Carrying a pistol and a long gun that are both chambered for the same caliber was a common practice born out of the fact that convenience and simplicity reign supreme when your life depends on it.
Carrying two firearms chambered for the same round was one of the big appeals in the days of the Wild West. For example, the combination of the Colt Single Action Army revolver and the Winchester Model 1873 lever-action rifle made for a perfect union in simplicity and preparedness.
However, as rifle rounds and ballistics evolved and became more efficient and effective, this idea of carrying a pistol and rifle chambered for the same round became a thing of the past.
Over the past few years though, we’ve begun seeing a massive resurgence of pistol caliber carbines, most notably the 9mm carbine.
What is a Pistol Caliber Carbine?
A Pistol Caliber Carbine is a rifle or carbine chambered in pistol calibers such as 9mm, .45ACP, and .40 S&W. Some of the most popular pistol caliber carbines are 9mm ARs, often referred to as AR9s.
By combining pistol cartridges with a full-size rifle platform, the pistol caliber carbine is easy to shoot and cheaper to feed. After all, we’ve seen 9mm ammunition going for as little as 17 cents per round. That’s much easier to accept than rifle caliber rounds that average a dollar per round.
A Pistol Caliber Carbine takes the beauty of SMGs such as the HK MP5 and brings it into a civilian package, that can be readily had at a fraction of the cost.
What is a Pistol Caliber Carbine Good For?
The return in popularity of pistol caliber carbines has a lot to do with current and emerging threats (protests, riots, home invasions, and active shooter situations), ammunition costs, and newer technology and manufacturing processes.
Pistol ammunition has really stepped up its game in recent years. You get exceptional performance out of some of the newer defensive handgun rounds being produced.
I’m no lawyer, so don’t take this as legal advice. Do your own due diligence before buying.
When talking pistol caliber carbines, they generally fall under the same guidelines as rifles. The ammunition used has no bearing on the legality.
Short Barreled Rifles (SBRs) which is any rifle, carbine, or pistol caliber carbine with a barrel length shorter than 16" or an overall length shorter than 26" is classified as a short-barreled rifle by the National Firearms Act (NFA) and requires a $200 tax stamp along with submitting a Form 1.
ATF Form 1 is an "Application to Make and Register a Firearm." It is used whenever a person without a Federal Firearms License (FFL) wants to make an NFA purchase such as a suppressor, short-barreled rifle, short-barreled shotgun, or an Any Other Weapon (AOW).
Advantages and Disadvantages of a Pistol Caliber Carbine
Advantages of a 9mm Carbine
Improved accuracy and handling – The pistol caliber carbine offers improved accuracy and handling that comes with a shoulder-fired weapon compared to shooting a traditional handgun. PCCs provide very low felt recoil as well.
Reduced muzzle blast and sound – A pistol caliber carbine with a 16-inch barrel has far less muzzle blast than a 16-inch carbine chambered in Nato 5.56 cartridge. Unless you’re using a suppressor, the muzzle blast and noise from an AR rifle is deafening when fired indoors. Most pistol calibers are mild in comparison when fired from a standard 16" barrel. The sound and muzzle blast is something you need to take into consideration when you might need to fire the weapon around your loved ones. Causing permanent hearing damage to yourself and your children is a possibility that is significantly increased with an AR chambered in 5.56.
Ammunition and magazine compatibility – A third potential benefit is ammunition compatibility and even magazine compatibility with your handgun. For example, if you carry a Glock pistol, you can find a pistol caliber carbine that accepts Glock magazines. This simple setup allows you to only have to accommodate one type of ammunition and magazine. Keep it simple stupid.
Reliability – Although with newer pistol caliber carbine platforms, this is generally a non-issue, some "cheaper" options will have their nuances. You get what you pay for. If you get a decent platform and you’re running decent ammunition, you’ll be good to go. Just like with a pistol, you’ll need to do some testing to find out what ammo feeds the best and offers the most reliability.
