had a small booth in an out-of-the-way corner of the massive
firearms trade exhibit known as the SHOT Show, yet nothing so
trivial as a remote location could impede the buzz. Word was
spreading across the show floor about this new gun called the
Kahr. It was said to be the slickest little double-action 9mm
pocket pistol since the Devel conversion of the Smith Model 39,
and it was being offered at an unbelievably low price.
talk is a magnet. I was drawn to the humble booth like a moth to
a search-light. My first reaction was, "No way. Somebody
paid a fortune to build this prototype, but no way can it be
produced as nicely as this. Not at the price they're talking. If
it even works. Big if.
"They're gonna get a ton of
prepaid orders, cash the checks, and disappear," I surmised
pessimistically. Shades of Bren Ten. In the immortal words of The
Fonz, we now admit that we were "Wr... wruh... wrong!"
six years later, Kahr pistols have become one of the handgun
world's greatest success stories of the last decade - the Glock
of the Nineties. (Kahr has gone on to pass the tortuous approval
test by NYPD for off-duty carry with the K9 model.) No less a
personality than Bill Wilson has put forth a series of customized
Kahrs. Dealers tell us they can't keep them in stock.
models have evolved from small to smallest, light, lighter and
lightest and increasingly more high-tech as polymer models have
entered the line. The 9mm chambering has been expanded to the .40
Not only has the line expanded with new
models and calibers, the company itself has risen liken a dot-com
stock. Kahr Arms absorbed Auto-Ordnance and now manufactures and
sells that company's Thompson submachineguns and generic 1911-A1
You read it here first - Kahr Arms may well be the
next Kimber on the 1911 horizon.
One thing few observers
realized when Kahr first trotted onto the scene was that the firm
wasn't just a stand-alone. From the beginning, Kahr was a
division of the Saeilo Group. Pronounced "Say-low", the
parent company was founded in 1983 by Kahr Arm's founder, Justin
Moon's father, Rev. Sun Myong Moon. According to a company
spokesman, the Rev. Moon is no longer involved in Saeilo
Specializing in precision metal-working, Saeilo was in
a position to render the fledgling gunmaker expert advice on
metallurgy and production efficiency. By 2001, Saeilo would
employ 220 workers, and some 20 percent of its income was
generated by the Kahr Arms division.
Justin Moon designed the
guns and serves as CEO of the company. He is a wunderkind in his
field. He was only 25 years old when Kahr Arms emerged, and only
30 when we interviewed him for this story.
The son of the
founder of the controversial Unification Church, Moon is well
spoken and articulate. He has produced the most successful small
pistol to ever enter the market with so little fanfare. He is as
engaging to interview as he is gifted in his ability to make a
Ayoob: Tell us
something about your background.
Moon: I was born in
Seoul, Korea, on July 17, 1970. I came to U.S. in 1973 and have
lived here ever since. I went to school, from kindergarten to
high school, at Hackely School, a small private school in
Tarrytown, N.Y. I graduated from high school Cum Laude and was
accepted into Vassar College. I transferred from Vassar to
Harvard University and graduated Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor
of arts degree in economics.
Ayoob: How did you become
involved in firearms?
Moon: I have been interested in guns
for as long as I can remember. Even as a child, toy soldiers and
toy guns were my favorite playthings. My favorite subject in
middle school and high school was history. I loved reading about
weapons of all sorts.
Ayoob: Your shooting
Moon: My first experience shooting was with my
older brother when I was 14. He also liked guns and took me
shooting with friends and family. We would have a great time
setting up and shooting targets with an assortment of firearms.
Ever since that first shooting experience, I continued to pursue
my interest in firearms. I maintain several subscriptions to
firearms magazines which I voraciously digest.
Moon: My training in firearms comes largely from
reading about guns and from practicing with my brothers and some
friends involved in the personal security industry.
Tell us how you became involved in the firearms industry.
When I was finishing my junior year in college, I began thinking
about the path I should follow after I graduated. I thought about
doing what everyone else did - either join Corporate America or
continue with education. However, upon reflection, those options
did not appeal to me. I wanted to work right away, and in a field
I decided that I would like to work in the firearms
industry. I had been licensed to carry in New York State since I
was 18, and had looked for an ultra-compact 9mm pistol. However,
to my chagrin, I could not find a pistol with the quality of
construction and features in design which I felt were appropriate
for a carry arm. Therefore, I decided to design an ultra-compact
9mm pistol that I could carry.
