Several years ago I was in a local gun store when a sheriff's deputy walked in and asked to see an inexpensive .25 auto that was on display. He bought it, along with a box of ammo. And as the owner of the store and I watched, he loaded the little pistol, slipped it into the side pocket of his trousers, and started out the door.

The store owner asked him if he would like to test fire it out on the range behind the shop, and he answered, "Nah, I'll probably never use it anyhow." While the odds are the deputy was correct when he said, "I'll probably never use it," the store owner and I were both left a bit aghast.

The choice of a backup/off-duty handgun deserves just as much attention as the choice of your service pistol. If used on duty it will be under the most dire circumstances such as your primary handgun being disabled or-worst case scenario- it being snatched from you. If you need to use it off duty for personal defense, the threat will most likely be a complete surprise, up close and fast.

For these reasons, a backup/off-duty handgun must meet four conditions:

  • It must be utterly reliable.
  • It should be compact enough to be carried concealed for long periods of time.
  • It should have a very simple operating drill.
  • It should fire a cartridge of sufficient power.

The Kahr Arms Co. of Blauvelt, N.Y., is one of several manufacturers that offers a line of pistols designed to serve as backup, concealed carry, and off-duty weapons. The latest Kahr model, the CW9, is an excellent example of a reliable, compact semi-auto, and it makes an excellent backup or off-duty weapon.

Simple Design

Simplicity is one of the signatures of Kahr's design. And it's one of the reasons why the Kahr CW9 makes such a great backup/off-duty gun.

Kahr pistols feature a double-action-only (DAO) trigger system with a 3⁄4-inch stroke to rotate a cam that cocks and releases the striker to fire the cartridge. A spring-loaded striker block immobilizes the striker and is only deactivated at the end of a complete trigger stroke. The only external controls on a Kahr are the trigger, magazine release button, and slide stop, which combine to present a snag-free exterior, important on a handgun meant to be carried and drawn from concealment.

To my way of thinking, the DAO trigger system is one of the CW9's most attractive and most important features. It provides the simplest operating drill possible: draw pistol, aim, and pull trigger. To make the pistol safe, all you have to do is remove your finger from inside the trigger guard.

The CW9 locks by means of a system used on most modern semi-auto pistols: The barrel hood bears on the front edge of the ejection port and as the slide moves rearward under recoil, the barrel is cammed down, unlocking it from the slide which continues rearward, extracting and ejecting the spent case. The recoil spring then pulls the slide forward, stripping a round from the magazine and, as the slide goes into battery, the barrel hood moves up into the ejection port, locking the two units together.

Kahr pistols are unique in having an offset barrel with the trigger mechanism beside it. This permits the frame to be designed with a high grip for enhanced recoil control. A self-cleaning extractor forces debris away so as to prevent fouling buildup.[PAGEBREAK]

Economical But Good

Kahr has been building compact pistols with polymer frames since 2000. Past models have included the P9, PM9, TP9, P40, P40 Covert, and the TP40. This year saw the addition of another pair of Kahrs: the CW9 and CW40.

At first glance, the CW9 and CW40 appear to be clones of the P9 and P40 pistols, but the CW-series pistols represent Kahr's economy models and have certain cost-cutting features. For example, fewer machining operations are used to make the slide, resulting in a more squared off silhouette. Also, the front sight is pinned in place rather than using a dovetail cut and slide markings are engraved rather than rollmarked. Other cost-cutting measures that you may notice include a slide stop lever that is metal-injection-molded rather than machined and a barrel that has conventional broach rifling instead of polygonal. While nothing described above is very earth shaking, Kahr was able to use these measures to reduce the suggested retail price of its CW pistols by approximately $130.

Hands On

Kahr was kind enough to provide me with a CW9 pistol to evaluate for Police. While I must say that the CW9 is sort of plain looking, it nonetheless possesses the fine ergonomics and natural handling qualities that Kahr pistols are known for.

For example, the trigger pull is as smooth and stage free as that of the well-used PM9 that I have carried for years. I also like the dot/bar sighting system, which for my money provides faster sight alignment and target acquisition than the more common three-dot sight.

To see how the Kahr CW9 performed, I assembled a variety of 9mm cartridges and headed out to the range. When fired from a rest at a distance of 15 yards, this little pistol produced some very pleasing groups. The only fly in the ointment was that it tended to shoot a bit low, but once I had the measure of that I was able to shoot some very nice, well-centered groups. If I were to keep this pistol, installation of a higher rear sight would correct the problem.

I then belted on a Gould & Goodrich Yaqui Belt Slide holster and ran the CW9 through a number of drills at distances of three, five, and seven yards. Despite the CW9's small size, light weight, and DAO trigger, I had no trouble putting rounds in the higher scoring regions of a pair of D-1 targets.

As for reliability, I ran more than 300 rounds through the CW9 in several shooting sessions without a single failure to feed, chamber, fire, or eject. Even several attempts at making it malfunction by firing it limp wristed proved fruitless, as it just kept launching 9mm bullets down range.

Finally, I decided to put the CW9 to a practical test. I carried it on a daily basis for two weeks and not only could I conceal it under a lightweight vest but, to be perfectly honest about it, I was rarely cognizant of the fact that I had the little pistol on my person.

Remember the criteria for judging a backup/off-duty pistol that I set forth at the beginning of this article? The CW9 meets them all: It's reliable, compact, simple to operate, and it packs a punch. If you're looking for an inexpensive backup or off-duty weapon, take a look at the Kahr CW9 or CW40. They are both excellent and economical guns.

Paul Scarlata has served as an auxiliary police officer and is a frequent contributor to Police.