What Is a Pistol Caliber Carbine?

By Scott Wagner
Posted in #Guns
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What Is a Pistol Caliber Carbine?

March 2nd, 2024

6 minute read

Pistol Caliber Carbines (or PCC) are all the rage these days it seems with makers emerging with their own take on the design to satisfy the high demand. But how do we define what a PCC actually is?

Shown here is a Springfield Armory SAINT Pistol Caliber Carbine. It is chambered in 9mm. The 9×19mm Parabellum is a rimless, tapered firearms cartridge. Originally designed by Austrian firearm designer Georg Luger in 1901, it is widely considered the most popular handgun and submachine gun cartridge due to its low cost, adequate stopping power and extensive availability.
A pistol-caliber carbine is simply a rifle that is chambered in cartridges typically associated with handguns. By far, 9mm is the most popular.

Pistol Caliber Carbine: A pistol caliber carbine is a rifle chambered for a cartridge typically associated with a handgun. Modern PCCs are often semi-automatic rifles chambered in 9mm with barrels of 16″ — 16.5″ in length. Short-barreled rifle (SBR) versions of PCCs are also popular.

[Looking for a short barrel rifle? Read Paul Carlson’s article on the best SBR for additional information.]

Origin of the Pistol Caliber Carbine

In reality, the PCC is not a new concept. These firearms have been around in common use since the debut of reliable self-contained cartridges in 1873 — when the famous 1873 lever action repeating rifle chambered for the new .44-40 brass-cased centerfire cartridge was introduced. Simultaneously, the .44/40 1873 Peacemaker revolver was launched. These two arms are commonly considered “the guns that won the West.”

In this photograph, we see the author using his Springfield Armory SAINT ar-15 in 9mm Luger to deal with a threat on his property. These kinds of firearms are excellent — especially when fitted with a suppressor and red dot sight. They also offer a number of benefits over a shotgun or long gun made for a rifle cartridge. 
A carbine chambered for a handgun cartridge can be an excellent defensive tool. Minimal recoil, good accuracy and the range is sufficient for all but the largest of properties.

While I realize that technically it was the .44 Henry Rimfire cartridge that was first PCC cartridges since the ammunition was available both in a rifle and two types of revolvers. However, the popularity of that .44 round in rifles and handguns bore no comparison to the explosion in popularity that followed the introduction of the .44-40 cartridge.

Frontier life was obviously hard, and owning simple, reliable and effective arms were essential — especially long guns and handguns intended for self-defense. Here, the .44-40 in the 1873 rifle and 1873 revolver excelled in popularizing the PCC concept. This pistol cartridge duo became popular not only with frontiersmen, but also with outlaws, lawmen, Indian tribes and legendary groups like the Texas Rangers.

They were a huge success well into the 20th century and continue to be popular with firearms used by cowboy action competitors — although the .44/40’s popularity has been eclipsed by rounds like the .45 Colt and the more modern .357 Magnum/.38 Special chamberings that are easier to reload and are less expensive than the tapered .44/40 case.

Fast Forward

My very first experience with a modern pistol caliber firearm came when I was still a patrolman with the City of Reynoldsburg, Ohio Police Department. Around 1986, I came across and purchased a semi-auto 9mm rifle — hoping to eventually carry it as a patrol carbine. 

Shown in this photo is a Springfield Armory PCC ar-15 with a box-type detachable magazine and a box of 9mm ammunition. These magazines are inexpensive and plentiful. Originally developed for the Colt SMG, they've been in hard use for about 50 years. This makes them superior to the offerings from other companies like the Ruger PC Carbine, Kel-Tec SUB2000, Marlin Camp Carbine and the various rifles that try to make Glock mags feed reliably. You want a firearm that will feed handgun ammunition, not choke.
The Springfield Armory SAINT PCC, shown here, feeds from traditional stick magazines. This is a proven design with decades of reliable use that makes them superior to standard pistol mags.

