Today’s gun market has an almost endless list of handgun and rifle options, each featuring a wide selection of calibers, parts, accessories, and other customization options. If you are an experienced gun owner, you may already own one or multiple firearms in each category.
However, a third option, standing between traditional rifles and handguns, has become highly popular among American shooters: the Pistol-Caliber Carbine (PCC). In fact, the PCC chambered in 9x19mm is the world’s most popular pistol cartridge.
Learn more about what makes the 9mm carbine a great firearm and the best models available.
What is a Pistol-Caliber Carbine, and What Purpose Does it Serve?
A Pistol-Caliber Carbine (PCC) is a long gun chambered in a cartridge primarily intended for, or associated with, handguns. Although the term “pistol-caliber carbine” usually refers to modern interpretations, firearms fulfilling the same purpose as modern PCCs have existed almost as long as handguns.
The purpose of a pistol-caliber carbine is to offer rifle-like controls and ergonomics like the stock and forend and compatibility with a cartridge designed for a handgun. PCCs often feature longer barrels and sight radiuses than handguns, resulting in a firearm that is easier to aim accurately, has better range, and generates less recoil than a handgun.
Different firearms have entered the definition of what we understand to be a pistol-caliber carbine today, with each concept influencing modern-day versions.
The Pistol-Caliber Lever-Action Rifle
One of the first historical firearms that could be considered a PCC is the Winchester Model 1873 lever-action rifle.
One of the selling points of the Model 1873 was its availability in multiple cartridges that the Colt Single-Action Army was also available in, such as .44-40 WCF, .38-40 WCF, and .32-20 WCF. In particular, the .44-40 version led to the Model 1873 gaining its nickname: “The Gun that Won the West.”
This compatibility allowed a shooter of the era to arm themselves with a reliable Winchester rifle and a Colt revolver without requiring them to carry two different kinds of ammunition. The same cartridges could be chambered in the rifle or the revolver, saving money and streamlining logistics.
Today, multiple manufacturers such as Marlin, Henry, and Rossi offer modern interpretations of this concept using common revolver cartridges. It is possible to find lever-action rifles chambered in .357 Magnum/.38 Special, .44 Magnum/.44 Special, .454 Casull/.45 Colt, and more.
The Pistol Carbine
Around the turn of the 20th century, handguns such as the Mauser C96 and the Luger P08 were available in shoulder-stocked configurations or could be easily modified to accept a shoulder stock.
Although still effectively pistols in terms of performance and ergonomics, the addition of a shoulder stock helped the shooter stabilize the sights and shoot more accurately, effectively creating a carbine out of a pistol.
Some models took advantage of the extra accuracy by pairing the shoulder stock with a longer barrel. The extra barrel length increased the muzzle velocity and made the firearm more similar to a rifle. Historical examples include the Luger LP08 Artillery and the Mauser C96 Kavallerie Karabiner (Cavalry Carbine).
More modern takes were often machine pistols fitted with stocks, allowing the shooter to control the firearm more effectively when set to burst mode (e.g., Beretta 93R) or full-auto mode (e.g., Stechkin APS, OTs-33 Pernach). Even the Glock pistol has a full-auto version (the Glock 18) that can be fitted with numerous aftermarket stocks, keeping the original pistol carbine concept alive.
The concept of the submachine gun was based on many of the principles introduced by the MP18: a long gun (requires two hands to use) chambered in a pistol cartridge, shorter than a full-sized rifle, and featuring a fully-automatic mode for maximum effectiveness in close quarters.
Virtually all of the world’s most popular submachine guns follow this template. Famous examples during World War 2 include the Thompson, the M3 Grease Gun, the MP40, the Sten, the PPSh-41, the Beretta Model 1938, and the KP/31.
Post-WW2 examples further refined the concept, resulting in what many shooters consider among the world’s finest SMGs: the Heckler & Koch MP5, the Uzi, the Beretta PM12, the MAC-10, and the Skorpion.
Modern, post-cold war examples include the B+T MP9, the Heckler & Koch UMP, the CZ Scorpion EVO, and the Kalashnikov-derived PP-19 Bizon and PP-19-01 Vityaz. Arguably, the entire Personal Defense Weapons (PDW) category, such as the FN P90 or the H&K MP7, traces its lineage from the submachine gun.
The pistol-caliber carbine, as we currently understand it, is a category of firearms that mainly exists in the civilian realm, primarily due to legal reasons.
In the United States, any firearm with a stock and a barrel length under 16 inches is regulated under the National Firearms Act as a Short-Barreled Rifle (SBR). And any firearm capable of fully-automatic or burst fire modes is legally considered a Machine Gun.
These regulations virtually eliminate every submachine gun and pistol carbine from legal ownership, barring significant expense and paperwork. Consequently, modern PCCs are semi-automatic, pistol-caliber firearms reminiscent of submachine guns but do not possess highly-regulated features, keeping them accessible and affordable to the average shooter.
