Pistol Caliber Carbines, or PCCs, have been around for a long, long time, at least as far back as lever-action rifles chambered in pistol calibers back in the days of the Civil War and the Wild West. Today, they are more popular than ever, with resurgence in demand for the concept leading manufacturers to dust off older designs and roll out completely new ones.
The validity of the concept depends on who you ask, but the basic idea- a long gun chambering the same round as your sidearm- has undeniable appeal, at least as far as logistics are concerned.
A pair of firearms with matching calibers will greatly ease the strain of sourcing ammunition, at least in theory, and means no fumbling when it is time to get ammo into the guns themselves.
For today’s article, we’ll be taking a look at PCCs as a class, their pros, cons and eccentricities, and also be looking at the best of the modern breed chambered in the world’s most popular pistol round, the 9mm Luger.
Why a Pistol Caliber Carbine?
Pistol caliber carbines have been around since shortly after the advent of metallic cartridges.
As a class, PCC’s occupy an odd niche among firearms: they afford the shooter more accuracy than a pistol, are easier to shoot well compared to a pistol and typically boost performance of a pistol cartridge, but are obviously larger and bulkier than a pistol (akin to a proper rifle) and in all but the most lopsided comparisons do not even approximate the performance of a rifle cartridge.
Compared to a rifle (or carbine firing a rifle cartridge) PCCs have less range, greater ballistic disadvantage and inferior performance, but also typically less recoil and less weight.
Compared to a handgun, a PCC will afford better accuracy thanks to a longer barrel and sight radius, significantly better velocity thanks to typically better useful burn of the powder charge and better stability thanks to its ergonomic design affording four points of contact with the shooter instead of only two at the maximum with a pistol.
Ballistically, most PCCs are simply buffed-up handguns, though their increased range and accuracy is nothing to sneeze at. Whether this makes them worth the while or not is a subject of much debate, so we’ll get to that in a few minutes.
The single greatest asset of PCCs, taken as a class, is their ability to share ammunition and often, with the modern breed of guns, magazines with a shooter’s pistol. The resulting interoperability between loading devices and ammunition sources is seen as a tremendous boon by some, and is doubtlessly part of this class’s appeal.
The other major advantage of pistol caliber carbines is that they are far easier to suppress effectively owing to their chambering than nearly any rifle.
Simply, most pistol cartridges produce far less gas for a suppressor to deal with, in addition to pushing a projectile much slower than a comparable rifle would. In some cases, truly subsonic performance may be attained, resulting in a “Hollywood quiet” combination between gun, silencer and chosen load.
So, for serious users interested in a PCC as a solution to a self-defense problem, the $100 question is, “are they worthwhile?”
Perks of the PCC
Simply, PCC’s two biggest strengths are ammunition commonality with your chosen pistol and reduced recoil compared to most rifles. How much of a perk this is will depend greatly on your outlook.
Sharing ammo and magazines with your pistol means only stocking and keeping track of one type of cartridge and one feed source for both guns. The loss of some of one or both will not drastically reduce capability for either firearm.
When setting up gear on your person, this means you need only draw from one location to feed either gun. If the time comes to split your gear with a buddy, you can easily parse out ammo and magazines for the shared gun, whichever it is.
In the event that one gun goes down, your magazines that would have otherwise been dedicated for that firearm can simply go right to work feeding your remaining gun until such time as the other is back in action; no wasted space and weight toting “worthless” mags full of ammo.
As mentioned above, if you want to be quiet, really quiet, you have few choices in long guns without getting into the treacherous world of subsonic rifle ammo, and that way lies madness.
Instead, a quality PCC with a silencer and carefully tested, factory loaded subsonic ammo is likely an ideal choice. Whatever activity you are getting up to that requires such a surreptitious combo of gun and ammo, a PCC mated to the appropriate load and can will ensure you reduce your firing signature as much as mechanically possible.
PCCs do bring some advantages to the table, real ones, but they also have some disadvantages that you need to be aware of.
Disadvantages of the PCC
A PCC’s biggest flaw is that, no matter how you slice it, you are getting pretty pitiful performance-to weight-ratio.
Yes, the longer barrel of a PCC can significantly, even drastically increase the velocity of a pistol round, but no matter how much extra “hop” your bullet gets from that 16 or so inch barrel, it is not coming close to the performance of an intermediate rifle round, not even in the same zip code, with very, very few exceptions.
So do not pretend that it does.
Ultimately you are committing to something with the average weight and bulk of a usual long gun without the performance associated with it. A greater ability to hit and extended range over a handgun is an advantage, over a handgun, but is only a fraction of the precision and power a proper rifle can bring to the table.
