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Handgun Reviews Personal Defense Semiauto

Subcompact 9MM Shootoff

by Paul Scarlata   |  January 30th, 2012 66

Ruger LC9

Springfield EMP

Kimber Solo

Kahr PM9

SIG P290

For our subcompact 9MM shootoff, we chose the Ruger LCP and Kahr PM9, along with the Springfield EMP, Kimber Solo and SIG P290. While the EMP and PM9 have been around for several years, the other three are new on the market.

All five have machined-steel slides. Those on the EMP, Solo and PM9 are made from stainless steel while the P290 and LC9 have high tech finishes to protect them from the elements. Both the EMP and Solo are more traditional in that their frames are made from lightweight alloy while the other three make use of polymer.

The five pistols feature a variety of trigger types. Being a miniature 1911, the EMP has a traditional single-action trigger with an exposed hammer, which allows it to be carried cocked and locked.

The LC9, PM9 and P290 are all of the double-action-only persuasion, but they differ in detail. The LC9 and P290 are both hammer fired whereas the PM9 is striker fired. The hammers on the LC9 and P290 are bobbed so they won’t snag and therefore cannot be cocked manually. None of the three have double-strike capability.

The Solo is a single-action, striker-fired pistol that sort of splits the difference when it comes to triggers. Chambering a round cocks the striker and holds it in place until a full stroke (which is rather short and light) of the trigger releases it. For this reason the pistol features ambidextrous safety levers that must be engaged once a round is chambered. Like the PM9, P290 and LC9 it does not have double-strike capability.

The five pistols are all locked-breech designs. The EMP functions just like a 1911–’nuff said–while the Solo’s locking system has features of both the Browning Hi Power and Polish Radom.

The remaining three use a system that is common to many of today’s semiauto pistols: The barrel hood moves up into and bears on the front edge of the ejection port, locking the two units together. The slide and barrel move rearward a short distance until the barrel is cammed down, allowing the slide to continue to the rear, extracting and ejecting the spent cartridge case.

Four of the pistols feature manual safeties. The EMP and Solo both have ambidextrous thumb safeties while the former, as befits a 1911, also has a grip safety.

The LC9 and PM9 have thumb safeties, although the latter’s is moved backwards: down for Safe and up for Fire. Both sport loaded-chamber indicators, and the LC9 has a magazine disconnect safety. The P290 is the odd man out in this area: Its “safety” is a long, revolver-like double-action trigger pull. Last, the EMP and LC9 both have key-operated security systems that prevent unauthorized firing.

Magazine capacity ranges from six rounds for the P290, Solo and PM9; seven for the LC9; and nine for the EMP. The PM9 came with a spare, seven-round magazine that provided a more substantial grip, and I have been informed by both Kimber and SIG Sauer that such magazines will be available for the Solo and P290 later this year.

  • Lowell1775

    Why is the KelTec PF 9 not included? It pioneered the subcompact 9mm class and has probably outsold all the others combined.

    I own the line up from the P38AT thru the PF11 and now the PF9. While not as smooth as my baby Glock or Walther…they are all still the smallest and lightest arms in their classes……..

    The KelTec engineers bring incredibly creative designs to the market only to see them knocked off by Ruger or Taurus. Doesn't seem like the American way.

    Test them! You ,may rate them badly, but at least let people see the alternatives.

    • Pedro G. Leal

      Ditto I agree Pedro TN

    • GunLogic

      Good post Lowell. I agree that not including the Kel-Tec in the review leaves a significant gap in the available choices in this class. I evaluated all of theese but the Springfield and the Kimber for my recent purchase of a smaller back up, light clothing CC pistol and ended up going with the PF9. My main CC pistol is a Springfield sub-compact XDM so I was mainly looking for something thinner, lighter and relatively inexpensive. I really wanted to go with the Kahr but after all was said and done I just could not justify it as the PF9 weighed in less, was the same thickness, carried 1 more round and I did not feel the Kahr felt or shot significantly better. Add in the accessory clip for the PF9 allowing it to be quickly secured inside the waistband for a quick trip to the store in shorts and a tshirt and it fits the bill perfectly. Not to mention I was able to buy 2 of them, one for me and one for the wife for less than the price of the Kahr!

