Best PDW: Which Is Best For Your Needs? By: Travis Pike

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There are several different niches of firearms with specific names. To the less knowledgeable, the term personal defense weapon, or PDW, sounds like it could be any weapon used for the self-defense of a person. To be fair, it is, but in the gun world, the term PDW is quite specific. A personal defense weapon typically refers to a submachine gun-sized weapon that fires a round that lands someplace between a pistol and rifle round. 

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The phrase first came around in the 1980s. NATO was looking for a platform that could be issued to non-frontline troops that were better than a pistol but less cumbersome than a standard rifle. The idea was this weapon would arm truck drivers, artillerymen, and similar roles. It had to be small and light like an SMG but be capable of firing rounds further than handguns and retaining the ability to punch through light armor and barriers. 

This was not the first time a military force had this idea, but it was the first time they applied a particular name to it. Since then, the PDW concept has largely faded away from military use, but it is still an interesting idea for the civilian home defender. Interestingly enough that the PDW cartridges and guns to accommodate them are coming into vogue. 

Why the PDW ? 

The main benefits of the PDW are a light and short platform with minimal recoil and the capability to reach out to 150 yards or so with a rather flat shooting cartridge. These guns can have barrels as short as 8 inches without having the same massive concussion you’d get from a 5.56 caliber rifle or the associated recoil. 

This creates a very easy-handling platform. The rounds these weapons fire are small and light and allow the weapons to be compact. Additionally, these rounds have the ability to tumble and fragment like a standard rifle round. This helps with their lethality and ability to stop a threat. 

PDWs make for excellent home defense platforms. They are maneuverable in tight environments. They are light enough to be fired with one hand, which may be important as you call the police, usher children away, or lock doors. They excel in their intent to provide a lightweight, controllable, but capable weapon platform for defensive use. 

Downsides to the PDW

While the rounds have some rifle-like qualities, they are not rifle rounds. They don’t go through the same barriers or armor with the same ease. They can’t reach out exceedingly far, and the velocities in which these rounds can tumble and fragment are only found at short ranges. 

One of the biggest downsides is the cost of ammo. Unlike handgun rounds, cartridges like the 5.7×28 or 4.6x30mm tend to be expensive. Plus, they are not always easy to find. 

Another issue is the overall design and our federal laws. PDWs are best when they are compact weapons, and typically, this involves a stock. The best PDWs will mostly be SBRs. A braced pistol could qualify, but as we all know, a brace isn’t a stock. 

With this in mind, let’s review the best PDWs on the market. 

Best Personal Defense Weapon

The table below ranks our favorite PDW. Click the gun names to jump straight to the review or just scroll down to read through them all.

Our Best PDW

1.

CMMG FourSix

CMMG FourSix
  • Only 4.6x30mm AR
  • Uses a Mini Direct Impingement Systems
  • Magazines Fit Multi cal Lowers
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2.

FN PS90

FN PS90
  • Bullpup Format
  • 50 Round Magazines
  • Unique Design
Check Price
3.

Diamondback DBX

Diamondback DBX
  • Ultra Thin and Light
  • Uses Common Pistol Mags
  • Easy to Accessorize
Check price
4.

Ruger LC Carbine

Ruger LC Carbine
  • Ambidextrous Controls
  • Full Sized Rifle
  • Easy to Shoot
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5.

Sig Sauer MCX Rattler

Sig Sauer MCX Rattler
  • SOCOM’s PDW Of Choice
  • Available in 5.56 and .300 Blackout
  • Easily Suppressed
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6.

CMMG Dissent

CMMG Dissent
  • Buffer Tube Free AR
  • Available in Three Calibers
  • Ultra Ergonomic
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7.