Also available in .45 ACP, that carbine — which had been introduced as an outdoorsman’s gun to be used while camping or engaged in other outdoor activities — performed well in that role as well as additional roles as a property and home defense rifle. But its main contribution was introducing the PCC to the 20th century and making that concept popular. 

That 9mm carbine could be fed by the magazines of a very common and popular pistol available those days, and one carried by many police officers. The .45 ACP version fed from 1911-pattern magazines. Although popular, production of that rifle ended in 1999.

Today’s PCC

Today’s pistol-caliber carbines are incredibly popular — and for several good reasons:

1. PCCs can be accurate and effective out to 100 yards and beyond with high-quality 9mm loads — particularly those topped with 124-gr. bullets.

In this digital image, we see a 16-inch 9mm carbine at an outdoor range. While shooting outside is great, many people live in suburban areas where only indoor ranges are available. A rifle chambered for a pistol round like 9mm, 40 S&W, 44 Magnum, 45 ACP — even from a longer barrel — are ok with most indoor ranges. This means a carbine would allow you to practice more and maintain proficiency better than you could with a lever action rifle or a short barrel rifle. 
For many people, a 16″ pistol caliber carbine is easier to handle than a typical rifle or shotgun. Also, most 9mm carbines can be shot at an indoor range allowing you to stay proficient. 

2. Pistol carbine actions are generally blowback operated, which are the simplest and one of the most reliable operating systems available for the relatively low-pressure 9mm cartridge. They are great for shooters who want an AR-15-type weapon with less maintenance effort.

[Be sure to read Sam Weitzner’s article about 9mm AR blowback systems.]

3. Recoil and muzzle blast levels are much lower for 9mm PCCs than the muzzle blast and flash generated from many rifle calibers like 5.56mm.

4. Operating controls of most PCC’s are similar to — or exactly like — those found on 5.56mm AR’s, making transitioning between the two different systems a snap.

5. FMJ 9mm ammo costs less than FMJ 5.56mm ammo. Looking online today (January 3, 2024), I priced 124-gr. FMJ 9mm practice ammo and 55-gr. FMJ .223 practice ammo. Calculating the per-round price, I found that the Federal 124-gr. FMJ ammo was priced at 0.29 cents per round, while PMC 55-gr. FMJ .223 caliber ammo was .41 cents per round. The 9mm currently represents more bang for less bucks.

In this photo, a 9mm ar-15 is shown along with a carrying case and ammunition for a trip to the shooting range for target practice. Some people buy a pistol version of an AR and add a pistol brace to it. While that is a perfectly legitimate option, a standard rifle length carbine takes your ammunition and gives it extra velocity and energy which may prove helpful in a defensive shooting. Plus, a rifle stock increases your points of contact on the gun for improved accuracy.
This SAINT carbine is a gun that’s being chosen by many people for home protection. The 9mm version adds another option for those who might prefer a PCC variant.

6. The power potential of the 9mm round increases due to increased velocity when fired from the commonly seen PCC carbine barrel length of 16”.

SAINT Victor 9mm — Perfect Handgun Companion?

Springfield Armory has its own PCC in the SAINT Victor 9mm, a carbine I recently had the opportunity to review. I immediately noted that it feeds from a Colt-pattern 32-round 9mm magazine. I was surprised that it did not feed from a Springfield Armory handgun 9mm magazine, so I reached out to Springfield Armory’s Mike Humphries for some clarification.

In this photo, the author is slicing the pie with his carbine. While this one is in 9mm Luger, you can also get guns made for the .40 S&W and other ammo. An ar-15 is a semi-automatic firearm offered in a range of calibers. In some ways, it is the Colt Single Action Army of the modern world. It is more powerful than a handgun with less recoil. The gun barrel, while longer than most handguns, provides additional accuracy, precision and velocity when shooting. Plus, having a stock helps ensure your bullet foes where you intend in a self-defense encounter.
Room clearing with a 9mm carbine is the same as with any rifle. The difference is 9mm is a lot cheaper to train with. So if cost is a consideration, the PCC might be a better bet.