      I am with you, leaving it out of the lineup is a disservice to G&A Handguns readers. I think Jerry's comment a little farther down the list is right on. So just remember, anything you read in any of these magazines can be totally skewed by who and how much various companies spend on advertising with the magazine or it's sister publications. Leave it to the media (yes, even the "GUN" media….) to mislead the American public based on their own business and political leanings.

    • Dennis

      While they are smaller and I love to support the US mine was not reliable (FTE 1 out of 10) also rattled and the finish was OK until you compare it to any quality firearm. as this was designed as a CCW and not a "plinker" it has to be as close to 100% reliable as possible. I'm not rich but my family and myself are worth the extra $150.00-$200.00. I've also had other lemons except for any Glock. These however are not in the same size class but I am going to try the Beretta Nano soon.

    • Wayne Hammond

      That's my problem with several of these lists. They all leave out guns. Where is the KelTec 9, Beretta Nano, Taurus Slim, S&W Shield, Diamondback DB9, Walther PPS?

  • Rod

    Interesting they refer to the LC9 as initially the LCP and in the accuracy results as a SR9. Error, or did they pull the wrong results?

  • Fitch

    I agree, the PF9 should have been included.

    That said, the one I'm waiting for isn't here – the new SIG P938 which is essentially a 9mmP version of the .380 ACP P238 (same height, same thickness, less than half an inch longer slide). I have a P238, it's an amazing pistol – pocket/micro .380 that shoots like a sub-compact. I'm hoping the P938 is bug free because it's based on the P238/Colt Mustang.

  • Lonn Holman

    I agree, they should have included the KelTec PF-9 and Taurus 709 "slim". Both of which I believe I would prefer. Obviously they are trying to justify the other more expensive five.

  • ed w.

    i feel that the Springfield EMP doesn't belong in this group of pistols. it's too large. as well put a 5" steel 1911 in it's place. it would probably have come in first in every category except concealability, just as the EMP did. and i agree the the Kel-Tec PF-9 and Taurus 709 Slim would have been appropriate for this comparison. since this report is just now coming on line, then the Beretta Nano also deserves to be included.

  • Jerry

    The PF-9 was probably excluded because KEL-TEC doesn't advertise in this magazine. Its all about the money…


    • Montana Rifleman

      I believe Jerry just hit the nail on the head…

    • Patrick

      I would agree with Jerry, too often the American made inexpensive weapons are left out because of their lack of spending for ads in the magazines

    • Greg

      I agree with Jerry….and well Kel-Tec is…well..Kel-Tec…sorry no offense intended.

    • rick

      Any comment to Jerry's point, "Handguns" editors???

  • plinker

    I think the LC9 did quite well in objective ratings, considering how your #1 pick is 3 TIMES THE COST! A subjective rating like "ergonomics" (assuming the author knows what it means) doesn't hold as much water as objective ones.

    • Retired Vet

      I agree with you plinker. When you add up the ratings and discover that the LC9 falls squarely in the middle of the pack AND comes in at a third the price of the leader and a little more than 1/2 the price of the worst of the pack, that speaks volumes about the LC9's quality. I've never owned a subcompact until last week when I bought an LC9. So, I can't speak to the quality of any of the competitors, but I can tell you how pleased I am with my LC9.

      • George

        I've been a Ruger owner and fan for 40 years. I just bought an LC9 with laser. While I'm confident of the quality, I find the long trigger pull a distraction that detracts from my accuracy. I think I'll get Galloway ( to shorten the trigger pull.
        When I bought this, I also bought a used SCCY CPX-2. I like the trigger pull of the SCCY better, and I'm more accurate with it than the Rugger. Also, if I get a failure to fire, I can pull the trigger again without having to eject and recock. This happened once, and it fired on the second try. Can't do that with the Ruger.
        They're both about the same weight, and the difference in thickness isn't noticeable. So the SCCY has the advantage of 3 more rounds with little size and weight tradeoff. I've read lots of war stiroes about the SCCY, mostly bad. I hope they've fixed their issues by now. But so far, I'm pleased with mine.

  • steve lamanen

    If we are talking about American Manufacturing, shouldn't we mention the 9mm SCCY CPX Gen 2. Its manufactured in Daytona Beach Florida… you get a lot of bang for your dollar.

