With the increasing liberalization of concealed carry weapons (CCW) laws, plastic pocket nines are all the rage. Entire armies of business casual CCW license holders have snapped-up the shrunken shooters, entranced by the micro-nines’ combination of lightweight and lethality. Add in the price and availability advantages of 9mm ammunition compared to .380, and the mass market pocket nines are good to stow. Just ask Ruger, whose LC9 is a runaway best-seller. The tradeoff of course is shootability . . .
There’s no getting around it: the smaller and lighter the gun (especially when firing a +p 9mm self defense round), the less fun it is to shoot. Less fun means less range time means less proficiency means less effectiveness.
Even with masochistic practice sessions, the polymer pocket nine’s inherent “snappiness” makes follow-up shots a bit . . . challenging. All things being equal—a dubious proposition in many ways—a nine millimeter bullet may be more lethal than a .380. But if you can’t put more than one piece of lead in the Bad Guy’s center mass, that’s not good.
Kahr Arms is a big player in the plastic fantastic pistol segment. But the company still offers an all-steel alternative to the slightly-larger-than-a-mouse gun genre: the Kahr MK9. If push came to shove, the Kahr Arm’s pistol’s extra heft could very well be a godsend. But first things first . . .
Fit and Finish
Justin Moon started Kahr Arms with an all-steel single-stack DAO 9×19. Moon conceived the K9 as a back-up gun for off-duty police officers. As such it was designed for concealment. It’s a fine gun, an example of transcendent engineering. The MK9 is the K9’s evolution.
The first thing you notice when you pick up an MK9 is its density. Unlike its polymer competitors, the MK9 feels like what you thought a gun would feel like when you were a kid; the same satisfaction you get when you hold an all-steel 1911. It’s the knowledge that you’re holding something that was hammered into existence, rather than extruded into a mold.
The steel-framed MK9 shares roughly the same dimensions of its popular polymer counterpart, the PM9 (or its more attainable non-polygonal doppelganger the CM9). The MK9’s a little bit thicker than the PM9, even with its slim nylon grips (which I replaced with wood). Like its siblings, the MK9 sports a 3” polygonal barrel and holds six rounds in its slim single-stack magazine.
Saving sticker shock for later, let’s just say you get what you pay for. The MK9’s fit and finish are superb. There isn’t a single rough edge or ill-considered detail. Everything on this pistol is CNC machined; the fit is super tight. So tight I could barely work the slide during the first few hundred rounds. But more than that, the MK9 oozes quintessence; it’s a timeless design with brick shithouse quality.
That said, our test gun had some tooling marks on the inside of the slide. It’s a huge deal, but I did look at the inside of an older K9 and the internal milling was flawless, suggesting a potential decline in QC. You have been warned . . .
Unlike the Ruger LC9, the MK9 is Glock simple: no manual or extraneous safeties. Trigger, slide stop, mag release. Done. The factory sights dot-the-‘i’/lollipop style make for quick target acquisition. My eyes really prefer this arrangement over the traditional 3-dot setup; it’s a shame Kahr’s “factory” night sights don’t retain this format.
Kahr ships the MK9 with one flush-fit six-round magazine (it actually protrudes a little bit from the mag-well) and one seven-round magazine with a pinky extension. The seven-rounder’s plastic extension is comfortable but fugly. In fact, the mags’ finish looks more like galvanized gutter pipe than stainless steel. The mags are a real let-down considering the MK9’s staggeringly beautiful satin finish.
The MK9 points naturally and falls naturally to hand. Illustrating the importance of ergonomics, my first five-shot group grouped within an inch-and-a-half at seven yards. The MK9’s double-action only (DAO) trigger pull may be as long as War and Peace, but it’s silky smooth. If you’ve shot a Smith & Wesson J-frame, the Kahr steel semi’s trigger will not be unfamiliar. If you haven’t, trust me: MK9’s go-pedal is miles better than its micro-DAO pistol competition.
