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From guthook on mdshooters (
Mosin Nagant 91/30 rifle over Mosin Nagant M44 carbine

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…

ALL CARBINES ARE RIFLES, BUT NOT ALL RIFLES ARE CARBINES …I made a sweet diorama, but it didn’t translate to blog format very well. Instead, please enjoy this Venn diagram…

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 piece, the only thing I can think of is:


[h/t: Cases4Cases]

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  1. I thought you were just being harsh, and then I read this.

    In earlier years, rifles did not really have lines in their barrels which reduced the accuracy of the firearm. For this reason, soldiers were usually told to form a line and simply start shooting. This way, they can be sure to hit enemy soldiers even if they are not sure about the accuracy of their shots. Some examples of rifles include the American .30-06 M1903 rifle and the Mauser M98. Earlier rifle weapons actually came with bayonets at one end allowing the handler to “stab” enemies when they were low on ammunition.

    Because when I think of the 1903, the first thing I think is “not accurate”

    • “In earlier years, muskets did not really have lines in their barrels which reduced the accuracy of the firearm.”
      There, I fixed it.

        • Actually, there were rifled muskets. If memory serves me correctly, that is where we actually get the term “Rifle” from. It was shortened from rifled muskets.

        • A rifled musket defines a specific type of firearm. In the days of smoothbore muskets soldiers stood in ranks, sometimes as many as 3 ranks deep. The smoothbore muskets were long enough that the back rank men could safely fire their weapons without fear of hitting the front rank soldiers in the back of the head.

          When the weapons were rifled the commanders kept the old style tactics of firing in ranks. The new rifles had to be as long as the old muskets for safety’s sake. The use of overlong rifles continued well past the use of the old tactics requiring them.

          It really is true that we train to fight the last war.

      • “In earlier years, rifles did not really have lines in their barrels which reduced the accuracy of the firearm.”

        That quote is so breathtakingly inaccurate that it sets a new standard for stupidity.

        By definition, a RIFLE has RIFLING (spirally cut shallow grooves [“lines?]) inside the barrel to impart spin to the projectile, thus increasing the stability of the projectile and therefore the accuracy. If it doesn’t have that rifling, it is a “smoothbore musket” – or a shotgun, for that matter.

        I’m sorry, I have to go lie down with a cold washcloth over my eyes, now. “Rifles did not really have lines in their barrels …” Oh, man ….

  2. Carbines were originally cavalry weapons because their shorter barrels made them easier to use on horseback. They have returned to use because they are better matched for the close confines of an infantry fighting vehicle.

    • Exactly.

      I was very accurate with my M16A2. And then I left the 7th ID (Light). Getting in and out of vehicles, maneuvering in buildings…. For those that say ounces make pounds and pounds make pain, there is a length parallel argument.

    • you make it sound as if there were no carbines between their use in the cavalry and today. It doesn’t take much thought to realize that’s wrong. M1 Carbine… WWII comes to mind.

      • That was not my intent. I was just explaining their origins. Both the US and British Cavalry went to the standard infantry weapon with the introduction of the 03 Springfield and the Enfield because the infantry rifle was short enough for mounted soldiers to use effectively.

      • Americans were the special kids who thought that a proper cavalryman weapon wasn’t a carbine but one of those monstruous revolvers that you insist to classify as pistols. We all thank you for that.

        • Revolvers were a badge of rank and class in most of the rest of the world. People that believe that some are better simply because of the accident of birth believe in restricting handguns to only the chosen few.

          In America we believe you’re special if you don’t own a handgun. We even have special, short buses to take you to school.

        • @jwm

          That is exactly right. That is the why the US Army standard pistol is true combat pistol which unlike the Europeans was used to the kill the enemy rather than as sign of authority and and an “encouragement” to the troops. It was only to be used as a weapon of war as a last resort. And just think, American company grade officers carried Garands into combat just like those under their command in WWII. How declasse’

    • Actually, the first carbines weren’t meant to be used *while* mounted. They were more in line of mobile infantry. They could traverse the battlefield quickly, dismount, form up, fire in formation (as was common in the day), and easily mount up and re-position. Firing a carbine musket from horseback was highly not recommended if you intended on actually being effective instead of just making noise and smoke.