M1 Carbine

M1 Carbine
  • OG Of PDWs
  • Ban State Friendly
  • Affordable
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Best PDW Gun Specs

WeaponCaliberBarrel LengthOverall LengthWeight

CMMG FourSix 

4.6x30mm8 in23.7 in4.3 lbs

FN PS90

5.7x28mm16 in26.23 in6.28 lbs

Diamondback DBX 

5.7x28mm8 in15.25 in3 lbs

Ruger LC Carbine 

5.7x28mm16.25 in28.7 in5.9 lbs

SIG Rattler 

5.56 NATO / .300 Blackout5.5 in23 in6 lbs

CMMG Dissident 

5.56 NATO / .300 Blackout / 5.7x28mm6.5 in14.7 in4.8 lbs

M1 Carbine 

.30 Carbine18 in35.75 in5.4 lbs

Best PDW List

Here is our list for the best PDW.

  1. CMMG FourSix
  2. FN PS90
  3. Diamondback DBX
  4. Ruger LC Carbine
  5. Sig Sauer Rattler
  6. CMMG Dissent
  7. M1 Carbine

Best PDW Reviews

Now lets get into the details of each of our favorite PDW options and find out what we like about it and if it will fit your needs.

#1 CMMG FourSix

CMMG FourSix

CMMG FourSix

The CMMG FourSix is the ultimate Personal Defense Weapon. The FourSix’s lightweight and compact design pairs well with the soft-shooting 4.6x30mm cartridge to be comfortable for almost any shooter. 

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  • Shootability A
  • Reliability A
  • Ergonomics A
  • Accuracy B
  • Value C

Our Grade

B+

Reviewed by Travis Pike

Reader’s Grade

B

Based on 3 Reviews

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CMMG FourSix Review 

CMMG FourSix

  • Caliber 4.6×30 mm
  • Barrel Length 8 in
  • Overall Length 23.7 in
  • Weight 4.3 lbs

CMMG surprised everyone when they released the FourSix. The FourSix is part of their Banshee lineup and fires the 4.6x30mm round. This is the same round used by the MP7 and a rare round to see in civilian-oriented guns. These weapons are light and handy and crafted to be modern AR platforms. 

Shooters get an M-LOK rail, a muzzle brake, a flat top upper, and a CMMG Ripbrace. At only 5.5 pounds, the FourSix is as light and sweet as it gets. The FourSix series uses an interesting magazine setup that is basically the same size as a standard AR magazine. This allows the magazine to fit in standard magazine pouches and in multical mag wells. It’s rather clever, to be honest. The magazine also holds 40 rounds instead of the standard 30.  

Accuracy is tight out to 150 yards, and the gun is very easy to control. It barely moves between shots and seemingly functions like a typewriter at the range. It’s fun and easy to shoot, and the recoil is low enough that a new shooter can easily pick one up and handle it. The downside is that ammo is pricey and somewhat tough to find at times.

We dedicated a full article to the CMMG FourSix. Read it here!

CMMG FourSix Pros and Cons

  • Lightweight and Compact
  • Ultra Easy to Shoot
  • Awesome Magazines
  • Modern Features and Accessories Included
  • Expensive
  • Pricey Ammo

CMMG FourSix Gun Deals

  • Firearms Depot

    $1,169.72

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  • Battle Hawk Armory

    $1,399.95

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#2 FN PS90

FN PS90

Sold at PalmettoStateArmory.com and Brownells

The first thing you need to know about the FN PS90 is it is a bullpup rifle. This is the popular, compact form of rifle which has found favor among certain parts of the firearms (and gaming) community.

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  • Shootability B
  • Reliability A
  • Ergonomics B
  • Accuracy B
  • Value F

Our Grade

B-

Reviewed by Travis Pike

Reader’s Grade

B

Based on 14 Reviews

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FN PS90 Review

FN PS90

  • Caliber 5.7X28mm
  • Barrel Length 16 in
  • Overall Length 26.23 in
  • Weight 6.28 lbs

FN arguably made the first modern PDW with the FN P90, and over the years, FN has brought the P90 to the civilian market as the PS90. Obviously, the weapon’s selective fire capability is nuked, and the gun does feature a 16-inch barrel to avoid being an NFA item. Even with the 16-inch barrel, the gun is still a compact 26.2 inches due to its unique design. 

