9mm Carbines Complete Guide: Uses, Ballistics, and More

Why 9mm Carbines?
November 16, 2021 Edited March 30, 2023 14363 view(s)
9mm Carbines Complete Guide: Uses, Ballistics, and More

If you’ve considered buying a new firearm any time in the past few years, odds are good that you’ve stumbled across the term “pistol caliber carbine” – and probably encountered some shooters singing their praises. But if you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, then fear not – we’re taking an in-depth look at PCCs and what they have to offer.


What is a Pistol Caliber Carbine?

Pistol caliber carbines, or PCCs, have seen a dramatic surge in popularity in recent years, even earning themselves dedicated competitive shooting divisions in both 3-Gun Nation and USPSA matches. But what are they, exactly? Put simply, a PCC is a a carbine-length gun chambered in a pistol caliber – most commonly either 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, or 10mm, though more unusual options such as .380 ACP and .357 SIG are also available.

While many modern PCCs are based on the AR platform, there are also plenty of specialized designs on the market, and you can even put together a 9mm Kalashnikov if the idea tickles your fancy.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking that pistol caliber carbines are strictly a modern invention – as far back as the late 19th century, manufacturers like Marlin, Henry, and Winchester introduced a number of lever-action rifles that fired pistol catridges like .45 Long Colt and .44-40 Winchester. In fact, one such rifle, the Winchester Model 1873 (originally chambered in .44-40), proved so popular that it was famously marketed as “The Gun That Won the West.”

Man Shooting 9mm Carbine


Why Choose a 9mm Carbine?

Though they’re available in a variety of calibers, 9mm PCCs like the AR-9 have proven to be by far the most popular choice among both recreational and competitive shooters. If you’re wondering why someone might choose a pistol caliber carbine over a more traditional rifle, there are actually a few reasons worth considering.


Sharing Ammo

The most obvious factor, and the reason why lever guns like the Winchester 1873 were so popular in their day, is that sharing ammo between your rifle and your sidearm has some undeniable utility in an emergency situation. And not only is the ammo compatible, many PCCs are able to share magazines with pistols, as well.



Of course, 9mm ammo is also considerably cheaper than something like 5.56 or .308, and if you just want a fun range gun that can also pull double duty in a potential home defense situation, having access to inexpensive and plentiful plinking ammo that can be used even in short-range indoor lanes with steel targets is certainly an attractive option.


Home Defense

While we’re on the subject of home defense, it’s worth clearing up a few things. Overpenetration is a major concern for people who live in an apartment or any densely populated area, and while the common wisdom might dictate that a lower-powered pistol round like 9mm is less prone to overpenetration, the truth is that frangible or HD-specific ammunition allow rifles chambered in both 9mm and 5.56 NATO to put down a threat without overpenetrating – provided you make the shot. In the case of a clear miss, even ammunition specifically designed for defensive scenarios is going to punch through drywall and wood with no issue.

With that in mind, there are still a couple of benefits that a 9mm carbine offers over other alternatives as a defensive firearm. Compared to a handgun, a PCC still offers more points of contact, which means better stability and easier follow-up shots. It also has a longer sight radius, which is important if you need to rapidly switch between multiple targets – not to mention the fact that it reduces the impact of any shaking or swaying that tends to come with a sudden adrenaline rush.


Better for home defense than an AR-15?

While there’s no denying that an AR-15 makes for a highly effective home defense gun in trained hands, there are a few points in the PCC’s favor.

First of all, firing a rifle or shotgun indoors is loud. The concussive blasts from even a relatively soft-shooting cartridge like 5.56 are greatly amplified in confined spaces, and while hearing loss is certainly preferable to being dead, a pistol caliber carbine significantly reduces the risks of you or your loved ones suffering permanent hearing damage.

