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In Defense of the SMG. Maybe You’d Like One After All

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During a recent storm my area lost power for several days. Thankfully no rioting happened; but there were some reports of folks “looking for gas” in the middle of the night. In my case they were nice enough to be loudly talking as they passed by home. I’m not sure if they resorted to borrowing gas from anyone in the neighborhood with a garden hose; but I was able to keep track of them from the shadows of my property while armed with a SMG/PCC. My choice that night was a SBR’d PCC.

For the purposes of this article I use SMG, PCC, Machine Pistol interchangeably. These weapons fire a pistol caliber round, usually a 9mm. You’ll also find 45 ACP, with some diversions into 32acp, 380, 9mm Mak (9×18), 357SIG, 10mm, 762×25 and maybe a few others. They (almost all), have a shoulder stock, so they can be fired with 4 points of contact (Hand, Hand, Cheek, Shoulder). The original SMG definition would mean full auto and typically with a 5 to 10 inch barrel, although some shorter and longer. 

Barrel length typically determined which subset of SMG the weapon classified into, from concealable to “Go To War” size. Traditionally, SMGs divided into subcompact size (think MAC10, Mini/Micro UZI and the ultra tiny 32 acp VZ61 Skorpion) and the full-size “Go To War” weapons (UZI, MP5, Thompson, etc). Today’s legal status has largely eliminated full auto and options with barrels shorter than 16 inches. But, that hasn’t made SMGs/PCCs irrelevant in a civilian tactical role. In fact it may make them more relevant.

Setting the Stage

I live in a suburban area of Eastern Pennsylvania near the Maryland border. We are surrounded by single family homes on small lots. There’s a State road that runs nearby through the community, with houses on both sides of the street. PA is a deer hunting state, and schools close for the open day of the season. Around here, the average deer is taken well under 200 meters. Most everyone has a deer rifle of some sort. Semi autos are not legal for deer hunting, though. Still I’d say a home without an AR is unusual. I’m gonna bet the “AR homes” also have a AR pistol or two and likely something SMG-ish as well.

So let’s start with the advantages of a SMG/PCC in a Scenario X situation.  The first is ammo availability. 


You can typically carry twice as much ammo for an SMG in the same space as rifle ammo. It’s not a direct correlation of weight, but saying two subgun mags fit in the back pocket of your jeans where only one 556 or 308 mag would fit. So if you’re forced to grab-and-go out your front door to an altercation down the street, a couple of mags in your pocket versus one AR mag might make the difference. Even at the worst of the “Ammo Crisis” during the “Summer of Love,” 9mm was available.

Recoil & Muzzle Blast

A 9mm PCC simply doesn’t show any negative effects from recoil. Perhaps more importantly, the blast difference between 9mm versus 5.56 is drastic. Picture firing 9mm from a 10″ barrel next to a 556 from a 10″ barrel, then remember that 9mm could be fired from an even shorter barrel with no ill effects. 

Can you say the same for 556 from a 5 inch barrel?  If you’re limited to 16 inch barrels, 9mm is still quieter than 556.


Next consider that your handgun likely uses the same caliber as your SMG/PCC, and might even use the same magazines. Personally I prefer my SMGs to use SMG-specific mags except in one case. Glock mags are almost an industry standard at this point, and they’re great pistol mags. But because they are designed for handguns they are designed for an angled magazine well.  Conversely “real” SMG mags feed straight into the gun, and that just feels more natural to me. My one exception is the Ruger PC Carbine, because it can use the short Magpul drum made specifically for the PC Carbine. The Ruger with the Magpul drum, along with a binary trigger, effectively turn your PC Carbine into a 21st Century PPSh-41.

But What About Rifles?

OK, on to the guy screaming that 9mm is a short range cartridge and 556 is a rifle cartridge that can reach out to 500+ meters. Yes, you are correct. However, 9mm from a SMG/PCC is easily good for a 100-meter threat. Yes the “enemy” might stay beyond SMG range. They “might,” but considering the likely threat, I’ll take that risk especially when in Senario-X I’ll most likely have a working knowledge of my area of operations (AO) versus an attacking enemy.

Ultimately SMGs work best in an urban/suburban environment. If your AO is open rural countryside, then a weapon with longer range and a harder-hitting cartridge may be in order. That being said, an “Intermediate” or Magnum SMG, in something like 10mm, or 357SIG, or perhaps 30 Carbine and maybe 5.7FN are capable of easily reaching well beyond 100 meters and still fit the SMG role.

Perhaps more important, no matter what brought on your Scenario-X, there will surely be some return to “Law and Order” and your 500 meter shootouts will be scrutinized.

Additional Considrations

Now let’s get back to some more of the advantages of SMGs. A pistol cartridge is easier to suppress and quieter in general than a rifle cartridge. Think back to the Blast issue.  A rifle shot screams, “hear” I am [sic], where a pistol (especially a suppressed pistol) may go unnoticed. Yes, to that guy that’s waving his hand and saying that you can suppress a rifle…Well yes, sorta. But you’ll never suppress the sonic crack, and a pistol caliber suppressor can be significantly smaller.  Yes, rifle cartridges are more “effective” than pistol cartridges. I hear that guy reminding us that a pistol is what you use to fight your way to your rifle. Yep, it is. However, a SMG/PCC is more than a pistol because it allows you to use it like a rifle.

Should everyone in your team have a SMG/PCC? 

