Meet Kel-Tec's Five Deadliest Guns
Kel-Tec is one of the most polarizing companies in the American gun industry, known for making exotic designs at cheap prices.
Kel-Tec’s site lists “firepower” as a key selling point of the PMR-30, calling it perfect for “backpacking, camping, and range day plinking” While the PMR-30 could definitely be used to take small game during backpacking and camping, generally one wants to carry more heavy firepower than a .22 WMR when a gun is necessary for backpacking or camping to fend off larger predators. Shotguns, rifles, or magnum revolvers are generally the order of the day when it comes to defending against wildlife that could harm a person.
The PMR-30 can definitely be seen as a fun choice for plinking if one feels the need to step up from .22 LR. The .22 WMR is significantly more powerful, yet the PMR-30 by all accounts keeps the recoil low and the slide tracking fast for quick and easy shots on target. But the downside here is cost. The .22 WMR costs around the same as regular 9x19mm rounds. While 9x19mm rounds recoil more, training and plinking with them is far more practical as those skills can be easily transferred to defensive pistol usage. Well tuned 9mms also can run nearly as flat as the PMR-30, though they usually are more expensive.
However, after that Kel-Tec states that “the PMR30 can also play a role in home defense for the recoil shy among us.” This is a fairly disingenuous statement. While it’s true that a PMR-30 is better than nothing, there is a reason why practically no military or police department issues a pistol in .22 WMR. The closest analog to it in military or police service is the FN Five-seveN, but this pistol is specifically optimized to penetrate armor with the 5.7mm armor-piercing round. Even then, reports of the 5.7’s effectiveness against softer targets are mixed at best. The .22WMR wouldn’t fare much better.
While the PMR-30 is probably an accurate plinker and perhaps even a good choice for taking light game, it is not a gun that one should rely on to defend themselves in any situation. Kel-Tec is doing their customers a disservice by marketing it as such. If one is too recoil-shy to use a more effective handgun, then one should fix that by training more and becoming confident in more recoil-heavy guns, rather than buying a souped-up .22. When a good 9x19 pistol costs around the same amount to train with and buy, it’s hard to make a compelling argument for the PMR-30 as a home defense weapon.
However, if one wants a flat and fast shooting range toy that holds an insane amount of rounds in a flush fit package, the PMR-30 is a great pick. Not all guns have to be practical, some exist just to be fun to shoot and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Kel Tec SU-16:
Kel-tec’s Sport Utility 16 (SU-16) rifle is an odd compromise.
Designed to compete with budget AR-15, the rifle features a highly similar layout to the AR, but an AK-like operating system that uses a long-stroke gas piston and a charging handle integrated on the bolt carrier group. The recoil spring is placed in front of the bolt carrier group on the gas piston itself, which allows the rifle to fold to be more compact. But are these design changes actually an improvement?
In short, no. While placing the recoil spring on the gas piston itself may seem like a good idea to shorten the rifle, it means that if the piston or its connection to the bolt carrier breaks in some way at any point along its length during the recoil stroke, the bolt carrier risks being shot back into the rear of the receiver with nothing slowing it down, possibly cracking the receiver and injuring the user. While Kel-tec made some changes to the design, such as staking the operating rod in the carrier, to fix this issue, it’s notable that in their next design, the RDB, they moved the recoil spring back behind the bolt carrier group as in almost every other military firearm.
Even under normal recoil, the SU-16 has issues with the bolt contacting the rear of the polymer receiver. While official statements suggest that the polymer the SU-16’s receiver is made of can take this abuse, most military rifles will include a rubber buffer at the rear of the receiver to dampen the shock on their metal receivers. There have been some reports of SU-16 receivers cracking at the rear due to these impacts, but these are largely individual issues and some SU-16s have run for thousands of rounds without this occurring.
The SU-16 also has many other questionable features. Similar to the Steyr Scout, it features a split handguard that can be folded down to act as a primitive bipod. However, unlike the Scout, when done so the barrel is completely exposed, requiring the handguard to be folded up again to be used normally.
The plastic and proprietary nature of the furniture means that upgrading the SU-16 isn’t easy. It also means replacement parts are more expensive and require sourcing from Kel-tec if they break. Comparatively, spare parts for an AR-style rifle are abundant.
Reloads and recoil are also worse on the SU-16 compared to a standard AR. While the rifle is marketed as a “utility” rifle rather than a tactical one, the simple “pull the charging handle to release” on the SU-16 slows down reloads compared to the AR. Likewise, the long-stroke piston gas system produces a more significant recoil impulse compared to most ARs on sensible gas settings.
Some may say the point of the SU-16 lies in being a “ban state” rifle, as the lack of a buffer tube means it can be configured with a traditional rifle grip-stock. But this concept has been done better by other designs. FightLite (formerly Ares Defense) makes the SCR, a rifle that features an AR-style lower receiver with a traditional rifle grip-stock that can take any standard AR-15 upper receiver. The standard AR controls and operating system are retained. As such, the SCR has lower recoil and is more ergonomic than the SU-16, while also taking a far greater range of accessories.
The SU-16 is an interesting design, but it fails to do anything better than most of its competitors. When priced at around $600, it compares poorly to entry-level ARs at the same price point. If one lives in a “ban state,” the SCR costs more, but bring a lot more customizability and practicality to the table versus the SU-16.
Kel-Tec Sub 2000:
Kel-Tec’s Sub 2000 is one of the only “folding” firearms on the U.S. market today. Designed to be a compact pistol-caliber carbine with a long barrel, the Sub 2000’s main selling point is that it folds in half for transit and storage, allowing it to easily fit into a backpack or similar storage case. But as other pistol caliber carbines get smaller and smaller, is the Sub2000 still relevant?
When the Sub 2000 was originally introduced in 2001, pistol caliber carbines (PCCs) were still an incredibly niche category of the American firearms consumer market. There were some reproductions of old open bolt submachine guns converted to closed bolt and restricted to semi-automatic mode, some modern submachine guns restricted to semi-auto mode. There were very few modern semi automatics, and even fewer still that shared mags with pistols, which the Sub 2000 did.
At the time, it was a very attractive option for those looking to get a cheap carbine that shot pistol ammo for plinking or for hunting small game. The shared mags with pistols and the various models and calibers the Sub 2000 meant that almost anyone with a common pistol could get a Sub 2000 model that also used the same magazines. The presence of long stick mags like the 33 round Glock “big stick” also meant that the Sub 2000 could compete with SMG-based PCCs in magazine capacity.
But around the turn of the decade, PCCs saw a slight renaissance in the industry. The CZ Scorpion EVO 3 and SIG MPX, along with a variety of AR-15 variants that took pistol or Colt 9mm SMG mags rekindled interest in PCCs. The addition of the PCC Division into the USPSA and IDPA competitive shooting circuits also garnered a ton of interest in this category of guns.
These new PCCs featured AR-style controls and layouts, their own special variety of mags, and shorter barrels. The non-AR-based designs often featured side-folding or collapsible stocks/braces as well, bringing them to the same level of compactness or making them smaller than the Sub 2000.
But the Sub 2000 retains the advantage of barrel length over this new generation of PCCs, as most of them have between 4 to 8-inch barrels while the Sub 2000 has a full 16-inch barrel. Unfortunately, this doesn’t matter much in a 9mm carbine. While around 200 fps of muzzle velocity is gained by the extra length over an 8-inch barrel, the 9mm round will still drop and be affected by range significantly due to the relatively rounded and “fat” nature, compared to spitzer rifle bullets.