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Kel-Tec SUB2000 9mm Folding Carbine for Defense and Survival

The Kel-Tec Sub-2000 is a foldable, packable, and multi-pistol mag compatible carbine, making it a great backpack survival gun.

Kel-Tec SUB2000 9mm Folding Carbine for Defense and Survival

Kel-Tec SUB2000 9mm Folding Carbine for Defense and Survival (Firearms News photo)

Aaaah, the pistol-caliber carbine, one of my favorite firearm types. With the introduction of new PCCs like the Kel-Tec Sub-2000 featured here, many shooters agree. I was always fond of submachine guns and had many through various companies I owned and operated since the 1980s. Walther MPLs, Swedish-Ks, Thompsons, UZIs, Star Z-70s, M-11/9s, MAC-10s, MP-5s, MPi-81s, STENs, M3s, a PM-12S, and the list goes on in my memories of rat-a-tat-tat, the rainbow-like glimmer of brass flying, and the smell of smokeless-powder clouds. Before my days in the firearms industry, the only legal way to own something close to a submachine gun, without going through the NFA process, was to buy a semi-auto carbine version of one. 

I remember when I got my first AR-15, in 1978, the store also had a semi-auto 1927-model Thompson. Back then, pistol-caliber carbine selections were limited, but there were a handful of others around, like the J&R Engineering M68 (reintroduced as the M80, later becoming the Wilkinson Terry Carbine), Demro Tac-1/Wasp, which was an open-bolt design, MAC-10 carbines (also open-bolt designs), and a couple of others, like the cheap imitation of a Thompson known as the Spitfire, yet another open-bolt gun.

Kel-Tec Sub-2000 folding 9mm backpack carbine
When moving through an urban environment  during a crisis, weight and size of your firearm are important factors, especially when you need to move quickly. The Kel-Tec Sub-2000 is a great choice, as it’s lightweight and compact enough to keep hidden in a small pack. (Firearms News photo)

Around 1981, IMI introduced the UZI Carbine (Model A) into the USA, through its importer Action Arms, and I had to have one. At the time, I had only seen the UZI offered as a pre-1968 imported submachine gun in a J. Curtis Earl machine-gun catalog and in a book by Ian Hogg entitled The Machine-gun. In March of that year, the whole country got a look at the mysterious-looking UZI SMG when a Secret Service agent pulled one out of a briefcase to protect a shot President Reagan from any other assassination attempts. So, for Christmas, one was under the tree. I had a lot of fun shooting it at the American Range in North Jackson, Ohio, as well on farms in the area. It was a “fun gun,” and was very accurate and extremely reliable — I wish I still had it!

Years later, I would buy and sell various UZIs, such as the pistol version, the .45 ACP model, Mini-UZI submachine gun (this was my “go-to” gun in my office at one company), carbines, and UZI submachine guns. About five years ago, I bought a Vector UZI carbine, and I enjoy it just as much as the one I had when I was young. Now, as much as I love UZI carbines, there is one big issue with them: They are heavy — about eight and a half pounds — heavier than most full-size 5.56 rifles. Don’t get me wrong, an UZI carbine can be a good self-defense firearm, but there is a more practical choice these days for a pistol-caliber carbine for a survival situation, and that choice is the Kel-Tec Sub-2000.

Kel-Tec Sub-2000 folding 9mm backpack carbine
The Sub-2000 weighs a mere four and one quarter pounds. That’s half the weight of the UZI carbine!(Firearms News photo)

I became familiar with the early version of the Sub-2000 about 20 years ago when it was known as the Sub-9. Back then, we still were under the unconstitutional 1994 domestic “assault weapons” ban (in effect from 1994–2004), whereby no semi-auto firearm with a detachable magazine could be manufactured with a folding, collapsing or telescopic stock, a bayonet lug, threaded muzzle, flash hider, etc. (if it had a pistol grip and was detachable-magazine capable).  This ban also prohibited magazines larger than 10 rounds from being manufactured for civilian sales. No military-styled semi-auto rifles were available from outside the USA either, as President George “No New Gun Laws” Bush, Sr. pushed for, and later signed, the ban on all imported “assault weapons” back in 1989, due to the Purdey shooting in California, which occurred in the month he took office. At a federal level, magazines over 10 rounds and semi-auto guns with all of the features of a modern military-styled firearm were grandfathered, so you could keep, buy, and sell them — these magazines and guns were known as “pre-ban.” (If you have read my article on the SU-16C, then you already heard all about this — the domestic “assault weapons” ban history is important to know and understand regarding this model as well.)

