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Reviews : Arsenal

Kel-Tec PLR-16 .223 Handgun

September 01, 2006  |  by Mike Detty - Also by this author


Weighing just over three pounds, the Kel-Tec PLR-16 is ideal for situations that preclude using a full-size weapon.

If there were a weapon that provided 60 percent more power than your standard sidearm yet weighed less than half of what a traditional AR-15 carbine does, without sacrificing accuracy, it would get your attention, right? Well, Kel-Tec has just introduced an AR-style pistol that weighs just over three pounds, takes M-16 mags, and possesses laser-like accuracy. After having fired nearly 1,000 rounds through my evaluation sample, I have to say that this pistol has got my attention.

Called the PLR-16 (Pistol Long Range), the gun’s receivers are made from Zytel, the tough, impact-resistant polymer. My initial reaction was that the plastic gun would not be tough enough to stand up to the rigors of law enforcement work. Which was the same opinion voiced by military brass when Eugene Stoner introduced the rifle that would become the M-16, made largely with aluminum alloys. But what has to be understood is that the steel bolt locks into the steel barrel extension and the aluminum alloy, in the case of the M-16, and the plastic, in the PLR-16’s case, bear no mechanical stress. After my short evaluation, I couldn’t find any signs of wear on the Zytel receivers.

Kel-Tec’s minimal use of steel in this pistol helps cut the gun’s weight. But another big factor in weight reduction is that the PLR-16 does not have the traditional buffer and buffer tube (receiver extension if we want the nomenclature to be correct) that the M-16 does. The omission of this appendage gives the PLR-16 incredibly good handling characteristics.

Innovative Engineering

Over the years I’ve tried to build a number of AR pistols and could never get them to cycle correctly because of the buffer spring and buffer combination. Kel-Tec’s CEO and chief design engineer, George Kelgren, ingeniously solved this problem and, in my opinion, created an improved gas system for his pistol. Rather than bleed gas from the barrel back into the receiver to force the bolt carrier rearward like the AR-15 and M-16 rifles, Kelgren attached a piston rod to his bolt carrier. This design keeps gas that can foul the weapon out of the receiver. He was able to eliminate the buffer tube and buffer by wrapping the action spring around the piston rod.

The bolt handle is located on the right side of the receiver. In my opinion, it would have been handier to have it on the other side so that the operator could charge the chamber without releasing his firing grip with his or her right hand. As it is, the user can reach over with his or her left hand and pull the bolt handle to the rear and release it. The bolt handle does reciprocate so the user must make sure that nothing, especially body parts, gets in the way of the bolt handle as it cycles.


Half the size and weight of a conventional AR carbine, the Kel-Tec PLR-16 still has far more horsepower than a conventional sidearm.

Fitting It Out

Iron sights come standard issue on the PLR-16. The rear sight is adjustable for windage and the M-16-style front sight can be rotated for elevation by pushing in a detent pin and turning the sight. To be completely honest, I never did use the iron sights during the evaluation. Instead, I mounted an EOTech 512 holographic sight on the pistol. To my way of thinking the EOTech is the perfect sight for the Kel-Tec. Because of the pistol’s limited range, I could see no reason to put a scope on the gun. Designed to be used with both eyes open, the EOTech offers extremely fast target-to-target transition.

To give the PLR-16 night-fighting capability I mounted an Insight Technology M6X laser/light combination on the Picatinny rail on the handguard. I was able to get it quickly dialed in by making the laser match the aiming point of the EOTech.

Kel-Tec ships the PLR-16 without handguards. For those that use the gun for target shooting or hunting this might be all right, but if you intend to do any kind of rapid fire exercises with the pistol you will absolutely have to get the optional handguards. After just a few quick shots the barrel becomes hot enough to scorch skin, and it’s awfully easy to inadvertently grasp the barrel with your support hand. Believe me the handguards are an absolute must! And it only takes a few seconds to install them. Note: They feature a Picatinny rail at their bottom for mounting accessories like the M6X light/laser.

The addition of a vertical fore grip on the PLR-16 would undoubtedly aid in the control of the pistol and make rapid fire much more controllable, but doing so will require even sworn law enforcement to jump through some federal hoops. To quote an ATF newsletter to dealers addressing this issue: “ATF has long held that by installing a vertical fore grip on a handgun, the handgun is no longer designed to be held and fired by the use of a single hand. Therefore, if individuals install a vertical fore grip on a handgun, they are ‘making’ a firearm requiring registration with ATF’s NFA Branch. Making an unregistered ‘AOW’ (Any Other Weapon) is punishable by a fine and 10 years’ imprisonment. Additionally, possession of an unregistered ‘AOW’ is also punishable by a fine and 10 years’ imprisonment.”

If you use a PLR-16 pistol for duty, or any pistol for that matter and want to attach a vertical foregrip, make sure beforehand that you have completed the necessary paperwork to stay on the right side of the law.

For tactical use, the optional sling system is also a must. Kel-Tec’s kit includes a steel sling loop, mounting screws, and the sling itself. Once properly adjusted, the sling makes the pistol almost as stable as a stocked weapon. When not being used, the weapon hangs conveniently at the ready. Because of the gun’s light weight, about three pounds without a magazine, it is not a chore to carry the PLR-16 around the neck and shoulder.

The magazine release for the PLR-16 is in the Stoner-inspired location and is easy to manipulate with the trigger finger. One 10-round magazine is included with the pistol, but it will accept any M-16 magazine and they drop free when the release is depressed. I used a bunch of 30-round mags, and they all worked well and locked the bolt to the rear when empty.

Unfortunately, the safety on the PLR-16 is not in the same location as that of the M-16. More than once I caught myself sweeping the left side of the receiver with my thumb trying to find the safety. In actuality, the safety is a crossbolt safety located just above the trigger. In fact, my one biggest criticism of this pistol is that I have to relinquish my firing grip to take the gun off safe. I found that I had to move my hand off the grip about a half inch to push the safety from right to left to make it ready to fire. Fortunately, it is easy to use your thumb to put the weapon back on safe.

Tags: Kel-Tec, Firearms Reviews, Duty Pistols, Insight Tech Gear

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Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

avaparker @ 1/31/2011 1:37 PM

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jamesstewart @ 2/26/2011 1:37 PM

The magazine release for the PLR-16 is in the Stoner-inspired location and is easy to manipulate with the trigger finger. One 10-round magazine is included with the pistol, but it will accept any M-16 magazine and they drop free when the release is depressed. I used a bunch of 30-round mags, and they all worked well and locked the bolt to the rear when empty.
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