Personal Defense Weapon (PDW) Bag Guns, by Joe H.

Personal defense weapons (PDWs) or “bag guns” have seen a recent surge in popularity due to concerns over the COVID-19 quarantine and urban riots. This has come just at the availability of more attractive PDW options is expanding. For the sake of this discussion, a PDW will be defined as a compact detachable magazine-fed semiautomatic firearm that can be shouldered. Such weapons are desirable as they can be discreetly transported and have greater firepower than conventional handguns. PDWs have been used by military and security details for these reasons. They are also included in pilot survival kits. Security details employ PDWs as they are more discreet and easy to maneuver in tight spaces. These features also make for an attractive bugout weapon, sine one can be carried and more easily accessed in a car. Some folks have chosen them home defense weapons.


The Uzi and MP5 are famous PDWs that have been used for years by militaries and security details around the world, generally in fully automatic. Both are chambered in 9mm and have several configurations, including those with collapsible stocks and different barrel lengths. There is even a PDW-designated MP5 that can be fired from within a suitcase. While both of these weapons continue to enjoy reasonable popularity, a number of new options have emerged.

Rifle Caliber PDW

Short barreled variants of combat carbines have seen wider use, as they provide the ballistics of a rifle caliber in a smaller package. Barrel length is limited by reliability and decreases in velocity. A popular example is the MK18 10.3 inch barreled M16 variant. It is commonly considered the shortest reliable barrel length for a direct impingement 5.56 mm AR-15-type rifle.

Pistol Caliber PDW

Manufacturers have been producing pistol caliber PDWs to compete with the Uzi and MP5. Some notable manufacturers included B&T, Sig, and CZ. Besides differences in actions, one major fundamental differences in the designs is the magazine location. Some utilize magazines that are fed into the pistol grip like the Uzi while others have magazine wells forward of the grip like the MP5. The former generally results in a shorter weapon while the latter generally allows for faster magazine changes. A recent trend is to have weapons that utilize popular service pistol magazines, most notably Glock double-stack 9mm magazines.

A Pistol Chassis?

A number of pistol chassis technologies have been released in the past ten years. These systems lock onto a popular service pistol’s accessory rail and allow them to be shouldered. This extra point of contact aids in a higher hit probability for most shooters. The chassis also allows for more accessories such as optics, lights, and lasers to be mounted. One attribute of a chassis system is that the chassis’ themselves are not considered firearms, under Federal law.

AR Folding Stocks

Folding stocks shorten the stored length of a PDW and aren’t new. Many piston-driven guns such as the AK-47 do not use a buffer and utilize relatively simple folding systems. AR-15-type weapons use a buffer system that does not allow the use of these types of folding stocks. The relatively recent Law Tactical folding stock secures the bolt carrier when folded and uses an extension to engage the buffer when closed. The Law Tactical system has been adopted by the FBI for use by its Hostage Rescue Team (HRT).

Pistol Arm Braces

The popularity of ATF-approved pistol arm braces have certainly contributed to the interest in PDWs as they provide more ways of firing firearms such as AR-15 pistols. The pistol designation also allows these weapons to be legally transported while loaded in many places where rifles cannot be. These also avoid the paperwork necessary for acquiring a short-barreled rifle, under Federal law. The issue of shouldering a braced pistol has been a point of contention will be left for the user to investigate for themselves.

.300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout (300 BLK), also known as .300 AAC is a 7.62 mm cartridge designated by Advanced Armament Corporation (AAC) that was designed for PDW use. Both supersonic and subsonic loadings are available, with the latter being relatively easy to suppress. The cartridge can be fed from a STANAG (AR) magazine and in AR-15 configuration can share all parts other than the barrel. 300 BLK has proven reliability in shorter barrel lengths than comparable 5.56 systems as well as improved terminal ballistics. It is a lower velocity caliber than 5.56 mm and thus has a shorter effective range, generally around 300 meters.

Specialty Caliber Weapons

Some specialty calibers have been developed specifically for PDW use with similar goals and claims. They tend to be smaller calibers that allow for high capacity but still reasonably sized magazines. These also tend to be higher velocity, targeting rifle caliber terminal ballistics. Examples of these calibers include the 6X35 mm (KAC), 4.6X30 mm (HK), and the 5.7X28 mm (FN). The first two are generally not available to civilians while the 5.7 mm is. The associated PDW that is available to the general public is the PS90 that uses a unique top-loading magazine. To be truly usable as a PDW, a shorter barrel would be preferred.