    • Barrel: machined from bar stock with 7 lands and grooves having a 16‐1 right hand twist.
    • Receiver: 7075‐T6 heat treated aluminum alloy, machined from bar stock.
    • Grip/Frame: polymer
    • Recoil Spring System: all steel, fully encapsulated for ease of disassembly and reassembly.
    • Stainless Steel Slide
    • 3 dot sight system: steel rear sight, adjustable for windage only with locking screw.
    • Hammer firing system: double action only, internal hammer with inertial firing pin to prevent accidental discharge if dropped.
    • Manual Guarded Safety: CPX-2 has NO manual safety.
    • Double action trigger: consistent 9 pound triggers pull.
    • Magazine: 10 round capacity magazines with finger extension base.

  • Andy B.

    I have read the comments about the Emp being "TOO BIG" , as being a compact pistol, unless you are a "SUPER SECRETE DOUBLE NOUGHT SUPER SPY" it's a moot point. I carry on a daily basis and go in harms way more time than not, I have shoot all the popular brands of compact Nines and routinely carry a EMP 9 . I prefer to carry ( and do ) something thats starts with a 4 in it's caliber when possible.

  • Randy

    I agree that the EMP should be excluded. Do a test of true pocket pistols. I own the Solo and a kahr CM9. Both are outstanding. True they have small grips but the are true pocket pistols they are supposed to have small grips. If your going to test subcompacts like the EMP, put them against others in that class M&P9c, G26, XD, etc.

  • BikerSteve

    What a mis-match! You have guns in the under $500 category going up against 1 gun costing almost $1000
    and another over $1300! I agree they need to put the 709 Slim in the group. I bought one when they first came out and had zero problems. Maybe have three comparisons: Pistols under $500,$501-$1000 & $1001+

  • butch

    I agree with Jerry about the advertising.

  • Roy658

    Some have commented about carrying an EMP daily. Some I know carry a Super Carry Custom daily. That doesn't make either of them a pocket pistol. Comparing the EM"P to an LCP?? This is truly an ad pretending to be an actual competition. Blatant money grab. More of this and my renewal goes elsewhere. Now if only the staff actually read these comments.

    • old shooter 76

      Roy I agree it's a shame what the rags have got to it;s all about the money and a short barrel 9 roars an bucks like a wild horse and the people who buy them can;t hit a door at 10 ft little less any thing else if your life is on the line you can't miss fast enough the to win

  • Gary

    You all forgot the Taurus Stainless PT709 and the Kahr CM9. (The Kahr CM9 is almost the same gun as the PM9, but $200- $300 less, I got mine at a gun show for $450) I own both, and shot both at an indoor range @ 30' last November, using the same ammo 125gn HP. They both shot well. No failures with a 2 boxes thru the Taurus and a box thru the CM9. The CM9 wins hands down in accuracy, closer to point of aim and tighter group, 2.5" comp to 3". Not bad for a fighting gun against a man size target, for which they were intended to be used. As far as comfort, the Taurus is head and shoulders above the CM9! The CM9 has a gap between the mag and the grip, which pinches the 3rd finger and after 50 rounds, I was dune! I will keep the Kahr, and sell the PT709, but I intend to change the mag base cover.

  • JoeHBro

    It seems more likely that they left out the Taurus and the Kel-Tec because the companies did not provide a test gun rather than it being a major conspiracy to make us readers not buy those particular pistols. Just because they don't include everything you want doesn't mean they are out to get you… If you think those pistols should be included, do your own test.

    • Joseph S

      Do your own test? Realy, this is a mag trying to give it's readers insight on a new gun they might buy . The mag should know the market and the fact that the Kel-tec,and Taurus are big sellers market and should be treated as such. If I have to do my own testing why buy or read the magazine.

      • Fred Bar

        Sorry but the Taurus reliability reputation is not up to par. The KelTecs, on the other hand are reliable but their accuracy is not up to par. This from the owner of a P11 who has shot other friend’s sub-compacts.

  • Matt

    How is it nobody has mentioned the Taurus Millenium Pro PT111 9mm that holds 10 rds in the mag. The Titanium model is lighter than most of these guns, but it fits the hand rather well. Plus, FWIW, it has second strike capability.