This disadvantage is ameliorated somewhat if you choose to go with a PCC with a very short barrel, as they will be very compact and lightweight, but the corresponding loss of velocity will curb performance even more; PCC’s with barrels as short as 5”-7” are scarcely more ballistically effective than handguns, even if they are easier to shoot well.
The common critique that PCCs are in essence “big, ungainly handguns” is largely true when assessing projectile performance.
On paper, it is hard to recommend PCC’s compared to rifles, but they do have some very real advantages if you care to read the tea leaves.
For shooters who are recoil averse or dealing with a lack of strength or injury, a PCC can be a substantial improvement over a handgun in the way that any long gun is an improvement over a handgun; greater hit probability, especially at distance or when multiple shots are fired. All the performance in the world does no good if one cannot hit!
A PCC can make a smart choice as a backup or tertiary long gun for special purposes; either as a gun to hand off to someone of “lowest common denominator ability” or as a dedicated quiet rig.
In the former case, the greatly reduced recoil and blast produced by the PCC compared to most rifles will ease the burden on an inexperienced user, and in the latter case you can be assured of maintaining as low a profile as possible when firing if you have done your homework on the gun-can-ammo combo as mentioned above.
Sometimes you will need to stay, in the words of the preeminent sage Elmer Fudd, vewwy vewwy quiet, and a PCC is a far more straightforward path to travel than the trial, error and arcana of getting a proper rifle truly hushed up.
For me, ultimately, if I am toting something that takes two hands to fire and has a stock, you can bet I’ll be using a commensurate cartridge with it. It will be very difficult for me to justify the weight and bulk otherwise. The little bang-bangs will be reserved for my pistols.
I furthermore do not care that much about magazine and ammo compatibility; I am carrying two guns with two distinct roles on purpose.
That being said, some pistol cartridges can generate a drastic bit of extra velocity in a much longer barrel, the .357 Magnum being one of them (though the average 9mm round is not) and should not be ignored out of hand; I will take whatever advantage I can get so long as my hierarchy of selection is clearly thought out.
Bottom Line: I may not feel under armed with a PCC but I would definitely feel under armed with a PCC facing down rifle fire. However, there are situations where PCC’s shine and for certain shooters they make a lot of sense. If you belong to one of those categories, enjoy what other advantages they confer.
The Best 9mm Carbines Today
The good news is for PCC fans is, thanks to you and others like you, the surging interest in this class of long gun has resulted in significant manufacturer attention to this sector and a deluge of new guns to meet consumer demands.
Below I have assembled my list of the top five 9mm carbines on the market today. Why 9mm? It seems like a shoe in that the most popular pistol round in the world would have universal appeal to folks who are prep-savvy and want a long gun to share ammo and probably magazines with. All of the guns on this list (save two that take unique magazines) will do just that.
Second, the following guns are all well-made; reliable, durable and capable of good accuracy out to 100 yards and beyond if you have the ability. Each of them fills a certain niche for a certain kind of shooter, but all of them are more than adequate on their own as a primary weapon.
Remember: I choose firearms based on reliability first, and all other combined factors second. If I cannot depend on a gun, I do not care much about it in the context of our conversation.
With that in mind, on to our list, in no particular order.
1 – CZ Scorpion EVO 3 S1 Carbine
The civilian legal carbine version of CZ’s celebrated submachine gun has only been on U.S. shores since 2015, but has already earned a diehard following for its excellent ergonomics, controls and futuristic good looks.
Fully ambidextrous controls, a folding, LOP adjustable stock, good sights and a new MLOK compatible forend show this to be the PCC to beat when comparing modern design and layout.
This CZ has a good trigger and excellent reliability in keeping with most of their products, and users of any of H&K’s legacy submachine guns will feel right at home on this carbine; the selector is a large lever situated for easy use by the shooting thumb, and the charging handle is located ahead of and just above the handguard. The Scorpion requires its own unique magazines; sorry, mag compatibility guys!
Slick, light, and able to accept a plethora of modern accessories, the CZ Scorpion is an excellent shooter and a fine choice for a PCC.
2 – SIG Sauer MPX K PSB
For a super compact carbine more akin to a traditional submachine gun in size, this variant of the SIG MPX is a good choice. This all-new gas pistol operated family of guns crib their ambidextrous control layout, including charging handle, from the AR-15, and that means most American shooters will be at home with this gun from the get go.
A telescopic 3-position PDW-style brace allows for compact storage until it is time to get down to business while the Keymod forend will help you make maximum use of limited real estate. An included handstop will keep your mitt where it belongs, and with good reason; the MPX K has an itty-bitty 4.5” barrel.
