz. (empty)
  • Measured Weight: 24.7 oz with unloaded magazine
  • Measured Weight of slide/barrel/recoil spring: 14.85 oz.
  • Barrel Length: 4.0″
  • Advertised overall length: 7.25″
  • Measured grip width: 1.21″
  • Measured grip length: 2.06″
  • Available in Standard and Manual Safety
  • Made in the USA
  • Price: $591.22 (Bud’s Guns)

Ratings (out of five stars):

Reliability * * * * *
Given the mileage already on the gun, for the purposes of this review, I only fed the FNS a few hundred rounds of mixed FMJ and HP in weights from 115 gr. to 147 gr. Zero hiccups along the way, and Nick reports that he saw no real failures during the competition season.

Disassembly * * * * *

I didn’t address this in the formal review because there’s not much to say. Pull the slide back, rotate the takedown lever, let the slide forward. Disassembly complete. Further teardown of the slide can be accomplished with a small pick if you’re feeling very serious about cleanliness. But as Leghorn proved, obsessive cleanliness isn’t necessary for reliability.

Accuracy * * * * *

I feel confident that the FNS can outshoot me. Mostly because I watched Nick outshoot me with it. Ragged five-shot groups at seven yards are well within the capabilities of the FNS-9.

Sights * * * *

While the Trijicons are very easy to pick up night or day, the fact that the FNS shoots two inches low at seven yards, and the rear sight doesn’t have a flat or hook to use for one handed reloads sets them back to a four star rating.

Accessorize This * * * *

The box it comes in seems to be TSA-approved which is a bonus. However, there certainly aren’t as many holsters out there as for a GLOCK or 1911, but they can be found. It has a Picatinny rail for your lights, lasers, knives, etc. It also has a stellar trigger and (this model) comes with Trijicon sights so you won’t need to replace those. It looks like magazines are +/- $40+ a copy vs. ~$30 for S&W, GLOCK, & Springfield mags. It isn’t the end of the world, but cost of ownership is a little higher.

Ergonomics * * * * 

The controls are very well laid out, ambidextrous, and crisp. I’m no fan of manual safeties, and this one hasn’t converted me. If you’re going to have a safety, make it big and easy to flip on and off. Otherwise, I’m pleased with the thought that went into the design including the trigger, which I consider to be one of the best stock triggers I’ve tested.

Ergonomics Carry * * * * *

The FNS is ever so slightly larger than a GLOCK 19, but stows two more rounds in the mag. It’s no pocket rocket, but with a good holster you could wear this as your EDC gun. It’s friendlier to the smaller-handed folk out there so women and small-handed guys should take a close look.

Overall * * * *

This would be a five star gun if the Trijicon sights were a little better matched to the gun and the manual safety were bigger (or absent). It doesn’t hit exactly where it’s aimed at combat distances, and the manual safety isn’t large enough in my opinion to turn off under stress or with blood, gore, or lube on your fingers. Those are incredibly small nits that I’m picking, but five stars is perfection and those two things keep it from being there. Fix the safety and adjust the sights ever so slightly and this is a perfect gun.

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