  • U never know

    Last I checked Kahr is manufactured in the U.S. I own a Kahr K9 & CW9 & if I could have any back up gun or had to chose only 1 gun for concealed carry. I would buy another one. In fact I have. I have carried one of these model Kahrs for the last nine years. I can count the number of malfunctions of any kind on one hand. Oh, and yes the trigger is that nice. And no, I don't work for Kahr Arms. Just a fan

  • JD13

    I am going to have to look into the P938. I have a P238 that is small and shoots great but wouldn't mind bumping my pocket/BUG up to a 9mm. I also prefer to carry larger as my EDC. It is interesting that my EDC is a 45 with a higher magazine capacity and weighs less than the EMP. Definitely not a pocket pistol.

  • Baker

    Guns and Ammo/Handguns, Never met a gun we didn't like! Unless, it was not made by Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Taurus, Colt!

    Kel-tec? The editors never heard of them!! I loved it when Ruger came out with the LCP. The writers were peeing their pants over the "new" concept of pocket pistol! At that time, I had several hundred rounds through my 3AT!

  • John Elmore

    What about the Walther PPS ????

  • Kyle

    This is llike a bible translation. Some like this one, some like that one and others this one and no other. Carry what you'd like. One article, one person. <><

  • Croge

    Don't like the ruger due to mag safety, Solo nice but not near worth the money, Taurus works well and priced so most can afford, Khar best build quality and reliability of these I own. Sig is a collection piece, trigger is so bad it is useless as a shooter, EMP is very nice but in a different class from the others. If I want a big gun there are lots of other choices just as good or better than the EMP. I have owned all of these except for the Ruger, shot one as a rental, however. They are all cool in one way or another and this is an age old argument… whats best for me will be crappy to someone else but then I drive an Audi over a BMW too, Let the fun begin…………………….LOL!

  • ckerst

    "was just a bit too large for serious concealed carry unless you used the proper style of holster and wore the correct garments."
    If you're wearing speedo's it doesn't matter what you carry it's going to show. For those of us that dress normally we can carry full size .45's. If you act normally and use common sense when dressing nobody ever thinks you are carrying. For me it's way more important to be able to shoot the gun accurately than how easy it is to hide.

  • GaryT

    Why does the Kahr CM9 pictured and described in the article have an external safety lever? None of the CM9's on the Kahr website have an external safety lever. I agree w/ others in that I think a more relevant comparison would've been to include the Kel-Tec PF9 and Taurus Slim 9 in the discussion while leaving out the Springfield EMP. While the Springfield is a wonderful gun, I think it's in a different category than the others.

    • Cooper 85

      I believe they have a pm 9 pictured. You can puchase a Kahr pm 9 with the external safety and loaded ammo indicator. Some states have laws that require them.

  • chuck1217

    As BikerSteve said, they should compare more similar pistols. I also understand they have to limit the numer of pistols they compare at one time. To do it right, they should do one group of $4-500 pistols this month, then maybe more the next issue. Then if they want to compare $1,000 guns do it the same way. If they compared 1 in one issue, we would have a hard time figuring out the results.

  • chuck1217

    Sorry, my ''b' key is broken, so is the 5. 'limit the NUMBER of pistols' and 'If they compared 15 in one issue..'

  • Lawrence Levy

    Editor: Please note >>> Will trade — Professional newspaper proofreading skills for magazine subscription.

    While deadlines are named for a reason, those in print media die many deaths because "We print our mistakes."

  • Happy Customer

    I have shot most of these guns in the quest to find the one I liked and could shoot the best as my life may one day depend on it. I ended up with a PF9. There are some things I don't like about it, but I put more than 100 rounds through it of vary types of 9mm ammo from FMJ practice stuff to 125gr +P loadings and it shot them all well. Groups at 15 yds were better than I expected. Two malfunctions were both attributable to "limp-wristing" the pistol. It is just so small and lightweight you don't really think about gripping it tightly until you pull the trigger that fist time. Granted, it can be a handful to shoot, especially with "duty" loads, but with the clip mounted on the side it slides right into my pants and is almost impossible to detect riding on my right hip. I have worn it for 14-18 hours at a time with nary a complaint. Two things here are important, the first, that the gun is the right size for you to carry all the time, because no gun does you any good in the safe, and two, that it is accurate and reliable enough to bet your life on. All these guns probably fit both those categories, but for $250 I will take the PF9 every time.

  • Lopaka Kanaka

    We all agree on one thing about guns and like to shoot a gun that is comfortable in your hands and in your holster. I like a shoulder holster and my 1911 45ap in my choice of my combact weapon when needed. That
    is what I pratice with and makes me comfortable to shoot it and a 10 round magazine is what I carry in my double magazine holster. All Life NRA Members, Hunters, and Target Buffs, Keep doing what you always do and do it right the first time. We need a new commander in chief who will protect "Our Rights To Bear Arms" and every American citizen can have guns in his home and a CCW in his pocket..

