From gasoline to sliced bread, everything is getting more expensive these days. The firearm world is not immune to inflation, as anyone who has experienced sticker shock when pulling a box of ammunition off their local gun retailer’s shelf well knows. It is into this economic reality that KelTec introduces the P15, a serious concealed-carry and self-defense double-stack 9 mm Luger handgun with enhanced features and a suggested retail price of just $450.
The KelTec company has a track record of developing innovative firearm designs that are rendered affordable through unique engineering solutions, with products such as compact folding rifles, bullpup rifles and shotguns, and semi-automatic handguns chambered for cartridges such as the 5.7x28 mm FN and .22 WMR. This has generated a broad fan base and deep aftermarket, making KelTec products go-to options for everything from recreational shooting to self-defense for the “We The People” masses.
Founder and chief engineer George Kellgren’s history with compact, concealed-carry handguns pre-dates his current company. In 1988, Kellgren’s previous business, Grendel, Inc., introduced the P10, a polymer-frame .380 ACP handgun that held 10 rounds in a fixed internal magazine. After founding KelTec, Kellgren continued the development of modern compact and lightweight concealed-carry pistols. The .32 ACP P32, introduced in 1999, weighed in at 8 ozs., and KelTec scaled that basic design up to accommodate the .380 ACP and 9 mm Luger cartridges.
In announcing the company’s introduction of the P15, its director of sales and marketing—and George’s son—Derek Kellgren said, “KelTec invented subcompact, polymer handguns, so we wanted our first 9 mm striker-fired pistol to be worthy of the company my father founded 31 years ago.”
KelTec claims that the P15 is “the lightest, thinnest double-stack 9 mm handgun on the market.” In terms of the numbers it advertises, 14 ozs. is the weight of the pistol without a magazine and 0.875" is the width of the slide. I measured the weight as 16 ozs. with an empty magazine inserted and the width at 1.06" across the raised texture of the grip, which is the widest part of the pistol.
To examine the “thinnest/lightest” claim, let’s take a look at some competitors. The de facto standard in the double-stack, compact, 9 mm handgun market, the Glock 19, has a width of 1.19" at the thickest part of the grip. The Springfield Hellcat, representative of the newest generation of ultra-slim double-stack handguns, has a grip width that measures 1.07". As a comparison, the popular seven-shot, single-stack, polymer-frame 9 mm Springfield XD-S Mod. 2 measures 0.98" across its grip. While a handgun’s width certainly contributes to how comfortably it conceals, the grip’s circumference determines how it fits the hand. In this category, the Glock 19 comes in at 5.75", the Hellcat at 5.25" and the P15 at 4.75". At 16 ozs. the P15 is a full 8 ozs. lighter than the Glock 19 and nearly 5 ozs. less than the similarly sized Hellcat Pro. To put these numbers into perspective, a P15 with a loaded 15-round magazine inserted weighs 1 oz. less than an unloaded Glock 19. In terms of KelTec’s own 9 mm lineup, the P15 is as slim as the seven-shot PF9 and lighter than the 10-shot P11.
Despite being one of the lightest double-stack 9 mms, the overall size of the P15 is in what I call the “pro” category of the compact, striker-fired, polymer-frame handgun market, a niche it shares with models like the Glock 19, Mossberg MC2c, SIG Sauer P365 XL and Springfield Hellcat Pro, which all have a barrel around 4" long, an overall length of about 7", a height of roughly 5" and a magazine capacity of 12 to 15 rounds.
Now that we know exactly what size it is, let’s take a look at the mechanical details. The basis of the P15 is a locked-breech, recoil-operated design that uses the familiar square barrel hood that locks into the slide. A cam is built into the barrel below the chamber, which works against the axis pin of the slide release to unlock the barrel as the slide assembly recoils. Dual recoil springs are captured on a guide rod. The P15 uses a striker-fired mechanism—this is a first for KelTec handguns; previous models utilized a concealed hammer, double-action-only system. On the P15, the action of the slide partially cocks the striker, and pulling the trigger takes the striker to full cock before releasing it.
In addition to the built-in internal safeties, the P15 has a grip safety (which KelTec terms the “grip disconnect”) and a magazine safety. The grip safety must be depressed with a proper shooting grip before the pistol will fire, and the magazine safety prevents the pistol from firing when the magazine is removed. Both can be disabled by turning a slotted tumbler in the frame that is concealed under the slide when the pistol is assembled. It allows for the deactivation of both the grip and magazine safeties or just the magazine safety. The grip safety retracts into the frame when not in use. To round out the safety features, a loaded-chamber indicator provides visual and tactile confirmation when a cartridge is chambered.
The P15’s frame is a one-piece polymer design with a bolted-in internal alloy chassis that includes the rails that the slide runs on. It is serialized, making it, not the polymer portion of the frame, the “firearm” as per BATFE definition (a fact that opens up the possibility of aftermarket grip modules). The sides of the grip portion of the frame use raised blocks in a system that KelTec calls “Gator Grip,” but in the case of the P15, the surfaces of these blocks have stippling for additional texture. There are deep, molded-in grooves on the frontstrap and backstrap of the grip. The frame’s dustcover has a section of accessory rail with a single slot for attaching compact lights or lasers. In testing, we found that the Crimson Trace CMR-205 Rail Master Pro fit nicely and added less than 3 ozs. to the pistol’s overall weight.
