Year of the Pistol-Caliber Carbine? Really?

We’re told that “2017 is The Year of the Pistol-Caliber Carbine” was one of the themes at SHOT this year. Online, it’s probably best developed by Michael Bane in this article.

This was, as I predicted, the Year of the Pistol Caliber Carbine. They were all over the place on the SHOT floor, and I don’t think we were able to even scratch the surface. While there were a lot of “Me toos!,” with many AR manufacturers rushing to get a pistol caliber product out the door, there were some interesting new products as well as substantial evolution from dedicated pistol caliber companies.

Do Read The Whole Thing™, because Michael does a fairly thorough run-down of available pistol-caliber rifles, leaving out only a few, like the Kriss and the Kahr Arms Thompsons. (The semi Thompsons, available as 16″ carbine or as SBR, date to Numrich Arms and the West Hurley, NY iteration of Auto-Ordnance, so they’re often forgotten out of sheer senescence. “New” is one of the most powerful words in the English language, and these are absolutely “not new”).

Now some people certainly think 2017 is the year of the semi subgun. Maybe SIG-Sauer is one of them, because, as we reported yesterday, they’ve raised the prices of their MPX pistol-caliber carbine from $61 to almost $300, depending on model. Bane likes that one, too. His conclusion (from the same post linked above):

Some things haven’t changed — the Sig MPX absolutely rules the roost. The venerable Kel-Tec SUB-2000, available in 9mm or .40 S&W with magazines for multiple platforms and a low-ball price of $500, remains the first choice for a first pistol caliber carbine — if you can find one! GunBroker is your best bet. MP-5 clones are coming on hard…I did an earlier post that covered MP-5 clones, including the HK SP5K. I’ll cover the RONI instant-SBR concepts in a different post (and I’ve talked about them on the podcast).

Here’s the link on my parts list for my QC-10 build.

Here’s my post on the advantages of a pistol caliber carbine for self-defense.

In our opinion, these are plinking curiosities, like .22LR clones of service weapons; for practical defensive use, the rifle-caliber carbine or SBR is generally superior, which is why militaries and cops have dumped most of their smorgasbord Stens, Stirlings, M3s, MP5s, and Uzis for a boring oatmeal of AR and AK.

One thing could change this calculation: if Congress were to lift the assignment of short-barreled weapons to the National Firearms Act, and make them Title 1 weapons instead. We don’t consider that likely this year, which is unfortunate because the People of the Gun might not have such a strong political alignment for a while. But if it were to squeak through the legislature and into reality, subgun clones would really take off.

53 thoughts on “Year of the Pistol-Caliber Carbine? Really?

  1. votan

    I wanted a pcc for a fun plinker. I settled on a beretta cx4 storm m92 mag version. the 92 mags come in a variety of capacities up to 30 and they work. the plastic guts in it could have been done better but I have to say it just shoots. any and all 9mm I’ve put through it feeds and ejects just fine. it’s reasonably priced as well. I’d recommend it.

  2. James

    The SB tactical braces are a large part of what is driving this, their new models for the Sig MPX ,Scorpion EVO S1, and the B&T line up(probably the most comprehensive offerings) are huge improvements over the buffer tube mounted ones available. While you aren’t gaining much in power over a normal pistol, the ease of use, ability to conceal it in a bag( it is just a pistol), and adaptability make a lot of sense. The reason they are proving to be a bit more popular than 5.56 guns right now is largely size ,that they are much more fun to shoot than a 7″ 5.56(arguably more effective with good ammo),and cheaper to shoot than .300 blackout. Suppressor popularity may be a big part of this trend as well.

  3. robroysimmons

    Does this calculation take pistol caliber out of the plinking category to personal defense or am I missing something?

    As a note if anyone likes to read the ramblings of gun spergs the comments to Bane’s article will give you your fill.

