What? Metal-frame striker-fired pistols? Think about that for a moment; metal-frame pistols are slowly disappearing. Sure, the 1911 platform uses a metal frame, and so do other older hammer-fired designs from SIG, Beretta, and CZ, but nearly every striker-fired pistol uses a polymer frame. Gun nuts did a double take when Rock Island Armory (RIA) debuted the STK100 striker-fired 9mm in 2021. It looked like just another Glock clone, except for one significant design difference. The STK100 uses an aluminum frame. There are other features that make this Philippine-made pistol stand out, but the metal frame is unique. This sent us on a quest for metal-frame striker-fired 9mm pistols. Are these guns just unicorns, or are there others available to buy?
We tested the Walther Q5 Match Steel Frame a few years ago and thought the steel frame helped mitigate recoil and allow for a fast follow-up shot. But that was a competition pistol, not a defense pistol. One gun that came to mind was the Kahr K9. Kahr built its reputation on the compact metal-frame K9 pistol, so we acquired a Model K9, which features a stainless-steel frame and smooth trigger-cocked striker-fire mechanism.
Another gun is the new metal-frame variant of the SIG P320 called the P320 AGX Pro. As you may recall, the P320 pistol system allows the user to drop the trigger mechanism into any size polymer frame, and now a metal frame as well.
It’s usually interesting to know where gun designs originate, and here, the original 9mm metal-frame striker-fired pistol is a Luger P-08. As you know, the 9mm cartridge debuted with the P-08. While the P-08 in its day was an effective weapon, they are expensive and finicky with ammo. Luckily, one of our staff has a Luger, an Interarms P-08 model, and we wanted to experience the original P-08 and put it into context with current guns, so we ran an the Interarms during the test, but we concentrated our evaluation on the modern variants.
While they are all striker-fired, the trigger design was different on all four, and all felt different when firing. The P-08 uses a pre-cocked striker, so it is actually a single-action trigger pull, similar to the XD models made by Springfield Armory. The other three guns have a longer double-action trigger pull. RIA and SIG pre-load the striker, so there is a bit of mushiness in the trigger. The Kahr uses a trigger-cocking DAO that is super smooth and has a super-long stroke.
We also wanted to judge if the added weight a metal-frame pistol provides is a net pro or con. Does a metal frame help with recoil control? How does the pistol balance in hand? Does it make the pistol more difficult to carry concealed?
We fired both training rounds and defense rounds with different bullet weights and types to see if a pistol favored one cartridge over another. Ammo included Defender 115-grain full metal jackets, Armscor 124-grain FMJs, and Remington Golden Sabers with 147-grain bonded jacketed hollow points.
We tested for accuracy using our range bag as a rest, then ran a Mozambique Drill (also called a Failure Drill) at 10 yards — two to the body and one to the head — on cardboard silhouettes to evaluate ease of use in speed and precision shooting. We also fired a Failure Drill at 5 yards, starting at low ready, and all three shots must be fired between 3 and 4 seconds. In the end, we experienced four very different 9mm metal-frame striker-fired pistols.
Gun Tests Grade: A-
The iconic K9 has been around since 1995, but it seems to have gotten lost among the polymer-frame pistols made by Kahr. The stainless-steel-frame K9 was the original Kahr design for a 9mm EDC gun. Features include a thin-profile grip, compact size, and safe-to-carry DAO trigger. A reliable compact 9mm was a big deal in 1995, but these days we take compact and subcompact 9mms for granted. The K9 had a following, including the NYPD, which approved the K9 back in 1998 for off-duty and back-up carry.
|Action||Semi-auto, short recoil-operated locked breech, striker fired|
|Trigger||Trigger cocking, double action only|
|Overall Length||6.0 in.|
|Overall Height||4.5 in.|
|Maximum Width||0.9 in.|
|Weight Unloaded||25.0 oz.|
|Weight Loaded||28.0 oz.|
|Barrel||3.5 in.; 1:10-in. twist; polygon rifling|
|Slide||Matte, stainless steel|
|Slide Retraction Effort||20.0 lbs.|
|Frame||Matte, stainless steel|
|Frame Front Strap Height||1.9 in.|
|Frame Back Strap Height||2.8 in.|
|Grip Thickness (Maximum)||1.1 in.|
|Grip Circumference (Maximum)||5.2 in.|
|Front Sight||TruGlo TFX 3-dot, white dot|
|Rear Sight||Green two-dot notch|
|Trigger Pull Weight||5.8 lbs.|
|Trigger Span||2.6 in.|
|Magazines||2; stainless steel|
|Safety||Cocking cam trigger, striker block|
In hand, the Kahr K9 has plenty of heft, weighing 25 ounces unloaded but with the magazine in. That may seem a bit portly compared to polymer-frame pistols of the same dimensions, but that weight helps with recoil management, as we found out.