The weapon is a bullpup but unlike any other bullpup out there. The magazine mounts to the top of the gun. It sits beneath the sights and forms a very compact design. The weapon is also fairly lightweight at 6.28 pounds total. This gun is perfect as is, but if you get the stamp, you have one of the shortest-stocked platforms on the market. 

This gun fires the 5.7x28mm round, which is the more common of the PDW round types, but still somewhat expensive. The PS90 does use a straight blowback design, which increases perceived recoil, but it still isn’t too tough to handle. The bullpup and unique design does have a learning curve you’ll have to get through, but it’s doable. 

Want to learn more about the FN PS90? Read our full FN PS90 review!

FN PS90 Pros and Cons

  • Super Compact
  • 50 Round Magazines
  • Great Velocity From Longer Barrel
  • Expensive
  • Has a Steep Learning Curve

FN PS90 Gun Deals

  • Sportsmans Outdoor Superstore

    $1,899.00

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  • Palmetto State Armory

    $1,899.99

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  • Brownells

    $1,899.00

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#3 Diamondback DBX

Diamondback DBX Featured Image

Diamondback DBX

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  • Shootability A
  • Reliability A
  • Ergonomics A+
  • Accuracy B
  • Value B

Our Grade

A-

Reviewed by Travis Pike

Reader’s Grade

TBD

Based on 0 Reviews

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Diamondback DBX Review

Diamondback DBX

  • Caliber 5.7x28mm
  • Barrel Length 8 in
  • Overall Length 15.25 in
  • Weight 3 lbs

The Diamondback DBX might be the thinnest PDW out there. Diamondback sells these guns as a large-format pistol, so a brace may help stabilize the design. Even without the brace, it’s not too hot to handle and is easy to control and keep on target. The gun weighs a mere three pounds and is 15.25 inches long overall. It certainly fits the compact requirement of PDWs. 

The DBX uses a dual gas piston system with a locked breech, so recoil is kept low and easy. The eight-inch barrel keeps things short but provides a nice amount of velocity to make the 5.7x28mm round it fires scream. A focus on ergonomics makes the gun easy to handle and ergonomic for both left and right-handed shooters. 

This soft shooting little menace is fun at the range and very easy to get lead on target with. The short little gun is very maneuverable and easy to use without a brace, but one really helps keep the gun stabilized. While it’s not cheap, it’s one of the more affordable options for a PDW. The weapon uses FN Five-Seven magazines, so you have at least 20 rounds on tap. 

Diamondback DBX Pros and Cons

  • Very Lightweight
  • Super Compact
  • Affordable (For a PDW)
  • Easy Ergonomics
  • Needs a Brace to Excel
  • Expensive Magazines

Diamondback DBX Gun Deals

  • Palmetto State Armory

    $849.99

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  • Primary Arms

    $1,127.00

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  • Guns.com

    $1,138.99

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#4 Ruger LC Carbine

Ruger LC Carbine Featured Image

Ruger LC Carbine

A full length side charging rifle with a threaded barrel, a side folding stock and magazines that feed through the pistol grip like a handgun.

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  • Shootability B
  • Reliability A
  • Ergonomics A
  • Accuracy A
  • Value B

Our Grade

A-

Reviewed by Travis Pike

Reader’s Grade

TBD

Based on 0 Reviews

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Ruger LC Carbine Review

Ruger LC Carbine

  • Caliber 5.7x28mm
  • Barrel Length 16.25 in
  • Overall Length 28.7 in
  • Weight 5.9 lbs

The Ruger LC Carbine was a nice surprise from a company that is rather traditional. It’s a bit of a mix of their own 5.7x28mm pistol with some influence from the PC Carbine. This is a full-length rifle with a 16-inch barrel, but it still manages to be somewhat compact at 28.7 inches overall with a 16.25-inch barrel. The stock both collapses and folds to make the weapon quite short and quite nice. 

