Pistol-Caliber Carbines for Home Defense

By Bob Campbell published on in Ammunition, Firearms

I am always interested in different opinions about home-defense firearms. The three-gun trifecta—handgun, shotgun and rifle—is often commented on, with recommendations given. Many times the recommended rifle is more useful for an Israeli police action than home defense. Comments range from “the .223 has a lot of blast indoors” to “the system is very expensive, but you must have one” all the way to “buck it up, lay down the credit card and get with the program.”

Black Kel-Tec Carbine facing left on a white background.

The Kel-Tec is a modern minimalist design that gets the job done.

The reality is that among the most useful and effective of all home-defense guns is the pistol-caliber carbine.

Sure, if I were still in uniform, I would keep a .30-30 WCF, an SKS or an AR-15 in the cruiser. On the other hand, something better than the handgun is something better than the handgun. Let’s put things in perspective.

A good pistol-caliber carbine:

  • Is easier to learn to use well than a full-power rifle.
  • Is less expensive.
  • Has less muzzle blast.
  • Is easier to handle.

While the pistol-caliber carbine may not be as powerful as a .223, rifle power is relative.

The pistol-caliber carbine hits harder than a handgun based on two factors. The longer barrel burns powder more completely, resulting in higher velocity, and the carbine is easier to use well enough to deliver accurate fire. There are multiple classes of pistol-caliber carbines, including the converted submachine guns and AR-15 platform pistol-caliber carbines.

Converted Submachine Guns (SMGs)

One type is the converted submachine gun (SMG). There are SMGs fitted with legal-length 16-inch barrels and converted to the semi-auto-only mode of fire. The various Uzi carbines are one example. I find these the least useful for home defense. They are heavy, often inaccurate compared to more modern designs (the HK is an exception) and expensive.

Other Pistol-Caliber Carbines

Another type is the pistol-caliber carbine on the AR-15 platform. Those are OK as far as they go, and the most useful are the purpose-designed models. They have no fully automatic counterpart and do not resemble the AR-15.

Black Kel-Tec carbine, folded, on a white background.

The Kel-Tec carbine neatly folds for easy storage.

The Kel-Tec Sub 2000 9mm and the Beretta Storm are among those. The 9mm is by far more popular than the .40 or .45, which is based on ammunition availability, low recoil and high-capacity magazines. With most engagements in the home inside of 7 yards and outside incidents at 25 yards at best , the pistol-caliber carbine has little real disadvantage compared to a .223 rifle.

Benefits of the Carbine

Focus on the front sight of the Kel-Tec carbine with wood planks in the background

The front sight of the Kel-Tec carbine features a red insert that aids in rapid-fire hit probability.

The carbine is easy to manage, meaning less experienced shooters will get good hits quickly, with practice. The carbine has three points of contact—the cheek weld, shoulder and supporting hand—and is more stable than any handgun. The sight radius is longer, which allows excellent accuracy potential. Muzzle signature and muzzle blast are much less than a handgun firing the same cartridge. Plus, you may usually fire the pistol-caliber carbine at firing ranges that prohibit the .223 rifle.

The carbine is so much easier to use well that you should consider it as a prime home-defense piece over any handgun. A mediocre carbine shot is far more accurate than a fair handgun shooter. And there are carbines to fit every budget. The Kel-Tec carbines are the lightest of the breed, usually reliable, and accurate enough for home defense. They will put every bullet in the same hole at 10 yards. They lack a slide lock to hold the bolt open on the last shot, and the under-the-stock cocking lever takes some getting used to, but it is quite a weapon in close quarters.

Focus on the rear sight of the Kel-Tec carbine, barrel pointed away from you

The rear sight of the Kel-Tec is an excellent combat sight that comes to the target quickly.

The Kel-Tec carbines accept the Glock’s 33-round magazine in 9mm, and there is also a .40-caliber version. The 9mm hits pretty hard from a 16-inch barrel, so overall the 9mm is the best choice. As an example, the Fiocchi 115-grain XTP loading breaks 1,300 fps from the 9mm carbine, a useful advantage over the pistol. Commonality of caliber and magazines is not a bad idea, although if you own a revolver, the 9mm carbine is still a good idea for home defense. Like the home-defense shotgun, keep the carbine chamber empty and rack the bolt if trouble is imminent.