Our sample K9 exuded the high quality you expect from Kahr. The machining was well executed, with no sharp edges. In fact, all the edges were rounded, so the outside of the gun was smooth and virtually snag free when drawing from concealment.
The grip angle is similar to a 1911’s, so it gets points for that. The trigger is wide, with a smooth, but long, pull that measured 5.8 pounds but felt less. The long trigger pull on an EDC gun means the shot fired should be intentional, and that pull weight and stroke ensures the user doesn’t accidentally fire the pistol due to a light trigger. More points for the trigger.
The grip was a textured soft rubber with a slight palm swell. It filled our hands but did not feel chunky. The rubber also doesn’t stick to clothing.
The slide release and magazine button are metal and serrated. For a right-handed shooter, they are well placed, though you may need to slightly modify your grip to dump a mag. The single-stack magazine has a body made of steel. The plastic floorplate gave the shooter’s small finger a shelf to hang on to. The mag held seven rounds, and it was easy to load. Three mags are included with the pistol. Extended eight- and ten-round magazines, $48 and $69 respectively, are available at shopkahrfirearmsgroup.com.
The slide looks a bit dated because of a lack of forward serrations, and we found racking the slide took some muscle, about 20 pounds of effort. A decorative groove is milled out on each side of the slide, and a ball cut is made at the muzzle. This gives the pistol a classic look. Sights were aftermarket TruGlo TFX three-dots, with a white outlined green-dot front sight and two green dots on the rear. The front sight and rear notch are wide, so they are easy to pick up when pointing at the target. They are like full-size sights, even though the gun is compact.
There is no beavertail or an undercut trigger guard, and the center bore axis is low. We noticed the slide mass and metal frame helped control the snappy recoil usually associated with 9mm compact pistols. In our opinion, there was less muzzle flip.
The K9 field-stripped easily after we practiced it a few times. We did need hand strength to hold the slide back to align the half moon cutout in the slide and tap out the retaining pin. Interestingly, the K9 does not use a captured recoil guide rod, which makes it feel a bit dated.
Going hot, we found the trigger felt like the double-action pull on a revolver. The stroke was long but very smooth, with a clean break. Our best group was with Defender 115-grain FMJs that measured 1.5 inches. On average, all ammo groups measured 1.7 to 2.6 inches. We had absolutely no issues with the K9.
Moving to the Mozambique Drill, we found the K9 did our bidding. It was easy to make two fast shots to the body, and we took our time with the one shot to the head of the cardboard silhouette. Recoil pulse was smooth. Old West gunfighters said the reason they survived so many gunfights was to take their time for better shot placement. We think the K9 allows you to do this, even though it is small and smaller guns are harder to use more effectively. We also found that though the trigger had a long pull, it was easy to shoot the K9 fast. We liked the steel TruGlo sights with green fiber-optic tubes and the contrasting white outline of the large front-sight dot.
We carried the K9 in a DeSantis IWB Slim-Tuk Kydex holster appendix style. It was comfortable, with similar weight to a subcompact with a double-stack magazine.
Our Team Said: The K9 is an excellent option for conceal carry. It is compact, thin, safe, and has an exceptionally smooth trigger. We would not hesitate to purchase this pistol. While some may complain about the single-stack magazine, we think 7+1 rounds are plenty. Our only complaint was its lack of forward slide serrations.
