If I imagine a world in which I am subjected to sleep deprivation by the CIA and then clubbed in the head by a rifle followed by another thump with a carbine, given five shots of vodka, spun around until sufficiently dizzy, and then asked to write a piece on the “Difference Between Carbine and Rifle,” I might produce an article as laughably farcical as the one you’ll find by clicking that link. How would you describe the difference? Although I’m inviting the ire and criticism of many, I’d keep it simple and just say…
Historically, a firearm was called a “carbine” when it was a shorter version of an existing rifle. E.G. the Mosin Nagant examples pictured above.
In modern usage it seems “carbine” is an acceptable way to refer to any rifle that we consider to be compact, whether or not it has a larger brother. Manufacturers have created and continue to create rifles that are new from the ground up — rifles based really on nothing that previously existed — and brand them as “carbines” right off the bat. It just means they think of it as compact and probably relatively light weight as well.
Additionally, it seems that any rifle chambered for a pistol caliber is considered to be a “carbine.” At least these days. The Winchester 1873 might be the exception. Of course, it is of legitimate “rifle” dimensions, whereas basically anything else I can think of at the moment in a pistol caliber (that isn’t also a big lever gun) is compact and deserving of the “carbine” moniker for its size, not caliber. Show me a modern bolt-action 9mm with a 20″ barrel and I’ll show you a firearm that nobody would call anything but “rifle.”
…now where you fudge on the definition of “rifle,” I can’t quite tell you. Do we just accept the ATF definition of a firearm with a shoulder stock and a barrel over 16″ long? Maybe. The M4 with 14.5″ bbl is definitely referred to as a “carbine.” Of course, it’s legitimately a shortened version of the M16, matching the historical definition of a “carbine.” But if we start to get too much shorter, especially down into pistol-caliber “SBR”s like, for example, an HK MP5, then we throw “carbine” out the window and start talking about “Personal Defense Weapons.”
Whatever. I know a “carbine” when I see it. Sometimes. I guess.
For further discussion and debate, is it “car-bean” (long “E” sound) or “car-bine” (long “I” sound)?
To the author of the DifferenceBetween.net piece, the only thing I can think of is: