The Best Subguns: Keep Em Small

I’ve always had a secret love of submachine guns. A big one, and I can’t quite say why. Maybe it’s because I just can’t have one without spending several thousand dollars on an ancient MAC-10. The NFA and Hughes Amendment make owning SMGs a non-starter, but they don’t make owning a sub-gun a hassle. So, today we’ll discuss some of my favorite subguns.

What’s a subgun? It’s a category of firearms I just kind of made up. A subgun is a semi-auto pistol version of a submachine gun. It’s a pistol-caliber weapon that can be braced but doesn’t have to be. The gun is bigger than any pistol but isn’t a PCC. They fall into the large-format pistol realm but are specifically large-format pistols that use a pistol caliber.

With that in mind, who makes the best subguns? What are your options? Well, I’ve seven of what I think are the very best on the market.

The Best Budget Subgun: Extar EP-9/EP-45

Extar is a neat company. It’s a small company that sells directly to the consumer. There is no middleman to be had, which keeps the price of their weapons below $500. Extar’s guns use Glock magazines and come in both 9mm and .45 ACP for big-bore enthusiasts. These guns have an AR-like appearance and some AR-like controls.

Extar EP9 budget-friendly subgun
The Extar is the most budget-friendly subgun on the market, and it’s well-equipped.

However, they stray from the AR with their charging handle. It’s placed at the top of the upper receiver which makes it pretty dang ergonomic for an unstocked platform. Sadly, it’s tougher to use for left-handed shooters. There are numerous differences between the Extra EP series and the AR to separate the two, but any AR-15 shooter will feel right at home.

These are blowback-operated firearms, which are reliable systems of operation. It does ensure you have a little more recoil than an alternative operating system. The reliability is high, and the gun is optics and accessory-ready with a nice long optics rail and an M-LOK handguard.

The Best AR Subgun: The CMMG Banshee

If you want the looks and ergonomics of a real AR, CMMG has you covered. The Banshee series in 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, and 10mm has something to offer everyone. Heck, there are even various magazine options from Glock, Sig Sauer, and Colt to entertain. CMMG holds nothing back with these guns. They feature all the best parts and pieces from ambidextrous charging handles and short throw safeties to M-LOK rails and their own Ripbrace system.

banshee in 10mm
The Banshee has a fantastic delayed blowback system that makes the 10mm a kitten.

The CMMG Banshee’s real claim to fame is the radial delayed blowback system. Instead of using a violent, often recoil-inducing direct blowback system, CMMG created the radial delayed system. This uses the teeth of the bolt to lock into the chamber. To unlock, the bolt has to rotate and this doesn’t occur until the pressure has dropped to safe levels.

The Banshee series has very low recoil, and there is no need for a heavy buffer or bolt, which reduces the gun’s weight. At the end of the day, we have a very modern subgun that makes the most of the AR platform and its enhanced ergonomics. It’s one of my personal favorites.

The Army’s Choice: The B&T APC9K

Gucci is as Gucci does, and the US Army certainly went Gucci in their search for a ‘subcompact weapon’ system. The Army’s first SMG adoption since the M3 Grease gun resulted in the B&T APC9K. The Army adopted it for protecting VIPs, but you can have the semi-auto variant to protect your homestead. This micro-sized subgun gives you the Army experience for what’s likely the Army price.

ACP9K with brace extended
The APC9K sports a very short profile totaling 13.5 inches with the brace collapsed.

The APC9K isn’t cheap, but after shooting one for a bit, it’s easy to see why the Swiss charge so much for one. Everything from the trigger to the rail design is genius. Everything is precision-oriented and designed. Accuracy is top-notch, and the ergonomics are inspired. Left-handed and right-handed shooters will feel right at home with the weapon.

It’s a straight blowback design, but an integral buffer eliminates the sting and pain of the traditional blowback-operated weapon. It’s surprisingly effective and a real piece of Swiss engineering.

