By Bob Campbell,
I am interested in exploring every avenue in personal defense to give the honest homeowner and citizen an advantage. Sometimes the most powerful firearm with the longest range, the greatest accuracy and the biggest price isn’t the best choice for every shooter. When a shooter is purchasing a high tech firearm and they are not a high tech shooter, the firearm isn’t very formidable.
While the handgun is the firearm we have with us at all times, it is simply the weapon of opportunity. For home defense, area defense and for certain excursions, the carbine makes sense. Sometimes a pistol caliber carbine is a good choice. The .223 rifle is a great rifle, but the blast, expense and range of the .223 may not be ideal for home defense. The reality is that among the most useful and effective of all home defense handguns is the pistol caliber carbine.
A good pistol caliber carbine is much easier to learn to use well than the full power rifle; it is less expensive, has less muzzle blast and, it 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 much harder than a handgun based on two factors. The longer barrel burns powder more completely, resulting in higher velocity, and the carbine is much easier to use well enough to deliver accurate fire.
There are two classes of pistol caliber carbines. The first are converted submachineguns. There are SMGs fitted with a legal length 16-inch barrel and converted to semi-auto-only mode of fire. 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.
The second type is the pistol caliber carbine on the AR 15 platform. The most useful are the purpose-designed pistol caliber carbines. They have no fully automatic counterpart and they are blowback operated. They sometimes resemble the AR 15. The 9mm is by far more popular than the .40 or .45, based upon ammunition availability and high capacity magazines. With most engagements inside the home at close range and outdoor events that are at best 25 yards, the pistol caliber carbine has little real disadvantage compared to a rifle. The carbine is easy to manage and even less experienced shooters will get good hits quickly with practice.
The carbine has three points of contact—the cheek weld, the shoulder and the supporting hand. It is much more stable than any handgun. The sight radius is much longer. Muzzle signature and muzzle blast is less than a handgun firing the same cartridge. You can usually fire the pistol caliber carbine at firing ranges that prohibit the .223 rifle. The carbine is so much easier to use well that it should be considered as a prime home defense piece over any handgun. A mediocre carbine shot is far more accurate than a fair handgun shooter! 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 ten 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 they are quite a weapon at close quarters. They accept the Glock 33 round magazine in 9mm. There is also a .40 caliber version. The 9mm hits pretty hard from a 16-inch barre,l so overall the 9mm is the best choice—but it depends upon the handgun. Commonality of caliber and magazines is not a bad idea, but 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 some 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 hundred yards or so. But the primary reason for owning the pistol caliber carbine is personal defense.
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 much more accurate and controllable. In the .40 caliber Smith & 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 taking category at moderate range. Sure, there are better tools but the .40 will serve.
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 100–300 fps supercharge does funny things to a bullet. A bullet that is 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 Black Hills 124-grain JHP. There are several reasons I recommend this loading. Quality of manufacture is one. A good clean powder burn is another. Second, while the 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 are blowback actions function seems more positive with the 124-grain loading. A solid choice for much the same reasons in the .40 caliber carbine is the Black Hills 180-grain JHP. This 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 and the experience is good.
A solid choice in a pistol caliber carbine is the Beretta Storm. 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. The Storm uses Beretta 96 .40 caliber pistol magazines. They are readily available. The Storm features a bolt lock, a feature that I like very much. The Storm offers good accuracy and excellent reliability. The Storm has been adopted for several police agencies. While the full power .223 carbine might seem a better choice, the 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. Frankly the excellent handling qualities of the Storm are what sold me on the carbine doctrine.
It is nice to have a Glock 17 9mm and a Kel Tec 9mm that use the same magazines. This isn’t 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 on is good utility.
Likewise, if you own an HK .40—or .45—the Beretta Storm carbine is still appealing. If you wish 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. I have enjoyed firing and using mine. Accounting for drop with the pistol caliber carbine at longer ranges isn’t always easy and builds marksmanship. Learning the trigger press and cadence of fire is demanded of any personal defense firearm but 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.
I have tested the 9mm Thureon carbine with excellent results. The Thureon is lighter than an AR 15 rifle and also thinner as it should be. The 9mm Thureon is a first rate 9mm carbine. The Thureon uses pistol magazines. In some designs this dictates using a magazine release on the left side of the receiver.
Many of us prefer the commonality of action and muscle memory with the AR 15 and would like to have magazine release on the right side in AR 15 fashion. Thureon has managed to design a right-hand release that works with Glock magazines. I have recently tested a Thureon in .45 ACP caliber. This is among the single most accurate pistol caliber carbines I have ever tested. At 25 yards average 230-grain ball loads would group five shots into just under two inches. Better loads such as the Black Hills 230-grain JHP will break just under an inch at 25 yards. This was accomplished with the use of a red dot sight. At a long 100 yards I was able to strike pine cones and dirt clods at the base of the 20-ft berm at the 100-yard range. I was thoroughly impressed. The .45 ACP cartridge becomes a different proposition, ballistics-wise, when fired from a 16-inch barrel.
Overall I like the Thureon and find it among the best of the modern class of pistol caliber carbines. The Beretta Storm is a model of ergonomics, not on the AR 15 platform, and a great shooter as well.