Pistol-caliber Carbines for Home Defense

Like many prepping and survival blogs, we here at Prep-Blog are big supporters of the second amendment, the right to keep and bear arms, which includes the right to own a gun for the purpose of self-defense. So we often discuss guns, ammo, and related topics. In this post, I’d like to point out the advantages of a pistol-caliber carbine for home defense. There are advantages and disadvantages to using other types of guns for the same purpose: rifles, shot guns, or handguns. But in my opinion, a carbine that shoots pistol ammunition is particularly well-suited to personal survival and home defense. [Photo is Federal HST 9mm bullet]

The term carbine is not strictly defined. It is a loose term used to describe a certain type of long gun, a rifle of moderate length and weight. Nowadays, the typical carbine has a barrel length of about 16 inches. This is the shortest barrel that a rifle in the U.S. can legally have without special permission from the ATF under the National Firearms Act. A rifle with a barrel shorter than 16 inches is termed a short barreled rifle, and is an NFA item. The expense and difficulty of owning an NFA weapon means that gun makers will often design their carbines to have a barrel length of 16 inches (or a little more). But any rifle with a barrel length of less than 20 inches and moderate weight (maybe 6 or 7 lbs. or less) is still a carbine.

A pistol-caliber carbine is a rifle that shoots pistol ammunition, usually the more common pistol calibers: 9mm, .40 S&W, or .45 ACP. There are a number of advantages to using a pistol-caliber carbine for home defense.

1. Better ballistics

A pistol-caliber carbine has a much longer barrel than a pistol. This results in greater velocity at the muzzle, greater terminal velocity at the target, and greater effectiveness against an attacker. A 9mm handgun can shoot a 124 grain bullet at about 1150 to 1200 feet per second (fps) (e.g. Federal ammo, Speer). From a carbine, the same ammunition gains about 200 fps, for 1350 to 1400 fps. The highly-effective .357 magnum caliber will shoot a 125 grain bullet at about 1450 fps (e.g. Speer). So when you take 9mm ammo and fire it from a pistol-caliber carbine, you get approximately the ballistics of a .357 magnum revolver. Very effective.

2. Less recoil

A pistol-caliber carbine has less recoil than a rifle in most rifle calibers, and less recoil than a pistol shooting the same ammo. The greater weight of the carbine, compared to a pistol, reduces recoil. And the fact that are you shooting with the gun against your shoulder reduces the felt recoil even further. A pistol-caliber carbine is very easy to shoot, even for inexperienced or recoil-sensitive shooters.

3. Less noise and muzzle blast

A rifle shooting any rifle ammo, from .223 (5.56 NATO) to anything more powerful, will have a great deal more noise and blast from the muzzle than any pistol caliber carbine. This makes the carbine much easier to use in self-defense. If you have to fire a gun indoors, to defend against a criminal who has broken into your home, even a .223 rifle is very loud. Loud enough to cause hearing damage. You might not have time to put on hearing protection. Your family members in the house probably will not have hearing protection. A pistol has significantly lower noise than a rifle. A pistol-caliber carbine has even less noise.

4. Accuracy

The issues of noise and recoil are not only about comfort in firing the weapon. Less recoil and less noise/muzzle blast translates into greater accuracy, especially for less experienced shooters. And accuracy is essential to self-defense. It doesn’t matter what caliber bullet you are shooting, if you can’t hit the bad guys.

Almost any long gun is much more accurate than almost any hand gun. When you fire a hand gun, the recoil affects the gun so much that the muzzle rises significantly, moving off target. This makes a follow-up shot take longer, because you have to bring the gun back on target. It also affects accuracy, since the gun moves as it is firing the bullet. With a pistol-caliber carbine, there is much less recoil and movement of the gun, so you have greater accuracy. You have the carbine braced against your shoulder, so you can hold it more steadily than a pistol. This is particularly true if you are faced with an attacker using deadly force. You may be nervous or afraid, and so your aim with a pistol will be much less steady than at a shooting range.

Aiming with a pistol is more difficult than with a carbine. The open sights of a pistol are inherently less accurate. You can put a low-powered scope, or a good-sized red dot sight, on a pistol-caliber carbine. Overall, accuracy is much greater with a pistol-caliber carbine than with a pistol.

5. Range

A pistol-caliber carbine has greater range than a pistol shooting the same ammo. This is partly due to the greater accuracy. You can shoot a pistol-caliber carbine accurately out to 100 yards or so. But it would be very difficult for most shooters to hit anything with a pistol at 100 yards. Also, with the pistol-caliber carbine, you have greater velocity, which carries the bullet a little further, with a little less drop to the bullet.

Of course, a rifle caliber will have much greater range than a pistol-caliber carbine. But for home defense, do you really need a range of more than about 100 yards? If you live in a rural area, you might. In which case a rifle caliber carbine might be a better choice. But for many homes in suburban areas range greater than 100 yards means that a missed shot could travel into a neighbor’s home. Not what you want. Shotgun shot and pistol-caliber ammunition have limited range, and this is not always a bad thing.

6. Cost

A good pistol-caliber carbine, like the Hi-Point 9mm carbine, is relatively inexpensive (as of this writing, about $300 to $400). Many handguns cost more. My Beretta Px4 9mm was $500, purchased at a gun show a while back. Most semi-automatic rifles are significantly more money.

Pistol ammunition, especially the 9mm, is relatively inexpensive. Unless you are shooting a rifle in .22LR, most good quality rifle ammo is more costly. In addition, if you have a pistol and a pistol-caliber carbine in the same caliber, you only need one type of ammunition. Being able to use the same ammo in two different types of guns is useful. Modern hollow-point pistol ammo is also very effective.

If you are thinking of getting a pistol-caliber carbine, check your local laws first. Some States and some localities have gun restrictions that make it difficult (e.g. CA, MA) or basically impossible (e.g. Washington, D.C.) to own a pistol-caliber carbine.

– Thoreau

4 Responses to Pistol-caliber Carbines for Home Defense

  1. Although they have been out of production for almost 10 years the Marlin Camp 9 is an excellent carbine. They can still be found used at reasonable prices. They are tough and reliable. I have one and the magazine is interchangeable with my SW 659 pistol.

    For indoors I do prefer the pistol for home protection just for the ease of negotiating around corners or through doorways.

  2. KelTec has a folding semi-auto carbine, in 9mm & .40S&W that can be ordered to accept the same magazines as some pistols in those calibers.

  3. Read Tappan’s books. Good, albeit aged info.
    As a member of the armed forces (currently serving in Afghanistan (there’s my cred), I recommend weapons based on the COMFORT LEVEL of the individual firing.

    For a ninety year old or adult who is unfamiliar with or scared of weapons a revolver is the best choice. .32. or .38. Why? Revolvers don’t jam, you can toss them in a drawer and leave them there for years. (I don’t recommend that but it’s possible). Second, a high velocity round has a LOT of potential for through-and-through. (One reason the Army is going back to the .45).

    However, the other type of through and through is a thin wall. Either into other rooms into your house or into a neighbor’s hourse. Not good.

    If you are at ALL comfortable with weapons, I recommend a shotgun for home defense. A Mossburg 500 goes for arond $250. There is the additional sound factor. NOTHING in the world makes the sound of a person chambering a round into a shotgun.

    Good luck, love the blog.

  4. @Tyler – re: shotgun. That’s what I always remind the Mrs. before leaving to go out of town. If you think someone is in the house, don’t speak a single word – just rack one into the chamber hard and fast, get ready, and wait. It’s their move then.