Spring in the Bluegrass State is always a special time, but for some folks, 2015 was an especially good year. The NRA hosted its Annual Meetings & Exhibits in Louisville, Kentucky, and a surprise announcement added to the excitement of the spectacle. Heckler & Koch introduced a new 9mm pistol called the SP5K, a variant of HK’s world-renowned MP5 platform. It looks like a submachine gun but is actually a civilian-legal semi-automatic weapon that, for us older folks, looked hauntingly familiar.
Some Recent History
The late 1980s and 1990s were a dark period for gun owners in the United States. President Ronald Reagan kicked off a series of gun-control initiatives by signing off on the post-1986 machine gun ban. President George H.W. Bush then implemented his 1989 import ban on semi-automatic rifles under the guise of protecting American citizens from foreign “assault rifles.”
Needing no encouragement, President William J. Clinton subsequently piled on with executive orders, including having the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (BATFE) revisit the sporting purposes provision and re-grade certain firearms being imported into the country. Additionally, he penned his own import bans on “assault weapons” in 1993 and 1998. He also signed one of the most infamous pieces of gun-control legislation in our country’s history—the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994—which eventually expired in 2004.
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Heckler & Koch’s entire product line was directly affected by those initiatives. No longer able to export variants of its extremely popular MP5 rifles (the HK94 and other product lines) into the United States because of the 1989 ban, HK tried to keep the series relevant to gun owners in America by manufacturing and exporting a pistol variant called the SP89. This model was available only for a few years until Clinton’s 1993 import ban took effect.
At that point, consumer access to HK’s most popular firearms of the time was effectively limited to the used, pre-ban market, driving prices skyward quickly. That was true with the SP89, which, even today, commands prices of $4,000 or more. Right now, as I write this, a new-in-box SP89 is currently listed online for $8,000.
With the high prices on pre-ban firearms, Heckler & Koch saw the opportunity to bring back an old favorite. The company decided to feed our nostalgia by bringing another variant of the venerable MP5 to the American market in the form of the SP5K. (The “SP” stands for “sporting pistol.”)
In fact, the SP5K is almost identical to the MP5K except for a couple of components that make it compliant with U.S. law. Along with the update, the SP5K has a quick-release Picatinny rail, not sold with the SP89, for mounting optics or other accessories.
Whereas the MP5K can go fully automatic with a flip of the giggle switch, the SP5K is built as a semi-automatic only. Also, there is no stock or vertical foregrip on the SP5K, as those items would catapult it into NFA territory because it’s designated as a pistol, not as a short-barreled rifle.
The SP5K operates via HK’s roller-delayed blowback operating system—a time-proven design known for its accuracy and reliability. This operating system was licensed to HK by Ludwig Vorgrimler, who is also known for his work on the Spanish CETME 58 rifle, where the design originated. That design was also used in other popular HK firearms, including the G3 rifle.
Chambered in 9mm, the round most associated with the MP5 line, the SP5K has all of the charm of its predecessors. Like the old Model Ts offered by Henry Ford, you can have the SP5K in any color as long as it’s black. It sports a 4.53-inch barrel with a handguard for user safety. It weighs 4.2 pounds unloaded—and there’s the rub.
The Case For The SP5K
Aside from the exemplary quality and craftsmanship obvious in the construction of the SP5K, you might wonder about the point of an oversized, 4.2-pound 9mm pistol. With other pistols based on carbines or subguns, I often wonder the same thing—especially when the barrel is extremely short.
However, the SP5K is currently the closest thing to an HK MP5 that normal citizens can buy new in the U.S. Yes, there are some great clones on the market, but this is the real deal. Lots of folks would like to own the SP5K because of what it is more than what it does. I get that and will own up to my occasional leanings in that direction.
A more powerful motive, though, is to use the SP5K as a platform for an SBR. Now this where things get interesting. You can purchase a factory folding stock and affix it to the SP5K along with other trimmings, provided you get the necessary approval from those nice people with the federal government.
This, in effect, would create your own PDW, minus the select-fire option. Yes, it’s still only a semi-automatic 9mm with a 4.53-inch barrel, but it’s a much more stable shooting platform than a standard 9mm pistol. Additionally, the increased capacity of the two included 30-round magazines adds something to the mix, as does the ability to run a red-dot sight.