Second, a PCC will often be much more maneuverable in tight spaces than something running a mid-length or rifle-length gas system. In some cases, a PCC with a suppressor can still clock in with a shorter overall length than a non-suppressed rifle, which can make a huge difference when it comes to safely taking corners or navigating through rooms and hallways.

Finally, while 5.56 from a full-sized AR produces negligible recoil, a pistol cartridge like 9mm reduces that felt recoil even further. It may not seem like much of a difference to someone with experience, but for young or novice shooters who might be forced into the unenviable position of defending themselves or their home from a threat, every sliver of advantage helps.

AR-9 Rifle being Charged


AR-9 vs. Other PCCs

The AR-9 and other AR variants might be the most popular options for pistol caliber carbines, but that’s not to say that other PCCs are inferior. In some cases it may depend on what other firearms you own – if you’ve got a Ruger Security-6 or SR-Series, then the out-of-the-box intercompatibility of the Ruger PC Carbine might be a major selling point, for instance.

And of course, not everyone is looking for a new gun based on how versatile it is or how useful it may be for personal defense – some people just want to have fun, and there are plenty of unique PCCs to choose from – maybe you’ve always wanted a KRISS Vector or an MP5 clone, or maybe that 9mm Kalashnikov I mentioned earlier sounds like a blast.

But if you’re looking for a great all-around PCC, the AR-9 still gets my vote for a few simple reasons.

First and foremost, virtually every shooter is going to be able to pick up an AR-9 and use it without any issues. The AR-15 is the most common rifle platform in America, and chances are if you’ve ever visited a range, you have at least a passing familiarity with how it functions. For shooters who have spent hundreds or even thousands of hours behind an AR, that muscle memory is going to carry over to the AR-9 in terms of handling and operating controls.

Second, just like other ARs, the AR-9 is highly modular, and there is an entire galaxy of compatible aftermarket parts and accessories (like AR-9 uppers) that will allow you to kit your carbine out to your exact specifications. Whether you want to maximize performance for a competitive event or trim your carbine down into a lightweight truck gun, the AR-9 has you covered.

The final consideration is cost – while there are a few budget PCCs on the market, the balance of cost and performance that the AR-9 offers is hard to beat. If you just want a carbine for plinking and practicing, a dedicated 9mm upper and a 9mm magwell adapter can transform your existing AR-15 for a fraction of the cost of other PCCs.

If you’re interested in using a PCC for competition shooting or home defense, it’s highly recommended that you pair a 9mm upper with a dedicated AR-9 lower to ensure maximum reliability – and even then, you’ll still end up spending less than you would on most other pistol caliber carbines.

Shop AR-9 Uppers button

9mm Bullet on Workbench


9mm Ballistics

When Georg Luger first designed the 9x19 Parabellum cartridge in 1901, he intended for it simply to be lethal within 50 yards. While modern advancements in ammunition design and manufacturing have significantly improved the ballistic performance of 9mm, we can see that a 115-grain cartridge fired from a 5” pistol barrel still sees a rapid loss in velocity, energy, and elevation after roughly 100 yards.

9mm Ballistics Chart

However, the overall performance of 9mm sees improvement when fired through a carbine-length AR 9mm barrel, as the longer powder burn time increases velocity and the additional rifling further stabilizes the bullet. This becomes especially evident when using overpressured, jacketed hollow points (designated JHP+P).

As a brief example, let’s compare the classic Cor-Bon 115-grain JHP+P cartridge fired from a 5” barrel and a 16” barrel. With a 5” barrel, testing reveals a muzzle velocity of 1,372 feet per second and a muzzle energy of 465 foot-pounds. When fired through a 16” barrel, that same cartridge clocks in at 1,525 fps and 582 foot-pounds – a pretty hefty increase.

AR-9 Side Charging Rifle


Pistol or Rifle?