  4. Steve M.

    The pistol caliber carbine can be rather efficient. Compared to rifle cartridge chamberings, they offer longer barrel life, lower recoil, lower report, and less muzzle flash provided the barrel length is actually there. I tend to appreciate all of the above.

    I owned and shot a Marlin 1894 in .41 Magnum for nearly 10 years. It was a very accurate and handy rifle. Despite being a lever gun, I always thought that 10 rounds of 210 grain soft points would be mighty helpful in any home defense situation. Clay targets were fair game at 100 yards and gallon jugs at 200 yards were easy targets as well. I sold it when its online value nearly tripled my original $475 purchase price. I regret the decision to get rid of the Marlin. Recent gun shop forays have shown that Henry’s fit and finish is quite nice. Their introduction of .41 Magnum chambering seems to be heralding a return to the caliber and lever gun format for me.

    The Ruger PC9 has recently worked its way back on to my list. The prices have continued to climb on this gun since Ruger cancelled its production, which makes it harder to justify. Judging by the questions on the 2017 Voice of the Customer Survey by Ruger, it appears they are considering a return to that portion of the market.

    I picked up a Ruger 77/357 last fall, when I heard Ruger was going to cancel production. It’s an absolute hoot to shoot with .38 Specials.

    Most of the new exciting “PCCs” are out of my reach as a resident of CT. However, I have started tracking prices of pre-ban 9mm Colts on Gunbroker. I’m a bit of fan of the pistol caliber in a carbine and I’m looking forward to messing around with semi-auto variant. I’m pretty happy to see the concept go through a bit of a resurgence.

    1. Steve M.

      I should be clear that my comment above only pertains to private use. As far as professional users go, the current move toward rifle chamberings in compact packages makes sense. I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I’m saying the “PCC” is superior for military or police use.

      Also, I forgot an “a” in the second to last sentence of my previous post. I apologize.

    2. John M.

      “lower recoil, lower report, and less muzzle flash”

      These are huge advantages for private citizens.

      The 5.56 wasn’t designed for short-barreled guns, and will produce massive flash and noise out of even a 14″ gun. That’s not such a big problem if you are .gov or .mil and can slap a can on the gun. If you’re compelled to roll out of bed in your boxers and start capping people, it’s not so awesome.

      I think the lever gun in a pistol carbine is a superb home defense piece, especially for users in freedom-challenged jurisdictions. I’d pick .357, not .41, but that’s just caliber war stuff. :)

      -John M.

    3. TomcatTCH

      I really enjoy my IMI Timberwolf in .357 Magnum.

      My only complaint is the desire for more companion firearms for it.

      1. Steve M.

        Considering today’s $900 +/- price tag on the Timberwolf, would you say it’s worth it? I have always found it to be an interesting gun. It too, lingers on my lust, I mean list.

        1. TomcatTCH

          I found it for $800 and bought it as a birthday present for myself.

          It a hell of a nice little rifle. Runs just like an 870, only smaller. I slapped a microdot on the integrated weaver rail, adjusted the stock comb to make it point naturally for me, and it’s a hoot.

          It’s feature set really stands up well compared to a lever action .357 Magnum. Take down, adjustable stock comb, integrated scope rail, almost a bull barrel, 10 rounds in the tube.

          I’d buy it over again in place of a lever action.

          1. Hognose Post author

            Unfortunately, Steve and Tom, it’s been discontinued for a good five years. Just checked GunBroker and there isn’t even one on there. It might take a while to find one.

    4. ToastieTheCoastie

      I’ve always thought a .44 magnum carbine to go with your wheel gun would be a great combination in Alaska.

  5. Keith

    The funny thing to all this popularity at Shot Show to me was arguably pistol carbines are nothing new. Take a look at the C96, P08 and Bergman pistols from more than 100 years ago. IMHO the only thing different this time around is polymer instead of metal, wood or leather.

    Keep your powder dry and your faith in God.

    1. Sommerbiwak

      There are stocks for Glocks. Made from plastic of course. All Bubits pistol designs come with a shoulderstock mounting point.