Well yes, no, and maybe. 

First, maybe YOU can dictate what your neighbors bring to the team during YOUR Scenario X, but thus far I haven’t been that lucky. Ideally I’d build a team around rifles and SMGs. I’d toss in a heavy caliber (308 or greater), I’d want a scoped rifle capable of precision shots, and I love to have a couple of belt feds even if they were semi auto only. On the other hand, if all my neighbors showed up with Ruger PC Carbines and drum mags, we’d organize like the WW2 SMG units.

I ran this topic by a much younger buddy.  He’s a former Army Ranger with no time on SMGs. He’s not a SMG fan; but prefers a SBR’d AR, something like a MK18.  He’s willing to take on the added weight of the 556 mags and blast for the longer range.  I won’t say he’s wrong, we all form our opinions from our own experiences and perspective.  As for me, I’ve got a lot of time with real SMGs in the military and law enforcement.  I’m pretty confident a SMG can perform as well of better than a Mk18 in most situations.  Your mileage may vary

Picture of Pieter


I've been in one uniform or another for most of my adult life. I started in the Army as a MP. I was an instructor at the MP School for a while, then worked a Protective Assignment (Bodyguard) for the Commanding General in the Middle East. My war footing started in the 80s, waiting for the Soviets to come crashing through the Fulda Gap. After the Army I worked as a Bodyguard for business executives before becoming a Police Officer for another 20 years. During that time I became a paramedic and studied for the Bar Exam, because I got bored on the midnight shift. My family dates back to the earliest settlers in South Africa. I've lived and worked in the US, Europe, and Africa.

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I like the way you think. I dunno If I’d go with an SBR or just a 9mm pistol with brace as needed. I think the only real considertion is mag compatibilty. If you roll with glocks then stick with a PSA/Keltec/Ruger that is mag compatible; no need to complicate logistics. If you want some more flair in a smaller package you can go with a mp5 clone or the PSA 9mm AK-V.

Personally, for me, if long guns have come out its going to come out with a 556 in some 16-18″ variety with an variable optic, light, and possibly laser. This is primarily due to living at the edge of a big town & bordering rural areas where sightlines regularly exceed 1/3 mile. My friend group is either 556 or 308 across the board.

Something you could consider, depending on where the reader is a solution like a Flux Defense Raider which would have the ability to convert your pistol to a SMGish platform. Currently OOS or discontinued, you’d need to source one somewhere else.


I’d have to disagree with your young friend. I think I’d rather have a PCC (especially with a binary or FRT) than an unsupressed mk18 if I was operating inside a house.

Of course, now that I write that, I realize that I have a 12″ suppressed AR and no PCC in my safe.


I live in Southern Indiana and it’s very crowded here and I also think a rifle with pistol ammo is the way to go. I’m looking hard at the Smith and Wesson new 9mm rifle to go with the pistol which is excellent for defense.
Great article .
Thanks and regards from South Central Indiana. USA.


I’ve thought long and hard about this topic over the past several years and have come to the conclusion that a PCC whether in carbine or pistol format is a very viable option due to exactly what you’ve said Pieter.

I live in Western Maryland in a rural small city of approximately 20k people, but I can drive 10 minutes in any direction and be in woods.

I’ve had several AR’s over the years and have come to the conclusion that in all probability, I will not be firing at anything much past 100 yards, for various reasons, including legal issues.

In all probability, 0-50 yards is way more realistic and you don’t need 5.56, 6.5 G, 6.8 SPC, etc to defend yourself. Less recoil, blast, ease of making accurate shots, etc is way more important than a larger caliber.

Finally, let’s be realistic here, while many people fantasize about a “Red Dawn”, Civil War, you name it event, the probability of those happening is slim to none.

Anyway, excellent article and thank you!


Replying to  Pieter

+1 on the stock. As I’ve spent more and more time at the range with my GHM9 using only the SAS sling method, it’s…okay. I really need/want more stability to take advantage of what the thing could do at 25-50 yards, especially when it comes to shooting quickly. Just relying on sling tension gets me some benefit, but it’s not significantly more than I can do with a traditional pistol while using a much smaller package.

Pieter Coetzee
Pieter Coetzee
Replying to  Matt

The “SAS sling” technique was a compromise that offered some benefits with a lot of cons. First it keeps the weapon small and thin. In CQB use at room distance, it generally fine; especially when needing to conceal it under a suit or trench coat. When originally conceived there was no better option. Later when the MP5K PDW was being “re-designed”, the Choate stock was adopted. Choate was known for inexpensive and innovative designs. The MP5K PDW stock is actually a good time tested design. It began being issued beyond the traditional Special Ops role to heilo pilots and Army CID agents in bodyguard assignments. I carried one in the First Gulf War when I led the team that protected the Commanding General. The beauty of the design is that we could conceal it in civilian clothes as well as under a BDU shirt if needed. It can be fired up close with the stock folded and opened to engage threats at longer ranges. Pretty much every SMG or pistol benefits from a stock or brace when used outside room distances. When Beretta designed the 93r (burst fired 92), they added a snap on buttstock. The (original) Skorpion (vz61) has a folding stock and even the Soviet Stechkin (think G17 size Makorov) has a stock that clips on. The Glock 18 remains the only Full Auto machine pistole without a factory designed stock. The G18 was specifically designed for ultimate close protection and a stock was not felt necessary. I… Read more »

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