• GTW Author


Closing the gap between handguns and full-size rifles, pistol caliber carbines - PCCs as they are regularly called - are rapidly increasing in popularity.


Normally carbines are considered as shortened versions of full-length rifles, shooting the same type of ammunition. In the military realm for example the M4 carbine is the shorter version of the full size M16 rifle. The former is essentially a lighter and more compact variant of the latter, shooting the same 5.56mm ammunition. Pistol caliber carbines feature the same compact carbine build yet aren’t chambered for rifle cartridges. They are chambered for handgun cartridges such as the very popular 9mm Para, .45 ACP, .40 S&W and .357 Magnum. This isn’t a novel idea though.

Back in 19th century America, lever action carbines already chambered then popular handgun cartridges. These carbines were developed as a useful addition to the popular revolvers of the day, firing the same cartridges but allowing more velocity and accuracy than the revolvers because of their longer barrel and stock. They have been regaining popularity in recent years as they are fun to shoot, easy to wield, beginner-friendly yet very capable for a lot of applications, including home-defense.


The primary advantage of shooting a handgun cartridge in a carbine over a handgun is controllability. Thanks to the stock, the shooter has three points of contact with the gun - shoulder, firing hand and support hand - instead of two - firing hand and support hand - with a handgun. This is essentially what makes carbines, as well as rifles, more controllable than handguns. They also pack more weight than handguns, making pistol caliber carbines very recoil friendly. Not only do these factors add to increased ease-of-use but this also improves accuracy as the shooter has more control of the gun. This means quicker shooting capabilities, faster target acquisition/transfer, and a higher level of precision when it truly counts. That way they are a great training tool when paired with a rifle caliber carbine in the same configuration. Shooting, handling, safety… will all be the same, offering a rifle-like experience, yet in a recoil and user friendly package.


Adding to the many advantages of pistol caliber carbines compared to handguns is their longer barrel length of mostly 16” to 18” and more compared to on average 4” to 6” for handguns. Their inherent longer line of sight increases accuracy when shooting with open sights. Additionally the longer barrels can offer increased velocity and, with it, greater energy and effective range due to the powder having more time to burn. Whereas handguns perform best at short ranges, pistol caliber carbines shine at short to mid range.


From a home defense point-of-view, handgun cartridges like the 9mm Para, .45 ACP and others are more than capable of stopping a threat. They are also compact enough to be used indoors. Collateral damage is another big consideration. Unlike rifle calibers, handgun cartridges generally lack the energy to penetrate (several) walls. In a home defense situation where you may have to fire at a target backed up to a wall, this greatly increases safety for others inside or around the house. Whereas pistol caliber carbines are great for home defense, the lack of energy they offer is exactly the reason why many law enforcement agencies are switching from pistol caliber carbines to rifle caliber carbines. Not because they want to be able penetrate walls, yet they do want the ability to penetrate body armor and vehicles when necessary. Which is where most handgun cartridges fall short.


On a handgun, basically you can add a red dot sight and a flashlight or laser. That’s about it accessory-wise, apart from grips and maybe a suppressor when legally allowed. Pistol caliber carbines however are far more customisable, especially when based on the AR-platform. Often featuring full length picatinny rails and/or other mounting systems, you can add pretty much any optic or accessory you want on a pistol caliber carbine. This makes these carbines even more versatile and customisable. While consumers can probably even add compatible accessories they already own, this also makes for excellent add-on sales opportunities as well.


What makes pistol caliber carbines really interesting is some of them - depending on their make - accept pistol magazines from major brands like Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Beretta, Sig, Glock and others. Same ammo, same magazines, two totally different guns. Talk about versatility! Not all pistol caliber carbines take all handgun magazines though, so ensure that a carbine is specifically made to accept the same magazines as the handgun you own.


As you might have noticed, there is a long list of pro’s when considering pistol caliber carbines. There are some drawbacks as well though. Compared to carbines chambered in rifle calibers, such as .223 remington, .300 Blackout and the like, pistol caliber carbines generally are less potent and deliver less power downrange. Handguns meanwhile are chambered for the same cartridges as pistol caliber carbines yet are more compact, handy and concealable. That said, these are really user-friendly and versatile well suited for multiple different applications and often compatible with other guns you already own.


Nowadays pistol caliber carbines fit numerous applications, incredible versatility and offer - together with a companion handgun - a very usable platform for people of all experience levels. PCCs offer pistol caliber chamberings in a rifle-like handling mixed with improved accuracy and range while eliminating a lot of the drawbacks rifle caliber carbines have. Legally speaking, as they are long guns, pistol caliber carbines may also be less legally restricted than handguns in some countries. No wonder these carbines are used everywhere from special forces and law enforcement to competitive shooting events, home defense and target shooting. An opportunity to look out for.

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