  3. I’ve always considered a carbine as a shorter version of an existing rifle (M4,M16-M91/30,M38 etc)
    That and a barrel under 20″

    Car-bean instead of car-bine.

    But that’s just my thoughts. Everyone has an opinion about this but for the most part when someone says carbine you know what they are taking about.

    On another note is a paratrooper rifle a full size rifle with a folding or collapseable stock? (HK91/93 with an A3 stock instead of a fixed A2) I guess it is lol

  4. Is only the real 14.7″ barrel version of the M4 the unrifled carbine? All of my 16″ barrels have rifling. My SKS carbine also has rifling just like the longer rifle version. Weird, huh?

  5. in europe when i talk to my relatives they refer to all their hunting riffles as carbines, even though they look about the size of the riffles i use and call riffles. never asked why.

    • It’s usually because the last (few) generation(s) of wooden bolt-action rifles in military service were actual carbines, and when the new generation of battle rifles and assault rifles came along, everyone continued to refer to the older-style guns as carbines.

    • That’s because in Europe they have a different development history.
      In the US we view it as a difference between a rifle and a carbine, the latter originally shorter for use by cavalry.
      In Europe, they view it as the difference between and dragon and a carbine, both used by cavalry, but the latter having rifling and repeating fire.
      So, today, much of Europe views any rifle, unless it is exceedingly long, as a carbine.

      • I do not think that is correct. Dragons were pistols, a shortened blunderbuss. Carbines were short muskets for use on horseback (though they rarely reloaded on horseback). All those early models were smooth bore.

        Americans used mainly infantry with smoothbore muskets in the revolutionary war. Napoleon tended to prefer light and medium cavalry (dragoons and carabineers). Rifling saw use in the Napoleonic wars, but not by the French. The first major rifled long arm in major use was the Baker, by specialized British infantry units. Afterward, the rifle became the word for a full-size long arm and supplanted the musket, but carbines got rifling too even as Carabineer units became less relevant in warfare.

        Even in Napoleon’s day, the difference in muzzle velocity between a full size musket and carbine was minimal. The carbine was just the “compact for travel” version of the musket, but was a different class of weapon altogether from the dragon. FWIW.

        • The main reason the French Army didn’t use rifled muskets is because they required more training than smoothbores, since they were a skirmisher’s weapon, and that required you to actually aim, a thing that was completely unimportant in napoleonic tactics. English riflemen in contrast had more training and could succesfully engage point targets.

    • I don’t know where your relative are from. In Italy my hunter friends refer to every hunting rifle firing metal-cased cartdriges as “carabine” (carbines) because the word “fucile” (rifle) is used for what you’d call a shotgun. That is because there is no word to encompass pump-action, semi-auto and double-barreled shotguns, and because historically, let’s say untile the 60s, hunting rifles were commonly shortened military surplus rifles.

      Still, I don’t have any statistics, but each and every hunter I’ve know used double-barreled shotguns. The only person I know who uses a rifle, is a gun enthusiast that owns other pistols and rifles, which is uncommon among traditional hunters.

    • Ok, grammar police…pull it to the side, buddy. Do you know how far afield you were going?

      A “Rifle” is a tool that makes a loud pop, dispensing lead in the process.

      A “Riffle” is a cross member in a sluice box with the sole purpose of catching gold.

      Here’s your ticket…you may proceed.

  6. Carbide (died) :: Carbine (pine).

    Sorry, I like consistency in my language.

    giant, giraffe, ginormous

    garbage, garage, gang.

    Then again, carbine is French, so English rules don’t apply.

    • In French it’s spelled “Carabine” and it’s pronounced: Cara-bean

      Therefor, the “Carbine” is the English version name of the French “Carabine”, and therefor English may apply (or not, it’s pretty much up to you 😀 )

  7. I wouldn’t call the linked article pure internet gold, but it’s pretty good.

    It reads like someone who got all his information from random wikipedia searches, conversations with 14 year old Russian ‘experts’ during Counterstrike matches, and one airsoft match where he tripped and sprained his ankle.

