What’s the difference between a carbine and a rifle? Or is there really a difference at all? Is this simply a case of To-may-to or To-mah-to?
This question is the source of a confusion for many people. And with good reason. Over the years, the term carbine has been used inconsistently by weapon manufacturers and their customers.
Some Myths About Carbines
There are a number of myths about carbines and their relationship to rifles (and even to pistols).
Myth: A carbine uses the same ammunition as a pistol. During the American Wild West, many cowboys carried a rifle (or carbine) and a revolver that were chambered for the same sized round. This allowed for an efficiency in ammunition. He didn’t have to carry two different sized rounds and risk being caught short of one or the other. On long trail rides, having one calibre was a benefit. However, carbines do not necessarily use the same calibre ammunition as a pistol.
Myth: A carbine is a shorter version of a longer rifle. Long rifles have their advantages. They give the projectile a longer plane in which to gain velocity and direction and they offer the shooter more stability for a more accurate shot. However long rifles are not convenient in close quarters or while riding on a horse in the calvary. So, many years ago weapons manufacturers began offering shorter versions of their rifles. At one point there was a pretty close parellel between the shorter rifles or carbines and their longer counterparts. But that’s wasn’t always the case then. Nor is it now.
Pistols of Unusual Size
Myth: Carbines are extended pistols. At times, militaries have attempted to replace handguns for some non-frontline soldiers with very short weapons there were almost a cross between a pistol and a short rifle. These weapons, at times, were called carbines. But carbines does not refer to only pistol replacement weapons.
So What Is A Carbine?
Still today there is no well-defined criteria for delineating a carbine from a rifle. Generally speaking, carbines are very similar to rifles and the distinction tends to be the barrel length and the weight. Rifle-like weapons with a barrel length of less than 20 inches are typically considered to be carbines. Weapons with barrels greater than 20 inches are usually called rifles unless specifically called carbines by the manufacturer.
By this definition, many so-called “Assault Rifles” would technically be carbines.