Pistol Caliber Carbines: the Rodney Dangerfield of defensive firearms

“I don’t get no respect, no respect at all!” — Rodney Dangerfield

If there ever was a gun which “experts” delighted in ridiculing, it’s the pistol caliber carbine or PCC. “No use for them”; “inferior to a rifle”; “why bother?”; these are some of the predictable comments made by shooting enthusiasts and tactical training hobbyists whenever the PCC is even mentioned. This derision led to something of a drought in these guns, but recently they’ve made something of a comeback — and for good reason.

The pistol caliber carbine is a short, light rifle chambered in what we normally consider a pistol cartridge. PCCs can be found chambered in 9mm, .40S&W, .45ACP, 10mm, .38 Special/.357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and probably a few others I’m forgetting. While most are semiautomatics, there are plenty of lever-action PCCs on the market as well.

So what makes these things so special?

Attributes of the PCC
To start, they’re just insanely fun to shoot. They have minimal recoil, and muzzle blast is almost non-existent. For those people, especially new shooters, who are intimidated by the roar of a rifle and the recoil of a shotgun, the PCC is a friendly package that begs to be taken to the range. (Speaking of ranges, PCCs are almost always allowed where rifles are prohibited which opens up many more practice and training opportunities for the average person.)

That “shootability” translates into better defensive capability, too. The pistol caliber carbine is easier for non-enthusiasts to keep on target in rapid fire than a typical defensive rifle. The lack of muzzle blast means less flinching, which usually results in higher first-round-hit percentages. Younger teenagers in particular tend to handle the PCC better than they do a rifle, and compared to a defensive shotgun it’s like night and day — the PCC is simply a whole lot easier to handle and shoot.

Why not just use a pistol to shoot pistol rounds?
The handgun, whether semiautomatic or revolver, is a more difficult weapon to use than the PCC. First, the pistol will have a shorter sight radius than the PCC; second, the pistol really has only one contact point with the body, where the PCC has four. This means that the pistol is much harder to shoot at any given level of precision than the PCC, particularly when speed is factored in. The lesser-skilled shooter will usually be able to easily hit even small targets faster and at greater distances with a PCC than with a handgun.

The handgun takes more training time to reach any given level of proficiency and requires more practice time to maintain that skill level. For the person who’s not an avid hobbyist, having a defensive arm they’re confident with beats one which they’re unsure of!

Even for the seasoned shooter the PCC is still easier to shoot well than a handgun. The longer sight radius and four points of solid contact with the body makes for a gun which has far greater precision capability than the handgun, even when the latter is wielded by an expert. The bottom line: no matter how well you shoot a pistol, you’ll shoot a PCC better!

What about effectiveness?
One of the criticisms of the PCC is that it’s not “as effective as a rifle”. Here I must concede some truth; the rifle is more powerful than the pistol. However, let’s put that into perspective: shooting modern hollowpoint ammunition out of a pistol at normal defensive distances is in fact effective against attackers the vast majority of the time. If you take that same ammunition and put it into a gun where its performance often increases, and add in the fact that it’s easier to deliver multiple rounds of it in very short periods of time to very specific spots, it becomes clear that the PCC is in fact a completely capable defensive tool.

For the household whose responsible members range in experience and ability, the PCC makes an ideal common or “pool” weapon — one which anyone can grab and use efficiently against an attacker. From the smallest to the largest, from the newbie to the seasoned competition shooter, everyone can shoot a PCC well. The same simply can’t be said for a handgun, rifle, or shotgun.

That’s why the PCC is often a superb choice as a home defense weapon where the defender doesn’t need to move through the house, as in a search. The “safe room” or barricaded position is the ideal place for the PCC.

Where can you get one?
As I mentioned at the top, enthusiasts in the gun world have tended to ignore both the appeal and capabilities of the PCC but that’s starting to change. New models are coming to the market regularly these days, and some of the old favorites (especially the lever actions) are still being made. I can’t remember when we’ve had so many quality PCCs to choose from!

In fact, as I was writing this I learned one of our Training Tour sponsors, CMMG Inc., has come out with a new PCC model called the Guard. It looks like a great option in a pistol caliber carbine that combines a delayed blowback action (makes the gun lighter and less ammunition sensitive) with unique engineering for easier handling. It’s not just another AR-15 conversion, and the fact that it uses commonly available Glock magazines instead of hard-to-get proprietary or discontinued magazines is icing on the cake. I’m hoping to try one out soon!

If you’re a shooting enthusiast, you might be able to handle your pistol or your rifle perfectly well. Be honest, though; does everyone in your family have your skills? If not, maybe a pistol caliber carbine is a better choice for them to defend themselves in your home than your favorite guns are.

Be careful, though — you may like the PCC so much that you want to buy more of them. They have that effect on many people!

– Grant Cunningham

P.S.: Don’t miss the next episode of the PDN “Training Talk” webcast on May 4th!

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10 Responses to “Pistol Caliber Carbines: the Rodney Dangerfield of defensive firearms”

  1. crayjeep1

    One big point not bought up here here is if you already have a stock of 9mm, when TSHTF you will be better off then someone with no AMMO at all.

  2. Michael F Day

    Great job!


    Sounds like a very viable choice to me, both for self/home defense and even in the competitive world.

  4. Terry

    I'm a big fan of my CX4 Storm 9mm. Totally ambidextrous!

  5. Brian Crane

    I have a Ruger SA six in 44 mag and a Win Carbine in 44 as well. It performs great with the lever revolution bullets by Hornady and I load them in Starline brass. They are both fun to shoot and remarkably powerful and accurate. I get excellent groups at 100 yards with the carbine and decent groups at 25 yards with the pistol. The pistol can be a bit to handle but if I load them light it performs well in both. This combination is effective in close quarters (18 inch barrel on the carbine) or in the field against dangerous adversaries. Who says two guns designed in the 19th century are not as effective today as when Buffalo Bill used them?

  6. John A McDowell

    SO, what are the different contact point(s) with the body?

  7. Jim Long

    PCC's do make sense. The military and police use these weapons for sweeps and close quarters combat. They are for room to room up to 25yards. After that their accuracy wains. They are not a long gun like our ancestors in the West used. But like our ancestors you need only one kind of ammunition for two forms of protection. A win win. As you stated eariler training someone to shoot is a lot easier with a rifle for a myriad of reasons. Thanks for the reminder. Gonna have to dig out the old .38 wheel gun and rifle and let the fun begin again.

  8. Scott

    I have had lever-action PCC and have always liked the idea of having a cartridge I can use in both carbine and pistol. My problem is I don't have glocks and don't plan on getting one. My pistol of choice is an FN FNX 45. Maybe if they made PCCs that would handle FN mags I would get on the band wagon.

  9. philh

    I love my SUB 2000 in 40 cal. Folds up in a small case with extra mags and a box of ammo in my car trunk. It's great fun to shoot, defensively accurate to 100 yds., and gives the Federal HSTs a big boost in performance. Being inexpensive as well, what's not to like ?

  10. Dr. Thomas V. Spencer, PhD.

    I agree totally that PCCs are great. However I have a favorite weapon that was designed with a pistol cartridge to start with...that would be my Ruger .44 cal. rifle carbine. True it has only a 5 round capcacity & the magazine is internal. Nevertheless you can accurately reach out and touch someone either close up or at an amazing distance. It will penetrate brush like a buzz saw!