    • mike

      Taurus pt 606,pt 145, Taurus P380 ?Nothing but problems, sent in for repair, Cam back same problems all were nib. took back to dealer. FTF,FTE,
      Bersa 380, keltec9, Ruger 345, Sig 9 ,S&W 457,tactacal 40 . No problems . Would like to get a Kahr 9. or40 or45.I am done with Taurus semi auto, mabe try a revolver some time. Prefer to buy American made.Never had any luck with Fords either, but my next 4 wheel vehicle will be a ford, They did not take a bailout.

  • jas7751
  • Will Carry

    NICE article. These new pocket 9s are great. I have an LC9 and I fine myself carrying it more and more. It's so light and concealable that I hardly notice it tucked IWB. 8 rounds on 9mm is very respectable. I still carry a pocket 380 as a back up and the LC9 as a primary carry.

  • BullRock

    What, no mention of the Beretta PX4 compact?

  • JMcclure

    Where's the Beef? How come you did not test the Boberg 9mm?

  • Gene Harrison

    No Glock 26?

  • Rick

    the pf9 is a better sub compact for less$

  • Rick

    my Astra A70 9mm is a better gun than the springfield EMP for a 1000$ less
    I would say the same for my M43 firestar

  • CCWstl

    I have nothing new to say that hasn't been said already other than I did not send more$$$$ for another year subscription.


    I agree completely, the Sig P238 beats outba few and can't wait for the P938. Good reviews from Shot Show , even though almost all other Sigs seemed to miss the mark. Please review the PF9. From what I hear I gotta get one!

  • alabubba

    How do these new pistols compare with the Firestar M43?

  • YoYo

    Rick, Does the Magazine for the M-43 fit in your Astra A70?

  • w.d.harper

    what about kel-tec p 11 ? Danny age 56.

  • fishmonster

    The Beretta Storm is an excellent sub compact. I have put a thousand rounds through mine and I really like its features and the way it functions. I couldn’t find a Sig P290 and I purchased a P250 and I don’t care for it that much.



  • 7541west

    I find this discussion interesting and informative but I am surprised to read how many posters are so concerned about the price of a pistol (tool) that they will trust their life with…reminds me of a sign at the local motorcycle shop concerning the cost of good quality helmets that said “if you have a $50.00 head then by all means buy a $50.00 helmet.”

    • Louie F.

      Thats true most of the time, but i just bought a bersa bp9cc (yes i said bersa) i would put it up against any of these handguns and imo would come out on top. Check it out…..

  • Louie F.

    Nothing against ruger own a few and love them. But get real kel-tec started it all ie. p-32 own it love it, p3at owned it loved it , gave to brother for a b.d. present when lcp came out., its a copy of p3at. thr lc9 is a copy of the pf9. They refined both of them and they are great guns, but kel-tecs are no nonsense ccw guns and they work just as well., sometimes even better if the mag button gets bumped because they will still fire unlike the lc9.

  • Louie F

    The diamondback DB9 blows them all away !

  • Darren

    Please Double Check the note about none of the guns having DOUBLE STRIKE capability. I’m thinking the Sig P290RS that I have, DOES INDEED have double strike capability. This thread being 2 years old, may the P290 has changed since then?

  • Fred Bar

    So the PM9 is the best of the smaller SCs (I guess the CM9 could, somehow, be made to fit in this list as well?) while the EMP would be the best of the larger SCs….Then again Springfield’s own SD SC and CZ’s 2075 RAMI were not tested here. I have a Kel-Tec P11 and it has never failed except with the cheaper full size 5906 mags. It is definitely not as accurate, the sights are pretty low-tech, the trigger is too long but it goes bang-bang every time. Good luck shooting at anything past the 5 yards….

  • James Montgomery

    “For our subcompact 9MM shootoff, we chose the Ruger LCP….” The very first sentence makes me question the validity of the whole article. The LCP is a .380 not a 9mm.

  • Donald Moore

    I love my KAHR. I used this comparrison chart to select the one I wanted. I went with the PM9 and I love shooting it and it is my EDC. The chart shows ALL of their models, +1 :-)

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