The best 9mm carbine is the one you have with you when you need it. It’s the one that you feel comfortable with shooting. It’s the one that does the job you bought (and customized) it to do.
It’s hard to help you choose the aesthetics and feel of a gun in an article about guns; it’s easy to explain why one gun, relative to another has merit.
It’s important to weigh certain factors with a purchase like this, especially since the cost of a top-quality 9mm carbine can vary wildly. It’s always been that way too.
So, when looking for a 9mm carbine, know that you’ll either be the one who wants the utility and access of the cheaper guns, or you’ll be the one who is so convinced by the merits and use case of the higher end models that you will be definitively in one camp or the other.
When there were only 2-3 carbines on the market, you still saw guns at the low end at guns at the high end. What you never saw, was guns that bridged the gap.
Some companies seemed tied to their platform and charged a premium (think of the venerable, legendary SP-89/MP-5/HK94 by Heckler & Koch); and some seemed ready to just get their guns out to the market at any price they could (think of the fun and cheap Marlin Camp-9).
Both guns now, trade at significantly higher values than they once sold for, and both are proven, interesting 9mm carbines, that unfortunately have been discontinued or made to trade off the open market.
Both are still at opposite ends of the spectrum even though they now incorporate their sentimental and collector value into the price of the guns as they sell on the secondhand market.
There are a few other considerations to consider when choosing a carbine chambered in 9mm though, and here is a little bit of information to help you decide which is best for your needs.
Best 9mm Carbine Comparison
28.5" - 33"
26" - 36"
What you will need to know before you pick a 9mm Carbine
Is the 9mm Carbine I want available where I live?
California and New York come to mind when talking about this subject. With historically very “progressive” legislators (that’s a verb, not a political statement), the most tactically inclined firearms have always been hard to come by for shooters and difficult to keep in stock for sellers.In these states (not to mention many European countries and generally anywhere, where gun laws preclude certain firearms), some of these cannot even be sold. We added a CA compliant version which will generally meet all requirements for the other states in the USA with restrictive gun laws.
Some of the availability has nothing to do with politics or legislation, and instead has everything to do with consumer appetite. You might legitimately want a 9mm carbine but can’t get it because the company cannot justify the costs of making it available in the market you live in because of poor sales or lack of demand. This happens all the time. Have sympathy for those outside of Australia who want a Toyota FJ Landcruiser and simply can’t get one because of the high cost of crash testing or import rules that make selling them in the market too hard on financials to justify the extreme costs to get them to the 5,000 people who will actually spend the money to get them. So yeah, simple supply and demand and other market factors can play a role here.
Does it take a specific Magazine type?
Whole guns are purchased or avoided based on this question. Some guns take popular magazines, and some require big money to buy the proprietary magazine that only fits that model and is sold out in every gun store on the planet 99% of the time. It’s a big consideration, so plan accordingly. Generally, the rule of thumb is to opt for the most commercially available magazines that perform the best. Magazines from Glock or Beretta or S&W (there are other brands too), make more sense than those one-off builds. Luckily, manufacturers are starting to become aware of the draw to different magazines and when they cannot make a better magazine and they cannot make it more widely available, they generally opt for making a gun that can use some other company’s already proven cartridge delivery system.
How customizable is this 9mm Carbine?
Most of you reading this article aren’t surprised by this topic. A big part of what makes shooting fun is the fact that you can individualize the weapons you have purchased so they are more in line with what you desire aesthetically or from a functionality perspective. There’s nothing wrong with that. But in the case of the 9mm Carbine, the big question is: how customizable is this firearm? Does it just have a single picatinny rail on it, or do all the big third-party aftermarket companies make accessories that easily fit it? How generic is it, and how much technology does it have inherent to the design; how much technology can I add to it to make me more accurate, comfortable or capable with this 9mm Carbine?
Does the 9mm Carbine that I’m considering deliver on promises?
This might seem like an obvious question, but it’s not always so straightforward. What you need to ask prior to purchasing the firearm is, how well received is it on the market, and what is the longevity for the brand and model looking like? If either of those questions are indicating that a gun won’t be around for a long time, it might be a clue to move on with a different model.
You want to know you can get parts and accessories for your new firearm for years. You want to be able to tap into the loyal community that shoots these firearms and learn, grab experience and perhaps even gain some new friends by doing so.