      They are out there. And there has been quite some following for the RONI and Hera Arms conversion chassis in recent years which serve a similar purpose.

      As continuation of the classic C96 with wooden bolster/stock I have always seen the APS Автоматический Пистолет Стечкина. Sadly they are all with fun switch which makes them out of bounds in most jurisdictions. :-(

    1. Ken

      Don’t take it personally, I’m pretty sure nobody is going to make you buy one.

      I’ve been thinking about a 16″ MPX with an eye towards later converting to a suppressed SBR.
      I believe the new PCC division in USPSA is driving some of the popularity but I also don’t think that market is particularly significant to the overall market.

    2. Raoul Duke

      See, this is what’s still good about the USA; If you don’t like something, you aren’t compelled to buy it. Except for health insurance. You are compelled by federal law to buy it.

  6. Raoul Duke

    I would buy a reasonably-priced semi-auto SBR MP5-type gun.

    Do I have more effective carbines for work? Yes.

    Why would I want a pistol caliber carbine MP5? It’s like asking why I would want a stainless-steel Bren 10:

    Because I grew up in the 1980’s, that’s why!

  7. DSM

    I don’t discount pistol caliber carbines as quickly for “work,” so to speak, like home protection or even professional use in certain circumstances. Case in point, the Polizei saturates their folks with them. Just on the recreational shooting side they’re fun to shoot and being a pistol it’s easy and cheap to load for in copious quantities. I concur that the NFA gets in the way big time.

    As far as the NFA what I foresee is that it will obviously be discussed more openly. NFA was always an open secret in a way and was the gentleman’s club in being the small offshoot of the firearm’s world of people willing to pay to play. I’d love to see it go away though realistically I don’t think it will. Worst case, putting it in the sight picture of the fun police and the $200 transfer turns into $1000.
    I think a case could be made to reduce minimum barrel length to 14.5″ of a Title 1 rifle. Intent of the law is that we have the same access to armament as the Army. The M4 is unequivocally the standard arm now.

  8. Mr. Chubbins

    If we take social uses of pcc out of the equation then the pcc makes a lot more sense. Ammo cost for 100 rounds of 9mm vs 223 will be around half, or less if reloaded. Many indoor ranges won’t let you shoot rifle calibers but a pistol caliber will be ok. Training new shooters and kids on a “power full” pcc rifle will be easier; the bigger tound is a step up from 22lr but without the thump and noise.
    And with cheap non propriatary mags abound buying 10 mags is affordable.
    Now if the argument is that the AR15 makes a poor pcc platform, then I can’t argue against it. ( But damit, I do WANT.)

    1. LFMayor

      It’s hard to reload target 9mm right now for what you can purchase it at. Even .223 was only fifty dollars saved per 1k by my last batch calculations.

      I’m hurt that they overlooked the hi-point carbines. that’s okay, I haven’t bought wine at 7-11 since I left Norfolk, either. But if you’re looking for a cheap fun time…

      1. John Distai

        You do it for the enjoyment, not the savings! :) In the future, you may be doing it because it’s the only option.

  9. SPEMack

    At Benning I was the second oldest guy in my class. During fam fire, the oldest guy remarked that he felt denied in life because if he were to ever storm a building full of terrorists he would be using a rifle and not an MP-5.

    I’d like one of the Ruger Patrol Carbines so as to have mag compatibility with my P-95

  10. Tam

    An oft-overlooked benefit is for people who don’t have access to ranges that are rifle-rated. With the increasing use of shredded rubber backstops, this seems to be less of a problem, but for my first several years in Indianapolis, it was most of an hour’s drive to anyplace that would let me shoot 5.56 (slow fire, off a bench) but there were several indoor ranges, a public outdoor range, and a private shooting club in city limits that were all PCC friendly.

