U.S. involvement in the Global War On Terror, the expiration of a pointless and stupid federal “assault weapons” ban, and greater interest in gun ownership has all combined to push development on the AR15 family of weapons to new heights. Today the AR15 can be had in a highly refined, specialized form suitable for just about any shooting task you can conceive of. One of the areas of greatest benefit has been shrinking the size and weight of the weapon (while maintaining excellent reliability) to the point where it has now supplanted the previous king of compact, shoulder-fired weapons: The sub-machinegun.
In a world where you can order a MK18 from Daniel Defense and load it with ammunition developed for optimal performance against bad guys it can seem that there’s not much point to the SMG or her kissing cousin, the pistol caliber carbine. It would be easy to think that progress has made them irrelevant, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet. If you are in a job where body armor and a firearm are standard issue equipment you should certainly be seeking out the numerous advantages provided by the compact, reliable AR15 pattern carbines with all their terminal ballistics wizardry and modular goodness. Those who don’t find themselves regularly needing to shoot armored bad guys at ranges which vary from 5 feet out to 300 yards might find that the pistol caliber carbine fills a niche that other guns don’t quite fit.
For starters, the pistol caliber carbine (PCC) is extremely easy to shoot. Putting a pistol caliber in a shoulder fired weapon typically results in very soft recoil with minimal, if any, muzzle rise from shot to shot. While the AR15 isn’t really known for having beastly recoil, the short guns do move around on you and tend to be pretty loud. The combination can be intimidating. Those challenges can certainly be overcome with proper training and practice, but that’s not always an option. I’ve seen quite a few members of the fairer sex at the range shooting their husband’s/boyfriend’s/fiancée’s/brother’s/dad’s/friend’s AR15 rifles, struggling with the experience due to the noise and recoil. In contrast, I’ve watched a ~ 12 year old girl who had never handled an MP5 before pick one up and give the center of a silhouette target absolute hell while a great big grin spread across her face. When I cleared a plate rack with the MP5/.40 in the picture I was grinning, too. The PCC is just plain fun to shoot, especially on steel. A shoulder-fired weapon with Ruger 10/22 levels of intimidation and ease of accuracy for new or small shooters, only shooting a bigger bullet that’s proven very effective against bad guys is a winner.
The better PCCs on the market today like the Beretta CX4 Storm allow mounting all the accessories you could reasonably want on a home defense weapon like red dot sights, white lights, and slings. It’s a very light, handy little rifle. I had the chance to use the CX4 Storm doing some low light training and even with iron sights and a white light it was exceptionally easy to hit the head box of an IDPA target at speed. With controls that closely mimic those on the Beretta 92 family of pistols and magazine commonality, it’s an excellent choice for someone who owns a Beretta and wants a good home defense gun.
There are other options out there, of course. The Ruger PC9, the Marlin Camp Carbine, and even the M1 carbine are all floating around out there in addition to the still-in-production carbines like the CX4 Storm and the Kriss. My personal favorite, of course, would be the H&K family. Ideally an HK94 with an MP5 sized barrel on it. Thanks to the 1989 import ban and the 1986 machinegun ban they’ve become quite expensive and a tad out of the reach of the average pocketbook. There’s still something quite special about handling and shooting one, though. If you shop carefully you should be able to get a good PCC for less money (excluding the H&K route) than a good 5.56 AR15 carbine would cost, leaving more money for quality optics, a light, and maybe some ammo.
The PCC isn’t as versatile as a 5.56 carbine and the terminal ballistics of a good 5.56 load will be superior to what you can get out of what amounts to a big, easy to shoot pistol…nevertheless, there are situations where a big, easy to shoot pistol will work splendidly. I would argue that serving as a home defense gun that’s also fun to use at the range is the niche that the PCC fills perhaps better than anything else on the market. It may not be the first choice of elite counterterrorism units these days (although many still have the old reliable MP5 in inventory and still use them on occasion) but it’s worth remembering that those units used shoulder-fired, pistol caliber weapons to great effect for a long time…and maybe the average shooter will find that it does a pretty good job for him/her, too.