Modern PCCs often feature a 16-inch barrel (the legal minimum for non-SBR rifles) and ergonomics reminiscent of modern rifles (e.g., AR-15-style controls, adjustable stock, etc.). They are not only chambered in typical pistol cartridges but many models are also designed around commonly-available handgun magazines (e.g., Glock mags).
The modern PCC offers a modern interpretation of the historical pistol-caliber lever-action rifle, allowing shooters to use the same ammunition and sometimes magazines in both the handgun and the rifle.
Due to its affordability and ubiquity in modern handguns, the most common chambering for modern-day PCCs is 9x19mm. Although alternative chamberings are available (e.g., .40 S&W, .357 SIG, .45 ACP, 10mm Auto), there are far more 9mm products than anything else in this product category.
Benefits and Advantages of Pistol-Caliber Carbines
If you’re wondering what makes a pistol-caliber carbine worth getting, here are some reasons why shooters enjoy owning theirs.
Not all rifle cartridges shoot as softly as 5.56mm, and virtually none of them generate as little recoil as 9x19mm and equivalent pistol calibers. This factor makes them easy to shoot and control, even when firing rapidly.
Therefore, a pistol-caliber carbine is ideal for shooters looking to graduate from a .22 LR rifle but aren’t yet ready for a traditional rifle or carbine. It is also a safer and easier to control alternative to a 9mm handgun for beginners.
Less Expensive to Shoot
Opting for a 9mm carbine will cost significantly less per shot than a traditional carbine or rifle chambered in typical cartridges, such as .223, 5.56mm, or 7.62x39mm.
Consequently, a PCC is a great way to shoot a carbine with modern controls, ergonomics, and compatibility with commonly available attachments and accessories without breaking the bank.
Excellent for Home Defense
If one or multiple of your defense firearms are handguns, a pistol-caliber carbine can use the same high-quality self-defense ammunition, offering increased performance and ease of use without the risks associated with high-velocity rifle projectiles like overpenetration or fragmenting after passing through a wall.
If you need more stability and accuracy than a handgun for home defense but don’t want to commit to using a traditional rifle, the PCC offers the ideal selection of characteristics and advantages you need.
A PCC generates less noise than a rifle-caliber platform using the same barrel length for two reasons: pistol cartridges generate less maximum pressure than rifle cartridges and don’t require barrels as long to burn the entirety of the powder.
Shares Ammunition With Your Pistols
If you already own a 9mm pistol, buying a 9mm PCC is a sensible choice, as it allows you to use the same cartridges in both firearms. The carbine’s longer barrel will enhance the performance of your preferred ammunition, delivering more muzzle velocity and, in turn, terminal effectiveness.
Depending on your chosen carbine model, your PCC may even accept the same magazines as your pistol, simplifying your logistics and saving you money. For example, you can use the magazines you carry in your concealed-carrying setup in either the pistol or the carbine.
Top 5 PCCs in 9x19mm
Here are some of the best 9mm pistol-caliber carbines available to American gun owners on today’s market.
CZ Scorpion EVO 3 S1 Carbine
The Scorpion EVO 3 S1 is a semi-automatic, pistol-caliber carbine offering based on the EVO 3 A1 submachine gun available to military and law enforcement.
This ultra-modern, highly-practical 9mm carbine employs the same double stack magazines as its military counterpart. Although they are a proprietary design, OEM magazines by CZ and third-party compatibles are readily available. The standard magazine capacity is 20 rounds, although alternative sizes include 10, 15, 30, 35, 40, and 50-round drums.
The EVO’s receiver features a full-length Picatinny rail on top, ideal for installing optics such as a red dot or a holographic sight. The rails are also fitted out of the box with a pair of foldable iron sights, fully adjustable for windage and elevation.
The EVO offers a fully ambidextrous fire selector and magazine release lever allowing left-handed shooters to shoot it comfortably. Although the charging handle is on the left side by default, it can be user-reconfigured to the right side with nothing more than a punch of the right diameter.
The precision-manufactured, cold-hammer-forged barrel is 16.2” long and features ½ x 28 threading. CZ offers two muzzle options: a decorative, non-functional faux suppressor or a traditional muzzle brake.
Overall length: 36” (stock extended), 26” (stock folded)
Barrel length: 16.2”
Weight: 7 lbs.
Magazine type: Proprietary (Scorpion EVO)
Released in 2001, the Sub-2000 is one of Kel-Tec’s most well-known products. At first glance, the Sub-2000 is a traditional pistol-caliber carbine designed to accept common handgun magazines and featuring handgun-like controls, such as a magazine well in the pistol grip and a thumb-actuated magazine release button.
However, the Sub-2000’s unique value proposition becomes evident by pulling on the trigger guard and pushing the handguard upward. Instead of employing a folding stock to reduce its length, the Sub-2000 is designed to fold in half, allowing it to fit inside the same length as its barrel: 16.25”. This feature is ideal for backpacking and other outdoor activities.