    1. JHP

      My Dad purchased an AR15 a year ago. He has shot it once. This is because he lives in Dallas and is largely confined to indoor ranges. If he had a PCC, he could take it every time he went to the range. One of the saddest things I’ve seen is a group of people shooting an AR 15 at 15 feet, trying to balance it on the waist high benches that indoor ranges. For those who live in suburbia, the PCC reign supreme. Something that is with one hand or access to 100+ meter ranges don’t often recognize.
      I bought a CZ scorpion carbine and couldn’t be happier, even though I have ready access to 300 m range. And loaded with 30 rounds of HST I’m confident in it’s social purposes as well.

    2. Steve M.

      A few years back an FBI employee joined the sportsmen’s club to which I belonged. During his walk through of the premises, he asked about shooting his HK sub gun at the indoor range. This was quite puzzling for the Fudd giving the tour. The indoor range was rated for pistols up to .44 Magnum and .22 rimfire rifles. The sub gun had a shorter barrel like a handgun but a stock like a rifle. The poor fellow couldn’t decide if it was a centerfire rifle or a pistol. It was quite humorous. After a few minutes of debate, I asked the FBI guy if the gun had a folding stock. He said it did, so I told him leave it folded and shoot it like a pistol. He laughed, the poor Fudd gave me a look which I took as my cue to mind my own business.

  11. Klaus

    Being somewhat of a Luddite,I like the Ruger .44carbine. I have two early examples of late sixties vintage and they are quality firearms. 240g.coming out of 18.5″ barrel is impressive to say the least in a package the same size as a 10/22. Holding only 5 rds is my only gripe.A great addition especially if you already stock .44 mag ammo.

  12. Simon

    Come on guys, stop this. Now I have realised that I need one of these. The reason escapes me for the moment, but I am sure I will remember. Beginning of the month as well.

  13. BAP45

    Finally got to put a couple rounds through one of the semi auto Thompsons monday. (Unfortunately it was a pretty early production one so quality was subpar) Want a blast. Definitely gives you a case of the I wants.

  14. Aesop

    “In our opinion, these are plinking curiosities, like .22LR clones of service weapons; for practical defensive use, the rifle-caliber carbine or SBR is generally superior, which is why militaries and cops have dumped most of their smorgasbord Stens, Stirlings, M3s, MP5s, and Uzis for a boring oatmeal of AR and AK.”

    Concur. Apart from their utility in turning ammunition into noise for fun (NTTAWWT), absent the bullet hose option preclusion by the NFA, there isn’t much they bring to the table otherwise.
    People who would extol them for carry are the same ones who carp about the horrendous weight of a military service duty-size M1911 .45, compared to which they’re double to quadruple.
    A truly compact one in semi-auto offers one bare advantage, in that they offer the benefits of pistol caliber penetration vs. rifle over-penetration in home defense, while providing the same doubling to tripling of rounds available, if one is besieged by literal hordes of assailants.
    Except in non-free states where mag cap limitations or outright prevention of the weapons themselves makes them a non-existent option for that either, precisely in most case in the sorts of places where you’d be most likely to need one.
    So they’re back to being a solution in search of a problem to solve.

    When one can once again purchase full-auto Thompson SMGs for use against rustlers in all 50 states, per the original advertising, give a holler; we’ll be interested at that point. With whatever funds remaining after we get our full-auto BAR, M-240, and Ma Deuce on.

        1. John M.

          Yup. AFAIK, overpenetration concerns are one of the major reasons why operators at almost all levels have moved away from PCCs to SBR AR-pattern rifles over the last ~10 years.

          -John M.

      1. Steve M.

        The testing doesn’t lie and it confirms what I have seen in my own shooting. I really can’t call it testing.

  15. Steve

    I think it’s interesting that Mr. Bane’s article leaves out the many foreign PCCs/pistols – the extremely popular CZ Scorpion (which has a large and growing aftermarket), the long running Beretta CX-4 Storm, and the many MP5/MP5K derivatives from a variety of sources including H&K (finally). There wasn’t even a mention of B&T, though they’re quite boutique. Is that a sign of (admirable) nationalism I read there?