Newcomers to the firearm world would only have the options of buying newly made modern sporting rifles (MSRs) or had to shell out about four times the price for a “pre-ban.” For example, newly-produced AR-15s were manufactured with: a non-collapsing stock, no bayonet lug, a non-threaded barrel or with a muzzle brake welded on, and would come with a 10-round magazine — these guns were known as “post bans.” If you wanted to buy a civilian-legal/pre-ban 20- or 30-round magazine for it, the price usually started at $50, which was a little chunk of money 20 years ago — about $77 today. You were also prohibited from installing a folding or collapsing stock on a post-ban rifle, or any other feature which denoted an “assault weapon” —  doing so would have been a felony. Unfortunately, a few states, like New York and Massachusetts, enacted a ban similar to the federal one at the state level when the federal law expired in 2004. Many of us in the gun industry expected that the domestic “assault weapons” ban would be renewed in 2004, especially since president George Bush “Jr.” stated that he would sign it if it made it to his desk. Thankfully, it was not renewed on a federal level.

George Kellgren, a firearms designer for many decades and the owner and chief engineer of Kel-Tec, bypassed the unconstitutional “assault weapons” ban with his Sub-9 in 1997. (My first Kellgren-designed firearm was an Interdynamic KG-99 pistol that I acquired around 1984, and I carried his Grendel P-10 and P-12 pistols in my gun store in the late 1980s.) So, how did he bypass the 1994–2004 domestic “assault weapons” ban? He came up with a way to fold a semi-auto carbine in half so that the barrel folds away from the fire-control group. This way, it cannot fire in this compact position, but can be stored just as if it had a folding stock. In this condition, the rifle is considered to be dissembled, so traveling with this rifle also met many restrictive states’ guidelines for firearms transport. The Sub-9 could be made ready to fire in seconds, about the same time to unfold a side-folding stock. The other great feature during this restrictive period in firearms ownership was the ability of the Sub-9 to change magazine housings and use pistol magazines from either Beretta, Glock, or S&W 59-series. This was a great option in a mag-ban world, as it opened up the Sub-9 for “hi-cap” (aka standard–capacity), pre-ban magazines from multiple sources. Glock magazines were not nearly as available during that time as they are today and were very expensive in “pre-ban” form, unlike the more common Beretta 90-series and S&W 59-series at the time, which were made since the 1970s.

Sub-9 to Sub-2000

Kel-Tec Sub-2000 folding 9mm backpack carbine
The front sight is AR-15-type and adjustable for elevation, but a large screw on the sight post also allows it to be adjusted for windage. The rear peep sight is non-adjustable and is made from polymer. (Firearms News photo)

The Sub-9 is now the Sub-2000 (Gen II), and although there have been some changes with the way the magazine conversions work, as well as the stocks and handguards, the basic design is the same. Before we take a look at the Sub-2000, let’s look at the reasons why someone would want a pistol-caliber carbine. One reason is cost to shoot. At the time of this writing, the low-end price of 9mm is at 14 cents per round, while 5.56 is about 19 cents per round. Not a huge spread between them, but sometimes the difference can widen to 10 cents or more, instead of the current five-cent difference. So, price is one edge that translates to more practice and hopefully more skill with the firearm. Ease of reloading is another reason, as pistol-caliber brass does not have to be trimmed for every reload if you are using lead bullets (much less case stretching if any), and this speeds up your time getting that brass turned into ammunition. Since there is less recoil and muzzle blast from a pistol caliber, a 9mm carbine is a great way to teach beginners, the elderly, and children how to shoot with a semi-auto rifle.  For shooting and training purposes, those are three good reasons.