  8. Um, that “article” is, um, I don’t even know what.

    That being said, it’s car-bean for me and I truly don’t care, I call all my carbines rifles just like I call all my pistols handguns. I don’t much care for semantics unless it really matters and in this case, I really don’t think it does.

  9. Today I learned:
    -Rifling can be referred to as lines in the barrel
    -Bullets are propelled down a barrel by expanding air
    -A bullet travels 1-2 centimeters for every 100 meters as long as there is no wind (wtf?)
    -The author of the linked article knows more about guns than most antis

    • That site offers many more firearm nuggets as well. Just take a look at Difference Between Rifle and Shotgun from the same site. Here is a very incomplete list.

      “Moreover, the bullets used in a rifle are small with a diameter between 6 mm to 8 mm, which helps the bullet to travel to a longer distance.”

      “Rifles also have more power than the shotguns.”

      “When a shotgun can hit targets less than 50 yards, a rifle can hit targets anywhere between 75 to hundred yards.”

      “While the rifles come with Front and Rear Sights, the shotguns come with only Front Sight.”

      “When handling, a rifle comes heavier than a shotgun.”

      I am sure there are some real gems in their other firearm pieces like Difference Between Gun and Rifle.

    • Not true. The model 1873 Trapdoor Springfield came in a 30″ infantry rifle and a 22″ cavalry carbine. A carbine is just a shorter version of a rifle. Infantry rifles have gotten shorter over the years. Both the 03 Springfield and M1 were 24 ” and the M-14 was 22″.

    • That’s pretty much it. When barrel length is determined by government limits (like the Hi-Point carbines with 16.5 inch barrels), it’s a carbine (even though Hi-Point does not make longer versions). If it’s designed for long range accuracy, it’s a rifle. But a carbine is a type of rifle. When explaining things to a layman, I just say that a carbine is a rifle with a short barrel. They seem satisfied with that.

    • I don’t think so. Last year I bought an SBR with a 9″ barrel. SBR stands for short barreled RIFLE. There are handguns and rifles. Those other things you’re talking about are springy clip thingies used for mountain climbing.

  10. This may sound weird, but can a smoothbore (shotgun) weapon be a carbine or does it have to be rifled?

  11. There are some things you just can’t un-see. Perhaps a scale on the warning nex time. If you click the link you are likely to lose:

    1-5 IQ points
    6-10 IQ points
    You may not be able to feed yourself after reading.

        • Jeremy S – Yeah, it wasn’t there before, but I see it now. Looks like we’re thinking on the same lines then! 🙂

        • Yes, RF may end up yelling at me but I really thought it belonged in there so I’ve added it back. After all, he has said on here many times that “you don’t cut funny.” I’m sort of a stubborn jackass and it’s difficult for me to accept when something I’ve written gets edited and shuffled around before going live. It doesn’t feel like my writing anymore, but it has my name on it still, and it feels weird. It’s definitely part of the ‘biz’ but I’m bad at accepting it.

  12. Oh man…wow… I’m hoping that the “article” was in fact a 4-page double spaced middle school research paper for English class that was erroneously reproduced on that site.

    “However, once you use them, you’ll find that the carbine and rifle operate differently.” — Oh…I guess I’m not as detail oriented as I thought…they seemed to operate the same to me. *whew* I just checked and mine luckily have the lines in the barrel too – yaay! /sarc

    I’ve always pronounced it “car-bean” myself, and have used the term to apply to a compact subset of rifles.

    • That would have never been allowed in a “school”, the kid who wrote it would have been suspended or maybe even expelled for writing about guns.

    • I think this article is the output of modern day internet freelance slave writers that are paid an abysmally low wage to just crank out “original content” so that sites can brag about their amount of original content. These writers know absolutely nothing about the content and they are just re-arranging bits of information into new sentences. When this “writer” got done with this article in 10 minutes he continued on and wrote an article about nuclear co-generation and then maybe about menstrual pads.