Intended Use

Your intended use should be considered before selecting a PDW. This can be a purely recreational range toy or a serious weapon with a defined purpose. The use will guide the selection of a PDW. Someone who is looking for a weapon meant to bring along for road trips may select a different weapon than someone who may need to employ a weapon for executive protection.


The compact nature of the PDW is one of its primary attributes. It is important to consider the size of any candidate and its trade-offs. Smaller weapons are more discreet and easy to carry but generally give up effectiveness due to caliber and/or barrel length. Size will dictate how the weapon can be carried.

Can it Fire When Folded?

Different PDWs will allow for firing in different conditions, most notably while folded. Direct impingement AR-15-type weapons generally (see Law Tactical) generally cannot be fired while folded while many gas piston operated weapons can. Note that Law Tactical will be releasing a special bolt carrier that will allow for a weapon to be fired while folded.


How the user intends to store and be able to access the weapon should be considered when selecting a weapon. Some systems like some Glock chassis systems do not have traditional safety levers. Shoulder bags allow for quicker access than a backpack but are generally smaller. One of the main purposes of a bag is concealment and a number of companies have made attractive bags for carrying these weapons.

Other popular options include bookbags, hiking backpacks, instrument cases (such as for trumpets), and tennis racquet cases. The user should consider how discreet the various options are for their lifestyle and use. Car carry is another popular option with its advantages and risks. The risk of vehicle theft should be taken into account when considering this option. After selecting a system, the user should practice accessing the weapon in its carry condition and making it ready to fire. It is up to the user or their respective organization to decide on their standard operating procedure and carry condition.


Caliber selection is one of the critical decisions in selecting a PDW. One should probably first consider the maximum engagement distance the weapon in which the weapon may be employed. Rifle calibers will have much longer effective range than pistol calibers. Whether or not magnified optics will be attached will also dictate true effective range, noting that positive target identification is crucial. The first component of effective range is the ability to make reliable hits to an acceptable standard. The second is whether those hits will effectively stop a threat. Ammunition type will play a role in both of these but caliber is a significant factor. Availability of ammunition in the selected caliber that meet the criteria of the user is critical. An acceptable sound level is important to some users. Shorter barrels will be louder than longer ones and rifle calibers are louder than pistol calibers. Availability of subsonic ammunition and sound-safe suppressors may factor into caliber selection. It is noteworthy that specialty calibers may be more difficult to source than popular ones like 9mm or 5.56 mm. The ability to reload may help with this. And ammunition price is always a consideration, as specialty calibers tend to be more expensive than common ones.


Commonality of parts, magazines, and calibers can be a factor when deciding on a PDW. Shorter versions of carbines that a user already owns would have the greatest amount of commonality. 300 BLK AR-style PDW’s magazines, bolt carrier groups, receivers, and accessories that are interchangeable with 5.56 systems. Pistol caliber PDWs that use Glock double stack magazines would allow users to carry magazines that are interchangeable with a Glock pistol. All of these parts are considered commonly available.


Accessories should be considered when selecting a PDW. Common accessories for weapon systems include lights, slings, and optics. The intended role of the PDW will dictate which accessories will be needed. PDWs smaller size may require smaller or specialized accessories. These should also not interfere with accessing the weapon.

Legal Issues

Gun laws differ between states and even cities. Some areas have laws pertaining to legal storage of unattended firearms. The National Firearms Act (NFA) governs the acquisition and use of short-barreled rifles. Take note that adding a vertical foregrip is not legal on most arm-barced pistols. Users should learn the laws of any area they may plan to bring their prospective PDW before making decisions about what weapons they may bring and how they carry them.

The convenience and effectiveness of PDWs make them attractive to many gun owners. If one is considering purchasing a PDW, they should consider their motivations and then review the many options and considerations provided here, including those pertaining to where and how they plan to carry and potentially employ the weapon. With that said, PDWs are very cool and highly recommended.


  1. Great article. I am practicing with my 10.5 in AR this weekend to get comfortable with carrying it in my truck and eventually home defense.
    Always practice enough to effectively use your tools for their intended purposes! That is why I practice/train until muscle memory and accuracy is second nature before changing my equipment.

    1. I’ve been very happy with the SBA3 brace on my 10.5″ .300 BLK pistol, though a friend recently showed me his build sporting a new ‘tailhook’ brace. Superior, IMO, and I’m looking into changing over to it.

