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.
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 an 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.
For example, it has a lightweight 13-inch M-Lok aluminum free-floated handguard and a last-round hold open function. The foraged receivers also feature a tensioning screw to ensure a tight fit between the upper and lower.
Moreover, the Bantam is compatible with Glock magazines—a crucial feature given that Glock sets the standard for 9mm magazines in the current market.
Overall, the Bantam is a great choice for anyone who wants an off-the-shelf 9mm carbine that is reliable and well-equipped.
SIG SAUER MPX
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.
The upper has been slightly modified with an abbreviated port and a large puck-style brass deflector, which not only deflects brass away from the shooter but also pushes lingering gas away. While not exactly like the original Colt 9mm carbine, it does feature a throwback A4 style removable carrying handle with a Magpul A2 adjustable rear sight and an adjustable A2 front sight.
The 16-inch barreled rifle is very nimble at only 6.35 pounds when unloaded and is quick from target to target, making it as manageable as you would expect a pistol-caliber long gun to be. The blowback’s two-stage trigger is better than a gritty mil-spec trigger, although it’s not particularly noteworthy. The M4-style handguard and 6-position stock appear rudimentary compared to modern-day options.
Magazines can be a bit of a touchy issue since they’re Colt pattern, essentially an Uzi mag with a slightly different locking cut. However, they hold 32 rounds, ensuring that there is plenty of fun to be had.
Overall, the Colt pistol-caliber carbine is a great choice for people who want a reliable pistol-caliber long gun that is well-made.
Ruger PC Carbine
Ruger has been in the pistol-caliber carbine game for a while now, with the Ruger Police Carbine and the Ruger Deerfield Carbine being some of their earlier offerings.
However, these never quite took off for Ruger. Fortunately, the Ruger PC Carbine has been a hit, and for good reason.
The Ruger PC Carbine incorporates many modern features into a design that is tried and true. Its layout is similar to the 10/22 and the old-school PC Carbine design. Ruger has also integrated a takedown feature into the PC Carbine, making it extremely compact and easy to transport.
The gun also features a reversible charging handle that can be swapped for left or right-handed use, making it ideal for both left- and right-handed shooters.
Additionally, the magwell can be swapped out. Ruger ships the gun with a Ruger magwell installed, but also includes a magwell that allows for the use of Glock magazines.
This clever move by Ruger opens up a world of affordable and easily available Glock magazines in varying capacities to Ruger PC owners.
Overall, the Ruger PC Carbine is an excellent choice for those in search of a pistol-caliber carbine that is reliable, modern, and versatile.
Beretta CX4 Storm
The Beretta Cx4 Storm tactical carbine is a firearm suitable for both sport and home defense, with a futuristic look and user-friendly features.
However, once you look past the futuristic design and abundance of polymer, you’ll find a remarkable carbine that is simple yet advanced, making it more than capable of the most challenging tasks of a 9mm carbine, such as home defense.
Thanks to its lightweight construction (5.6 pounds) and compact size (29.5 inches in length), it’s highly effective in close-quarters situations. It is also very quick and accurate, but it takes some practice to get used to the 7-pound trigger.
Beretta engineered the Storm with a forward-looking mindset, despite being over a decade old, and included a lot of flexibility in the 9mm (.40 S&W and .45 ACP are also available). This is especially clear in the way it can be used with either hand, which goes beyond the magazine release.
The Storm features a symmetrical bolt design that can easily switch between right- and left-handed configurations by reversing the ejector, extractor, and operating handle. This feature is especially beneficial for left-handed individuals who don’t want hot brass flying across their face.
Beretta also designed the carbine with magazine flexibility in mind. It can accommodate both PX4 and 90 Series mags, giving it a wide range of options. The 92 magazines are widely available, generally reliable, and inexpensive.
Freedom Ordnance FX9
When discussing 9mm carbines, Freedom Ordnance’s FX-9 often flies under the radar.
This is a shame because it is a reliable and accurate carbine that follows the AR-style design.
The blowback system is simple and easy to use, and its accuracy is particularly noteworthy, making it ideal for hitting targets up to 100 yards away.
Despite weighing around 6 pounds, it is nimble and can engage multiple targets quickly.
The FX-9 is made of high-quality materials, with milled billet aluminum receivers and nitride and nickel-boron nitride-coated steel components. The carbine also has a last-round hold open feature, and its modular system makes it easy to customize the length of the barrel.
The Hi-Point 995TS Carbine Rifle is a great choice for people who want a 9mm carbine but are on a tight budget. What sets this rifle apart from others in its price range is the abundance of included features.
In addition to its affordable price, the 995TS boasts an all-weather skeletonized polymer stock, fully adjustable sights, weaver-style rails, a forward folding grip, a flashlight, and a laser. Moreover, the internal recoil buffer in the stock improves control and reduces recoil.
The weaver-style rails also offer the flexibility to upgrade the iron sights to a red dot or other optics, making it easier to customize your loadout.
With a 10-round capacity and a rating for +P and factory ammunition for different payloads, this carbine is a versatile choice.
To top it off, Hi-Point uses 100% American-made parts and provides a lifetime warranty for the 995TS.
Overall, if you’re in the market for an affordable 9mm carbine with plenty of features, the Hi-Point 995TS Carbine Rifle is an excellent choice.
Pistol Caliber Carbine Laws
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.
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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