      These writers can then mention on their resume about all the “paid published articles” they have written as they try to find a way out of their Starbucks barrista career. I imagine that most of these articles are written by people who have degrees in minority studies, womyn studies, journalism, and similar useless degrees. Since I’d estimate that probably 50% of all college degrees are useless, there is plenty of this flotsam bobbing around on the internet,

  13. It sounds an awful lot to me like the author is implying that car(amanda)bines do not have rifled barrels…

  14. I figure a barrel length under 20″ makes it a carbine, given that it is meant to be fired from the shoulder.

    • but would you call an 18″ fixed stock SPR a carbine or a rifle? What if it had a collapsible stock but still had a rifle length gas system? Splitting hairs I know

  15. In Norwegian law a carbine is simply a rifle that is shorter than the length requirements (AKA SBR). Personally I consider a light, handy gun a carbine.

  16. “…I might produce an article as laughably farcical as the one you’ll find by clicking that link.”

    I’m glad I caught this. You were scaring me there for a minute.

  17. The Mauser 98 family is a good example. Originally the Geweher 98 is 49.5 inches Long, then came some variants named Karabiner 98 at 43.7 inches long ( I guess the designation “Karabiner” was relative in the minds of the Mauser designers, or not defined at the time of design) and later a much more carbine-like variant sometimes referred to as “Police Carbines” at 37 inches long (my Colombian .30-06 iteration measures 37 inches overall and 18 inches from muzzle tip to mouth of the breech and chamber).

    Yeah, I think your definition of carbine “I know one when I see one” probably works best, and since the name is originally French (carabine) it would be a short “i”, hence “car-bean” from “care-ah-bea-neh”, but if anyone said it with long a “i”, I’d know what they are talking about just the same.

    Good article! YOURS not the one you linked to (but it was certainly amusing). Thanks!

  18. Car bean, car bine. Ga rand, Gar and. WW II soldiers came from many different areas, with many different dialects and accents. How you pronounce the words usually depends on how they were pronounced to you first.

  19. Doc carried a medical pouch
    Kirby a BAR
    Saunders a Thompson
    Cage and Little John a rifle
    Hanley a Carbine

    There you go.

  20. Well, according to the dictionary (two answers for the price of one):

    a light automatic rifle.
    a short rifle or musket used by cavalry.

    • Might need to get a better dictionary, I guess. The idea that there can’t be bolt-action or semi-automatic carbines is senseless. None of mine are for cavalry use.

      • Historically, horse mounted soldiers (cavalry) never carried automatic weapons, and certainly not belt fed weapons. I’d hazard a guess that cavalry were not typically equipped with long arms until the mid-19th century, and that such arms did not become ubiquitous until the development of cartridge firearms.

      • The two points I was going for:

        1. “Carbine” is a subset of “rifle”
        2. Either pronunciation is acceptable

        Agreed on bolt-action. I’m pretty sure my M77/44 qualifies.

  21. you guys have got to read their article on ACP and AUTO. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.

      • Apparently (from that article) .45 ACP is a heat seeking bullet that is “notorious” for putting “uniquely placed” holes in people, and .45 Auto is only available suppressed (And it can punch through “armor-y” substances!)… Also, by stating that “automatic” (Technically the right term… If you are talking about pistols from the 1800’s) handguns have “built-in chambers for cartridges”, the writer implies that revolvers don’t have chambers (Or that they are “external”) and don’t use cartridges… I haven’t seen such a steaming pile since 10th Grade, when I peer reviewed a “report” on space exploration… A paper that stated that rockets run off of gasoline, Neil Armstrong was the first man in space, and that we never did any animal trials before sending people into space… The public education system nearly killed my faith in Humanity!

      • Well, I looked up the difference between a Civic and an S2000, and while simplistic, it wasn’t flat wrong on every count, so I don’t think this is supposed to be a joke. Which makes it even funnier, IMHO.

  22. I believe the concept of a carbine was first invented for cavalry to have a long gun that was short enough to manipulate while on horseback. The muskets and battle rifles of that era were so long (because it was thought that barrel length=accuracy) that there was a noticeable difference between an infantry rifle and a cavalry carbine.

    In that context, “carbine” is a pretty meaningless term today, though the concept of a compact, high-power gun for support troops lives on as the PDW.