I figured there were many
shooters like myself who desired to have a truly carryable 9mm
pistol. I spent the summer and much of my senior year designing
the mechanical layout of the pistol and prototyping various
designs concepts. By the time I graduated I had pretty much
solved all the conceptual problems that hindered the manufacture
of the pistol that I had in mind. From there I partnered with
Saeilo to move to prototype the pistol and prepare for
Ayoob: Where did the name Kahr come from?
When it came to marketing the pistol, I did not feel that Saeilo
would be a "catchy" name to put on my gun. I wanted a
name that was short, easy to remember, and symbolic of the high
quality of manufacture. Given Germany's renown for engineering
prowess and quality, I wanted a name that sounded German. That's
how I came up with "Kahr."
Ayoob: What do you
feel was the heart of the Kahr pistol's design concept?
The primary specification that I started with were to build a
double-actiononly, breech-locking, striker-fired 9mm that was no
larger than a Walther PPK .380. Breech-lock mechanism and
striker-fired pistols have been around for decades and the use of
that basic technology was of course borrowed from prior art. The
challenging aspect of the development was to figure out how to
incorporate those features into a gun that was no larger than the
Ayoob: Yet, in the end, you
wound up with, what four or five patents on the Kahr
Moon: In all, five patents were received on the
Kahr pistol design. The most important of the patents is the
Staggered Barrel Locking Lug. By offsetting the barrel lug and
staggering it with the trigger and trigger bar assembly, I was
able to greatly reduce the vertical height of the pistol from the
trigger to the top of the slide. This innovation made it possible
to greatly lower the bore axis of the pistol and helped compress
a breech lock design toward the dimension of a simple blow back
That innovation in conjunction with a second patent
that explained a Method of Retaining a Trigger Bar Onto a Trigger
made the Kahr pistols possible. This second innovation was
necessary in order to keep the thin overall dimension of the
pistol. The second patent made it possible to attach the trigger
bar to the trigger with minimum use of space.
The third patent
covers the Striker Activation System of the pistol. The use of
the "cocking cam" to both actuate the striker and
deactivate the safety gives Kahr pistols a uniquely smooth and
consistent double-action trigger pull.
The fourth patent
explains a method of an Inertia Fired Striker. This patent is
less critical in that there are a number of methods explained in
the art of how to achieve this function.
The fifth patent is
related to Kahr's unique extractor design. The extractor's
uniqueness is that its pivoting motion is limited in one
direction to make "failures to extract" a near
impossibility. Furthermore, the extractor has a unique mechanical
design which enables it to be self-cleaning.
Ayoob: A lot
of people in the industry thought it was very honest and
forthright of you and your company to license the double-captive
recoil spring design from Larry Seecamp, instead of just copying
it and fighting it out in court as Llama and Para-Ordnance
Moon: Yes, the double-recoil spring design was
licensed from Seecamp.
Ayoob: You built your first 9mm, the K9, to take 9mm +P and
+P+ ammo, and one complaint was that the springs were strong
enough to make the gun's slide hard to draw back. Tell us where
you went with that.
Moon: The recoil springs in the first
K9s were 24 pounds. Based on the feed-back from customers who
experienced difficulty in manipulation of the slide, we changed
the recoil spring to the current design of 18 to 20 pounds. At
this time we only offer one strength of recoil spring in the Kahr
K9 models - 18 to 20 pounds.
Ayoob: Did this impact the
company's policy of warranting the guns to handle +P and +P+ 9mm,
and full power of .40 S&W?
Moon: According to our
instruction manual we recommend only high-quality factory
ammunition of the proper caliber. The Kahr 9mm can handle +P
loads and in the Kahr .40 S&W we recommend regular pressure,
high-quality factory ammunition.
We offer a limited lifetime warranty on all the Kahr models. As
long as the gun has not been abused, we will stand behind our
Ayoob: What's your best seller?
Polymer pistols are the most popular.
Ayoob: What's on the
horizon for Kahr Arms?
Moon: We do not discuss ongoing
research and development projects publicly. We continue to pursue
a number of promising projects and are committed to introducing
new products on a continuing basis.
Ayoob: There is
speculation on the Internet that your father or his church own
your company. Your response?
Moon: I currently am the
majority shareholder of Kahr and operate my business to provide
high quality firearms to the public and to make a profit.
What's your reaction when commentators on the Net try to bring
religion into it?
Moon: I am a member of the Unification
Church, but I do not hold any formal positions in the church. I
proudly participate and support my church and my community. This
is, after all, a free country. I cherish my First Amendment
rights as well as my Second Amendment rights.