Safety, in a self-defense situation could be another factor, depending on the situation. If you are using a 5.56-caliber rifle as a self-defense firearm, it’s not a bad choice. However, you need to be aware of the power of a high-powered rifle in an urban area. Back in the late 1980s, and early 1990s, many departments began switching to 5.56 rifles for entries and slowly moved away from SMGs due to FBI studies showing that the 5.56x45mm, in the form of the 55-grain M193, tends to fragment when it hits heavy glass, drywall, 2x4 framing, etc. What police focused on was drywall, and what are most house walls made from? Drywall. When I attended the police academy in 1992, I heard about the “two-two-three” drywall tests, seemingly over and over. The “safer”-to-shoot in the house 5.56 rifle was one of the main reasons why departments began giving up shotguns for patrol-car use, although it would take almost two decades before this became common. The problem with the switch is that the FBI tests were with the lead-core, 55-grain 5.56, and at about the same time, shooters and police were switching to 62-grain ammunition, which does not deflect off of drywall, 2x4s, and heavy glass like the 55-grain M193, as it has much better penetration. Well, departments made the switch anyway and police sales of HK MP-5s hit rock bottom by the year 2002. Some departments also adopted the M855 which has a 62-grain bullet with a steel penetrator so all of those FBI bullet deflection studies certainly went “out the window” with that one.

Kel-Tec Sub-2000 folding 9mm backpack carbine
Pulling down on the trigger guard releases the barrel assembly so that the carbine can be folded in half. (Firearms News photo)

Using a 9mm carbine will greatly reduce a stray-bullet issue if you happen to miss the bad guy in your apartment with a round or two and give your neighbor in the apartment next door a better chance of not getting hit with a stray bullet. No guarantees, but a better chance. Also, if you were to miss with a 5.56 fired through a window screen, the 5.56 bullet will go much farther, with much more energy, than a 9mm would. I mentioned shotguns, and here is where a pistol-caliber carbine is a much better choice. In any police-related shooting, the officer is responsible for all projectiles fired. So, if an innocent bystander is shot, the officer can be held liable, depending on the situation. With a shotgun, this means that officer is responsible for all pellets, so if the shotgun is fired down a long hallway in an apartment building, and that 00-buckshot strays away from the intended target, the officer’s department can (will) be sued if, say, a stray pellet hits a child (or other innocent bystander) in another apartment, even if the officer is not held criminally responsible. This applies to you and me as well. With a pistol-caliber carbine, shots are not over-powered and can be aimed, unlike a shotgun and its stray-pellet issues. Sure, you can use slugs accurately with a shotgun, but now you are talking about using extremely over-powered projectiles for a house or apartment environment. Two more good reasons with its aiming advantage over a shotgun and over-penetrating stray-bullet issue.

You also have much better hit probability with a longarm than with a pistol, due to the stability that a shoulder stock gives. The longer barrel will definitely give you more of an edge accuracy-wise, not to mention a little increase in bullet energy. Decreased muzzle blast is a very big issue when firing indoors, where high-powered rifles and shotguns can disorient you (and cause permanent hearing loss), especially if fired in a small room, due to the effect either one would have on your eardrums. Another advantage is that pistol calibers are easier to suppress than rifle calibers. And here is yet another edge, the advantage of shooting the same ammunition as your sidearm — this could be a big one in a survival situation. Consider that single-action revolvers, chambered in .44-40, were paired up with lever-action Winchester rifles in the same caliber during the late 1800s. It has been documented that there was no cartridge that took more deer than the .44-40 handgun round, fired through rifles, during that time. Something to think about. Six quick reasons there.