The useful advantages are many. The shotgun frightens female shooters and, truth be told, many police recruits. While the shotgun is a great problem solver at close-to-medium range, the pistol-caliber carbine is more versatile. The carbine may take on predators and pests to 100 yards or so. However, the primary reason for owning the pistol-caliber carbine is personal defense.

The Ballistic Advantages

Let’s consider some of the ballistic advantages of the pistol-caliber carbine. In 9mm Luger caliber, the 9mm is supercharged from a 9mm to a .357 Magnum, ballistics-wise. The 16-inch barrel gives the cartridge a serious increase in velocity. At the same time, the carbine is more accurate and controllable. In the .40-caliber Smith and Wesson, the .40 is jolted into 10mm category, and the useful level of power is dead on the .44-40 WCF level—a good place to be. With the .40-caliber carbine and the right loads, the pistol-caliber carbine moves into the deer and hog hunting categories at moderate range. Whatever the 10mm pistol will do, the .40-caliber carbine will do.

There is a caution in load selection for carbines; a load designed to fragment or expand quickly from a pistol barrel may expand too quickly from a carbine-length barrel (a 100 to 300 fps supercharge does funny things to a bullet).

A bullet designed to provide a balance of penetration and expansion is the only viable choice for use in the carbine. In 9mm Luger caliber, among the best choices is the 124-grain JHP.

There are several reasons I recommend this loading. Quality of manufacture is one. A good clean powder burn is another. While 115-grain loads are often good performers in handguns, I like the heavier bullet in carbines. The bullet will expand well, but the 124-grain is not as likely to under-penetrate. Also, since these carbines have blow-back actions, function seems more positive with the 124-grain loading.

The Safety and Bolt Lock for the Storm Carbine

The safety and bolt lock of the Storm carbine are well located and ergonomically sound designs.

A solid choice for mostly the same reasons in the .40-caliber carbine is the Black Hills 180-grain JHP. That load offers excellent accuracy and penetration, and expansion cannot be faulted. I would not fault the Black Hills 155-grain JHP either, but simply prefer the 180-grain load in this caliber. These loads give the carbines good predicted performance. There are other loadings that also give good results; I simply have the most experience with these. Among the single most accurate loadings I have used in .40 caliber is the Fiocchi 170-grain FMJ. I have a small supply I have used sparingly when firing at long range, and the results are impressive. Fiocchi also offers a modern line of plated bullets in this caliber that are a bargain for the shooter. Accuracy at a fair price is always good.

The Beretta Storm is a solid choice in a pistol-caliber carbine. After firing the Storm extensively, the ergonomics and solid handling are impressive. The sights are excellent examples of combat sights, offering real precision. The safety is well located, and the Storm has an ultra-modern look that grows on you the more you use it. The Storm uses Beretta 96 .40-caliber pistol magazines, which are readily available.

Based on function, accuracy and style the Beretta Storm is a great carbine.

Based on function, accuracy and style, the Beretta Storm is a great carbine.

The Storm has a bolt lock—a feature I like very much. It offers good accuracy and excellent reliability. Several police agencies adopted the Storm. While the full-power .223 carbine may seem a better choice, a carbine in hand in a dark alley is far better than a handgun and less intimidating to the user than a shotgun. The Storm is well made of good material, with a space-age look and feel that many will appreciate. The Storm’s excellent handling qualities are much of what sold me on the carbine doctrine. The Storm also may use a red dot sight, such as the Bushnell First Strike. The ability to mount a scope marks the Storm as superior to the Kel-Tec.

Commonality of Firearms?

Gray-haired man in blue jacket with red ear protection shoots a pistol carbine into the woods.

The author found the Beretta Storm handles quickly and offers excellent hit potential.