The weapon uses Ruger’s 5.7 pistol mags and packs 20 rounds of 5.7x28mm rounds. The system houses the magazine in the pistol grip that keeps things nice and short. The Ruger LC Carbine comes outfitted with a long optic rail and an M-LOK handguard, and Ruger nicely adds a set of flip-up iron sights to make it shootable out of the box. 

The end result is a very soft shooting weapon that’s easy to control with excellent ergonomics. The controls are 100% ambidextrous or reversible. It’s one of the lightest recoiling designs I’ve handled that uses a straight blowback design. It’s not fancy, but it’s also the most affordable PDW on this list. 

Ruger LC Carbine Pros and Cons

  • No Need to Deal With a Brace
  • Folding and Collapsing Stock
  • Out of the Box Ready
  • Affordable(ish)
  • Straight Blowback Design creates recoil

Ruger LC Carbine Gun Deals

  • Brownells

    $699.99

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  • Sportsmans Warehouse

    $739.99

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  • Palmetto State Armory

    $799.99

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#5 Sig Sauer MCX Rattler

Sig Sauer MCX Rattler Featured Image

Sig Sauer MCX Rattler

Sig’s short stroke gas piston PDW chosen by SOCOM with AR like controls.

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  • Shootability C
  • Reliability A
  • Ergonomics A+
  • Accuracy B
  • Value C

Our Grade

B

Reviewed by Travis Pike

Reader’s Grade

TBD

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Sig Sauer MCX Rattler Review

Sig Sauer MCX Rattler

  • Caliber 5.56 NATO / .300 Blackout
  • Barrell Length 5.5 in
  • Overall Length 23 in
  • Weight 6 lbs

The SIG Rattler is a bit more of a traditional rifle-type PDW that comes in either 5.56 or .300 Blackout. With a 5.5-inch barrel, the .300 Blackout option is the only one that makes sense. The SIG Rattler was recently chosen to be SOCOM’s PDW of choice for special missions, and SIG produces the weapon as a semi-auto SBR or pistol for civilian ownership.

This is part of the MCX family, so it uses a short-stroke gas piston system. This allows for a folding stock or brace, and the 1913 rail at the rear makes it easy to attach. The gun uses fairly standard AR-type controls, but these controls are completely ambidextrous. We get a super short M-LOK rail and easy optical add-ons. 

The SIG Rattler provides a rifle-powered PDW that admittedly is just begging for a suppressor. The ultra-small size and short length of the barrel can cause some serious concussion and noise, and it tends to be a bit jumpy in the recoil department. It’s controllable but not as soft as other PDWs on the list. 

Sig Sauer MCX Rattler Pros and Cons

  • Rifle Caliber Power
  • Familiar Ergonomics
  • Easy Modularity
  • Needs a Stock or Brace
  • Very Loud and Concussive Unsuppressed

Sig Sauer MCX Rattler Gun Deals

  • Palmetto State Armory

    $2,499.99

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  • Guns.com

    $2,633.99

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  • Euro Optic

    $2,699.99

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  • Sportsman’s Warehouse

    $2,749.99

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#6 CMMG Dissent Mk4

CMMG-Dissent-review

CMMG Dissent Mk4

The Dissent is an AR anomaly that uses a proprietary compact action instead of the typical buffer system.