    I think the following explains these guns better than anything else:
    “I can’t remember who I was talking to (sorry!), but he postulated that part of the rise of the 9mm carbine was that Gun Culture Ver. 2.0 essentially “came of age” in a period when .22 LR simply wasn’t available.”

    As an individual who started shooting around the time President Obama was inaugurated, I’ve never known cheap .22LR. The slow drop in prices ($0.07/round!) we’re experiencing now is a strange new world for me. When bulk .22LR was $0.11/round, paying a bit extra for 9mm (which was always available, unlike .22LR) that I could also shoot through my pistols was a compelling argument. The only thing that stopped me was NJ’s draconian gun laws, else I would have bought and SBR’d and suppressed a PCC by now. I can’t imagine those laws loosening anytime soon, so I’ll probably go for a .357 levergun one day, but a CX-4 or neutered 9mm AR certainly would be fun.

  16. Rick2gun

    Because I am a gun greedy person I may have been slightly ahead of this “new” PCC craze. I bought my Beretta CX4/.40S&W back in 2008. For what ever reason my wife liked it and after the first time she shot it, I was told by her that “This now my gun”! It generally hangs out behind the full length drapes next to the sliding glass door. the bolt handle is on the left and the trigger and operating rod have been replaced with a Sierra Pappa kit. Without stock spacers, the LOP is fine for me and the wife. At 80 yards, from a bench and shooting at six inch paper plates she can keep all 20 rounds from a single magazine on target. Both front and rear sights fold out of the way of the red dot sight. If the battery dies, they easily move upright and seen clearly thru the dead red dot. This CX4 accepts magazines from my 92 and 96 so it never goes dry. Happy wife, happy life. What more can I guy ask for.

  17. Brad

    I held no regard for 9mm carbines, until very recently. (carbines in .357, .44 mag, and .30 Carbine are a whole different matter)

    But I had an opportunity to handle a Generation 2 Sub-2000 at a retail store, and oh my was it intriguing: super short, featherly light, incredibly balanced, and of course M-LOK slots galore. Notable was the threaded muzzle and slight adjustment for LOP too. Now I think I am going to have to get one of the damned things!

    To put it in some perspective, its OAL is 2 inches shorter than an M1 SMG. It’s like having a SBR but without any of the NFA nonsense.

  18. KC

    I remember reading a double stories of home defense with a hi point 995 carbine. It is easier for a non gun person to learn to shoot accurately than a pistol. My wife likes the 995 better than a pistol as it is easier to charge due to more leverage.

  19. Scott

    I suspect, given the recent political developments in Nov., demand for AR / AK-ish carbines is reverting to something closer a natural level of demand, no longer being fueled by fears of the wicked witch attaining office. Given that the prior 8 years featured the “top gun salesman of all time,” I imagine the consumer focused purveyors of conventional AR platforms are looking anxiously around looking for the “next big thing”. (Prices are slowly yet steadily falling, from what I can tell.) So, the ability to adapt their present platforms offerings (for which they have non-trivial investments) to the “next big thing” would be awfully, awfully convenient.

    (This is with respect primarily to PCC in AR flavors…)

    I suspect some gun writers might be desirous of a “next big thing” as well, and might be taking some “direction” from manufacturers wishing to drum up a “next big thing”.

    But then again, I am a cynical sort.

  20. Michael Bane

    Always nice to kick off a good discussion! Hognose, totally agree that from a military standpoint, the 9mm carbine/SMG makes no sense, which is why the 9mm SMGs disappeared from the various militaries. However, I stand by my points on the utility of the 9mm (or larger) carbines for civilian defense use. My EDC is a 9mm (Corbon DPX or Hornady Critical Duty)…that is, I have made a decision that the advantages of the smaller 9mm outweigh its disadvantages (a big decision for someone who came up in the Cooper/GUNSITE/.45ACP paradigm! LOL!). I see no reason not to apply the same logic in a home defense firearm. I’ve started shooting the FBI/G2 147-gr load but I don’t have enough experience with it to have an opinion yet.