Another unique feature of the Sub-2000 is its ability to accept widely-available pistol magazines. This carbine is factory-configured to accept Glock 17 magazines, such as the standard 17-round model or the 33-round extended mag.
Although competing PCCs offer similar functionality, the “Multi-Mag” system is unique in that it allows a shooter to reconfigure their Sub-2000 to accept various other magazines using one of multiple optional magazine catches.
Conversion options include the following:
Smith & Wesson M&P
For extra firepower, the standard 9mm barrel can also be replaced with a .40 S&W model, allowing you to use .40-caliber pistol magazines of the appropriate type. For instance, with a .40 barrel and the Glock magazine catch, your Sub-2000 is now configured to accept Glock 22 magazines.
Overall length: 30.5” (ready to shoot), 16.25” (folded)
Barrel length: 16.25”
Weight: 4.25 lbs.
Magazine type: Varies (factory default: Glock 17)
Ruger PC Carbine
The Ruger Pistol-Caliber Carbine, often shortened to PC Carbine, was designed to be a lightweight, inexpensive solution for shooters who need a reliable 9mm PCC on a budget.
In its standard configuration, the PC Carbine features integrated iron sights, a trigger system similar to the classic Ruger 10.22, a short length of Picatinny rail, and a black synthetic polymer receiver with black handguards and a fixed stock.
When unboxing the Ruger PC Carbine, it is configured to accept Ruger SR-series and Security 9 magazines. However, the box also includes a secondary magazine well compatible with Glock 9mm magazines of any size, including Glock 26 magazines.
Whether you carry a Glock 17 for duty or a Glock 26 in your concealment holster, the Ruger PC Carbine makes for an ideal companion long gun for home defense.
Overall length: 34.37”
Barrel length: 16.12”
Weight: 6.8 lbs.
Magazine type: Ruger SR-series 9mm/Security-9 (factory configuration) or Glock 9mm (with the included optional magazine well)
Heckler & Koch SP5L
If you were a gun owner in the 1980s or the 1990s, you might remember the Heckler & Koch HK94, an imported, semi-automatic-only, 16”-barreled version of their iconic MP5 submachine guns. Although the HK94 enjoyed screen time in popular movies and TV shows like Raw Deal, featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger), an import ban in 1989 stopped H&K from bringing more civilian-legal MP5s to the U.S. market.
It wasn’t until 2016 that MP5 fans could enjoy an officially-produced, legally-available semi-automatic version of the MP5 again, with the introduction of the SP5K, a pistol version of the MP5K submachine gun. H&K later introduced the full-size SP5 and the long-barreled SP5L, all of which accept standard MP5 9mm magazines.
Although the SP5L is legally sold as a pistol, coming out of the box without a shoulder stock, the 16.5” barrel makes it legal for a shooter to convert it to a pistol-caliber carbine by replacing the end cap with one of numerous MP5 or G3-compatible stocks.
The SP5L employs the same roller-delayed blowback system as the MP5 submachine gun and the same forward-mounted charging handle, allowing shooters to perform the iconic “HK slap,” the manufacturer’s recommended method of closing the bolt. The barrel also features the HK 3-lug mounting system, compatible with various flash hiders, muzzle brakes, and other MP5-specific muzzle attachments.
Overall length: 25.5” (with factory end cap, no stock)
Barrel length: 16.57”
Weight: 5.9 lbs.
Magazine type: MP5
Hi-Point Model 995
Hi-Point Firearms is a well-known name, particularly for shooters on a budget. The Michigan-based manufacturer’s most notable product is the Hi-Point C9 pistol, a compact semi-automatic 9mm handgun that retails for less than $200.
However, Hi-Point is also a long-time manufacturer of pistol-caliber carbines. The oldest and best-selling Hi-Point carbine, the Model 995, has been on the market since 1996. It is designed to offer performance and functionality at an excellent price point.
For less than $350, the Model 995 is a 9mm carbine platform with a complete set of features. It features a 16.5” barrel, fully adjustable front and rear sights, multiple Picatinny rails for optics and other accessories, and a factory threaded barrel with standard ½ x 28” threading.
Although the Model 995 employs proprietary magazines, not compatible with the C9 pistol, they are highly reliable, single stack 10-shot magazines, making them easy to load and carry. These magazines also possess a last-shot bolt hold open feature, giving the shooter an unambiguous visual cue when the weapon runs dry.
Options include a longer 19” barrel and aftermarket 15- or 20-round magazines.
Overall length: 31” (with 16.5” barrel), 34” (with 19” barrel)
Barrel length: 16.5” or 19”
Weight: 6.25 lbs.
Magazine type: Proprietary (Model 995)
We The People Holsters Makes the Finest American-Made Holsters
Whether you carry your pistol on its own or with a companion pistol-caliber carbine, you’ll need a top-quality holster and magazine carriers to ensure you always have ammunition at your disposal. We The People Holsters makes a selection of high-durability, 100% U.S.-made holsters and magazine carriers suitable for a wide range of firearms and spare magazines.