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  • Shootability B
  • Reliability A
  • Ergonomics A+
  • Accuracy B
  • Value C

Our Grade

B+

Reviewed by Travis Pike

Reader’s Grade

TBD

Based on 0 Reviews

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CMMG Dissent Mk 4 Review

CMMG Dissent

  • Caliber 5.56 NATO / .300 Blackout
  • Barrel Length 6.5 in
  • Overall Length 14.7 in
  • Weight 4.8 lbs

The CMMG Dissent is kind of an AR-15, but not really. The gun lacks a buffer tube and instead uses a receiver integral buffer system similar to the AR-180 series of rifles. It produces a much shorter weapon that can accept folding braces or stocks. (Stocks require an ATF Tax Stamp.) The Dissent comes in three calibers, and only two are what I would consider for a PDW. You can pick from a 5.56, a 5.7x28mm, or a .300 Blackout. 

With a 6.5-inch barrel, only the .300 Blackout and 5.7x28mm make much sense. In these two calibers, you get good performance from the respective rounds. The Dissent offers you an M-LOK rail, an optic rail, and a 1913 rail for stocks of braces. The charging handle is moved above the barrel, where it works much like an MP5. 

The resulting gun is a loud but lightweight and compact PDW. Beyond the charging handle, the ergonomics mimic that of a well-made AR-15. This includes an ambidextrous magazine release and safety. It’s quite smart. In 5.7, it is a very controllable gun, and in .300 Blackout, the recoil is kicked up a notch, but not exceedingly so. 

Read the Full CMMG Dissent Review here.

CMMG Dissent Pros and Cons

  • Lightweight and Short
  • Great Ergonomics
  • Multiple Caliber Options
  • Fun to Shoot
  • Expensive
  • Needs a Brace or Stock to Shine

CMMG Dissent Gun Deals

  • Guns.com

    $1,809.99

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  • Palmetto State Armory

    $1,939.99

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  • Midway USA

    $1799.99

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#7 M1 Carbine

M1 Carbine Featured Image

M1 Carbine

An iconic, and perhaps the original, PDW from WW2 chambered in .30 carbine.

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  • Shootability A
  • Reliability B
  • Ergonomics C
  • Accuracy A
  • Value B

Our Grade

B+

Reviewed by Travis Pike

Reader’s Grade

TBD

Based on 0 Reviews

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M1 Carbine Review

M1 Carbine

  • Caliber .30 Carbine
  • Barrel Length 18 in
  • Overall Length 35.75 in
  • Weight 5.4 lbs

My final choice is the original PDW, the M1 Carbine. This gun was produced to provide truck noncombat troops with an alternative to the handgun. It became a popular choice up until Vietnam, and it is still produced to this day. These rifles are light and handy but not the shortest platform out there. Pistol variants exist, but I’d stick to the rifle with a barrel long enough to throw those .30 Carbine rounds hard and fast. 

The M1 Carbine is also tough to accessorize, but modern reproductions have made it easier to add red dots, slings, and various other accessories. The little rifle is a classic shooter, and its older design can often make it a good choice for states with restrictive gun laws. Just ensure the bayonet lug is removed, and it’s likely legal in most states. You are stuck with ergonomics from the 1940s. 

The M1 Carbine doesn’t fire the most PDW type of round. It’s a bit closer to a pistol round than a rifle round. Even so, it’s more powerful than any standard pistol round. The downside to this platform is the price of the ammo. The guns can be had for an affordable price point, but the ammo tends to be a bit pricey. Also, make sure you invest in proper magazines. 

M1 Carbine Pros and Cons

  • Ban State Friendly
  • Easy to Handle
  • Easy to Shoot
  • 1940s ergonomics
  • Expensive Ammo

M1 Carbine Gun Deals

  • Guns.com

    $1,200.99

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  • Midway USA

    $1330.0

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PDWs do have several great benefits but available downsides. You have to really understand the effective range and capabilities of these platforms. Learn the limits of your specific caliber and how the barrel length affects those limits and velocities. Be smart. These are not normal firearms ballistically, and it requires some research to understand and appreciate them truly. 

