When Kahr Arms rolled out the K9 in 1996, it was the smallest 9mm semi-auto pistol on the market. The single-stack, double-action-only K9 displayed impeccable workmanship. I had the opportunity to evaluate that weapon when it was first released, and I was so impressed with it that I sold the single-action Star Firestar that had been my concealed-carry pistol and bought the test gun from Kahr.
Despite all of its benefits, the K9 has one shortcoming: It is heavy. Weighing in at 23 ounces, the steel frame gun is by no means a lightweight. Kahr worked for a couple years trying to develop an alloy frame pistol but was unhappy with its life expectancy and instead turned its attention to plastic.
In 2000, Kahr introduced the P9, a lightweight, polymer-framed version of the original K9. Other models followed, including the P40, a polymer .40 S&W version, and the PM9, an abbreviated version of the P9.
Justin Moon is the man behind the Kahr family of guns. Not only is he the president and CEO of Kahr Arms, he is also the designer of the K9 pistol. An avid shooter, Moon wanted to combine the best features of his favorite pistols. For inspiration he looked at the Glock and its striker-fired, hammerless slide, but he also wanted a smooth double-action trigger like on his SIG.
The resulting Kahr pistol looks very much like a marriage of a Glock and a SIG. Kahr's double-action-only trigger reminds me of a very light and smooth revolver trigger without having the mass of the cylinder to rotate. It's slick without any hitches and stacks just slightly before breaking.
The K9's weight makes it an easy gun to shoot and very easy to control. But the other factor that affects perceived recoil is the pistol's low bore axis. The closer the barrel sits to the shooter's hand the less muzzle flip there will be. To get the barrel low on the K9, Moon ingeniously placed the trigger mechanism next to the feedramp instead of underneath it like most other double-action autos. This simple innovation makes the K9 and the rest of the Kahr family a joy to shoot.
From Steel to Plastic
It took two years to develop the polymer Kahr guns, but it was time well spent. The result was a pistol that is more than 30-percent lighter than the K9. And because the grips are actually molded into the polymer frame, the grip circumference is 20 percent less than the K9. This design has made the P9 an especially good pick for shooters with small hands.
Kahr molds a stainless-steel insert into the plastic frame so that the slide reciprocates on stainless rails, and there is no steel-to-plastic contact. The grip area is textured for a secure hold and the magazine well is beveled for speed reloads.
Though the P9 possesses the same outward dimensions as the K9, I wondered if its lighter weight would be a factor in controllability. I spent a good amount of time at the range with both the K9 and P9 and practiced double taps on a steel target placed at a distance of 15-yards. Using a PACT electronic timer, I was able to measure the amount of time between shots. What I found was that the lighter polymer frame gun was every bit as controllable as the steel frame gun. There was no difference in my splits, or time between shots, which averaged about 30/100ths of a second.
Making It Smaller
Despite the light weight and diminutive dimensions of the P9, there were requests for an even smaller gun. It seems to be a trend that the entire market is experiencing and we, the "consumers," are the beneficiaries of the competition between manufacturers.
Kahr's Justin Moon was able to cut a half inch from the slide and barrel and also trim a half inch from the grip frame. The result is the PM9, a pistol that is 11 percent lighter than the "full size" P9 and has an overall length 7/10ths of an inch less. It's an incredibly painless gun to carry, and concealing this snub nose semi-auto is almost effortless.
All of the sharp edges are removed from the steel parts on the PM9, so there's nothing to cut you or your expensive holsters or clothing. And grenade-style checkering on the front and rear strap provides you with a secure firing grip.
There are only two external controls on the PM9: its slide release and the magazine release. Both are unobtrusive and do not detract from the gun's slim dimensions.
The pistol shares the same incredibly smooth double-action-only trigger that's common to the Kahr line. My test sample's trigger broke with just over seven pounds of pressure, though it felt much lighter.
