Becoming an American Icon: Kel-Tec Leads the Pack

Kel-Tec KSG Shotgun

In 1991 in Cocoa, Florida, a small company began developing affordable semiautomatic pistols. Later expanding to rifles, Kel-Tec is one of the largest gun manufacturers in the United States. The company is led by George Kellgren, who had previously designed firearms for Husqvarna, Swedish Interdynamics AB, Intratec and Grendel. In 1995, Kel-Tec’s first pistols were rolling off the assembly line.

Over the years, Kel-Tec has developed some of the most affordable, innovative and reliable firearms on the market. The P-11 9mm pistol was the bread-and-butter for the company in their early days. The P-11 used an aluminum receiver inside a polymer grip housing held on with polymer pins. Kel-Tec used steel for the slide, barrel, and magazine. The pistol holds ten rounds, and has no external safety. Instead, the P-11 relies on a long and heavy trigger pull of approximately nine pounds to prevent accidental discharge. Kel-Tec briefly manufactured the pistol in .40 S&W and .357 Sig, effectively reducing magazine capacity. Kel-Tec dubbed them the P-40 and the P-357, and they have since ceased production. The P-11 fills the role of a concealed carry pistol. The 9mm caliber in a small sized pistol, with an affordable price ensured that the P-11 would be a marketing success, and Kel-Tec continues to manufacture it today.

Kel-Tec also produced a smaller brother to the P-11 in the P-32. The P-32 maintained the P-11’s short recoil operation and Kel-Tec designed it to be a concealed carry back up gun. The .32 ACP cartridge is smaller, allowing for a slightly smaller gun. The pistol has a slightly less heavy trigger than its 9mm counterpart does at five to six pounds. The P32 is not a true double action and the hammer must be pre-set to a half-cock position. The gun has a seven round capacity and is easy to maintain. A variant of the P-32 is the P-3AT. It has a six round magazine capacity and fires the .380 ACP. It weighs only 8.3 ounces and is the lightest production .380 ACP pistol in the world.

The Kel-Tec designers manufactured the PF-9 to be a thin, light, and concealable backup pistol for civilian and law enforcement use. Designers included a hammer block safety and single stack magazine, making a compromise between the P-11 and the P-3AT. Until recently, the PF-9 was the lightest and thinnest 9mm in mass production.

In 2001, Kel-Tec introduced the SUB-2000, a pistol caliber carbine using a blowback action. The magazine is located in the pistol grip and is capable of folding in half for storage and transportation. The carbine is available in 9mm or .40 S&W. The main advantage of the carbine is its ability to feed Glock, Beretta, or Smith & Wesson magazines, depending on the variant. For law enforcement, this simplifies logistics and the increased muzzle velocity makes their pistol rounds deadlier at longer distances.

The PLR-16 is a gas-operated, semi-automatic pistol chambered in 5.56 NATO. PLR stands for Pistol, Long Range and Kel-Tec designed it for recreational target shooting. The main advantage to this weapon is its ability to take standard STANAG magazines, which operators use in the M-16 and AR-15. The standard model comes with a tactical Picatinny rail molded to the top of the receiver.

Kel-Tec’s 5.56 carbine came in the form of the SU-16. Designers made the weapon to compete directly with the AR-15 and other 5.56 NATO sporting rifles. The gun design is very simple, comprising of only fourteen separate components when fully field stripped. The SU-16 takes standard STANAG magazines, so cross platform magazine use is possible. The SU-16 comes in five variants, all with different barrel lengths and folding options. A significant shortcoming of the design is that the chamber and breech of the barrel are not easily accessible from the rear. The back of the upper receiver blocks the chamber and breech. This makes cleaning the chamber and the bore somewhat slower and more difficult compared to the AR-15. Inspecting the bore is difficult without a small penlight or similar light source.

In 2003, Kellgren was busy designing the RFB, which stands for Rifle, Forward-Ejection, Bullpup. Kel-Tec chambered the RFB in 7.62x51mm NATO, and the rifle is capable of using .308 Winchester ammunition. The RFB uses FN FAL magazines, which insert straight into the magazine well, and do not need to rock into place. The RFB comes standard with a Picatinny rail for mounting accessories and the company produces it in three different variants utilizing different barrel length, weight, and performance.

Kel-Tec carried on their tradition of innovation when they released the PMR-30 in .22 WMR. The PMR-30 is a full size semi-automatic pistol with a single action trigger pull of four to five pounds, and a manual safety. The gun uses a unique blowback/lock-breech system, which allows for a wide variety of ammunition. The unique double stack magazine holds an incredible 30 rounds and fits completely in the grip of the pistol. Designed for plinking and small game hunting, the PMR-30 is yet another sure win for Kel-Tec.

