The concept of the pistol caliber carbine, or PCC, is nothing new. In fact, early muzzleloading pistols often used the same caliber as their longer smoke-pole counterparts. The lever-action rifles used on the range by cowboys often chambered the same cartridge as their sixguns. Being able to share ammunition between the guns simply made logistical sense, and at the time, the power factor between the pistol and long gun was negligible.
Eventually, it was the advancement of the long-gun cartridge that caused the change. With newer powders and better bullet technology, the long gun’s power and speed outgrew anything the pistol could handle. This caused a logical separation between the two. On the open range, for defense or hunting, rifle cartridges that were more powerful were desirable. Hunters could effectively take game at longer distances, and area-defense ranges were increased when facing hostiles or enemy troops. This made the pistol-caliber rifle cartridge fall out of favor for most. Today, however, it is experiencing a huge resurgence for at least two reasons.
The two reasons could be simply stated by the early popularity of the CZ Scorpion and SIG MPX. While there have been dozens of models from more than a handful of different manufacturers, these two models were the breakout successes that forged the path for others to follow. However, the PCC owes its surging popularity to something other than a particular model or two. Pistol-caliber carbines are popular because they are cheaper to shoot than comparable long-gun cartridges.
Think about it. Bulk .223/5.56mm ammunition is going to run about 30 cents a round. On the other hand, you can buy 9mm for as cheap as 15 cents a round for Steelcase and 19 for remanufactured ammunition—and that does not even touch on the additional savings enjoyed by those who reload. Building on the cost difference, there is the fact that PCCs have less recoil than a .223/5.56mm, enhancing accuracy and increasing the enjoyment of new shooters who fear recoil.
I am sure you are already thinking about and debating the minimal recoil the .223 Rem. enjoys. Noted and agreed, but that does not mean less isn’t better. The .223 Rem. has less recoil than a .308 or .30-06, but it has more recoil than a 9mm. So, if less is better, the 9mm still wins with faster target reacquisition times on the target range or in a self-defense situation where it really counts.
Carbine-length barrels are proving their worth on the target range. Competition- or defensive-oriented organizations such as USPSA, IDPA, and 3-gun have all seen surges in popularity since the introduction of pistol-caliber carbine divisions to their ranks. Platform-specific models such as the SIG MPX, Kel-Tec Sub 2000, and even Hi-Point carbines have spiked in popularity—featured in calibers ranging from 9mm to potent 10mm models. But the natural leviathan in the market is 9mm for several reasons that we have already covered.
The Logical Evolution
With striker-fired polymers and 1911s dominating the pistol market and gun safes across the nation filled with AR-15s chambered in .223 Rem., .300 BLK., 6.5 Creedmoor, or other popular rifle calibers, it is only logical that the PCC would be the logical next step. In fact, I would go so far as to say we are watching the dawn of the pistol-caliber carbine AR market, and it is time we jump in with both feet.
Other than trade shows or the NRA Show, my first introduction to PCCs came from a longtime friend and owner of J&L Gunsmithing, Jim Jones. Jim has had his finger on the pulse of target shooters and self-defense enthusiasts alike—both from customers and personal experience. In the first four months of 2018, J&L only sold or built a small handful of ARs in .223/5.56mm, but pistol-caliber carbines have flown off the shelf as fast as they were received.
I am not saying the market for rifle-caliber AR-15s is falling by any great numbers. The .223 Rem., .224 Valkyrie, and 6.5 Creedmoor are all alive and doing well, but those markets have softened in favor of the pistol-caliber carbine. As proof, you do not need to look any further than your favorite manufacturer. Likely, it will not only offer a pistol-caliber carbine, it will have multiple models and calibers.
For me, it was when Primary Weapons Systems (PWS) announced a PCC. Known for only offering piston-driven models, PWS was not a likely candidate to offer a PCC. PWS now offers a pistol and rifle chambered for 9mm. It also offers uppers, lowers, and stripped lowers in pistol calibers. Simply put, the PCC market is growing at a rate that companies that wish to be in business in a few years simply cannot afford to ignore.
Your First Pistol Caliber Carbine
Because so many of us already have an AR-15 or two tucked away in our gun safe, our first logical thought is to cannibalize parts and build a PCC or throw a PCC upper on one of the lowers we already own. While there are a few companies making conversion kits, I would caution against proceeding down this route. The buffer will likely be different, you will obviously have to use a different bolt-carrier group, and then there is the matter of the trigger. Will a trigger from a 5.56 rifle work? Yes, but its life will be significantly shortened. That’s because the difference in recoil and the bolt’s operation will (typically) cause a lot of premature wear on the trigger. You are much better off not going down a road where the parts were not designed to work with one other.
While there are several manufacturers offering PCCs, the bulk of the market is going to the AR-style platform fed by Glock magazines. After all, it makes sense. The AR-15 is one of, if not the most prolific firearm platforms in the country. The 1911 may certainly give Glock a run for its money as far as total numbers are concerned. That means there are a lot of Glocks out there, and parts for them are easy to come by. Since most PCCs are running Glock magazines, the combination is a match made in heaven. Much like the cowboys with lever actions and six shooters, sharing ammunition and, more importantly in this case, magazines… The dual compatibility is huge when you think of the application in a 3-gun match or home/area defense situation. Think of it this way: If you already own a Glock in the same caliber for target or home defense, you can run the same magazines and shoot the same ammunition. This makes buying twice the magazines and splitting the duty between both platforms a no brainer.
Reloaders can use the same load, bullet, powder, and dies for both weapons. And, reloading a pistol caliber is much easier, too, because you do not have to deal with a bottleneck shell. Top that off with the fact that the brass will last longer, and the savings for high-volume target shooters and self-defense enthusiasts really continues to mount.
AR-15s are a popular home defense choice. After all, accuracy is easier compared with a pistol, it is as easy to wield as a tactical shotgun, but the magazine will carry more rounds. Unlike the 5.56mm, overpenetration with a pistol caliber through a hostile—or the wall next to them—is greatly reduced. This adds a factor of safety for your loved ones in adjacent rooms or the neighbor’s cat.
Should your role need to change from home defense to area defense, the PCC has better range and accuracy at distance than a pistol or shotgun. It has the power to easily dispatch varmints (two or four legged) out to 100 yards without much concern. Should the threat be farther than that, it may not be considered a threat at all under the law.
However, should you find yourself in such a situation, you are still better off with the PCC than you would be with a pistol or shotgun, and you should have time to retrieve a rifle of suitable caliber for the task. Are you in the market for a truck gun? Think of the applications. PCCs are also easier to suppress…
Many of the same advantages covered in home defense apply to competition, including cost savings and equipment compatibility. In USPSA, you can shoot multiple divisions, one with your pistol and another with a PCC, using the same ammunition and magazines if you choose. In 3-gun, you would not have to carry both AR mags and pistol magazines. As for the long-range targets, there will usually be two sets of targets to engage, one for 5.56s and one for PCCs, which are smaller but closer. This keeps it even between equipment types. PCCs do not need expensive scopes either. A quality red dot or open sights will get the job done.
Pistol-caliber carbines enjoy yet another advantage. Bullets in 9mm are suitable for indoor ranges. Using them from a PCC is no different. This expands the number of places you can train and events you can enter.
Whether you are a veteran competitor looking for your next challenge or preparing to ward off the wolf that wants to blow your house down, PCCs have arrived and you don’t want to be left behind.
Do you have a pistol caliber carbine? WHich model and caliber? Share your answers in the comment section.
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