Generally speaking, you are going to see a PCC configured in two basic ways: with a stock and a barrel length of at least 16 inches, or with a stabilizing brace and a shorter barrel, which legally classifies the firearm as a pistol. Which one you choose comes down to personal preference – some shooters would rather have the superior ballistic performance and longer sight radius of the rifle configuration, while others are looking for an incredibly compact and highly maneuverable firearm that still offers a number of advantages over a traditional handgun when it comes to defensive use.

It’s also worth mentioning that a PCC can be registered as a short-barreled rifle, if you prefer a shorter barrel length and want to avoid the seemingly arbitrary and ever-changing rules that the ATF puts out regarding pistol braces. This option does present its own headaches – aside from the tax stamp, it makes interstate travel with your SBR into an ordeal – but it does offer some peace of mind in terms of knowing that you aren’t subject to the whims of vague legal interpretation.

[To learn more about the legality and uses of AR pistols check out our complete guide to AR-15 pistols!]


Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, there are plenty of good reasons to consider a pistol caliber carbine like the AR-9. They’re cheap to shoot, are compatible with many popular handgun magazines, have earned a dedicated following in the world of competitive shooting, can be used effectively for home defense, and are, let’s face it, just plain fun.

[If you want to learn more about AR-9s like what lowers or conversion kits to use with AR-9 uppers watch the video below. ⬇ And if you still have any questions about 9mm carbines leave them in the comments below!]


