The double-action first-shot self-loading pistol continues being popular because many shooters are uncomfortable with the requirement to keep a single-action pistol cocked and locked, hammer back, safety on. Others do not trust the lack of a manual safety in the double-action-only pistol. These shooters are more comfortable with a long first-shot double-action trigger press. The double-action first shot seems to offer the best of both worlds. This is a prime example of handling features taking advantage over range performance. The double-action-first-shot pistol will never win a combat competition, but many personal-defense shooters favor it. The long double-action trigger is a safety feature that requires 10 pounds or more of pressure to fire the handgun. If you need real precision, you have the option of a crisp single-action trigger press. The double-action-first-shot action transferred to the polymer-frame handgun offers light weight, low maintenance, and low expense.
The FNH-USA FNP-9 USG Flat Dark Earth (FDE) 9mm, $599, is probably better suited as a holster gun for the Armed Services or as a home defender than for concealed carry, although it is light enough for concealed carry. The FNH is a result of the Armed Services requests for new pistol designs, although no contract test program or clear outline for specifications is forthcoming. No maker wishes to be left out of these competitions if they emerge. The pistol is available in 9mm, 40 S&W and 45 ACP.
We tested it in 9mm Luger caliber. The 9mm is still an immensely popular handgun, and improvements in bullet technology and the availability of 9mm +P and +P+ loads make the caliber suitable for personal defense. Truth be told, in such light handguns the 9mm caliber is all the average shooter is probably willing to master.
The FN is a businesslike pistol with a good appearance. The polymer frame is finished in earth tone. The frame is stippled in the right places, and unlike many polymer-frame guns, the stippling actually aids in holding the pistol. The backstrap may be fitted with either a curved or a flat backstrap panel. Most shooters found the flat strap the most comfortable. The curved strap would be best for those with very large hands. The magazine well looks cavernous. It is easy to quickly guide a tapered high-capacity magazine into the magazine well. The magazine release looked as if it would be easily engaged by accident, but the polymer molding that protects it does its job well.
The frame is molded with a rail for a combat light. The slide is wider than some, which is an issue if the pistol is carried concealed, but then the pistol is rated for NATO specification ammunition. We feel that this is the pistol with which to fire thousands of high-power rounds, if you so desire. The slide features forward cocking serrations and an external extractor that doubles as a loaded-chamber indicator. The FN uses the Glock/SIG-type lock up. The barrel butts into the ejection port to lock up, and there are angled cramming surfaces on the bottom barrel lugs.
The pistol fieldstrips easily, once you are certain the magazine is removed. Lock the slide to the rear, rotate the disassembly lever down, and the slide runs off the frame. The trigger action is smooth enough at 11 pounds in the double-action mode. The single-action trigger breaks at a clean 4 pounds. The ambidextrous decocker was easily handled. It is not likely to be actuated during firing, but it is well protected by bumps in the molded polymer frame. This version also featured the manual safety option. The safety may be applied while the hammer is cocked. More about this later.
Upon initial examination the only complaint our testers had was with the sights. The sights are average 1980s-style service sights. We would have liked to have seen larger sights with a more precise sight picture. FN missed a chance to offer a truly improved pistol. This is a fresh design with much to recommend it, but the sights left us cold. The frame seemed a little large as well, but comfortable enough.
We fired the pistol on the combat course at 7, 10, and 15 yards. The pistol was fast on target and controllable in rapid fire, with minimum muzzle flip. As double-action-first-shot pistols go, the pistol could be counted on for a fast hit as well as any others of the type. One of our raters, a military intelligence officer, was able to draw, work the trigger, and get a fast hit on the 8-inch gong at 15 yards every time. But he has plenty of time in with the double-action Beretta. He rated the FN a shade ahead of the Beretta, and found its 10-ounce-lighter frame welcome. Despite the light weight of the FN, all found the piece comfortable to fire.
A complaint was slow trigger reset. The main complaints came from 1911 and Glock shooters, who are used to a rapid trigger reset. The FN reset is comparable to the SIG double-action pistol in this regard. While a first-class handgun shooter may feel limited, in practical terms the FN may be fired as quickly and accurately as any other double-action pistol at close range. We found the FNs cadence of fire is set not by how quickly you are able to press the trigger, but by how quickly you are able to realign the sights.
During the course of our evaluation we let several of our raters run the pistol for function, with favorable results. The FN went 300 rounds without cleaning. There were no failures to feed, chamber, fire, or eject. The magazines fell free, allowing rapid magazine changes. The only negative comment was concerning the sights. We did not ask for comparisons to other action types but rather rated the pistol on its own merits as a double-action design.
One advantage noted by experienced shooters was the on Safe option. Even though all agreed they would carry a double-action pistol off Safe at ready, the ability to quickly place the safety on during tactical movement was appreciated. Rather than decocking the pistol for safety, you might simply place the safety on and take cover, not resorting to decocking the hammer and working the long double-action trigger again.
After we had carefully cleaned the pistol, we conducted accuracy tests with three different loads. We were gratified by the accuracy of the pistol. A minor drawback was sight regulation. The pistol fired 2 inches high plus a little to the left. A drift with a punch adjusted the sights for proper windage. A few groups of five shots at 25 yards were well under 2 inches, but, overall, the pistol gave a 2-inch average.
Our Team Said: The FN pistol performed flawlessly with perfect reliability. Accuracy was good. The pistol was comfortable to fire and the controls were crisp. There were two things we did not like. The pistol was more bulky in the grip than necessary, but that is an attribute of the breed. There was little excuse for the poor sights. FN missed a chance to provide first-class sights on its new pistol. The FN came with three magazines. That is unheard of these days. Despite the poor sights, the FN was more accurate than others we have shot. The takedown and handling made for easy maintenance. The FN is the better buy.