For those who find the P15’s grip to be too small, KelTec supplies an extra backstrap that snaps into place. To use it, a supplied extension must be attached to the grip safety. With the accessory backstrap installed, the front-to-rear length of the P15 grip is increased by 0.20" and the grip circumference comes to 5.13".
The P15’s slide is a hybrid steel-and-polymer design. While the majority of it is steel, the rear portion that surrounds the rear sight is made of polymer. As compact handgun slides can be hard to get a grip on, the P15’s slide has wide serrations on its front and rear sides. Though a budget offering, the P15 doesn’t go cheap in the sighting department. The supplied sights are HIVIZ brand; the front sight is the company’s H3 LiteWave design that combines a green fiber-optic “litepipe” for daytime illumination with a tritium insert for nighttime visibility. The rear sight is adjustable for windage and elevation and features two tritium dots. A polymer rear slide cover is removable and can be replaced by an aluminum alloy base for mounting optics. The user must remove the rear sight when adding an optic. Although the optics adapters were not available for the P15 at the time of my testing, KelTec has teased that a series of rear slide covers adapted to a variety of miniature red-dot optic footprints will be available as accessories in the near future.
Controls on the P15 are conventional, with a left-side slide release lever. A generously sized, triangular-shaped magazine-release button is placed where the trigger guard meets the grip frame. It can be switched to either side by removing the screw that holds the two halves together. There is no external manual safety, aside from the grip safety.
The P15 uses a metal double-stack magazine made by Mec-Gar. The pistol comes supplied with two—a flush-fit 12-rounder and a 15-round magazine with a polymer extension. With the 12-rounder installed, the P15’s overall height is 4.45"; the extended magazine adds another 0.65". Given its overall length of 6.50", the pistol has that long slide/short grip geometry that some concealed-carry practitioners prefer. The design of the magazine was based on the 10-round box used with the KelTec P11, which was, in turn, based on the magazine used for the Smith & Wesson 59 series. As with the P11, some 59-series magazines might work with the P15, but I did not have any on hand to confirm this.
Smaller and lighter doesn’t always translate into an advantage on the range. The P15 is rated for use with +P ammunition, and in testing, I ran both commercial +P and NATO-spec ammunition, which resulted in sharp recoil that the narrow cross section of the grip frame transferred to the palm. Think .38 Spl. self-defense loads in a light alloy-frame five-shot revolver. The trigger on the P15 has a short initial takeup before it encounters the weight of fully cocking the striker. Its break feels lighter than the 5-lb., 4-oz., result measured on my Wheeler Engineering scale. It resets to the second stage with an audible click. Accuracy averaged just under 2.5" at 15 yards with the three loads I tested formally, and reliability was 100 percent from the first round throughout the variety of bullet profiles and weights I tried.
In field testing, I found the magazine release, though generously sized, to be hard to manipulate. Additionally, the extension of the 15-round magazines rides against the palm, making it necessary to significantly shift the firing grip to get the magazine to drop free, a problem common when using extended magazines with compact handguns. For my hands, adding the supplied backstrap made it easier to press the magazine release and gave the extended magazines the room to drop free. I also found, without adding the backstrap, that switching the magazine release to the firing hand side of the grip allowed it to be easily reached by the trigger finger, and the resulting shift in grip allowed the magazine to reliably drop free. Even when brand-new, the P15’s magazines could easily be loaded to full capacity and inserted with the slide forward for “plus-one” loading.
Fieldstripping the P15 is a simple process. After determining that the pistol is empty, the action is dry-fired to release the striker (an empty magazine must be inserted if the magazine safety is activated). Retracting the slide slightly aligns the slide release with the takedown notch. A groove in the slide release provides a grasping point for removal. KelTec recommends using the rim of an empty cartridge case to aid in removal, and we found this technique to work well. With the slide release removed, the slide can move forward and off the frame. The barrel and recoil-spring assembly are removed in the conventional manner. This is as far as KelTec recommends disassembling the pistol for cleaning.
Expecting that the P15 will be as popular as other KelTec products, an aftermarket is already forming. Holsters are available from companies including Alien Gear and Kinetic Concealment, and additional sighting options and stocks (see sidebar) are sure to follow as well. For our testing, we carried the P15 in Alien Gear’s Cloak Tuck 3.5 inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster (MSRP $65). The ease of carrying the P15 IWB belies its size and capacity. It even carried well while doing high-impact activities like jogging, a scenario usually reserved for only the smallest and lightest (and lowest capacity) of handguns. While I found the grip safety to be unobtrusive and easily disengaged with a normal firing grip, I did switch off the magazine-disconnect safety as a matter of personal preference. It should be noted that, in the supplied manual, KelTec recommends not disabling either safety.
With the introduction of the P15, KelTec is making a statement of what it considers to be the ideal concealed-carry and self-defense handgun for the masses, and, as such, the company has ended production of its other 9 mm and .380 handgun models (the original .32 ACP P32 soldiers on). Based on its innovative simplicity and affordability, I would almost call the P15 a Volkspistole—the “people’s pistol,”—but it’s way too refined and feature-laden for the “last-ditch” baggage that this title carries. With its excellent out-of-the-box sighting system, ability to mount accessories and optics, and the fact that it punches above its weight class with a 15-round capacity, the P15 represents KelTec’s efforts to put a quality, reliable, double-stack, concealed-carry handgun within the financial grasp of all Americans.