  2. CZ EVO 9mm Scorpion with 8 inch barrel folding arm brace is the way to go, lots of aftermarket support and mags cheap and plenty. I love mine, fits in a gym bag with extra mags.

  3. Other than not being able to fire from a folded position is the Kel Tec Sub 2000. Its affordable, can be bought in the capatability in both magazine and caliber of your carry gun, many customized options that wont break the bank, and folds up in a nice 16″ length package. I have one in my wife’s go bag and I have one in mine.

  4. A “friend” of mine was concerned about the accuracy (or rather the precision) of an AR15 pistol with a 10.5 inch barrel. Upon building and zeroing the pistol compared to a similarly-equipped carbine with a 16-inch barrel, he found that the precision was only slightly reduced when shooting out to 50 to 200 yards. Think in terms of silver dollar-sized groupings rather than quarter-sized groupings. Both platforms would be equally effective within these ranges. It pains me the recall that both firearms were subsequently lost in a tragic boating accident along with the milling machine used to build them.

    1. Remember there will be lower initial velocity with the 10.5 versus a 16″ barrel. 75 meters is about where the 10.5 will no longer be traveling at rifle velocity compared to a 16 or even a 20. This is an important factor many people fail to note. I have a 11.5 SBR and love it personally. I also run a 16, that I can hit steel at 600 meters with, but the round is only traveling at about 800 feet per second on impact. It will still hurt like H*ll and even kill, but the wound channel would be like a .22lr fired from a pistol. Bottom line is know the operational parameters of your chosen weapon and be able to run a different weapon’s platform if the situation warrants it.

  5. Great article…

    Recently, Matt Bracken has mentioned carry options for small carbines.

    I have noticed of late, a lot of local LE seem to be acquiring Sig or Brn, AR-180 type 5.56 or 300 BLK carbines and pistols, with folding stocks.

    Lately, there has been a lot of thefts of firearms from local vehicles, so you want to remove them at the end of the day in an inconspicuous manner.

    After decades of having my M1A in the vehicle, it has become obvious that it was just too big & deployment time was too long.

    So, I went with a PSA AK with folding stock, [very nice] which I can take to and from the vehicle in its bag, without attracting too much attention.

    Pistols are great, but when the going gets tough and if you have the opportunity, of upgrading to something that is more accurate, powerful, and with more standard rounds, you should do so. Especially when confronted with large groups of well armed, armored, and coordinated attackers.

    I took the advice from some previous posts to add a couple of smoke devices to buy some time,

    1. My son built me a 10.5″ AR from Palmetto State–its what I take with me each day in a backpack. I can hit an 8″ plate from 300 yards with iron sights, standing, unsupported. Its not that I’m a great shooter-I’m older and eyes are failing. Its just that we properly zeroed, and the weapon system is very accurate. Don’t sell the AR short in PDW configuration(pun intended).

  6. Timely article, for sure. A short M14 is always with me in the truck tool box, but I’ve found that a 14″ shotgun like the Remington TAC-14 or Mossberg Shockwave to be quite handy in the cab of a car or pickup. As we see in Kenosha, one need not engage more than a few idiots before the others lose interest in direct contact. The only problem with the shotgun is a lack of continuity of fire. So the compact AR fills in when I have to drive downtown. Hearing protection rides on the front seat just in case. Turning loose 55,000 psi in the cab will prove most annoying. Also avoid shooting through glass, as the powdered, aerosolized particles will get into eyes and lungs. You may have no choice. An N95 might be a good idea if you think you may have a fight on your hands and you’re in a vehicle.
    Stick with the vehicle….being on foot during a riot is undesirable. Do not stop. If you have a choice between a pickup and a low profile vehicle when traveling in suspect areas, take the truck. Mass and ground clearance are your friend. A moving vehicle stops pistol bullets and buckshot pretty well. 5.56 bullets do not pass through vehicle doors very often, but are dangerous through auto glass.
    In my own testing, 55 grain soft points could slam through a windshield and nearly make it through 1/4″ mild steel plate positioned in the front seat. .45 ACP ball didn’t make the slightest dent on the same plate fired from point blank range. So the 5.56/windshield example would be a problem to you. Keep your head low to take advantage of the protection the body provides.
    Non-attendance is preferable to all of the above!

