Handguns > Semi-Auto

Kel-Tec PLR-16 5.56/.223 Semi-Automatic Pistol

This rifle-action pistol provides an accurate option for shooting AR-15 rounds from a handgun.


Kel-Tec CNC in Cocoa, Fla., is a gun company that likes to keep its customers guessing as to what will come next. Recent examples of its innovative gun designs include the PMR-30 .22 Mag. semi-automatic pistol and the 12-gauge KSG 15+1-round dual magazine pump-action shotgun. Back in 2006, Kel-Tec was mixing things up by releasing an unusual pistol called the PLR-16. Although rifle-action pistols are not a new idea, this one has a variety of features to make it stand out from the crowd.

Pistol Features
The PLR-16 is a conventional, long stroke gas-piston operated semi-automatic chambered to fire the 5.56 mm NATO and .223 Remington cartridges. Based on Kel-Tec's SU-16 rifle design, this pistol employs a piston and recoil assembly located over the barrel, instead of behind the grip like some AR-based pistols, along with a Johnson/Stoner breech locking system. This pistol is configured with an AR-15 type rotating bolt, but a right-side charging handle mounted to the bolt carrier is used in place of a top-mounted AR-style charging handle.

The blued 9.2-inch barrel has 1:9-inch right-hand twist rifling and a muzzle cut with 1/2-28 threads to accept standard barrel attachments like flash hiders and muzzle breaks. The rear iron sight is adjustable for windage and the AR-style front sight can be adjusted for elevation. The receiver features an integrated MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny rail to accept a variety of optics. The trigger gauges at 7 pounds, which seems heavy for a single action pistol, yet the trigger is smooth in its short travel stroke.

The magazine release is a square button located on the right side in front of the trigger guard. The manual safety is a cross-bolt button that blocks the trigger and sear from moving when engaged. The PLR-16 pistol arrives with a polymer 10-round magazine. The receiver also accepts most AR-15/M16-type magazines. While the firing mechanism, bolt, sights and barrel are made from steel, the upper and lower receivers are constructed of a rugged high-impact polymer. This keeps the unloaded weight of the PLR-16 down to just 3.42 pounds.

The accessories for the PLR-16 provided by Kel-Tec include scope rings, a dynamic shell deflecting operating handle, soft carry case and a muzzle brake specifically designed for the 9.2-inch barrel. Although it is listed as optional, shooters should invest in the polymer fore-end cover to protect their hands from the heat of the barrel. This fore-end also provides a second Picatinny rail below the barrel for attaching lights, lasers, rail-mounted bipods and similar accessories.

One accessory that should not be attached to the lower rail is a vertical foregrip. Although these grips are useful for AR-style carbines and tactical rifles, attaching a vertical foregrip to any handgun changes its legal status to that of an Any Other Weapon (AOW). This means the pistol would need to be registered with the BATFE before the grip is attached.

At the Range
The length and shape of the PLR-16 give it the appearance of a handgun that’s awkward to hold and shoot. Contrary to this first impression, the pistol is well-balanced and comfortable to fire off-hand. Although it’s not necessary for accurate shot placement, attaching a single-point sling to the sling mount located above the grip works very well in providing additional stability. Pushing the pistol out away from the body to create tension in the sling steadies the pistol much the same way as pulling a rifle stock tightly against your shoulder will steady a long gun. With a little practice, using the sling with the pistol becomes second nature.

The PLR-16 proved to be completely reliable during function testing when using the factory 10-round magazine and after-market 30-round AR magazines. A variety of loads were fired, including the relatively dirty steel-cased imported rounds. No malfunctions occurred, even when the gun was hot and fouled from hundreds of rounds. The felt recoil produced by the PLR-16 is in the mild to moderate range, making it comfortable to fire for extended periods of time.

Depending on the load fired, the muzzle flash can be bright. It doesn’t reach a level that’s hard on the eyes, but the guy standing next to you on the range is going to be impressed. If the pistol is going to be used for home-defense, or you’re not interested in pyrotechnics, then a flash hider is a must. Of the flash hiders tested, the four-slot Phantom model, available from J&T Distributing, proved to be the most effective at quelling the fireball this pistol can produce.