The bang switch takes some getting used to, though. My first couple of hundred rounds were a little jumpy. I was shooting it like a semi, feeling for the trigger break. The MK9’s trigger has no stacking whatsoever to indicate an imminent break. This unpredictability helps keep shooters from pre-compensating for recoil (i.e. flinching or pushing the gun’s nose down). When it comes to combat accuracy, that’s a good thing.
Recoil with standard pressure 115gr rounds is not an issue. Use a standard loading and you can shoot the MK9 all day every day. Insert +P rounds (e.g. Buffalo Bore and Double Tap +P+) and you’ll be grateful for the MK9’s extra heft. The rounds are a handful, but not what I’d call painful. While you could fire hotter rounds through a polymer pistol—hand pain not being an issue in the heat of battle—you’d be far less likely to get more than one round on target. And less-than-likely to practice doing so.
As with just about all their guns, Kahr recommends a break-in period of about 200 rounds for the MK9. More is better. I had five or so failures to eject (FTE) in the first hundred. I put that down to the ammo (115gr American Eagle); the cheap and light stuff probably doesn’t have enough energy to cycle the dual-spring slide setup. At about round 175ish, I had a Monarch round fail to seat properly in the chamber. I discarded it and the rest of the mag fed properly. The gun has been 100 percent reliable during the next 800 rounds.
Kahr faces stiff competition in the polymer ultra-compact segment. Their steel mini-nine, not so much. The MK9 goes up against the less-than-reliably reliable Kimber Solo and the jewel-like spring change-fest known as the Rorbaugh R9. I guess there just isn’t much of a market for a relatively heavy mini-nine.
Truth be told, most shooters find the MK series a little too heavy for pocket carry. This is not a gun you can just shove into a pocket (nor should you). The Kahr MK9 rides comfortably and discreetly in a Crossbreed Mini-Tuck or Remora IWB. But carrying it thus opens the door to the inevitable question: why not carry an equally heavy (if larger) compact or even full-size nine? Or .40? Or .45?
As always, it’s a question of personal preference. For some people the Kahr MK9 has the heritage, aesthetics, durability, simplicity, reliability and (most importantly) shootability they seek in an everyday carry gun. Most people wouldn’t opt for an all-steel Kahr MK9 but those who do won’t regret it.
Capacity: 6+1, 7+1 (magazine with grip extension)
Overall Length: 5.3”
Barrel Length: 3.0” polygonal rifling; 1 – 10 RH
Slide Width: .90”
Weight (unloaded): Pistol 22.1 ounces, Magazine 1.9 ounces
Sights: Drift adjustable, white bar-dot combat sights
Finish: Matte stainless steel
Grips: Wraparound, textured hard nylon
MSRP: $855.00 (about $700 street)
RATINGS (out of five stars):
Style * * * * *
Well-proportioned and well-machined, the MK9 is a timeless design. It may be an isolated opinion, but I hereby submit it as a contender for best-looking pocket pistol. Ralph: you and your Kimber Solo take note.
Ergonomics (carry) * * * *
The MK9’s weight may prohibit pocket carry for most, but the semi disappears into a nice IWB setup.
Ergonomics (firing) * * * *
The trigger is the perfect DAO bangswitch. It’s a little difficult to keep your mitts on with the stock grips, though. Adding a Handall Jr. or Kahr’s Pau Ferro grips make the MK9 into a 5-star shooter.
Reliability * * * *
Early problems have not been indicative of overall reliability. All guns should be broken in. However, I’ll take one star away since it doesn’t like cheap, weaker ammo. At least it didn’t during the first 200 rounds.
Customize This * * * *
No railage but Kahr offers night sights and Crimson Trace Lasergrips. I may fit XS Big Dots down the road. Meanwhile, there are plenty of holster options.
Overall Rating * * * * *
Svelte, sexy, and potent. An excellent compromise between weight and power, style and practicality. When my CHL comes in, I’ll never leave home without it.