The history of the FN FAL is replete with stories of hard men who chose the 7.62x51mm NATO-chambered rifle, officially Fabrique Nationale’s Fusil Automatique Léger or “Light Automatic Rifle,” when lives depended on their successes. Not because it was all they had, but because it was considered by experts—those same hard men—to be the best available.
In current times, FN FAL admirers always seem to have a moment they can point to that led to developing their burgeoning love of this famous rifle. And, that affection has carried the popularity of the FAL over from military use into the realm of LE rifles for these enthusiasts, due to its enviable combination of impressive power and top-tier performance.
The first example to come to mind was the Falklands War in 1982. That conflict provides what might be called a double header, because both sides were equipped with
members of the FN FAL family! The British were armed with their L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle (SLR), an “inch pattern” FAL, which was manufactured in England under FN license. The Argentines, on the other hand, were using two versions of the FAL, also manufactured under FN license. It’s actually not that surprising for opponents to use the same rifle, considering the FAL was adopted by over 90 countries. The FAL’s popularity continues today, and significant numbers of these rifles were found in Iraq when it was conquered.
This is all great, but how does it fit into law enforcement? Weapons used in law enforcement need several characteristics: Durability, reliability, a cartridge powerful enough to get the job done with sufficient accuracy, and good ergonomics. The battlefield-proven FAL works and works—under all conditions. That durability and reliability is directly related to the gas-operated, short-stroke piston system riding above the barrel and the ability to adjust the amount of gas utilized as needed, which improves reliability.
Ergonomically, the FAL has excellent handling characteristics. It points well and has controls that are easy to operate. Finally, the FAL family is blessed with a powerful cartridge. Today, we see the 5.56x45mm compared to the 7.62x51mm frequently, especially when discussions of the former’s poor performance overseas arise. LEOs, particularly those riding the backroads of this country alone—long minutes from the nearest response—can make use of this power, defeating hardened targets and delivering effective hits on opponents, something 5.56mm carbines may not be able to do. Officers frequently cannot postpone encounters until someone arrives with a more effective rifle.
An enthusiast of the FN FAL, Dave Selvaggio founded DS Arms (DSA) in the 1980s to acquire hard-to-find FAL parts and import complete FALs from various countries. As time passed, Dave began manufacturing a few parts. In the bargain of the century, Selvaggio obtained all the tooling and blueprints used to manufacture Austria’s version of the FAL, the Steyr StG58. Along with this came a huge amount of spare parts. This led to DSA selling a number of StG58s, to which they added some parts manufactured in the U.S., at definite bargain prices. I couldn’t resist purchasing one at the time.