Limited engagement range compared to a rifle caliber – This is a disadvantage to a certain extent. Yes, your rifle cartridges are going to have a significantly longer range due to their inherent design and purpose. However, there will be some crossover between pistol rounds and rifle rounds, but you need to look at the design intent. A pistol caliber carbine is going to be easier to handle for home defense and close engagements than a rifle for most people. It boils down to what role you’re using the PCC for.
9mm Carbine Ballistics
When the 9mm cartridge was first developed in 1901, it was intended to be lethal within a range of 50 yards.
While advancements in ammunition design, manufacturing, and testing have significantly improved over the years, there is a distinct ballistic advantage to shooting a pistol cartridge out of a 16" carbine length barrel.
The following ballistics chart reflects a 9mm115 grain bullet fired from a 5" pistol barrel. As you can see there is a significant drop that begins at 100 yards.
By taking that same round and firing it through a 16" carbine length barrel, the longer barrel twist rate and burn time increase the velocity and better stabilizes the bullet in flight. Bear Creek Arsenal tested this theory with Cor-Bon 115 grain JHP+P fired from both a 5" barrel and 16" barrel. The result?
With a 5" barrel, testing reveals a muzzle velocity of 1,372 feet per second and a muzzle energy of 465 foot-pounds. When fired through a 16" barrel, that same cartridge clocks in at 1,525 fps and 582 foot-pounds – a pretty hefty increase.
What is the Best Pistol Caliber Carbine?
There are many great pistol caliber carbines out there, some newer to the scene and a few seasoned players. One of the newer platforms to make entry into the PCC market is the Maxim Defense MD9.
Maxim Defense MD9
When you’re looking for Maxim Defense ingenuity in a new standard AR-9, the MD-9 is your answer. The MD-9 was engineered to fit the growing demand for cutting-edge AR9 style rifles for today’s Military and commercial market.
It’s easy to see why the SIG SAUER MPX has become an industry-leading pistol caliber carbine. Featured such as a gas-piston action, 5-position stock, carbon fiber barrel, and Timney single-stage trigger right out of the box.
While there are bone stock versions, the MPX Copperhead offers something for those wanting to go more compact.
Also available at Kentucky Gun Company for $1,999.99 (as of this writing).
CZ Scorpion EVO
The CZ Scorpion EVO might be one of the coolest pistols with an SMG vibe that civilians can get their hands on.
With a side-folding adjustable stock, a 16.2" barrel, and a choice between a muzzle brake or a faux suppressor built specifically for CZ-USA by SilencerCo, what more is there to say about CZ’s Scorpion EVO 3 Carbine?
Also available at Kentucky Gun Company for $899.99 (as of this writing).
Kel-Tec Sub 2000
The Kel-Tec Sub 2000 is one of the lightest pistol caliber carbines on the market at only 4.5 pounds and folds in half for easy transport and concealment. No other manufacturer has touched this design. Couple that with an extremely affordable price and you’ve got yourself one hell of a home defense pistol.
While the standard Kel-Tec Sub 2000 runs 9mm Glock magazines (arguably the most popular), there are also options and availability in .40 S&W as well.
Also available at Kentucky Gun Company for $467.99 (as of this writing).
Wrapping it Up!
Just to recap some advantages pistol caliber carbines have over rifles as well as traditional pistols.
They are lighter and more maneuverable than rifles
They are more accurate and easier to control than traditional pistols
They are not as loud as a rifle caliber carbine
pistol ammunition can be more affordable than rifle ammunition
You can use the same ammunition and magazines as your sidearm
Although pistol caliber carbines come in a variety of calibers, the most popular is 9mm. But the caliber choice is ultimately personal preference and, if you want to pair it with your sidearm, what sidearm you have.
Whatever PCC platform you choose to roll with, you’re going to stack the odds in your favor when it comes down to defending your home.
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