It is nice to have a Glock 17 9mm and a Kel-Tec 9mm that use the same magazines. That is not a tactical necessity, after all our soldiers field the 9mm handgun and .223 rifle. It is, however, a convenience. Having only one type of ammunition to stock up is good utility. The Beretta 96 .40 and the Storm go together, or the Storm 9mm and 9mm Storm carbine. If you want to plan ahead, and both spouses deploy the same handgun and keep a pistol-caliber carbine at home ready, there are far worse choices you could make.

The pistol-caliber carbine is also a good recreational firearm, and I have enjoyed firing and using my mine. Accounting for drop with the pistol-caliber carbine at longer ranges is not always easy and builds marksmanship. Learning the trigger press and cadence of fire is demanded of any personal defense firearm, and the pistol-caliber carbine is easier than most.

When all is said and done, the pistol-caliber carbine is a practical and tactical firearm that may be the best fit for your personal scenario.

Do you have a pistol-caliber carbine in your arsenal? If not, do you plan to add one? Share your thoughts on pistol-caliber carbines it in the comments section.

SLRule

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

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Comments (100)

  • Emmanuel Rose

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    I agree with the whole sentiments listed here with regards to the use of pistol caliber carbines for use of home defense. Pistols may be concealable, but when it counts I would rather have a stock and a something to grip to steady my aim. Personally though, I keep a Masterpiece Arms .45 caliber Carbine under my bed. They are rugged and reliable machines and MPA has taken it upon themselves to update the more obsolete aspects of the design. it has a bulletproof warranty and I’ve never had a problem with mine.

    Reply

  • work4change

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    Easy test for easy of targeting.

    stand square to target. Hold firearm locked in but pointed down. Then look at target and close eyes. With eyes closed lock into shoulder as your aiming the open eyes.

    you should be on target with need for little to no adjustments.

    If you have to hunt for the front sight, you need to change something, it should be automatic.
    When I tried the highpoint 995 9mm it was on center of target before my eyes cleared up.

    Yes I do practice blind shooting pistol and carbine. Practice practice, use airsoft daily, even laying on the gound as if injured practice. Make it fun, change it up, laser tag, paintball, learn how to be a marksmen Rocks, knives, bows, spears, guns, learn everything you can imagine. It all helps. :D

    Reply

  • Scott Sagman

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    Hi,

    I am considering a Beretta storm in 9 mm. Is it dangerous, etc, to use +P ammo.

    Thanks.

    Reply

    • work4change

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      I have shot most all of the pistol carbines available now. At least 500 rds in each.

      In my opinion….

      the baretta looks cool but for the Price …. you better love beretta products. It shoots fine. Limited on what red dots will fit and others addons.

      Sub 2000 is ugly as sin but have most options. Just dont drop it! Yes you can get it chambered for top 4 brand pistols n calibers… but it is mostly plastic. And where you get a massive amount of stress. Just behind the chamber. Yes they will fix it for free, but if fails when you need it. Somone else will be getting it repaired, your dead or in hospital. Your face is a couple inches away from the one weak point. If they fixed that, the Sub 2000 would more worth it.

      the High point over all is the best. Buttttttt only 10rds. 15rds if you get after market mags no one trusts. But ever aspect of the high point is better other then capacity.

      there an interesting one I forget the name but was in total recall (reboot) and the last 2 resident evil movies wierd gun heavy as hell
      but almost no recoil. It has an optional stock and lots of unusual options. Cost though you can get a glock, ar15, and an ar10 for the cost of one those beasts. Fun to shoot but holding up for long…. you better have cannons for arms. The one I shot weighed as much as my fully loaded ar15.

      the high point did one major point of interest… I got because of it. Of all the bullpup/pistol caliber carbines, getting onsight was the most nature. Zero effect, no twisting or finding the site, on the first try. First mag I was stacking rounds 100yrds 9mm.. easiest to hold on target and the recoil was almost as soft as my 22lr. I added a single point harness strap and it as nature as breathing. To me getting on target and staying their without neck stress is my #1 consern. The rest frankly did not get the job done as well as the highpoint.