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November 16, 2021
What lowers do you recommend with your upper? Will the Aero EPC 9 work?
November 17, 2021
Yes that receiver is perfect. Basically any lower that accepts Glock style magazines and has an ejector built on the lower should work fine.
November 17, 2021
This article is somewhat disingenuous. The 9 mm parabellum cartridge was designed for a pistol. The powder is fully burned within inches. Beyond 8 to 12 inches there is very little ballistic enhancement. For many loads there is a decrease in velocity with 16 inch barrel lengths. Also modern 9 mm handguns are much more reliable than are blowback firearms. The 9 mm is a pistol round and the AR platform is a gas operated firearm. Why re-engineer something just for coolness factor. See "ballistics by the inch".
October 5, 2022
16” barrel is still faster than a 5” barrel. I used to load for myself and a friend of mine that shot USPSA with me. He would chrono well faster than I would with the same exact ammo. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but I was around 1075 fps and he was somewhere in the ballpark of 1300-1350 fps.
December 11, 2023
You might want to put your glasses on and look at the Ballistics by the inch site again :-). While it is true that many of the rounds suffer velocity loss when the barrel was longer than 16", most tested at higher speed coming out the 16" carbine barrel than shorter pistol lengths.
November 18, 2021
Have you bought ammo in the last 2 years? Have you ever shot a 10.5' AR9 suppressed? I love my custom 1911, but the ballistics for a .45 are much more impressive leaving a 16" barrel than a 4". Size does matter. LOL
November 18, 2021
BTW, PCC's are great home defense guns because of over penetration into other rooms (possibly your family) by rifle calibers.
November 22, 2021
do you have any 9mm;s that use the UZI mags?
November 29, 2021
No, our AR-9s are compatible with Glock magazines
Dave Stacy
December 4, 2021
Will your 7 1/2” 9mm upper work with a Palmetto 9mm Lower
December 6, 2021
Yes, any Glock compatible lower will work
January 11, 2022
Will your 9mm complete upper with bolt carrier group compatible with Anderson multi-calblier lower with endomag magazine.
January 13, 2022
Yes, it should be compatible, as long as the EndoMag has the ejector on it. If you experience issues feel free to contact us.
January 26, 2022
When are you guys going to have 7.5" uppers again?? You've been out for almost a year. When i do get a notice they are back, i immediately go to the website and find it shows out of stock. When are you guys going to start doing 5.5" uppers to compete with the high demand for other manufacturers SBR and PCC's?? I would LOVE to buy a 5.5" with 7" MLOC from you guys instead of someone else.
Gary Hammock
February 25, 2022
What would be the best length of an AR-9 upper pistol ? And please explain the reasoning behind the “Left Side Charging” with “Right Side Discharging”? I have an idea and I’m beginning to like the idea, it’s just different.
March 2, 2022
Please reach out to our technical advisor at bcatech@bearcreekarsenal.com for a detailed and helpful answer.
Cody Brady
February 27, 2022
Looking for advice on both of my 9mm builds. I'm having problems with extracting the spent casings. I have experimented changing up the action spring, changed out multiple buffer assembly and weights, and looked a little into the ejector pin, roll pin, spring, and ejector. Any other ideas?
March 1, 2022
Please email our head technical advisor at (bcatech@bearcreekarsenal.com) for detailed and exhaustive help.
Ode Coyote
April 21, 2023
Bending the ejector pin a little bit toward center but not enough to interfere with the bolt helps a lot...flips the casing faster preventing stovepipes in the ejection slot
Roscoe Bowen
April 3, 2022
Why buy lowers which have no corresponding uppers? This is a failure. Stop asking if I want the something other and produce some 9mm uppers. Otherwise my lowers will feel like I wasted my time and money. Please help!
porfirio fragoso
June 19, 2022
Hello everyone just put ar9 together and had to go out rip a few mags though it. I am impressed with your product...... but I did have feeding issues. I'll be testing it again in a few days to see what I can find out, right now it's looking like the ramp may Need a little work. But I will say this when it didn't jam this gun shot like a dream. 25 yd free hand site in with 2-3 inch groups and still did well at 50yds keeping the same groups oh before I go any further I'm using a sig Romeo red dot site. This gun will be for home defense so 3in groups at 50 yds is just fine in my eyes.
Thomas Gillan
October 7, 2022
9mm Bufferless with folding stock: Can the folding stock be changed out to a adjustable stock? What needs to be done to accomplish the change?
Rodney K Wright
January 6, 2023
I thought about getting an AR-9 upper but didn't want to go through the headache of different buffer and other things. I got a Ruger PCC in 9mm for less than $600 then bought a red/green dot scope from Bear Creek. It has been a blast! It is easy to clean as it is a takedown. I may give an AR-9 a try later but maybe in if they get it a .40 caliber.
James Reed
January 17, 2023
I think the 9 mm is great. But I’m waiting on a 10 mm it cost more to shoot but would be great for Deer Hunting for Kid , women and older people and less expensive then a 300 blackout.
January 17, 2023
How about chambering AR 15 uppers in the following cartridges: 30 Carbine 338-300 Blackout. (338-221 wildcat) 9mm Win.Mag. ( not 9mm Luger) 357 AutoMag 351 WSL 357-45 Win. Mag. (wildcat) 41 AutoMag 44 AutoMag 45 Win. Mag. 475 Wildey 50 AE
January 18, 2023
Will your self contained buffer 9mm uppers also work with any Glock compatible lower? And are they safe to use +p or +p+ ammo in?
James McCarthy
April 21, 2023
Good and comprehensive srticle
Ronald G. Sellers
April 22, 2023
I don't know if a whole lot of others have expressed this idea but I sure would love to see you guys produce a .40 S&W pistol lenght AR complete upper. Even though this caliber is not as popular as it once was there are still alot of people I know that still use this caliber & I think .40 uppers, complete pistols and rifles would sell very well, noteably to older, retired and/ or former LEO's who still refuse to go to the 9mm.
Jeffrey Juneau
April 25, 2023
What about an upper chambered in 7.62x25?
D. Lindsey
August 14, 2023
Self defense distances greater than down the hall and across the den about 60 feet or 20 yards is going to get nearly every prosecutor in the nation thinking manslaughter and second degree murder at best. So 50 to 100 yard gunfights are best left to the professionals. And that is just where the PC Carbines shine, more than pistol ranges out to 100 yards military combat range. It's too much power for small game, rabits and squirrel and not enough for deer. It's best use is making that pesky gong ring or killing that attacking paper target.
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