The AK Option: The PSA AK-V

From the Swiss to the Russians is a big jump. Admittedly, Palmetto State Armory has about as much in common with Russians as I do vegetarians, but the AK-V takes cues from Russia’s most famous export. The AK-V is a 9mm subgun that gives what’s essentially the closest thing we’ll get to a PP-19 clone in the United States.

Front view of ak-v
The AK-V is the best 9mm AK out there

The PSA AK-V utilizes Scorpion magazines, which offer us that famed AK curve even when shooting 9mm. The AK-V comes in all kinds of configurations that range from high-tech Magpul MOE furniture to classic wood designs. PSA wisely made the weapon optics ready and instituted ergonomic improvements like a last-round bolt hold-open device.

While it is a blowback-operated gun, the AK-V is fairly soft shooting. It’s a hefty gun, and weight goes a long way to absorb recoil and keep the gun low and target. If you want that classic AK design and feel, the AK-V is the only way to go.

Editor’s Choice: CZ Scorpion

One of the guns that helped the subgun concept jump off comes from CZ in the form of the Scorpion. CZ is never a company to waste a brand name. Remember when they called the P07 the CZ 75 P07 Duty? Way back when the Communists ruled, CZ produced the .32 ACP Skorpion, aka the Klobb to Goldeneye platers.

CZ Scorpion Evo 3
The Skorpion evolved into the Scorpion.

The Scorpion is the more modern 9mm subgun. It’s also blowback-operated and uses a massive bolt to keep recoil low and reduce that violent impulse we all dread. The Scorpion has since become an entire family of subguns of various configurations and sizes. Each one features modern accessories and awesome iron sights.

CZ wisely released the magazines en masse and ensured they were quite affordable. One of the biggest killers of a proprietary design is expensive mags. Affordability is one of the big reasons why the Scorpion is so much more common than the SIG MPX.

The Most Underrated: Beretta PMXs

Beretta makes everything. In the United States, Beretta’s most popular products are their high-quality handguns and shotguns. This often leaves guns like the PMXs ignored and that’s a real shame. Beretta’s original Model 12 was a fantastic SMG, but it began showing its age and an upgrade was needed. Thus, the PMX was born and to provide a semi-auto option for the average Joe Beretta released the PMXs.

PMXs in hand
Serious TEC-9 vibes…

The PMXs provides a lightweight, compact, semi-auto-only platform with a simple straight blowback system. Sadly, the PMXs is not getting the recognition it rightly deserves as it was released about the same time the ATF made moves against braces, limiting the appeal of subguns throughout the industry.

For those who took the chance, the PMXs provided a super accurate and easy-to-control platform. It’s quite modern, with excellent ergonomics, modern rails for accessories, and a number of refined features. The PMXs lives up to the Beretta reputation and, hopefully, the brace business is behind us.

Best Pistol to Subgun Conversion: Flux Raider

Last but not least, the Flux Raider allows you to take your average P320 and convert it into a subgun. The ability to remove the FCU from the P320 ensured a degree of customization we hadn’t seen before. The Raider allows you to install your FCU and slide to create a subgun.

Flux raider with brace deployed
The Raider is an effective little PDW.

This platform utilizes a spring-loaded brace design that flies out of the gun with the press of a button. The system is also optics-ready with numerous rails for adding all manner of accessories. It’s one of the smallest subguns on the market, although the price of the Sig Sauer P320 and Flux Raider can bring it up to more than a grand. However, it’s tough to beat the Raider’s low recoil, high accuracy, and easy concealment.

The World of Subguns

Subguns are known for being ultra-small, easy to handle, and most importantly fun to shoot. The more I type, the more I realize why I love subguns. These are great guns for defensive use and are even cheap to shoot in a world where 5.56 costs 50 cents a round. They are worth more than a look and shouldn’t be ignored. What’s your favorite subgun? Let us know below!

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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