The MPX is the only other gun on this list that requires a proprietary (i.e. non-pistol) magazine. So while you’ll be able to share ammo with your handgun, if you choose your loadout accordingly, you will not be able to make use of its big ol’ SMG mags in your pistol.
It won’t be getting the 9mm up into the major power factor, but for a compact, fast handling and concealable 9mm carbine, the MPX K is just the ticket.
3 – Beretta Cx4 Storm Carbine
Beretta’s elegant and racy carbine introduced in 2003 with the intention of sweeping law enforcement purchases had the rotten luck of breaking on to the market at a time when most departments were moving away from pistol caliber carbines and shotguns to patrol rifles.
Readily diverted onto the commercial market it has more or less languished since, which is a shame, since as far as PCC’s go the Cx4 Storm is really quite good, like many of Beretta’s guns.
Designed to use either 92 series, Px4 series or 8000 series pistol magazines by way of various adaptors and magazine catches, the Cx4 is more than just a pretty gun: the control layout, rails and ergonomics all show significant human engineering and thoughtful design.
The bolt release and magazine release will be instantly familiar to anyone who is competent on a semi-auto handgun. The crossbolt safety is smartly placed for right hand users, just above the trigger guard, and is pressed from right to left for fire. In the case you are a lefty, all controls save the bolt release as well as the ejection port may be switched to the opposite side.
A long receiver top rail, retractable under barrel rail and option side rails allow you to mount all manner of accessories to serve your purposes. If the Cx4 has an Achilles’ heel it is the trigger: a heavy, uncertain, mushy trigger mars what is otherwise a fantastic package.
The Cx4 may indeed be very pretty, but under that sharp exterior it is all business; supremely well-balanced, reliable and accurate. One of the best handling guns on this list.
4 – Kel-Tec Sub-2000
Kel-Tec’s guns have a reputation for quirkiness, but are greatly admired by fans for their general reliability and willingness to produce outside-the-box solutions.
The Sub-2000, one of their best guns, in my opinion, is just such a solution. Quickly and easily folding in half down to a highly manageable and packable 16 inches long and 7 inches wide, the Sub-2000 is a prepper’s delight if you need to stash a long gun in an unusual location.
Even better, no matter what handgun you prefer there is a decent chance this little pocket rocket will be able to share mags with it; variants are available that utilize M&P magazines, Sig P226 mags, Beretta 92 mags or, of course, Glock 17 or 19 mags.
The newest version features a handguard with rails top and bottom for mounting optics and other accessories.
What you gain in convenience you give up a little in operation, though. The sights, while totally usable, are coarse and coarsely adjustable. Perhaps not such a big deal in light of the expected maximum range of the carbine but it does no favors when zeroing, and neither front nor rear sight inspires confidence in its long-term durability.
The charging handle protrudes from underneath the stock tube, a logical choice for placement to keep the overall profile as slick and snag-free as possible, but it is not the easiest or most positive to run quickly.
All that said, no other gun folds down as small or reassembles as quickly as the Sub-2000, and does so with such unexpected reliability; reports of occasional lemons aside, the Sub-2000 is highly reliable with all kinds of ammo, and makes a fine backup or “just in case” gun for a rainy day.
5 – Ruger PC Carbine
Ruger’s newest pistol caliber carbine is an example of a takedown gun done right; a no-tools procedure allows you to split the two halves of the gun in seconds, and reassemble it just as quickly.
The rest of the gun shows much of Ruger’s new spirit in giving the shooter what they want: a threaded muzzle, receiver rail, heavy contour but equally heavily-fluted barrel, reversible magazine release and charging handle and stock adjustable for length of pull (with spacers) all add up to make this little carbine accessible to everyone and capable for most missions.
Brilliantly, Ruger made the decision to offer the gun with interchangeable mag wells allowing it to make use of their own SR- and Security-series magazines or, thankfully, ubiquitous, cheap and dead reliable Glock magazines.
A tiny underbarrel rail seems almost an afterthought, but it provides enough space to attach a good light, a must-have on any defensive gun.
Capped off by a good track-adjustable ghost ring rear sight and heavy, winged front sight and the Ruger is a contender for the crown in the takedown carbine category.
PCCs are here to stay, much to the contrary of those who dismiss them as a fad. After all, they have been around far longer than a century, and as a class have outlived all their critics.
While you may argue their usefulness compared to a proper rifle, you cannot argue their appeal, and for those who desire their unique blend of attributes the time has never been better for the category. Have a look at the list and info above and you’ll be well informed when the time comes to pull the trigger on your new PCC.