So far, I have listed 11 advantages of a pistol-caliber semi-auto carbine over a shotgun or rifle-caliber semi-auto firearm. Here are some disadvantages of which I’m sure you are aware. First, you are limited to about 100 yards with a 9mm pistol-caliber carbine (PCC). Sure, you can hit and kill things out to 150 yards, but accuracy really drops off, along with muzzle energy. However, I even knew a guy who used an HK94 9mm carbine at rifle matches out to 200 yards, and he was able to hit a torso target at that distance without much of an issue except that: 1) the bullets took more than a couple of seconds to get there, 2) he was shooting at a non-moving target, and 3) he was “killing” paper, not a living thing. Is this a deal killer for a survivalist? Depends on the situation and the environment.


Kel-Tec Sub-2000 folding 9mm backpack carbine
The Sub-2000 (Gen. II) has the Multi-Mag Grip, which allows the user to switch between S&W 59-series, S&W M&P-series, SIG 226, and Beretta 90-series magazines by only swapping out the magazine catch. If you look closely, you can see “BER” in the cavity between hex screws on the magazine catch. This denotes a Beretta magazine capability. (Firearms News photo)

Second, your ability to take large or even medium-sized game is greatly reduced. A small deer can be taken down with a 9mm at 40 yards or less, but it’s not the ideal hunting round for game of this size. If you can only have one rifle, then go with a semi-auto in 5.56 which accepts detachable magazines. If you want a home-defense gun or a bug-out gun to use within an urban environment in a crisis, a PCC can be a very good choice. I will give you some extra reasons to add to the 11 already mentioned on why a PCC can have an advantage over a rifle, and these extra reasons now come directly from the Kel-Tec Sub-2000’s design.

The first unique advantage of a Kel-Tec Sub-2000 over a full-size MSR is that it can fold in half and reduce its length to only 16¼ inches. Think about that. A semi-auto rifle which is only about four inches longer than a standard ruler. This enables the Sub-2000 to fit in almost all backpacks, even small ones. Another advantage is it is dissembled in its folded position so, depending on your state’s transport laws, this feature may allow you to carry a rifle in your car uncased and next to you because it is considered to be disassembled. When I lived in Texas 20 years ago, there were gun owners I met who did not bother to get a concealed-carry license, as Texas allows rifles and shotguns to be carried or transported loaded and concealed within a vehicle — no permit needed. A few Sub-9 owners at the time purchased theirs solely for this reason, as they could carry it under the seat of their car and deploy it in a few seconds if threatened.

Another advantage is weight. I didn’t include this in the previous comparison, as many pistol-caliber carbines weigh as much as their 5.56 counterparts. The Sub-2000 weighs a mere 4¼ pounds. That’s half the weight of the UZI carbine mentioned earlier. Here is a big one, the ability to use multiple magazine designs from major gun companies. The Kel-Tec Sub-2000 Generation II has a new Multi-Mag Grip, which only requires the replacement of different magazine catches to use different magazines, so you can pair the carbine up to your favorite pistol. Those magazines are: S&W 59-series, SIG 226, S&W M&P series, and Beretta 90-series, which is the one featured in this article. Another variant of the Gen II is for Glock magazines. Either model comes in 9mm or .40 S&W. Four great reasons here, which brings the grand total of reasons to consider a Kel-Tec Sub-2000 to 15.

Kel-Tec Sub-2000 folding 9mm backpack carbine
The Kel-Tec Sub-2000 is a great gun when you want to pack light. Other great items to have or to add to your bug-out pack are: clotting agents like QuickClot, Survival Tabs micro food supply, potassium iodate or iodide to protect from radiation, micro radiation detector from 
NukAlert, pocket shortwave/world-band radio, two-way FM HAM radio, mini pocket tools by Swiss Tech, and extra lights. (Firearms News photo)