The PLR-16 is intended for extended range shooting. Why else would you want an 18.5-inch long handgun chambered for a rifle cartridge? But to remain consistent with other formal accuracy testing used for this site, the gun was fired at a distance of 25 yards. The PLR-16 can be fitted with optics and accessories for hunting and competition. However, it seemed unsporting to add a bunch of extras to generate five-shot groups at a relatively short distance for what is advertized as a target competition gun. Therefore, the formal accuracy testing was conducted using the iron sights and a sandbag on the bench rest for support.

The two best single five-shot groups of 1.25 inches were produced by Hornady .223 Superformance 55-grain GMX and HPR .223 Hyperclean 60-grain V-max loads. The best five-group average of 1.6 inches was produced by Hornady, followed by the 1.75-inch average of the HPR round. Winchester 55-grain .223 Ballistic Silvertips produced a best single group of 1.5 inches with a group average of 1.9 inches. I'm convinced that with the addition of a quality scope and a more stable bench rest platform, like a lower rail mounted collapsible bipod, shooters should easily be able to stretch the range and improve the accuracy of this pistol.

Final Thoughts
Although a variety of rifle-action pistols can be found on the market, not every attempt to convert shoulder-mounted firearms to hand-held ones is successful. Kel-Tec's PLR-16, on the other hand, is a real success story. Simply stated, putting the PLR-16 through its paces is some of the best fun I've had while conducting a gun test. You can enjoy all of the head-turning flash and hoorah of a magnum revolver, but with modest recoil similar to that of a 9mm pistol. Its light weight, modest recoil and top-notch accuracy make it a pleasure to work with. This pistol's 5.56/.223 chambering, and AR-style magazine compatibility, make it an ideal handgun for AR enthusiasts. For plinking, handgun hunting, bench-rest target shooting, and even home defense, the PLR-16 can do it all. 

Manufacturer: Kel-Tec; Kel-TecWeapons.com
Model: PLR-16
Action: Gas Operated Semi-Automatic
Caliber: 5.56 mm NATO/.223 Remington
Finish: Blued
Grips: Black Polymer
Sights: Adjustable
Barrel Length: 9.2”
Overall Length: 18.5”
Height: 7”
Width: 1.7”
Weight: 3.42 lbs.
Capacity: 10 Round Magazine, or M-16 Compatible
Twist: 1:9" RH
Rifle Grooves: 6
Suggested Retail Price: $ 665

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21 Responses to Kel-Tec PLR-16 5.56/.223 Semi-Automatic Pistol

trista wrote:
January 16, 2014

Is it illegal to add a stock onto this gun? Can someone please email me and let me know?? Babaymamadrama17@yahoo

Jeffsabitch wrote:
January 24, 2013

OR u could not be a broke buster and just buy both like I did..

mmbsrusa wrote:
October 06, 2012

I've had one for almost 5 years now & love it. I have a Red Lion custom front end on mine, painted the whole rig in a flecktarn camoflauge, threw a pressure switch 220 lumen light on the left rail, a green laser dot on the right rail, and an Eotech XPS on top. With the Magpul Angled Foregrip, legal by the way, this litte baby rocks. Much too loud for interior home self defense, you should have never advised it for that. for that matter, the muzzle blast is in excess of 3 ft regardless of whose flashhider you use. The 9.2 inch barrel doesn't allow the charge to burn completely off before roaring out. It'll shoot anything you can feed it, is piston operated and rugged. Run over your aluminum or alloy AR lower and see what happens. Run over this one, blow it off and run it again. To the poster, or should I say poser, John that lamented about the short barrel negating this weapons affect; do a little research and find out why there are so many 7.5" uppers on the market and who buys them. I can shoot a tighter pattern with this little fella far better than you can shoot with the rifle of your choice, well, out to two hundred meters anyway. And for the other poster that wrote he needs to take a 'wait and see' approach, well, they are not new to the market and have their kinks worked out. As far as the comment about KelTec reliability, their little PF9 is the best rated ccw by the experts that matter. Hell, Rugers LC9 and LCP are knock-offs of the Keltec. No, I don't work for them, and yes, this PLR16 is the only Keltec I own, but I have handled many, and I wouldn't hesitate to buy any of their products. Loads of fun to shoot, eats the cheap steel stuff which makes it affordable, and it's tough. Add one to your collection, it'll make you smile.

