Ever-increasing numbers of Americans are securing the appropriate credentials for licensed concealed carry, which drives interest in defensive handguns generally and compact guns particularly. In the past decade, remarkable strides have been made in the development and production of handguns optimized for the discreet carry role. One of the best of the breed is the R9 pistol made by Rohrbaugh Firearms of Bayport, N.Y. We evaluated the Stealth (dull black) variant of the basic 9 mm R9/R9S pistols.
Given its intended role, the R9 is small, measuring 5.2-inches long and 3.7-inches tall. It is light, too, at just 12.8 ounces, empty. Some of the current breed of .380 ACP pistols might run a trifle smaller and lighter, but few pistols in this size and weight class fire the more powerful 9 mm Luger cartridge. That fact alone establishes the Rohrbaugh as a good choice for discreet carry.
There is, however, more to commend the gun than small size and light weight. This is a precisely made and highly usable pocket gun. The energy generated by the 9 mm Luger cartridge dictates that such a small gun must be of locked-breech design. Karl Rohrbaugh, the gun’s designer, came up with a design based on the tilting-barrel principle. Here, the barrel locks into the ejection port and stays locked to the slide until the bullet exits the muzzle and pressure drops.
The beauty of the design is the ingenious way that Rohrbaugh miniaturized the various components to come up with a sleek little gun. Using an underbarrel lug with a kidney-shaped cam hole, the R9S is somewhat like the CZ-75 and SIG P210 pistols in its system of recoil operation. As the slide and barrel recoil together, a pin through the receiver works against the contact surfaces on the cam hole to pull the barrel down and out of contact in the ejection port. The barrel is very short—just under 3 inches—so the system is necessarily reduced in size.
The R9’s double-action-only trigger system is also well engineered. It works on the basis of a drawbar located on the right outer side of the receiver, under the right stock panel. Linked to the trigger at the front end and to the hammer at the back, the drawbar rides in a precisely milled channel in the receiver. Its fore and aft movement is actually controlled by the contours of the channel. Also, the right stock panel has a matching recess, so that the grip frame is actually part of the lockwork arrangement. A very important torsion spring is also there, and the relationship of these parts is critical to the functioning of the gun. Unless it is necessary for some good reason, it is best not to remove that stock panel. The R9’s receiver engineering helps create a very smooth and shootable double-action-only trigger pull measuring 11 pounds.
It is also apparent that Rohrbaugh had his design parameters identified. A concealed carry handgun needs to be simple in operation so that it may be drawn and fired quickly in a life-threatening emergency. In the operational sense, nothing will ever beat a gun that the shooter simply draws and fires, with no intermediate manipulation steps. Such a gun must be safe to carry in a fully loaded, round-in-the-chamber condition. On this logic, the R9S dispenses with some controls as unnecessary. There is no manual safety to manipulate, as safety is inherent in the DAO trigger system. There is no de-cocker, because the hammer cannot be cocked. Also, there is no slide lock to hold the slide to the rear when the last round is fired.
Never intended as a full-blown service pistol for protracted fighting, but rather as a simple emergency tool, the R9 is not laid out to expedite speed magazine changes. The magazine catch is on the butt of the grip frame, in the so-called European style, rather than adjacent to the trigger guard. Set up in this fashion, the gun is completely devoid of the usual array of levers along the top left edge of the receiver, making it slim and snag-free for quick deployment from concealment.
The gun is deliberately small for all of the reasons we have enumerated, but that very attribute makes for a handgun that is challenging to use. Most adult hands find room for no more than two fingers on the short frontstrap. Loaded with typical 9 mm JHP ammunition (not +P or +P+, for which the gun is not rated), recoil is sharp and muzzle flip pronounced.
Combined with the small sights, the handling of the gun is such that the 25-yard standard of five consecutive, five-shot groups is a challenge. The results should be taken in perspective. The gun is made for close-quarters shooting, where it excels in speed and smoothness.
This is a well-conceived and soundly engineered compact pistol. The R9 Stealth, with its low-profile dull black finish, carries a heavy price tag, but the overall quality of the gun for this specialized role is commensurate with that figure.