FN 509 Tactical

Battle-Ready Freedom Fighter
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With a can installed, the 509 Tactical is set for suppressed action in low light conditions.

In the beginning there was the 1911 and the P-08 Luger. These two iconic combat pistols represented Good versus Evil through two World Wars. For nearly a century the state of the art languished as the nuances shifted a bit, but not by much. Then somebody thoroughly re-evaluated the combat handgun and the whole earth moved.

Nowadays, the cutting-edge tactical pistol is unflinchingly reliable and includes a removable suppressor, a railed dust cover for cool-guy stuff and an electronic micro red-dot sight. Such a gun packs plenty of onboard ammo, sports elevated suppressor-friendly sights and looks cool doing it. At the very edge of this rarefied performance envelope resides the spanking new FN 509 Tactical. If it were a girl, it’d be the one your mother warned you about.


FN 509 Tactical

In the Beginning

Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre first drew breath in 1889 in Herstal, Belgium. Their initial major contract was for 150,000 Mauser Model 89 rifles for the Belgian military. In 1897 they entered into a long-term relationship with John Moses Browning, the most prolific arms designer in human history. Browning keeled over from heart failure toiling at his workbench at the FN plant in 1926.

FN made cars, motorcycles and trucks alongside military small arms for more than a century. They made their last motorcycle in 1965 and their final truck five years later. Since then, FN Herstal has focused on what they do best. The company makes — arguably — the finest weapons in the world.

FN machineguns permeate the United States military today. I wielded an early M249 SAW back when I wore the uniform. The M240 in various configurations has displaced the flawed M60 in U.S. Army service.

Nobody on the planet shares FN’s breadth of experience. An FN Model 1910 in the hands of a young misguided ideologue named Gavrilo Princip precipitated World War 1. The GP35 Hi-Power pistol jointly conceived by Browning and Dieudonne Saive went on to inspire almost all of the world’s combat handguns.

The FAL rifle was described as “The Free World’s Right Arm” and equipped the militaries of more than 90 nations throughout the Cold War. The FN SCAR, P90 and F2000 define the current state of the art in military small arms. Now, their new 509 Tactical takes everything about combat pistols to a new level of performance.


Gun Stats

The new 509 Tactical remains at heart a Browning locked-breech, short-recoil, tilting-lock action. This basic system is close to perfect so it need not be unduly molested. The 509 Tactical evolved from the FNS, the gun FN submitted for the U.S. Army’s XM17 Modular Handgun System competition. In production since 2011, the FNS comes in several different configurations as well as 9mm and .40 S&W chamberings. The newest 509 Tactical is the ultimate evolution of the modern combat handgun.

The frame is polymer, and the whole shebang is outfitted in Flat Dark Earth. I live in Mississippi and haven’t seen a proper desert since I was a soldier 20 years ago because my home state shares more in common with a Cambodian jungle than an Iraqi desert during the summer. Still, I think tan firearms look awesome.

The gun has a nice striker-fired trigger with a built-in pivoting safety. Most other folks opt for a blade safety but I think the pivoting sort is just a wee bit more comfortable. There are also plenty of safety mechanisms embedded within that you cannot readily see.

The controls are perfectly replicated on both sides of the gun. This means the slide release and magazine catch are comparably handy no matter your natural “handedness.” The 15 percent of the human population that is left-handed (and perennially discriminated against) should be thrilled.

The back straps are interchangeable to suit various hand sizes and the grip is magnificently stippled most everywhere. There are cocking grooves both front and rear and the dustcover is naturally railed for attachments. The sights are radioactive for use both day and night, and the top deck is cut to accept all manner of micro red dot sights. The rear plate that is used in the absence of an electronic sight incorporates the neatest wings that wrap around the rear sight to guard it against rough handling. The end result forms a uniquely pleasing sight picture. The sights are elevated for use with a sound suppressor installed.

The guys at FN know combat guns and appreciate we would sooner not have to buy a bunch of extra magazines for our spanking new pistol. As a result they include one 17-round flush-fitting box along with a brace of extended 24-round magazines with the gun. The longer mags include polymer spacers to facilitate a comfortable grip. If you cannot solve your problems with 66 rounds of 9mm jacketed hollowpoint you should consider finding some different problems.

The lines of the gun cut a pleasantly sinister vibe and the layout of the weapon is prescient. The 509 Tactical leads the current trend of melding a full-sized grip for optimal control with a slightly abbreviated slide for easy portage and concealability. The end result is a compact combat tool that is exceptionally controllable. Everything comes tucked into the finest soft case in the business.


The pistol comes with a spare recoil spring assembly for use with lower power ammo such as frangible rounds.

