A recent article by NBC Bay Area waxed hysterical about the FN Five-seveN pistol, claiming the pistol and the cartridge it shoots “alarms authorities”. Allegedly.
“When you get this type of a firearm, it really raises everybody’s antenna of concern and fear,” San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe told the news station. “It’s a scary thing, because it can go right through a protective vest of a law enforcement officer.”
No. No, we don’t. What Mr. Attorney Who Fancies Himself A Cop just spouted for the press isn’t true.
Now, before anyone jumps me in the comments, yes, some versions of 5.7×28 can go through not only a level II vest, but a level IIIa and perhaps more. The SS90 and SS190 ammunition in this caliber is designed to penetrate body armor, but what the Chicken Littles aren’t telling you is that those steel-core and other penetrator rounds are already illegal.
On top of that, availability of 5.7×28 ammo isn’t there for criminals the way normal guns and ammo are (especially now, when it’s virtually unobtainium). We know that BATFE is quite serious about prohibiting sales of rounds that could possibly fit the legal definition of armor piercing, and my personal experience using AP or even rounds that might be AP on law enforcement ranges is that they’re very careful about not letting any get out of their hands.
You can’t really cast them or build them at home, given their relatively complex construction, and given their limited effectiveness compared to much cheaper alternatives (more on that below), it wouldn’t even make sense to waste time and money to make or buy them.
To be concerned about the FN Five-seveN pistol (or the Ruger-57) is to either show ignorance of the situation or to admit that gun laws might not keep the special rounds out of the hands of criminals. Neither is a good look for people pushing for more civilian disarmament laws.
No one who is familiar with the actual ballistics of 5.7x28mm is surprised by its inability to penetrate soft body armor without the use of those special already civilian-illegal rounds. ChuckHawks.com covers this in much greater detail than I will here, but the TL;DR on this is that 5.7×28 is very similar in performance to .22 WMR. I’ve never heard anyone call that varmint round a “cop killer” and it’s been around since the 1950s.
When you also consider that the test barrels for 5.7x28mm need to be 10 inches or longer to even achieve .22 WMR ballistics, it makes even less sense to fear the Five-seveN pistol that has a barrel less than half that length.
Another thing that kills the “cop killer” myth surrounding 5.7x28mm is cost. Looking at FN Five-seveN pistols on GunBroker, they’re tough to find for under $1,000. The semi-automatic PS90, a bullpup PDW that fires the same round, tends to cost quite a bit more.
When you consider that one can get a used 9mm, .40 S&W, or .45 ACP pistol for less than 1/3 the price or an an AR-15 that will shoot that same .224-caliber bullet at much higher velocities, it makes little sense for anyone in the criminal industry to waste their time and money on guns chambered in 5.7x28mm.
Sure, you’ll find the occasional drug dealer with Liberace’s AK who could afford to waste money on a P90 if they were big fans of Stargate SG-1, but most criminals aren’t making that kind of money hand over fist. Spending less money on a weapon that’s far more effective (nearly any rifle and most pistols) makes more sense. Economics are hard to ignore,
even especially if you’re a criminal.
What The Round Was Actually Made For
In fact, the round was originally invented for military personnel “in the rear with the gear”, or in other roles where combat isn’t the main job. It’s no substitute for a real rifle with intermediate ammo like 5.56mm NATO, full-power 7.62x51mm NATO, or similar rounds used by other militaries.
5.7x28mm is actually a compromise round. It’s designed to give better penetration than a 9mm pistol, but only when used with the armor piercing ammo that isn’t available to the public in the U.S. The main benefit is that the P90 bullpup is lighter, smaller, and easier to carry for military personnel not serving in combat roles. Nobody in military who’s out looking for trouble would be carrying such a weapon unless there was a very specific need for something small, light, and concealable that could outperform common pistol calibers.
The most common users of the P90 globally are special forces and law enforcement, and usually for the needs described above. Special forces use it for its light weight and capacity. One university police department I know adopted the gun because it would be easier for an officer to carry around, less bulky or visible than an AR-15, and gives a lot of capacity for a short-range fight with an active shooter.
Even then, the department’s officers keep an AR in their trunk and would prefer to run into a situation with that, if they have the time or are responding in their vehicle.
Another well-known user of the caliber is the U.S. Secret Service. They use P90s for similar reasons as the officers described in the last paragraph, but also benefit from the gun’s concealability.
The round had gained new popularity before the ammo bust with the addition of the Ruger-57 and firearms like the CMMG Banshee Mk57 and Diamondback DBX57. But those were introduced in The Time Before, when 5.7×28 was readily available in stores and online. There’s no telling when that kind of sanity will return to the ammunition market.
Given all of this, no law enforcement official who actually knows what he’s talking about can honestly call the5.7×28 a “cop killer” round. But that doesn’t make for salacious headlines.