In Kel-Tec’s first real jaunt into the shotgun world, they produced an odd-looking Bullpup 12 gauge, the KSG. The gun has two tube magazines, which the operator can switch between manually. Each tube independently holds seven 2.75-inch shotgun shells or six 3-inch shells. The advantage of having two manually selectable tubes is choice of ammo. The user fills one tube with buckshot for close range, and the other with slugs for distance shots. The shotgun is pump operated and has a cross bolt safety located just above the grip. The gun will come standard with two separate Picatinny rails, one on the top of the barrel, and one on the bottom of the sliding fore end. This shotgun gives a very high volume of firepower and versatility for home defense purposes.

George Kellgren took a small Florida startup company and built it up to the juggernaut it is today. The innovative designs, quality craftsmanship, and high reliability make Kel-Tec guns a must own for gun enthusiasts.

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Comments (13)

  1. About a year ago I was able to find a gun store in Pennsylvania that sold me a PLR-16 at a reasonable price and it’s an absolute BLAST to shoot! The muzzle blast is ferocious though so if you have a chance to shoot one make sure to put ear plugs in before you put on your earmuffs.

  2. I have a couple of keltec…but want a PMR-30…try finding one!! the few around are being used to price gouge people!! I like the looks of the CMR 30, but afraid to ask the price!

  3. My first Kel Tec was a Sub 2000 purchased as soon as it hit the stores. I still own and shoot this rifle today. I have carried a P-380 as a back up on my ankle for years and had no issues other than wearing out the top of my boots from pistol wear. Two weeks ago, I purchased a RFB, only put 100 rounds of 308 Federal through her so far and Again, had no issues. My next Kel Tec will be the KSG just as soon as I can find one below $1,100 dollars. I will not pay $1400 for a shotgun.

    In all I am Very pleased with thier Products. Keep up the Inovation Kel Tec…

  4. I was in a local gun shop two weeks ago and purchased a Gen4 Glock model 21 off a stack of Glocks sitting in the store. The KelTec’s may be grand, but on the other hand, Glock MANUFACTURES weapons.

  5. C L is right; they are almost all locked breech (short-recoil, to be even more precise). Because of the light weight of the polymer frames, they do require a stiff wrist to keep from ‘short stroking’, especially on an empty or near-empty magazine.

    It’s my understanding that the large number of P-40s returned because the users were ‘limp-wristing’ led to them being discontinued. (Relaxed wrists aren’t necessarily bad; they’re one way of absorbing recoil, but in a pistol like the P-40, they can lead to FTF malfunctions.)

  6. Like the P-32, PF9, and Sub2K (s, x2) we have.
    Wish Mr. Kelgren would consider licensing or sub-contracting manufacture of the long guns. Considering how many different plants are cranking out AR15 receivers, at least one ought to be willing to pick up that slack…

  7. One addendum – to qualify my last post: My bad – I sort of consider the P-32, P-380, PF-9, and P-11 the standard pistol arena; the PLR and PMR families are certainly pistols, but I think of them as non-standard designs. Strictly my thought-pattern – doesn’t make it reality. The PMR-30 is classified as a “unique hybrid blowback/locked-breech system”, the PLR-16 a locked-breech, and the PLR-22 a blowback.
    I beleive that’s pretty much it.

  8. Just for the record to clear up perhaps a misunderstanding: Kel-Tec’s pistols are locked-breech, no blow-back; also, Kel-Tec is not even a plastics manufacturer – their only products are firearms. This information can be confirmed at
    A satisfied Kel-Tec user since 1996.

  9. I have a number of Kel-Tec firearms.

    The P32 and P3AT are ‘the pistol you carry when you’re not carrying’. They’re small enough that they disappear in a pocket. The P40 kicks like a mule, has a terrible trigger, and I don’t quite trust it with 180 grain ammo, but it’s small and powerful. My friend’s PF9 is smaller than most .380s. All of the above are blowback operated, with polymer frames, and require a stiff wrist when shooting.

    The RFB is an amazing rifle. It’s fully ambidextrous (spent brass is ejected forwards), the center of balance is right at the grip, and it’s short enough to use for house-clearing purposes. (Not that I’d want to clear a house with .308s, but they get the job done.) If it were any shorter, you’d need an AOW stamp.

    Finally, I can’t say enough about Kel-Tec’s customer service and lifetime warranty. If your KT firearm fails, send it in and they will fix it.

  10. The reason KelTec firearms are hard to come by and produced in such small batches is because they are primarily a plastics manufacturer. This is why thier firearms are mostly polymer resin, not that this is a bad thing. Firearms production is done as a side venture. And Rich Thre is nothing wrong with KelTec firearms, they are as good or better than many of the guns in their price point, SMH. After all they are not much more expensive than a HiPoint or Cobray, need I even mention Charter Arms, lol.

  11. Kel-Tec is one of America’s great innovative firearms companies, but their chief issue is their inability to produce their arms en masse. Small tranches of their products leave the factory, leaving many collectors such as myself unable to obtain their arms without great difficulty.

  12. I just puked but no for real In reference to the keltec guns, I just did really seriously honestly perhaps did much puke? Ouch king koopa.

  13. I’ve been waiting for the RFB to be available en mass to take the place of my heavy FAL. When will we see this at CTD stores?

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