The Pistol Caliber Carbine an overview

By Shooter, Jan 24, 2012 | |
  1. Shooter
    Somewhere in that murky middle ground between your trusted handgun, and your favorite assault rifle is the PCC, or pistol-caliber carbine.

    PCC History

    The first PCCs were the old lever-action carbines of the Wild West. Many Winchester 1873 models were chambered in the same revolver caliber cartridges that were popular in the day such as 32-20 and 44-40, enabling those who possessed such a shorty rifle to use the same box of bullets in both his wheel gun and his long arm.

    - The Marlin 1894 is a popular modern version of the Old West lever action PCC in hard hitting 44Magnum. (photo from Marlin Firearms)

    Starting in the last years of WWI with the Bergman M18 submachine gun (SMG )and continuing into the roaring 1920s with the Auto Ordnance "Tommy gun," boxed magazine automatic carbines were chambered in short rimless pistol rounds such as 9mm and .45ACP. This continued through the 1980s when most militaries replaced their SMGs with larger caliber short-barreled carbines, better able to defeat modern body armor encountered on the battlefield.

    Today both the legacy lever guns and military-style semi-automatic replica SMGs still exist alongside the new generation of modern PCCs.

    Modern PCCs

    Today a number of manufactures carry very modern little carbines in mild-recoiling pistol loadings. These include the Keltec, Hi-Point, and Beretta. While some would consider putting these three manufacturers together in one sentence to be sacrilege, in the world of PCCs, these are the Three Kings. If you are looking for a reliable room-broom to clear your hallway with, odds are it will come from one of these.
    Hi-Point, long a victim of deserved bad press on their handguns, has attained in recent years niche acceptance of their carbines. Priced to move (used versions can be had for as low as $150), and functional if somewhat ugly, they are very popular.

    - The HiPoint 995, often found for $150 used its hard to beat for the price, even if its not very snazzy looking.

    Keltec has staked its territory with modular Sub2000 series guns that use common Glock and SIG magazines with the added bonus of being highly compact and lightweight. Their new RMR30 offering provides 30 rounds of often-overlooked .22WMR at your fingertips. From a 16-inch barrel, the rimfire magnum compares ballistically to the vaunted .30 carbine round of WWII fame.

    Beretta has provided the upper tier of PCC's with their groundbreaking and very smooth CX4-series of carbines. A case of imitation is the best flattery is seen by those who often purchase a Hi-Point and then fit it with an aftermarket stock to make it a CX4 clone. The only drawback of the Beretta PCC is its price.
    - The Beretta CX4, chambered in 9/40/45 is very high-tech with beautiful lines and great ergonomics. It is often seen in sci-fi flicks such as Battlestar Gallactica and Stargate (So Say We All!)(photo from Beretta USA)

    Various popular PCCs Compared

    Let's compare some of the most popular current production PCCs out there: the economical Hi-Point series, the old school Marlin 1894 as a control, Keltec's revolutionary Sub2000 and RMR30, and Beretta's science-fiction friendly CX4.


    (Ruger seems to have discontinued their exceptional Deerfield and PC-9 carbines, as has Marlin stopped production of their neat little Camp Carbine, so they will not be included in this study)

    What is the advantage of the PCC

    The short length and of the carbine when compared to a full sized assault rifle or home defense shotgun makes it more maneuverable in tight spaces such as hallways. The size also beings it into the realm of keeping stowed away as a "car-gun" in a trunk emergency kit. The lightweight characteristics of the type (as little as 4-pounds) allow one-handed use if the other hand is needed to manipulate cell phones, flashlights, doorknobs et al while moving through a structure.

    The combination of a long barrel adds power to even mild-mannered pistol caliber loads, producing harder hitting impacts. The lower cost of handgun rounds vs. assault rifle rounds enables more training sessions per the dollar. The long action and buttstock also mute the recoil considerably. Many people equate felt recoil firing a 9mm carbine to the same as a .22LR target rifle.

    - Keltec's new RMR30 carbine is the latest entry into the evolutionary chain of the PCC. Here is a couple of different views courtesy of gun photographer guru Oleg Volk.

    What is the disadvantage of the PCC

    "If you are shooting a pistol round, just use a pistol," says NRA LE instructor and tactical trainer Warren Breckenridge. "There is no way you are putting a CX4 in your nightstand."

    Warren has a point. Even being much smaller than an M4 or your favorite Mossberg 500, even the most compact PCCs are still very much longer than pistols. When price is considered, some PCCs are also more expensive than comparable pistols without the benefit of being carried as a CCW weapon if needed.

    The specter of over penetration is also mentioned around the discussion table, especially if using very hot rounds in a drywall-rich environment. This of course can be mitigated with different loads and experimentation.


    The PCC is not a new concept, maturing like a fine wine over the course of the past 150-years. While not for everyone, it is definitely an option for affordable home defense, especially for those who shy away from full sized assault rifles and shotguns.

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