      Reply

    • Roger

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      Based on your description of the unknown carbine, I guessed it was the Kriss Vector. A google search confirmed that.

      Reply

    • work4change

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      Yes thr KRISS Vector .45acp

      interesting frankingun, some may love it. I would guess it is durable as hell. Low recoil is nice. But felt really wierd getting on target.

      for me natural simple getting you on target is #1. Inside 25 yrds there should be zero need to aim to hit deer or human target. Hipoint does that with easy. And is tank of a gun for durability.

      Good luck everyone, all 4 carbines have their bonuses and negatives. Try them out see what fits you.

      My hipoint 995 with 15rd magpul mags works solidly, zero jams, zero issues, aiming is the smoothes in my opinion for my 33″ arms and big head lol……

      Reply

  • Martin Pierce

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    Not familar with–But sounds like a Lemon Gun if there is such a thing. Sometimes items are rushed into sales before all the bugs are worked out of. I found that Mags that are not from the manuf, tend to be made, lets say, less than ideal .i. e. min/max demensions, mag release cut out hole not big enough or doesn’t enter the mag far enough to grab. A lot of vibration there if you crank them off @ rapid fire. Didn’t slam it in hard enough on loading one and not in all the way. Stay away from cheap unlabeled mags and try again. Only use the one or one/s that came with. the urge to stock up on mags is natural, but only if you go quality first. I hope this helps. Off top of my head in spur of moment.

    Reply

  • David Sotelo

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    I have a gen 1 Cx4 carbine. I have issues with my Beretta magazines literally falling out of the gun while in use. I have sent it off to Beretta once already but the problem persists. Has anyone else had this issue?

    Reply

  • work4change

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    Easy way to make them choose another home.

    be proud, fly your flag, put your favorite military foces sticker in the window and an NRA sticket.

    Most will assume your a patiot/vet/hunter or just someone that might be armed. They will move to a softer target.

    Reply

  • work4change

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    Agreed…. most have no idea what happens in a fight for your Life. Most thing a bar fight or school yard fight make you ready.

    you have to train.
    plan safe routes out of home or danger.
    defense points if possible.
    are you prepared able and willing to Kill another person?
    have you ever had to truely defend your life

    pray they are not pros with smoke and flash items.

    what you see on TV n movies is pure BS. Most of it. One shot kills, One or two hit fights, you name it. All wrong.

    simple fact. The human doby can take a good amount of damge even a lot of damage and keep on ticking. Shots to legs arms should will rarely stop a criminal that wants to get you. A punk yes it may stop them. But near zero chance someone on drugs or a pro.

    In movies you see people slashing the enemy ONCE and they are dead or dying. Hm no.

    movies show the NEW guy in gun fights surviving and not being hit, no glass or debree cutying or hitting them. They jump through glass windows? Not a scratch. Actually you would bounce off most modern glass windows or at least not through the frame. All older windows are heavy wood or sterl/iron frames.
    if your licky and the frame fails you get sliced up from the glass. Cloths are no protection, leathercan be. Patio windows, doors, panels of glass in shopping location…. hit the hard enough to break, your probably going to die or suffer critical damage.

    oh back to home defense. You will be shaking, jumpy, and few are able to deal with this stress.

    practice practice practice.

    have a defense point. Example. In my home I have 3. A secure area with vest n gas mask in man cave I have artistic looking mirtors at the end of each stairway. From my location I can see them. But they can’t see me. Main floor hidden panel. Up stairs everone does to bathtub and watch the door, I sit out side door, in view ofthem but able to view below.

    If I confirm there are intruders… call 911, and keep them on the line till help arrives

    Phase1 we have blow horn in center of the house.
    phase 2 I have blinding led strobe lights
    phase 3 I shoot if needed, hope I never have to again.

    First thing people should do when they move a new home before sny prepping…. is talk to your local LEO’s make friends and learn what thry prefer you do. They are not the enemy. If the know you and trust you, you have nothing to fear. It hrlps dispatch also when you kmow what to say and what not to say. Any delay can mean your life.

    Reply

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