Humphries explained that the Colt-pattern magazines were “durable and proven, easily available, worked (well) with the slide lock, and had a vertical orientation (and not angled like a traditional pistol magazine).”

What I also found out about the SAINT Victor 9mm Carbine was that new Colt-pattern 32-round magazines from sources like ProMag, DuraMag and Springfield Armory are not particularly expensive or difficult to locate. Prices online that I found ranged from $15.99 to $32 each — which certainly won’t break the bank. 

Springfield Armory 9mm Victor Carbine Features

Shown in this photograph is a right side profile of the Springfield Armory 9mm semi-automatic rifle. While it may not be best for concealed carry like a normal sidearm, it offers superior stopping power. When comparing the Springfield Victor Carbine to the CZ Scorpion and Hi-Point carbine, the Springfield Armory rifle is the superior choice.  
The SAINT 9mm Victor Carbine is possibly the best PCC on the market. It offers a number of great standard features including the Accu-Tite Tension System, a B5 Systems pistol grip and more.
Lower ReceiverDedicated 9mm-Forged 7075 T6 Aluminum, Type III Hardcoat Anodized, Accu-Tite Tension System
Barrel16″ CMV, Melonite, 1:10
Upper ReceiverForged 7075 T6 Aluminum, Type III Hardcoat Anodized
Bolt Carrier Group9mm Blowback
HandguardAluminum Free Float w/ SA Locking Tabs, M-Lok
StockB5 Systems Bravo
GripB5 Systems Type 23 P-Grip
TriggerNickel Boron Coated Flat
Weight6 lbs. 15 oz.

Hands-On with a Pistol-Caliber Rifle

I tested the Springfield SAINT Victor 9mm Carbine with a Lucid Optics P8 4x Prism Optic with Blu reticle. I think it is absolutely perfect for a PCC weapon of this type. It is compact, yet with enough magnification to handle targets within the range of a carbine-fired 9mm projectile.

In this photograph, the author demonstrates how to use the pistol caliber carbine in a self-defense situation. His rifle is fitted with a 32-round magazine, a red dot sight, a muzzle brake, rifle stock and adjustable sights. The barrel is 16 inches in length bringing the total length to 35" with the stock fully extended. This provides a good fit for most people and an ideal sight radius when using the stock sights.
A pistol caliber carbine is a great options for many people. It does have benefits and drawbacks when compared to other options, so be sure to fully explore your needs and options.

After my shooting evaluation, I can say with certainty that Springfield Armory SAINT Victor represents an excellent 9mm PCC option. It’s accurate and very easy to shoot, even for smaller-statured shooters. Muzzle blast is quite a bit tamer than that from a 5.56mm rifle. It would make a great training arm or an excellent utility rifle in its own right. I had surmised correctly that the folks at Springfield had done their homework and produced a PCC that you could stake your life upon under the worst circumstances.

Sure, the 9mm cartridge doesn’t have near the punch of the 5.56mm, but it is readily available and offers simplified shooting logistics. The 9mm PCC has a lot to commend it for the average shooter who might be recoil or muzzle blast intolerant. It is useful for self-defense, or for popping the wayward coyote.

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Scott Wagner

Scott Wagner

Scott W. Wagner is a criminal justice professor and police academy commander in Ohio. He started his law enforcement career in 1980 as a reserve deputy sheriff. He later became an undercover liquor control investigator in 1981 and narcotics investigator in 1982. In 1984, he became a full-time patrol officer for a municipal police department. In 1991, his career changed to law enforcement instruction at a community college. At the same time, he took a position as a reserve deputy sheriff with a rural Ohio agency, where he spent 20 years as a patrol deputy, trainer, and SWAT team member, earning the position of sniper and assistant team leader. The final 10 years of his career was spent as patrol sergeant with a village police agency, retiring in August of 2020. Scott is a police firearms instructor certified to train revolver, semi-automatic pistol, shotgun, semi- and fully automatic patrol rifle, and submachine gun.

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