    • >> The muskets and battle rifles of that era were so long (because it was thought that barrel length=accuracy)

      For non-rifled barrels where bullets don’t seal tightly to barrel walls, this is in fact accurate. But the bigger reason for longer barrels was the practice of having lines of infantry, and the need for those in the back to shoot past those in the front safely.

  23. “Show me a modern bolt-action 9mm with a 20″ barrel and I’ll show you a firearm that nobody would…”


  24. I received the “true scoop” on the carbine during basic training at Ft. Dix, NJ, in 1957. A group of us were detailed to remove large quantities of cosmoline from a quantity of M-1 carbines. The NCO in charge of us explained, “Dis here is a car-been. It be named car-been after Car-been Williams, who invented it in prison.” And that is gospel.

  25. Damn you, Jeremy! That site is a freakin’ treasure trove of rectally-extracted “knowledge”. That’s gonna be my whole damn day now.

    Particularly choice examples:

    “There is one model called the .45 ACP that is notorious for inflicting uniquely placed often inaccessible wounds.”

    “A Machine Auto pistol on the other hand is a pistol that is built on the lines of a hand gun. It loads by itself and can become fully automatic when required by the user.”

    “The ACP is quite different from the Auto pistol. The ACP is quite a secure investment. It is famous for being precise to the highest degree especially when used on humans.”

    And this whole article is just 100% pure, uncut nonsense:

  26. Would an AUG Para be considered a carbine, or get into the PDW zone? Its a shortened version of an existing rifle, changed to a pistol caliber.

    • Basically I’d say it has nothing to do with caliber and the reason many folks consider any long arm in a pistol caliber to be a “carbine” is because they only exist in carbine size, with only very rare (and old) exceptions like the Winchester 1873. Regardless of whether it’s a full-power battle rifle cartridge, an assault rifle cartridge, or a pistol cartridge, a carbine is really just defined by a general compact size and relatively light[er] weight.

  27. So if a long barrel version exists and a short barrel is produced, it would be a carbine. Otherwise it has become a marketing label if no such long barrel exists. And I suggest it in neither “byne nor bean.” I suggest since marketing has become involved to define the product the name must also be updated. Therefore now a cross known as “kar-ben.”

    • I did not suggest it should be considered a carbine. In fact, the implication is that it shouldn’t and it falls into a category of “Personal Defense Weapon.” Machine Pistol is totally appropriate as well but really applies to the select-fire version, whereas a civilian semi-auto-only one wouldn’t really meet that title but probably falls into the PDW category. That’s assuming it’s an SBR (short barrel w/ a buttstock). If it has a 16″ bbl to qualify with the ATF as a rifle then it’s definitely a carbine per my opinion. If it doesn’t have a buttstock then it’s a pistol.

  28. its a very interesting to understand for gun enthusiasts to understand the difference between Assault rifle, Carbine and Sub machine gun. let me try and explain in as simple and defined terms as possible as following:-
    a. Assault Rifle
    (1) As per some barrel length of 20 to 24 inches

    1. Used by infantry soldier
    2. has 18 to 22 inches of barrel length.
    3. Fires in semi auto and full auto modes. in addition some later assault rifles also have 3 round burst mode
    4. fire normal normal rifle rounds that are supersonic in terms of muzzle velocity
    1. Used by mounted troops like those of armour tps and by drivers. Also preferred by special forces due to compat size and weight.
    2. Barrel length generally 14 to 16 inches (compact weapon e.g M-4)
    3. is definitely semi auto but may or may not fire in full auto mode.
    4. fires normal rifle rounds that may be subsonic or supersonic
    1. preferred weapon for close quarter battle due to less effective range, high rate of fire and less chances of ricochet
    2. fires in semi auto and full auto modes
    3. barrel length generally less than 12 inches
    4. fires pistol rounds (subsonic)

  30. I never really knew what carbine was. I’ve only been shooting for a few months for reasons I want get into. Funny how some things are so simple to learn if we read.

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  33. I just came from the differencebetween piece. Your video at the end here was literally what I was thinking. Gun control nuts want to spread disinformation!

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