Deconstructing derp: Pistol Caliber Carbines

I love the idea of pistol caliber carbines the same way I love the idea of the M1 carbine. A good PC should be lighter than an average AR (6 pounds or less), take common pistol magazines, and be accurate and reliable. What it does in this roll is give shooters the ability to extend their zone of domination or whatever silly tactical phrase you want to use out past the effective range of a pistol. Essentially, someone who can effectively fight within 10 yards with a pistol becomes capable out to 50 yards with a pistol carbine.

They’re also great range toys, especially in 9mm. What’s frustrating is when people try to make a PC into something it’s not, like a replacement for a proper rifle in a serious service caliber (.223 and up) or they derp it up like a range toy and tell you that it’s a serious gun. Remember, the goals of a good PC are to have a lightweight, fast handling, reliable gun. On that note however, there is basically no situation I can think of where I’d rather have a pistol caliber carbine than either a 12 gauge shotgun or a .223 caliber rifle, logistics being equal.

But, that’s not the point. What we do want to talk about today is selecting a pistol caliber carbine, and how to set it up smartly. To do that, let’s look at those criteria established above: weight, accuracy, reliability, and commonality of magazines. Interestingly, if I’d been writing this post 15 years ago, during the dark days of the Clinton AWB (yes holy s*** it was that long ago) we would have had a lot more choices for carbines. Today, because of the AR revolution, anything you can do with a PC you can do better with a 16 inch AR, or if you’re feeling froggy a pistol AR with an SB15 brace. So today, what are our mainstream choices for a pistol caliber carbine?

cx4 storm for cylons

  • Beretta Cx4 Storm
  • Kel-Tec Sub2000
  • Hi-Point 9mm Carbine
  • AR in 9mm

Running down that list, the first thing we can do is toss out the 9mm AR carbine. The platform has too many variables, and if you’re going to get an AR, just get an AR in .223 and do it right. So then to rank them in order of preference, the best bet is the Cx4 Storm, then the Hi-Point carbine, and finally the Kel-Tec. The Storm is the best bet because it’s made by a reputable company, weighs less than 6 pounds, and accepts common magazines, either Beretta 92 mags or Px4 Storm magazines. It’s also available in .45 ACP if that’s your cup of tea, and to be honest, I kind of dig it in .45. But 9mm is the smarter choice.

The Hi-Point is next because if you’re not going to buy from a quality manufacturer, you should spend as little money as possible. And frankly, the Hi-Point carbines are the only Hi-Points I actually like. They also tend to work pretty well, because they feed from a single stack 10 round magazine and use a bone simple gas blowback operating system. So yes, they’re cheap (although not as cheap as they used to be) generally reliable, and easy to shoot well. While the mags aren’t terrible standardized, they’re also cheap (15 bucks) so you can buy plenty.

The last choice one is the Kel-Tec Sub2000. What you get with the Sub2000 is 1/3 the quality of the Beretta for 2/3rds of the price, and that’s just a bad deal. I certainly wouldn’t bet my life on a gun that folds in half in front of the receiver. You’re better off buying the Hi-Point, because it will be half the price of the Kel-Tec, and will probably be more reliable. The only thing the Kel-Tec has going for it is that you can get one that takes Glock 17 magazines.

Now that you’ve picked your carbine, here’s how to set it up for victory. I don’t really believe that you need an optical sighting system on a pistol caliber carbine, but if you must get one than your best bet is to keep it small, and keep it light. Don’t get a cheap POS dot like a UTG red dot for $34.99 at your local Wal-Box. Get a decent quality dot. If you’re on a budget, get a Burris FastFire III. If you’re not on a budget get an RMR or an Aimpoint Micro. Remember, the goal is to NOT sacrifice the gun’s lightness. As far as lights go, just get a Crimson Trace RailMaster. They’re like $120, have 100 lumens, and are a good product made by a reputable company. You’re not fighting hadji in the mountains here, so you don’t really need a face-melting 600 lumen death ray. You need to be able to 1) see your target, and 2) hit your target. That’s it.

A sling would be good depending on the gun’s operational plan. If you have children and use a long gun for home defense, a sling is mandatory. If no kids, it’s optional.

A note on the accessories: if you go the Hi-Point route, don’t bother with an optic. Their rail system isn’t really stable enough for that, and you’ll find your zero constantly shifting. Just stick the light on there and call it good. The same goes with the Kel-Tec, because the rail system they make doesn’t really anchor very well, and your zero is going to jump around like crazy. Put a light on it, and stick with the iron sights.

That’s pretty much it. While I will still recommend a proper rifle or a shotgun over a pistol caliber carbine, if you keep your purpose clear, you can set one up pretty well for home defense. Light rifles are right rifles, so keep it clean, keep it light, and don’t ruin a lightweight, fast handling rifle by hanging a bunch of derpy parts on it.