    A key point for me is ease of use. When I instructed, especially new shooters, I would routinely use Marlin lever actions in .38/.357 or even .44 Special because I found them to be excellent tools to bring up shooter skills. I have also used M1 Carbines for the same reason. In my own observation and in my direct experience a pistol caliber carbine allows for more hits on target faster. The short, light carbines (and pistol analogs of carbines) are easy to maneuver in tight spaces, won’t cause your ears to fall out, and carries a substantial amount of ammo. It’s interesting to see the carbines come into their own for competition with USPSA’s Pistol Caliber Carbine division. It’s also a good way to sort out what works.

    As always, though, you pays your money and you take your chances! Over the years on THE BEST DEFENSE we’ve used the pistol caliber lever gun as an alternative house carbine (especially in jurisdictions where use of your AR will put your butt in a sling). One size never fits all…

    Ammo costs, range availability, etc. are all serious factors for a lot of shooters. As practice tools, I was a big fan of .22 AR carbines, but at the end of the day they were simply to much of a PITA to keep running (compared to, say, a 10/22). Pistol caliber carbines are pretty much bullet-proof (I refer you to Bill Rogers at Roger’s Shooting School, who has long utilized 9mm carbines in his training).

    As I said, great discussion! Thank you for bringing it up, Hognose. Sorry I left out some venerable carbines…I love my old Thompson semi, rebuilt by the great Stan Andrewski years ago. And you are right, “New” is a big driver…I say that as a person who lives or dies on weekly ratings…ratings go up when we do “New.”

    And if I could speak directly to commenter Scott, I was on the phone yesterday with a big retailer, and he was saying that in this market he couldn’t give ARs away as door prizes — “Buy a Kel-Tech P11 and get a free AR!” Ok, not that bad yet, but getting there. A line extension like an AR-based PCC has the potential to drive additional accessory sales, which is how retail stores stay alive in a downturn.

    I would take issue with your idea that manufacturers “nudge” the media to move the market in certain directions. In the first place, the industry isn’t that organized! LOL! Looking at trends over the years, you typically see the market moving the manufacturers rather than the reverse. Look at the widespread acceptance of the AR platform itself…I would say that happened *despite* the industry as opposed to under pressure from the industry (actually there’s a fascinating business story to be written on how Clinton’s AWB, in what has to be the most spectacular “unintended consequence” in the gun business, allowed the AR market to grow through small, entrepreneurial companies while the more conservative big players initially stayed on the sidelines). To be totally honest, I LOVE my sponsors, and I do my best to put them in the best possible light! They pay literally hundreds of thousands of dollars to allow me to do what I do (and to put them in front of those eyeballs). But part of my deal with my sponsors is that I do not use their products to the exclusion of others. Just because Glock doesn’t advertise with me doesn’t mean that Glock doesn’t exist. The big players in PCC, Sig and CZ, aren’t sponsors right now, although, to be sure, I would love their money!

    Thanks again, dude!

    Michael B

    1. Hognose Post author

      Thanks, Michael. One of the things that I didn’t consider, but commenters brought up, is that a lot of indoor ranges forbid rifle calibers. I didn’t think about that because the indoor ranges I use have Savage Range System wet/snail traps and are good up to .50 BMG ball ammo. Because of my own situation it didn’t even occur to me that a 9mm AR might be the difference between practicing and not doing so.

      In David Ogilvy’s book on advertising, he said that the most effective words (in order ) were FREE and NEW. People will also bite at IMPROVED, but not as much, which is why in his world everything has been “NEW and IMPROVED” for eighty years or so.

  21. KB Dave

    I always thought pistol caliber carbines were useless, unless you were able to get your hands on a fun switch MP5.

    Then I shot a side charging AR9 “pistol” with a Sig brace.

    Now I want a suppressed, side charging AR9 SBR.

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