Almost 10 years ago an upstart company broke new ground at the Shooting and Hunting Outdoor Trade Show. Normally, the SHOT Show is where all the "What's New" stuff is introduced by the big guys. But there, hidden among some hundreds of exhibitors with names like Smith & Wesson, Colt, Winchester, Remington, Ruger, and SiG, a simple, almost humble booth advertised "Kahr Arms," and the occupants waited to see what would happen.
Well, in a word, lots. Kahr's introduction of an entirely new design in a highly cancelable semiauto pistol-in a full-caliber 9mm version-rocked the house. Slimmer than any Glock, flatter than any other 9mm, and with a list of ergonomic features that would be the envy of anyone, that first Kahr garnered some serious attention. And rightfully so.
A Good Idea
That first Kahr was a simple, all-steel semiauto in 9mm, but it did something none other did. It lit a fire and then fanned the flames. Once cops and shooters everywhere got a taste of this pocket rocket they wanted more, and better.
Those first models began a legacy of performance and reliability in steel. And that was part of the problem. While the Kahr autos simply felt great in the hand, they were, well, brick-like in the weight department. At around 24 ounces, they weren't exactly boat anchors, but nonetheless, with the surge of polymer frames and lightweight aluminum alloys abounding in the gun business, Kahr had to listen.
And they did. A couple of years ago the first of the polymer-framed Kahrs arrived. The P9 and P40 (9mm and .40 S&W) were the same size as the prior versions, but weighed around 15 to 16 ounces. A big difference and yet another reason for everyone to jump back onto the Kahr bandwagon.
But there's more to all this than weight and ergonomics and that elusive "cool" factor that Kahr products have in spades. The nuts and bolts of their little guns' operation is part (most?) of what is appealing.
Fit and Finish
When you pick up a Kahr, if you're a human being at all, a couple of things go through your mind. First, if it's one of the steel versions, you think, "Gosh, this is heavier than I thought it would be." Which is bad...and good. Bad, because many people won't buy it because they are afraid it will pull their jeans down, and good, because it makes the 9mm great to shoot.
The second thing that glances off your cortex is something along the lines of, "Hey, this feels real good. Real, real good." And you're right, it does. The main reason for this good feeling is the fact the Kahr's slide is placed very low on the recoil plane, close to what's called the "centerline of the bore."
That means, unlike many autopistols, the recoil impulse of the slide running back after firing is managed nicely due to the fact the slide is so close to the top of your firing grip. In other words, it doesn't hang "way out there" on top, using the leverage involved to make the recoil seem harsher than it needs to be. Less flip, as it were.
It's all done with a bit of "Why haven't we thought of this before" engineering. Kahr's patented "offset barrel" design places the trigger mechanism beside the barrel lug, and allows the barrel and all the slide bits to be positioned lower in the frame. And that ergonomic grip frame is small enough for tiny hands and large enough for big ones. All of which adds up to a pretty nifty feeling pistol.
Justin Moon (yup, the son of "that" Moon) is the majority holder in Kahr and is the head engineer. His father, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, has nothing to do with the company or the parent company. Justin builds guns because Justin likes to build guns, simple and uncomplicated as that. He's very good at it, too.
The basic design of Kahr pistols is a striker-fired "double-action" trigger pull. The pre-loaded striker (cocked when you cycle the slide) is cocked just a tad more when you pull the exceptionally smooth and light double-action trigger. There are no external safeties and none needed. The only widgets on the outside of the pistol are the magazine release and the slide stop. Smooth and trim all around.[PAGEBREAK]
A testament to Kahr's detail engineering is the fact the magazine for the pistol is hardened to Rockwell 50 and tumbled in a polishing media. That means not only is it very hard, but all the "bad" edges are smoothed out and it doesn't bite when you load it. The follower also has a steel, hardened pin in it to meet with the slide stop to lock the slide back. No "plastic meets steel" here. But that is typical of what makes a Kahr run. Well thought out ideas abound.
Oh yeah, did I tell you it's a Walther barrel? Walther only happens to be one of the best barrel makers in the world.
There were no small numbers of 10,000-round endurance tests at the factory during the design phases of each pistol. They held up due to the top-quality construction and materials. A new Kahr exhibits a "tightness" that might surprise. Indeed, they will often fumble a bit during those first hundred or so rounds as they break in. But that translates into a degree of fit that is simply unknown in a pocket-sized gun. It also contributes to the fact these guns can shoot.
With the introduction of the polymer-framed guns, many people were surprised there were never any alloy frames prior to the big day. Kahr simply decided to bypass that one step and go right for the lightest weight possible. So far, there have been no appreciable problems with either the steel-framed pistols or the newer polymer ones.
Two of the newest Kahrs may be the best ones yet. The T9 is a "full-sized" duty-type pistol. You'll find it to be slim, trim, about medium weight at 28 ounces, with genuine wood grips and Novak sights.
This is a fall-in-love-with-it pistol if there ever was one. If you're smaller in stature or simply have small hands, this is the duty pistol for you. At nine rounds it's no worse in the capacity department than a plethora of other nine- to ten-round pistols in cops' holsters, and the superior ergonomics and workmanship make it a real fighting tool.
With the introduction of the T9, Kahr has entered into the world of police uniformed duty pistols and if you can put your "I need 16 rounds" thinking aside for a second, you might really like this gun.
I carried a Sig P-225 on duty for 10 years. At "only" nine shots, many of my peers wondered about my sanity. But it fit my hand well and I could shoot it like a laser beam. And that, my friends, beats hosing the block down with 16 ill-aimed shots any day, especially if you have a smallish hand and have been wrestling with a fat-gripped high-cap auto.
The PM9 is called a "Micro Polymer Pistol" by Kahr and at only about 14 ounces, it's an almost feathery 9mm. Yet the P40-in .40 S&W-weighs in at only 16.8 ounces so you can have your cake and eat it too, if you want. Our test pistols showed their stuff on the range and, in a surprise for pistols as small as these, averaged around 3 to 4 inches at 25 yards. They seemed to favor lighter bullets in 9mm and standard velocity, medium weight bullets in the .40.
Most of the big makers have holsters for the Kahrs and can turn this tidy pistol into a real friend in the field. No less than the NYPD have approved the Kahr for off-duty carry, and they don't ever approve anything, so that should tell you something.
Take-down is quick and easy for both of these beauties, and, when you're done cleaning, make sure you keep them lubed. Those little slides need some help to run well. Also, when you buy one (not "if" you buy one) make sure you put at least 200 rounds through it to break it in.
I think you'll be impressed with these little performers. They feel like "big" guns but carry like little ones.
Length: 6.5 inches
Weight: 26 ounces
Capacity: 8+1 rounds
Finish: Stainless Steel
Price: $778 full-retail
Length: 5.3 inches
Weight: 14 ounces
Capacity: 6+1 rounds (mag extension adds 1 more for seven total).
Finish: Stainless slide, polymer frame
Price: $660 full-retail
Roy Huntington is a retired officer, a long-time member of the Police Advisory Board, and the editor of American Handgunner magazine.