  7. Very important article. The PDW is a far better option than a handgun, if one can manage it. AKs with folding stocks and short barrels are the most cost-effective, and it can be apart of what you have standardized on, or not. It is not the razor that gets you, it is the blades, and at this time and in other words, the price and availability of ammunition can determine what is a sensible choice. 20 round mags make the AK folder appreciably more compact, and additional 10 or 20 round mags will fit better in clothing pockets. Many 5 round mags can be converted to 10 rounders by replacing the follower.

    Folding stocks make the AK more versatile, but I would not using a folding stock on a MBR (Main Battle Rifle) as the mechanism that attaches folding stock are either weak, or the design may not provide a good cheek weld. A folder that is broken, bent, or wobbly greatly degrades the effectiveness of a rifle. ‘Spray and pray’ techniques from the hip, or otherwise, is not effective fire. Lightweight and compact are all the rage, however in a long term real world situation that last years, the heavier and sturdier rifle will outlast the ‘high speed, low drag’ gear. That said, Palmetto State Armory offers a folder that can be fired when the stock is folded. It is similar in appearance to what Arsenal offered in the old SL107, a good design I once owned. However, I would rather convert a standard stock configuration into a folder so that in the event it had to be pressed into service as an MBR, the original hardwood stock could be reattached. Another advantage to the AK as a choice, is that it can sit in the trunk or behind the seat for years, and still function reliably. I would not try that with an AR or another action that is not proven out in this way. I’ve had to do maintenance on two AR-15, and one AR-10 that were stored in vehicles for a prolonged time that were unable to cycle due to a lack of lubrication. When ‘out of sight and out of mind’, it is easy to forget to do the maintenance, and that, as they found out the hard way in the sandbox, cost transportation personnel their lives when their neglected ARs stored in the vehicle unused failed.

    Pistol cartridges in a rifle make the package make it lighter and more compact. However, I’d rather have the stopping power of a rifle cartridge if I can get it. Let the situation dictate the best choice for the individual, but keep in mind the significant compromises made.

  8. Great primer on what to consider. For those that are inclined to go through the effort you should add silencers under accessories. It will help reduce muzzle blast but really starts to shine with a subsonic round like 300 blackout or 45 acp

  9. I’ve been considering a Glock 10mm with the MCK, just wondering if anyone has had any experience with this set up, looks like it might make a good PDW for close range. Any comments appreciated, since I haven’t gone this route yet. Trekker Out

  10. One idea if you already carry a Glock concealed, is to pick up a CAA Roni chassis and keep that in your vehicle. The Ronis fold down small enough to store pretty handily and if it’s stolen, it’s not a firearm. It also allows you versatility to continue carrying concealed, but switch to a carbine configuration should the need arise. You could put a flashlight or laser and a zeroed cheap red dot (like a romeo5) on it and have it ready to go at a moment’s notice.

    For me the Roni has effectively increased the range and accuracy of 9mm shots from around 50 feet to more like 50 yards.

    On a side note, another company now makes a locking mechanism that bolts an AR to a metal plate under the back seat of most trucks (Ford, Chevy, Dodge) which make them very hard to steal and also conceal them pretty darn well.

  11. Great article. Interesting comments. I observed many configurations each of several different weapons during 24 months in Iraq. Some from the Brits. No one should sell the .223 short. With proper bullet choices it is accurate and devastating.
    I’ve always loved the M14. But you can get unbelievable .308 accuracy from several Savage bolt rifles.

  12. Good PDW ideas in this article . I own a Keltec sub2000 and a built 10.5 inch barreled AR with SB pistol brace. Vortex Sparc red dot and WML complete the weapon. Handy. Also accurate and functions reliably. Also just acquired a Ruger 10/22 Charger pistol and ordered a SB FS1913 brave which makes a really compact system for a light day pack sort of gun that you can plink with out on the trail without blasting the countryside with 5.56 decibels or even 9mm banging. Cheaper to shoot also and with CCI Stingers not to be underestimated by even ANTIFA agitators, if they become hostile by your mere presence.

  13. I would like to point out that 300 Blackout achieves full powder burn at 9 inches of barrel length.

    5.56 achieves it at 20 inches.

    5.56 short barrels = flame throwers

    The 110 grain tipped tsx lead free ammo will expand fully out to 300 yards… out of a 9 inch barrel.

    The 200 grain subsonic ammo is capable of penetrating 1 inch bulletproof glass WITHOUT DEFLECTION at 100 yards.

    There’s no such thing as a magic bullet, but we’re getting close.

    Noveske has recorded 1000 yard hits with a 10 inch 300 ball upper, albeit with poor energy transfer.

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