The civilian PDW is unlike most other firearms but still functions like a semi-auto rifle. With that in mind, it’s smart to practice traditional riflery skills as well as learning to use the PDW as a home defense weapon. Like any other weapon, you should learn to fire around cover and operate the weapon with both left and right hands. 

On the flip side, a PDW has the strength of being easy to handle with a single hand. Embrace that skill and practice with it. Learn to operate or at least fire the weapon one-handed at close ranges. 

Double taps are another important skill to work on, and it’s likely that an engagement with a PDW-type weapon will require more than one round to stop the threat. Work those double taps and learn to control the weapon and fire it rapidly and accurately. 

A good source of training is to look up submachine gun qualifications used by police or military forces. The Department of Energy has a great SMG qual worth trying out. 

PDWs vs. PCCs 

Pistol caliber carbines and personal defense weapons seem to have a lot in common but are very different weapons. Both are typically short and lightweight and tend to be easy to handle. The main difference comes down to their ammunition type and operating systems. Pistol caliber carbines tend to throw bigger rounds but throw them with less velocity and less range. 

They tend to be 50 to 100-yard guns at max. Even at 100 yards, the bullet drops quickly and hard. A PDW can launch projectiles out to 150 yards fairly easily and even further when you adjust for drop. PDW rounds tend to be spitzer-style projectiles that hit and tumble at velocities. 

From a pure self-defense role, the PDW excels. They tend to be light recoiling since most PCCs use a straight blowback system. Even when PDW calibers use a straight blowback system, their recoil is lighter than a comparable PCC. 

When we get to 16-inch barrels, PDWs still do better. In fact, since most pistol ammo is made for pistol-length barrels, jacketed hollow points tend to suck at expansion from a rifle-length barrel. You’re stuck with subsonic, heavy loads if you want sufficient expansion. 

PDW Calibers 

PDWs come in a few different calibers, and it’s easy to argue what qualifies as a PDW caliber and what doesn’t. However, I will list some of the basic calibers here, with a slight explanation of their design and use. These are calibers available to the civilian world, don’t expect to see .224 Boaz here. 

5.7x287mm – FN invented this caliber for the P90, and it’s arguably the most popular ‘pure’ PDW cartridge. It’s in a number of handguns and rifles, and the ammo tends to be somewhat easy to find but is expensive. With its recent revival and success, ammo has been easier to find and slightly cheaper. 

4.6x30mm – HK invented this caliber but never released the gun that fires it to the public. It wasn’t until last year that CMMG released the FourSix that we got the first 4.6x30mm civilian-owned firearm. This caliber has the potential to be cheaper than 5.7, but it will require more adoption to ever see that. Expect to pay the price for ammo and have a tougher time finding it. 

.300 Blackout -Typically seen as a rifle caliber and not a PDW cartridge. However, it’s worth noting the original intention of the round was for more PDW-like activities. This is a .30 cal round seated into a 5.56 case, essentially. This allows the use of sub or supersonic rifle ammo without functionality issues. It excels from short barrels and reaches full velocity from a 9-inch barrel. It also suppressed very well. 

.30 Carbine – The OG of PDW caliber is the .30 Carbine. At the time, it was called a light rifle cartridge, but the intent was the same as the PDW. It’s a ball around, but when paired with proper hollow tips, it’s an excellent option for home defense. It’s not superbly popular, but a handful of rifles and handguns have been created to fire it. 

The Personal Defense Weapon 

I think what keeps PDWs from being more popular is the price of the ammo. It’s a niche round that doesn’t perform at the same level as something like a 5.56 round, but 5.56 remains cheaper. If the price lowered to nearly pistol-round ammo, I’m betting we’d see a lot more PDW action. Sadly, until that happens, it can be tough for some to justify the switch. 

In my opinion, the PDW can be a great home defense firearm, but you have to be willing to do the work. It’s perfect for those with lower strength levels, or even new or occasional shooters seeking a great home defense option, but it’s not always plug-and-play like an AR or even a PCC. 

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