More importantly, how much of what the marketing brochure says is actual and how much of it is marketing hype? Can the gun actually do what It says? Going back to the original ideas in this article: the HK MP-5 and SP-89 and HK94 were valuable then, and are legendary now, because they did what they said they could do. They became the law enforcement and military 9mm carbine/convertible of choice and there are plenty of terrorists, bad guys and opposing regimes that have been taken out by the technology and capability of that carbine over the years. In fact, there are still law enforcement agencies that employ the services of the MP-5 and SP-89 and HK94 even though it was first developed in the 1960’s.
Note: for law enforcement, they are still being produced by Heckler and Koch (and at a premium price for that matter). Civilians can buy a pistol version still called the SP5K which is not quite a carbine, but almost, functions like one; given the right conditions.
Here are our choices for the finest 9mm carbines available now:
Top 10 Best 9mm Carbines on the market
The new standard bearer for the 9mm Carbine name. Part tactical, all functional. This is the carbine to get if you need it all from a single gun and/or you aren’t sure what the use case is for your 9mm carbine. Easy to understand, especially if you are familiar with the AR platform and made by Sig Sauer, a proven maker of firearms that has a credible background and offers incredible lineage for the MPX. Very customizable and easy to use, this has ambidextrous everything and offers the best of the best for this platform when you need versatility and capability.
- AR based (for the most part) if you can use an AR, you can use a MPX
- Superior customizability with a ton of options to choose from in optics, technology and even grips
- Proven design
- Quality company and good design/fit/finish
- No real cons to speak of
Simple design and definitively Ruger, this is a great 9mm carbine for those who want something that is functional but aren’t in the market for the super-tactical looks and don’t need “another AR”. The Ruger PC Carbine is a great takedown carbine design that while innovative, is somewhat proprietary. Note however, that Ruger implements “proprietary” very well. They tend to take care of their customers after the purchase and usually have a plethora of market-available parts and accessories to ensure longevity once they commit to a carbine platform.
- Simple and easy to learn to use
- Black and relatively lightweight without being overtly “tactical”
- Threaded heavy barrel that can accommodate a suppressor or other accessories
- Traditional design of old school rifle/carbine
- Proprietary Magazines may not be as good as Glock mags (which it also accepts with an included adaptor)
The original AR based 9mm Carbine is the Colt 6951/variants. This is as close as it gets to the old school style of the venerable 1980’s and 1990’s carbine for the AR-15 civilian platform. It’s got old school charm for those who came up in a world where the AR 15 was “new” and unique, and there is something to be said for the classic design philosophy. It’s functional, familiar and offers incredible customization capabilities for those who want a 9mm carbine that can do it all, this is a solid choice.
- Near infinite customization options as it is built on the AR platform
- Good adjustability
- Classic design
- Quality company and good design/fit/finish
- Proprietary Magazine
The first of a series of proprietary designs from major manufacturers that eschewed the AR/Tactical design philosophies in favor of something much different. Also, the first of many successful endeavors to do just that. The CX4 is a truly popular gun for many of the same reasons as the competitors built on the AR and other more “tactical” platforms: it is tough, ambidextrous/changeable from left to right handed shooters; offers great accuracy and easy maneuverability and has a proven magazine/reload sequence. It couldn’t look more different than the “tactical” style competition, but it functions with the same kind of reliability and versatility.
- Easy to maneuver and lightweight
- Good adjustability
- Not nearly as customizable as some competitor carbines
- While the proven magazine from the Beretta 92 series are excellent, they are proprietary, and the carbine is built around that magazine, so you must love that magazine, to love this carbine
Simplicity is the name of the game with the Kel-Tech Sub 2000. Some might say the aesthetics of this firearm are an acquired taste, and they probably would find more that agree with them than are in opposition. But there is something to be said for the spartan design philosophy and the very specific desire by Kel-tech to be minimalists and focus only on core competencies and core functionality. It is for all intents and purposes, the penultimate example of a “camp gun”, what used to be a defining model for the 9mm carbine ideology. Simple, maneuverable, easy to shoot and accurate, without being overbearing. The Kel-Tech is all those things.