With the PDW in mind, I got my hands on one of Hazard 4’s Defense Courier messenger bags to pair with the SP5K for the review. This is a multi-function bag that can be used to carry everything from a laptop to a firearm to tactical gear—all concurrently if needed. It rides flat when carrying only something like a laptop, but its construction lets the bag build out while adding more gear, and it carries much more than you would think at first.
The Defense Courier comes with an internal loop panel that can be used to attach a concealed-carry holster. It also has MOLLE loops under the flap on the front of the bag and on the sides to mount accessory pouches. Throughout the bag, there are more than 16 differently sized pockets to carry everything from ink pens to smoke grenades.
In its factory state, the SP5K fits nicely into the padded laptop compartment. But if you went the NFA route and attached a folding stock, there’s more than enough room in the main compartment for the SP5K with an inserted magazine and a mounted reflex sight. And, if you so choose, there’s more than ample room to insert a ballistic panel.
The shoulder strap is padded with an extremely comfortable material that makes carrying the bag an easy process. Additionally, the top flap has a full-length zipper for easy access to a weapon inside without having to undo the buckles. The execution of the bag’s design is sublime, and its comfort, quality and capacity are exceptional.
Earning Its Keep
Having shot a fully automatic MP5 in the past and having read the glowing reviews about the line during the past three decades, there were no surprises from the SP5K at the range. Everything was as it was supposed to be, and with an MP5 variant, that’s a high bar. Its reliability with various types of ammunition was exceptional, as was its accuracy. There were no malfunctions.
During the accuracy testing, I ran a Vortex Optics SPARC II on top of the SP5K for the most precision at 25 yards. Although the pistol wasn’t locked down in any type of machine rest, its ample weight helped reduce the recoil significantly, keeping it from shifting around on the bag rest and helping it stay on target.
I used premium hollow-point loads provided by Federal and Sig Sauer to gauge the weapon’s accuracy. All of the loads turned out excellent results, with the best group coming at just 0.88 inches with Sig Sauer’s 147-grain V-Crown JHPs. The average group size for each of the loads was 2.21 inches or less.
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The shooting process was a lot of fun. From the first slap of the charging handle to the last, the experience of shooting a firearm based on one of the world’s finest shooting platforms was heady stuff. Shooting a massive pistol like the SP5K can be a bit awkward (no stock here), but HK included a bungee sling in the extremely rugged, waterproof hard case from the factory. The sling helps stabilize the weapon a bit as you push the weapon out to create tension and steady any movement.
There is a small stop on the handguard to prevent your hand from moving up in front of the barrel, though I’m still a little leery and would prefer a vertical foregrip, but of course that’s a no-go without the tax stamp.
While using the front diopter sight in conjunction with the rotary rear sight with various aperture sizes, getting on target was fast and easy, as would be expected for a weapon of this type. The SP5K has an ambidextrous safety selector that was easy to manipulate positively and was conspicuously marked.
Making center-mass shots at 25 yards was simple, though the trigger on the test gun broke at about 7.5 pounds. This is to be expected because its fully automatic brethren need heavier triggers to prevent accidental discharges, but the trigger pull isn’t up there with the best offered by modern pistols.
Déjà Vu All Over Again
I had an opportunity to buy an SP89 many moons ago when I worked in a gun store in Raleigh, North Carolina, and I passed on that chance. If I remember right, I could have picked one up for about $650 to $700. Now look at the prices. Although the MSRP of $2,699 for the SP5K isn’t for the faint-hearted, it’s significantly less than what’s on the pre-ban market today.
The HK SP5K isn’t standard fare for the average pistol customer. It’s aimed at discerning folks who want to have a piece of history in their collection or want to use it as a platform for their next SBR. Some might want to carry it as is for the ultimate compromise in firepower and concealability. What better weapon could fill such a role than a variant of what many believe is one of the best firearms in the world?
History tends to repeat itself, and who knows—maybe the SP5K could demand even higher prices 25 years from now. Whether it’s going to be kept in a safe for posterity or carried as a personal defense weapon, the SP5K carries on a tradition of excellence that will do its duty well, no matter its intended role.
Barrel: 4.53 inches
OA Length: 13.9 inches
Weight: 4.2 pounds (empty)
Sights: Diopter front, rotary rear
Finish: Matte black