Lights, Sights, Sound

The can I used for my testing was a Gemtech GM9. Gemtech made sound suppressors in America when nobody else was making sound suppressors in America. Their flagship GM9 is a monocore design meaning the baffle stack is cut from a single cylinder of 7075 aluminum while the registered bit is an otherwise unremarkable tube. The GM9 includes a Linear Inertial Decoupler to ensure reliable operation on recoil-operated handguns.

The GM9 strikes a balance between performance and size. The can is small enough to avoid occluding the sights unduly yet large enough to excise much of the snap from the gun’s report. You’ll need to run subsonic ammo and spritz a little ablative material down the snout to make it truly easy on the ears. However, should you ever have to touch the thing off for real indoors in tight spaces with friendlies around, it’s perfect.

The TLR-8 from Streamlight combines a 500-lumen brilliant white light with a 640nm red laser in a chassis not much larger than my thumb. The light runs for 1.5 hours on a single CR123 battery and sports intuitive controls that are easy to manage under pressure. The whole rig only weighs 2.64 oz.

I have had to use the TLR-8 for real when investigating glass breaking in my home late at night and can attest to its phenomenal capability, particularly given its diminutive size. The TLR-8 is armored-vehicle tough and comes at a reasonable price. It’s the perfect match for a high performance handgun like the 509 Tactical.

The micro red dot sight I used during range testing comes from Holosun. The company’s motto is “Military-grade optics without the military-grade price.” This is not an inaccurate statement. In addition to rugged construction and an automatic on- and off-function that keeps the sight running when you are moving and goes to sleep when you aren’t, the newest Holosun micro red dot also includes a photodiode on the top that is just too cool for school.

This photodiode provides power to operate the sight and subsequently offers multiple years of service out of a single backup battery. It also automatically brightens and dims the reticle to compensate for ambient conditions.


The verdict? The 509 Tactical — here outfitted with a Holosun optical sight — is tomorrow’s
combat handgun: feels good, looks cool, runs great! Photo: Will Dabbs, MD

The 509 Tactical digested every round stuffed into the long magazines without a belch.
These 15-meter groups show the tricked-out gun drops them right where you want them.
Photo: Will Dabbs, MD

Trigger Time

So how does she run? I’ll admit to having become a bit of a trigger snob and tend to turn up my long Roman nose at guns that are almost but not quite perfect. In the case of the tricked-out FN 509 Tactical pistol this really is everything you could possibly want in a modern combat handgun.

The trigger is designed for combat. This means it has a predictable take-up and positive break without being so ethereal as to be dangerous. Like a proper fighting tool, the 509 Tactical is safe when it needs to be safe and lethal when it needs to be lethal.

With all the ancillary stuff attached, onboard recoil is a joke. The gun runs fast in experienced hands, and ambidextrous everything offers unparalleled flexibility. I don’t shoot weak-handed as much as I once did but the 509 Tactical really doesn’t care what hand you use.

Those extraordinary 24-round 9mm magazines will keep you running and gunning long after lesser guns would have called it a day. The one thing I have never heard a real combat veteran say was a desire to have less onboard ammo. As the fastest magazine change is the one you don’t have to make, the 509 Tactical offers unparalleled capacity.

There were naturally no failures with anything we fed it and the gun shot remarkably straight. The 509 Tactical comes with a spare recoil spring assembly for use with frangible and underpowered loads but we didn’t need it. Everything from the gun’s aesthetic to the cool padded case it comes in synergistically combines to become something greater than the parts. The FN 509 Tactical is a class act from muzzle to butt.


FN 509 Tactical

Wrap-Up Review

You’ll not find anything better to leave in your nightstand than an FN 509 Tactical with a Gemtech suppressor, Streamlight light and laser, and a Holosun micro red dot. I cannot fathom a more efficient close quarters combat implement. Additionally, strip all that stuff off and the 509 Tactical will legitimately hide underneath an untucked shirt for a quick trip to the grocery.

If you are downrange defending freedom the 509 Tactical will do everything you need it to do whether you are in your full battle rattle or off-duty in civvies. The same litany of nicely reasoned tactical features will serve you well if your office is a squad car or you just covet the world’s best home defense gun. The FN 509 Tactical is the end result of generations of small arms evolution and it really is everything you could want in a modern combat handgun.

Editor’s Note: Due to logistical considerations, our studio photographer employed a SureFire suppressor and light whereas the author used a Gemtech suppressor and Streamlight weapon light during testing.

FN, Ph.: (703) 288-3500

Gemtech, Ph.: (833) 350-9517

Streamlight, Ph.: (800) 523-7488

Holosun, Ph.: (909) 594-2888

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