  1. I love my Hi Point Carbine and bought it for all the reasons you mentioned. They’re accurate, simple to shoot and are great to put into newbies hands and if they drop it it isn’t getting any uglier. I’ve added a forward grip and that’s it. It’s a fun gun but not what I’d grab in a SHTF situation.

    But I do get a kick out of seeing guys who accessorize the Hi Points so much that all the crap costs more than the gun.

    1. The last choice one is the Kel-Tec Sub2000. What you get with the Sub2000 is 1/3 the quality of the Beretta for 2/3rds of the price, and that’s just a bad deal. I certainly wouldn’t bet my life on a gun that folds in half in front of the receiver. You’re better off buying the Hi-Point, because it will be half the price of the Kel-Tec, and will probably be more reliable.

      I was going to make a snarky comment about Oleg Volk, but then Whitest Of Knights posted that imgur link.


  2. I’ve actually found the HiPoints to be a surprisingly capable and accurate carbine, but the Kel Tech has proven in the Glock magaznine examples that I have seen to be more reliable.

    My sub2000 had over 1500 rounds of various ball and JHPs through it without cleaning before I broke down and cleaned it. I only cleaned that gun due to the ammount of black goo it would fling on the shooter due to be so cruddy. It’s over 2000 rounds now and still no stoppages. I use the sub as a pack with me on a road trip long gun for when I am not brining a “real” long gun. The folding aspect means it fits in a lap top bag and comes and goes out of a hotel room without anyone knowing it’s there.

    1. Yep that is the reason I love my Sub2000. I just want a better handguard. I dont need rails. I would love to use the B5 keymod if possible on it.

  3. I’m thinking seriously about an AR pistol with brace. Please define “feeling froggy”

    1. Definitely, definitely, definitely do it. I just finished an 9″ AR pistol build (in 300 BLK) with an 80% lower and slammed the sb15 on there too. Could not possibly be happier. Thinking about adding a muzzle brake while I wait for my form 4 to clear to stabilize muzzle rise (which isn’t bad), but other than that… flawlessly awesome.

  4. ” anything you can do with a PC you can do better with a 16 inch AR”

    Well, a .45 PC runs a lot better with a can than a .223, and 16″ really isn’t the right length for .300 Blackout, which at social ranges isn’t better than .45 FMJ out of a long barrel anyway.

  5. Instead of a Crimson Railmaster, give a Viridian CTL a try, Caleb. Same price as the CTC, more ergonomic controls, and you can get one with a laser in the same package if you want to upgrade. If you’d like to try one out, Caleb, drop me an email at the address below.


  6. Don’t make fun of “9×19 Colonial “. Admiral Adama will not be pleased!

  7. I don’t know why anyone would get a 9mm Storm and not add the ‘Battle Star Galactica Barrel Shroud’ (it substantially ups the cool factor)…

    Additionally if you cycle 147g subsonic ammunition, say around 132 power factor, through the CX4 you’ll find the bolt cycles really sluggishly. But don’t be discouraged; it’s totally worth it! Due to the way the carbine is constructed most of the noise ends up being muffled (and it sounds like you’re running a suppressor)… Now if only I could find some subsonic 9mm tracers.

  8. One other good thing about the High Point Carbines. I bought one for $60 off of Gunbroker (no guarantee it would even work). It arrived with the front sight broken off, pretty beat up, and completely non-functional. I called up High Point to see how much it would cost to fix. They giave me an RMA number. When I got it back, the carbine had been completely rebuilt and they threw a couple of extra magazines, all at no charge. Say what you want about the looks of their products. But, they have great customer service.

  9. Too bad Ruger did away with their PC9. I’d love to see it come back and be usable with the SR9/SR9c mags instead of P series mags, and possibly their PC40 with SR40/SR40c mags

  10. I really want a 10mm that takes Glock mags, no reason other than it would be a fun PC. I shot a 10mm AR that took converted Grease Gun mags, fun, just not perfect

    1. Greg, you are preaching to the choir. About the only thing i want more than that is a 10mm Lever gun. I simply want it because of reasons.

  11. Caleb —

    I’d say there are a few more places where pistol caliber carbines beat a standard AR15 or shotgun. For example:

    1. You want a long gun for home defence (because you know that it’s easier to get good hits with a stocked gun), but you really aren’t a “gunny” person, and don’t want to bother with multiple ammo types. (Yes, such people exist. 😀 ) So you get a pistol caliber carbine that matches your Plastic Fantastic. (Maybe even matches your magazines.)

    2. You are significantly recoil-sensitive. All other things being equal (say, comparing a 9x19mm AR15 to a 5.56mm one), the pistol caliber carbine should have less felt recoil. (Also less muzzle blast – 5.56mm in close quarters can be severely disabling without ear pro.)

  12. Surprised that you did not list the “Just Right Carbine”. I hear lots of good things about it.

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