There’s a slow but steady increase in support for 5.7x28mm, the niche PDW cartridge that’s now a niche handgun cartridge. Industry support hasn’t matched the buzz, and in a lot of ways still doesn’t.
However…that’s starting to change. Is it worth a second look?
The New Wave Of 5.7x28mm
Most new handgun cartridges don’t get a second act. There’s some initial adoption, but a lot of people tend to realize it doesn’t do anything all that special outside of maybe some niche use, and it withers away to nothing.
.357 Sig is dead. .30 Super Carry is not off to the hottest of starts.
Ruger released their Ruger-57 pistol in 2019, followed by the PSA 5.7 Rock pistol from Palmetto State Armory and the KelTec P50. Diamondback Firearms released AR uppers for it along with whole rifles, and Ruger released their own PCC in 5.7mm in late 2022.
It was also announced that Fiocchi would start making ammunition, a key component to a caliber’s success since more bullets means more supply which means lower prices and greater availability.
So…it would appear that 5.7mm is getting a second wind.
This begs the question of whether 5.7mm is something you should be interested in.
There Are Some Positives…
Besides the ability of armor-piercing ammunition to defeat soft 3A body armor, 5.7mm is impressive for its size but is hardly the ballistic terror that some people imagine.
The International Wound Ballistics Association – you can find their entire archive here – found in multiple test iterations that it neither penetrated nor created permanent cavities in ballistic gel or otherwise did anything that any other typical service cartridge didn’t do just as well, if not better.
It doesn’t produce hydrostatic shock nor make julienne fries, but neither is it proven to be totally ineffective. Recoil energy usually works out to about 70 percent of 9mm, meaning it’s about on par with .380 ACP from a compact to full-size gun.
The trajectory is certainly an attribute where some advantage emerges; the greater velocity forestalls any serious drop to well more than 100 yards. If you were to put a red dot on a 5.7mm pistol, such as the recently-debuted new model by FNH, it would have a serious advantage when shooting at a distance.
Real-World Use Cases For 5.7mm
There are some real-world use cases for 5.7mm. If you’re going to carry a full-size gun no matter what and have some sort of issue related to your hands (arthritis, injury, age, etc.) that precludes carrying 9mm, it’s actually a very viable choice.
If you like the idea of having less recoil in a full-size gun, but without worrying about bad rimfire priming (which does occur), then it’s a great choice. That also makes it viable as a pool weapon in the home, a home defense pistol that almost anyone would be able to shoot effectively.
If you wanted a pistol that you could carry for personal defense but could also shoot small game, it’s also a good choice. It’s not unheard of; plenty of people have done so with 9mm, and in the revolver era, .38 Special and .32 S&W (along with .32-20) were popular game-getters.
However, the downsides of higher running costs (expensive ammunition) and the fact that there aren’t (and likely won’t ever be) any compact 5.7mm pistols are real drawbacks in a lot of other contexts.
Body armor penetration is a fringe benefit at best (when a recorded instance of an armed civilian losing a gunfight to a threat wearing body armor emerges, we’ll let you know), and the carrying capacity is not as impressive (three more rounds than a Glock 17) as some portray.
Slide lock reloads don’t really occur in civilian shootings, and few gunfights have been lost because a handgun had a 17-round magazine instead of 20.
For the average person, the juice may not be worth the squeeze…but there’s enough virtue to justify its existence. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun to shoot.