- Semi take-down design allows the carbine to be folded in half to facilitate easy transport and carrying in the field while hiking/hunting/on the move
- Can be disassembled without a set of tools for easy cleaning/maintenance/inspection
- At its heart it is a minimalist design
- Awkward aesthetics for some
- Built around the M&P 9mm Magazines, which may or may not be available at different times in different locations
Like something out of a sci-fi movie, this is by far the most innovative design in the past decade for the 9mm carbine, but the jury is still out as to whether those innovations are true ground breakers or if they’re mostly just a proprietary design that will be a footnote later. The Kriss system came onto the market with almost unparalleled hype, being a highly touted mechanism to reduce recoil and muzzle flip; and this from a company new to the firearms market. The subsequent iterations of their carbine in 9mm format is seen here. And it’s got a certain tactical, and yet, subdued quality to the aesthetics, while already being proven to be reliable and fun to use.
- Very robust
- Good looking, even if it is a bit different
- Excellent fit and finish
- Built on the Glock 17 magazine platform, this can accept 32 or 17 round magazines and even modified magazines
- A bit on the pricey side
- Aesthetics are an acquired taste to some especially in “Artic White”
By far the lowest priced offering on the market, and what else would we expect from Hi-Point. Here’s the thing though, this is not just lauded by fanboys of the cheap, durable Hi-Point brand name. For all the “memes” that have been made about the Hi-Point and all the jokes they endure in back rooms of gun stores everywhere, they sell very well. This particular firearm has a lot of praise from a lot of people, even people who own far superior looking and purportedly far superior functioning firearms from other makers. Here’s the bottom line: it either means that the 9mm carbine is in such hot demand that people will take whatever they can get, or that Hi-Point actually bucked the traditional system and made an exceptional firearm for a much lower price than the broad market dictated was possible (or a combination of theories thereof).
- Works well according to everyone who reviews it
- Perhaps not the prettiest gun on the market
- Proprietary mags/single stack mags
A great hybrid design that offers incredible ergonomics and a long credible history from the maker of producing long-standing, high performance firearms. This is a unique, and very well made 9mm Carbine that appeals to both sides of the aisle: the traditionalists and the tactical people.
- About the mid-range in price – a rare spot to occupy
- Amazing ergonomics
- Cool features that aren’t found in others from the factory, like M-LOK attachment points and a muzzle brake
- Proprietary magazines
The IWI Tavor is the only true bullpup design on this list and it deserves its spot. But it can be a learning curve to move from a traditionally styled carbine or rifle to a bullpup. You need to factor in this learning curve. Proven reliable and made by a powerhouse in the industry, IWI seems committed to the platform and the performance and history don’t lie.
- Proven company that makes excellent products and has a long history of making value added systems
- Well built and durable, with longevity factored into the manufacturing process
- Bullpup design for ultra-compact maneuverability
- While not proprietary, it can be a hard to find magazine at times (the Colt AR 9mm Magazine)
If you look at both the pros and the cons, you will find the same line items listed on both sides. This is a California Compliant firearm, which for everyone, is a ridiculous concession, but it is a way for shooters to get access to this really great firearm, while simultaneously being a detriment to the platform in terms of functionality and overall uses. The design is nice, and the innovation is interesting, but it simply delivers on the concept of what a 9mm carbine is, even if you must suffer through a pinned stock and a weird magazine limitation.
- Great Innovation
- Cool design that is futuristic and also somewhat more comfortable to shoot
- California Compliant
- California Compliant
Our final thoughts
The list is full of very capable firearms. All of them can stand on their own as candidates for the great 9mm carbine in the world, but ultimately it comes down to what you need the gun for, how you like the looks and how functional each one is for your tastes.
Modern shooting has become something of an exercise in customization and accessorizing, and while it makes for a more enjoyable and functional firearm, it makes some of the innovation at the factory less important. Sure, you can look through this list and dispute every word of that last sentence, but then look at it from a different perspective and be convinced that it’s 100% accurate as it is written.
It all depends on your perspective, and that is what the 9mm carbine is all about. It’s always been a gun that meets a certain requirement, needed by a certain type of shooter for a certain scenario, and doing it while being lightweight, reliable and fun. All these guns can meet that standard of application, and that’s why they are considered the perfect 9mm carbines available today.