At some point back around the year twenty aught three or so,  someone at Beretta looked at their flagship line of aging double action handguns and realized something; their brand was in danger of becoming obsolete. At the time, the American firearms market was beginning to explode with AR-15 rifles, numerous 1911 designs, and concealable, lightweight polymer handguns. “We really need to get in on that,” Beretta thought (I’m pretty sure those were the exact words of their CEO at the time). So they took the obvious course of action and approached legendary automobile designer Giorgetto Giugiaro to help them develop a sexy new compact plastic rifle that would be chambered in a variety of pistol cartridges. Well, okay… maybe that wasn’t so obvious.

Beretta’s decision to introduce a new pistol caliber carbine in the 21st century was nothing if not unique. Most military and police units around the world were already in the process of replacing their pistol caliber submachine guns with carbines firing full-power centerfire rifle cartridges like the M4 in 5.56 NATO. At the same time, the AR-15 was well on its way to becoming the best-selling rifle in the US, with the 16” carbine variants being the most common among civilians. With the exception of a modest niche market, carbines chambered in pistol calibers have been all but forgotten, while affordable centerfire rifle caliber carbines and .22 plinkers have taken their place.

Even so, when Beretta released the CX4 Storm in 2003, I was immediately enamored. At the time, I was a recent college graduate and looking to celebrate my freedom from literally living in a “gun free zone” by purchasing the very first rifle that would truly be mine. The CX4 was a fun looking design that called to my inner sci-fi nerd, but also spoke to my practical nature. As a broke recent college grad, I would be on a tight ammo budget, and the 9mm chambering meant I could actually afford to go to the range with the new carbine. As a novice rifle shooter, I also knew I probably would be better suited with a gun that had low recoil, so I could learn the fundamentals without developing a flinch.

 

A trio of pistol caliber carbines
From top: WWII-era M1 Carbine made by IBM, Marlin 1894 .357 magnum, Beretta CX4 9mm

All of that level-headed practicality went out the window when I caught a showing of Saving Private Ryan on cable and subsequently found out that the CMP was selling authentic WWII-era M1 Garands for half the price of the CX4. The Beretta purchase was delayed for nearly a decade while I sank my meager savings into surplus Korean .30-06 ammo.

In the intervening period, my fascination with surplus military firearms led me to the M1 Carbine, another light-recoiling, quick-handling rifle that, practically speaking, has a lot more in common with the Beretta carbine than it does with the bulky, powerful M1 Garand. I appreciate the effectiveness and raw power that can only be had with a “real” rifle like the Garand, an AR-15, or a even traditional .308 bolt action. But I realized around this time that despite the appeal of the larger calibers, I always seem to be drawn to rifles that fire pistol ammo.

Pistol caliber carbines are not completely obsolete, but they are far from being the most popular of firearms. A .22 caliber rifle is a much cheaper way to have fun plinking at the range. A handgun is more portable, concealable, and often more affordable than a carbine firing the same cartridge. And true centerfire rifles and shotguns are more effective for any real-life scenario, whether it’s hunting or self-defense. Pistol caliber carbines are almost never the best tool for the job, whatever that job may be. But I still think they’re awesome, and I plan to justify that position. So this is the first of a four part series this week on why pistol caliber carbines are the best rifles ever invented buy really neat. Check back tomorrow for part 2!

 


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