It also shares the same fixed bar/dot sights as its bigger brother. In fact, there's really not that much difference between the PM9 and the P9 other than the PM9's abbreviated size. If you look carefully at the pictures, you'll see that the right side of the PM9's slide is stamped "stainless." This isn't a mistake. The slide is actually machined from a stainless billet but is coated with Kahr's new finish option: Tungsten DLC.[PAGEBREAK]
Paint It Black
A couple of years back Kahr decided to discontinue carbon steel guns and manufacture all slides and steel frames from stainless steel. Most consumers liked the corrosion resistance of stainless.
However, Kahr quickly discovered that not all consumers wanted bright and shiny guns. In dim light, the glint of a stainless slide being withdrawn by an undercover operative could lead to fatal complications.
To solve this problem and darken the stainless slide, Kahr flirted briefly with baked-on Teflon used by many manufacturers but found the results less than satisfactory. The economy of the finish was appealing to Kahr, but it soon discovered that the cosmetics were short-lived. Kahr tried another process that required substantial heat. This actually changed the metal's molecular structure and made it more brittle. Finally, Kahr developed its proprietary Tungsten Diamond-Like-Coating (Tungsten DLC), which uses a process called Plasma Assisted Chemical Vapor Deposition to coat the parts.
Tungsten DLC is applied in a vacuum chamber where cathodes transform the tungsten into a gas that plates the parts. The process increases the surface hardness to a whopping 90 on the Rockwell C scale. Just for comparison, your average 1911 frame will register about 28 to 30 on the same scale.
One of the best selling points of the Diamond-Like Coating is that the parts are never heated over 300 degrees Fahrenheit, so there's no need to worry about the parts losing their temper, softening, or becoming brittle. Also, only about two microns of the material is deposited on the slide. In case you're wondering, that amounts to about 80 millionths of an inch-far too little to affect the parts' function or fit.
Kahr's Tungsten DLC thoroughly impresses me. Not only does it perform its intended task of coloring the bright stainless steel to a matte, non-reflective black, it also provides a tough, corrosion-proof covering that is virtually scratch proof. And it will not wear even when subjected to extensive holster carry. For a gun that will be used exclusively for concealed carry, the Tungsten DLC finish makes a lot of sense.
I have to admit that I was prepared to cut the Kahr PM9 a little slack. After all, it's an abbreviated version of an already small gun that's biggest selling feature is its tiny size and its ability to be secreted just about anywhere. But the trimmed dimensions of the PM9 didn't really affect its accuracy.
Firing from a rest, I was able to place five shots into a group just 2.25 inches with Winchester's 147-grain Silver Tip hollow points. Keep in mind, this is from a subcompact semi-auto pistol with a barrel just three inches in length and a double-action-only trigger. That's remarkable.
Moving from the range out to the desert, I put the PM9 through some other exercises that did nothing but increase my appreciation of the little Kahr. I set up a Target Pro mannequin at seven yards and used my PACT timer to see just how quickly I could empty the gun. From the first shot to the last, my time averaged less than 2.5 seconds and all seven rounds impacted in an area smaller than a grapefruit. Splits ran about 35/100ths of a second, and I had a solid sight picture for each shot. For a gun that weighs just 14 ounces empty, that's incredible.
I did most of the shooting with the flush-fitting six-round magazine, with my pinky tucked underneath the floorplate. The extended seven-round mag provides the length needed for a comfortable firing grip but does sacrifice a certain degree of concealability.
I really like Kahr's PM9 pistol. It's lightweight, reliable, and more accurate than any gun its size has a right to be. Its petite dimensions and Tungsten DLC finish make it perfect for deep concealment or even off-duty carry. If you have the need for a small semi-auto take a look at the Kahr PM9. It has a lot to offer.
Mike Detty is an NRA-certified rifle, pistol, and shotgun instructor. A certified rangemaster and competition shooter, Detty served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps and holds a degree in criminal justice from the University of Arizona.