223 goon wrote:
July 24, 2012

I have a plr 16,& for the most part its a blast shooting it.I think im n love.lol...plus im online order stuff too trick it out!its a real piece of work! !!!!!

c45 wrote:
July 14, 2012

yes it can i have put 2 100 round c mags through mine.the polymer forend will melt but the gun wont

July 05, 2012

now this baby looks nice,,how will it hold up on heave fire,will it take 4 to 5 clips,,with out melting ? please i like to no,,and well like to have.thanks.

William Slusher wrote:
April 29, 2012

Prissy Puritan purists notwithstanding, my PLR 16 has been a great value for the dollar. It's stone flat shooting and accurate (130 yd, iron-sight coyote drop at night) recoil is quite mild (noise and flash ain't), and it offers 30 round capacity, but most of all it's just plain, good ole blasting fun.

Dale wrote:
April 27, 2012

I have a PLR and LOVE-IT. The one thing I am not hearing anyone talk about is the report from this weapon. This bugger is a howitser, if anyone is along side, they will need hearing protection. This gun is a BLAST.

GTFan wrote:
April 26, 2012

Kel-tec has really been stepping it up recently. Also, this is like the 10th time I've heard about HPR Ammo in the past month. I think I'm going to need to try it as it seems to perform better than most and yet still priced less than Hornady.

John_T_714 wrote:
April 24, 2012

I have one. I live in California. You'll need a bullet button. It is great to shoot. I would recommend buying the muzzle brake and forend. The muzzle brake take tons of recoil out. Overall, great buy, great gun.

Big Daddy wrote:
April 22, 2012

I have one. I love it. Accurate as hell too. I don't have any accessories mounted on it. The iron sights are enough for me. I have fired over a 1000 rounds in mine and have never had any failure to feeds or failure to fires.

TBell wrote:
March 29, 2012

If IT was required to have an 11 inch barrel don't you think it would have an 11 inch barrel?

John wrote:
March 18, 2012

The 5.56 is terrible in short barrels let alone 9.2 inches. In my option 14.5 inches is as short as you should get. With a 9.2 inch barrel no round will do what it is supposed to do. That throws SD out the window. To put it in a nutshell it is just something fun to shoot no more.

Donald H. Conner wrote:
March 06, 2012

Now, with a Beta C-Mag, it's just the ticket for home defense and house clearing! However, with all the trouble Kel-tec has had with previous products, to say NOTHING of getting them on the shelves, I'll have to take a "wait and see" attitude.

mike wrote:
March 05, 2012

is it calif legal, cause it looks like a heck of a lot of fun to shot!!

Jerry wrote:
March 05, 2012

I would love for Kel-Tec to create a 22LR adapter for the PLR-16 so that it could fire both 223 and 22 LR with the simple switch of the bolt assembly. That would make the PLR-16 (22)both fun to shoot and economical to practice with, while retaining the capability to fire the more powerful ammo. The conversion kit shouldn't be all that difficult to engineer and manufacture. In fact, it would allow Kel-Tec to simplify their production line, building a PLR-16/22 and selling the adapter bolt assemblies to existing customers for the PLR-16. "win-win."

Al wrote:
March 05, 2012

Tech question:I was told that a rifle converted to a short barel had to have a min Of an 11inch barel or is considered a word pls advise

jp wrote:
March 05, 2012

Bait and switch? You mention PMR 22 mag but laud the 223? Boo to all of you. 22mag makes lots of sense the .223 does not and you should know it.

Griff wrote:
March 05, 2012

I have one of these and it is a blast to shoot, but can get expensive like any other .223. I get asked by my liberal friends all the time why I own it, I just say "because I can"

Jim wrote:
March 05, 2012

Now I know a vertical grip is a no no, but what do you think of the angled fore grip, This letter from the atf, seems to indicated an angled foregrip would be ok, https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B0qyloA48O3XZWFjYjMwYTMtYTg1MC00NzVhLWI3NmMtZDRiNTMzNzdhMzUx/edit?hl=en&pli=1

Pete wrote:
March 03, 2012

I had one. Lots of fun to shoot the first few times. Then you wonder why you ever bought it, because it is not good for anything but playing around. Buy the PLR-22 (.22 caliber version) instead, just as much fun and a lot cheaper to own and shoot.