9mm Luger Range Data
|Defender Remanufactured 115-grain FMJ||RIA STK100||SIG Sauer P320 AXG Pro||Kahr K9||Interarms P-08 Luger|
|Average Velocity||1115 fps||1153 fps||985 fps||1114 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||318 ft.-lbs.||340 ft.-lbs.||248 ft.-lbs.||317 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest Group||1.49 in.||0.90 in.||1.55 in.||2.05 in.|
|Average Group||1.59 in.||0.96 in.||1.72 in.||2.36 in.|
|Remington Golden Saber 147-grain BJHP||RIA STK100||SIG Sauer P320 AXG Pro||Kahr K9||Interarms P-08 Luger|
|Average Velocity||1014 fps||1016 fps||900 fps||1013 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||336 ft.-lbs.||337 ft.-lbs.||264 ft.-lbs.||335 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest Group||1.30 in.||0.65 in.||2.45 in.||1.50 in.|
|Average Group||1.52 in.||1.40 in.||2.69 in.||1.51 in.|
|Armscor 124-grain FMJ||RIA STK100||SIG Sauer P320 AXG Pro||Kahr K9||Interarms P-08 Luger|
|Average Velocity||1067 fps||1090 fps||910 fps||1068 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||314 ft.-lbs.||327 ft.-lbs.||228 ft.-lbs.||314 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest Group||1.88 in.||1.65 in.||2.00 in.||1.62 in.|
|Average Group||1.84 in.||1.85 in.||2.13 in.||1.64 in.|
Value Guide: 9mm Luger Handgun Rankings
|SIG Sauer P365 365-9-BXR3 9mm Luger, $599||Dec. 2021||A||Our Pick. Small enough to fit in a pants pocket. Carries 10+1. Felt recoil is less than with a 38 Sp.|
|Ruger MAX-9 No. 3500 9mm Luger, $544||Sep. 2021||A||Our Pick. This is a sophisticated pistol. No fault with the magazines, capacity, or general accuracy.|
|Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield Plus 13246 9mm Luger, $553||Sep. 2021||A||A step up from a previously 9mm Shield. The new pistol has an improved trigger and greater capacity.|
|Taurus GX4 1-GX4M931 9mm Luger, $398||Sep. 2021||A-||Best Buy. The Taurus is the most compact, and the Taurus is the only pistol with a changeable backstrap.|
|Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield EZ 12437 9mm Luger, $479||Feb. 2021||A-||The Shield EZ9 was easy to manipulate and soft to shoot, but the sights needed to be calibrated better.|
|KelTec PF9 Blued-Black 9mm Luger, $358||Feb. 2021||B+||An inexpensive pistol that functioned flawlessly. It reminded us of a good 38 Special snubbie.|
|Taurus G3C 1-G3C931 9mm Luger, $306||Feb. 2021||B+||Best Buy. The Taurus G3C pistol is an inexpensive offering that functioned flawlessly and shot well.|
|Springfield Armory Hellcat HC9319BOSP 9mm Luger, $550||Mar. 2020||A||Our Pick. An 11+1 pistol, this small Springfield might be the most versatile pistol in the group.|
|Walther PPS M2 2805961 9mm Luger, $649||Mar. 2020||A||Best Buy. A smaller pistol with grips that will not abrade tender hands.|
|Ruger Security-9 Compact Model 3818 9mm Luger, $309||Feb. 2020||B||The pistol is adequate for the task of self defense and will not break the bank.|
|SIG P365 Nitron Micro-Compact 9mm Luger, $465||Feb. 2020||B||The SIG costs more than the Ruger Security-9 without overwhelming advantages.|
|Springfield Hellcat Micro-Compact 9mm Luger, $500||Jan. 2020||F/A||Hellcat #1 failed when the trigger wouldn’t reset (F). Hellcat #2 worked perfectly (A). Best accuracy.|
|Glock 43X Ameriglo Night Sights PX435SL301AB 9mm Luger, $542||Jul. 2019||A||Our Pick. Firing grip is superior to the G43 and allows better shooting with little compromise.|
|Mossberg MC1sc 89001 9mm Luger, $365||Jul. 2019||A-||Best Buy. The Mossberg 9mm gave up little to the Glock designs. Reliability was never a question.|
|Taurus G2S 1-G2S931 9mm Luger, $204||Nov. 2018||A||Best Buy. The Taurus pistol was reliable and controllable in rapid fire.|
|Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield SW180021BW 9mm Luger, $400||Nov. 2018||A||The Battleworn Shield is reliable, accurate enough, and compact enough for EDC.|
|Bersa BP9MCC 9mm Luger, $295||Nov. 2018||A-||Reliable, feels good in the hand, and offers excellent handling in fast-paced drills.|
|Honor Defense Honor Guard HG9SCF FIST 9mm Luger, $400||Nov. 2018||A-||The FIST option is viable. We tested it against barricades with excellent results.|
|Ruger EC9s 3283 9mm Luger, $231||Nov. 2018||B-||Most accurate handgun of the test, despite its light weight.|
|Kimber Micro 9 Desert Tan (LG) 3300168 9mm Luger, $659||Oct. 2017||A||The laser grip complements the large sights on this micro pistol. Edges are smooth for concealed carry.|
|SIG Sauer P938 Emperor Scorpion 9mm Luger, $639||Oct. 2017||A||With large sights, a crisp trigger and toothy grips, this was easy to shoot and control.|