Now to shooting the Sub-2000. As I’ve stated many times, plinking at different distances on multiple targets is my favorite kind of shooting, and targets from ShootSteel make it a lot of fun. I inserted a loaded magazine of Wolf 115-gr. FMJ and pulled the bolt back. Charging this carbine isn’t difficult, despite the unorthodox location of the charging handle underneath the tube-stock area, which is also the receiver (this is “thinking out of the box” stuff). The Sub-2000 is a dream to shoot as far as the trigger is concerned for plinking — little bit of creep in the travel, a pretty nice reset, and I really like the break. Although Kel-Tec’s spec sheet states a 9½ trigger pull, mine came in at 6 pounds and 13 ounces. I own, and have owned dozens of types of semi-auto, pistol-caliber carbines including: HK94, SW-5, Sterling carbine, MK-760, a couple of M68s, Linda carbine, Feather AT-9, Beretta Cx4, Marlin Camp-9, UZI carbine, M-11/9 carbine, TNW Aero, 9mm AR-15s, 1927 Thompsons, Calico M-900, and a few more. I have to say that the Sub-2000’s trigger is in the top three of favorites on my list.

After making the bells ring downrange at varying distances within 50 yards, I dropped the empty magazine, and I checked to see if my chamber was clear. There is no bolt-catch feature, but the receiver slot for the charging handle has a space milled out so that the charging handle can be locked back, MP-40-style. The safety is also interesting in that it is set up for pushing right for fire instead of right for safe. Again, this was done with much thought, as it is in the perfect position for the thumb of your right hand to take the gun off of safe position. The “iron” sights (front is steel and the rear is plastic) line up great for hitting targets quickly and accurately. There is one issue which made shooting a bit uncomfortable at times. I did get a stinging feeling, on almost every shot, on my right cheek when it is rested on the tube receiver. I later noticed that is magnified if you have any stubble from not shaving and is a little annoying. I first thought of just putting some foam pipe insulation on it to solve the issue, but the charging handle would get in the way. Although the handguards are small, they were very comfortable for my large hands and the length of pull, set all the way collapsed, was still good for my 6'2" frame.

Doing “The Twist” with the Midwest Industries Gen 2 Sub-2000 Optic Mount

Kel-Tec Sub-2000 folding 9mm backpack carbine
The Trijicon MRO optic mounted on the Midwest Industries Gen 2 Sub-2000 Optic Mount, as seen from the rear of the Sub-2000 in the shooting position. This “thinking out of the box” optics mount allows the Sub-2000 to fold with the optic still mounted. (Firearms News photo)

After a couple hundred rounds, I attached a Bushnell Incinerate optic and really enjoyed plinking some more. I have an astigmatism and I don’t get the double-dot effect with this optic. The problem is that with the Incinerate on the Sub-2000, it can no longer fold in half. However, Midwest Industries has designed a mount, which is just as “thinking out of the box” as the Sub-2000, and addresses this issue. For its mount to work, you need to use a smaller optic, so I got a fantastic one from Trijicon. The Trijicon MRO, which stands for Miniature Rifle Optic, has more than enough brightness settings and some incredible glass. The dot color is a unique lime-green color, which I found to my liking, and it’s waterproof — nice touch for survival applications. The Midwest Industries Gen 2 Sub-2000 Optic Mount (sku # MI-G2SUB-T2) is unique, as it will rotate the optic 180 degrees out of the way so that the Sub-2000 (Gen II model only) can fold in half. This mount is worth every penny of $99 and is very high quality, like all products from this company. As you can see from the photos, the mount uses the M-LOK slots on the side of the handguard to attach, yet places the optic quite high above the barrel, but this does not make the rifle uncomfortable to shoot, although more of a chin-rest position instead of the cheek-rest position will have to be used. The good thing is that with this chin rest, most of the stinging went away when firing. Although the mount does block the built-in sights, it looks like the mount could be drilled on the front and back to make it a see-through mount.

For accuracy, I attached a Burris Fullfield 30, 4.5x-14x 42mm scope to the top of the rail. The P-rail is plastic, and I had some issues getting the mount locked down properly, as plastic is not ideal to torque a scope mount down for more precision shooting, it’s just too soft. For a low-powered scope or an optic shooting silhouettes or soup-can-sized targets at 50 or 100 yards, it’s fine.

Accuracy tests on the bench would consist of three groups of five shots per ammunition type. I also decided to factor the group sizes without the flyers, to adjust for human errors, as the use of traditional magnified rifle scopes with this firearm design isn’t actually ideal. I set up at 50 yards with ammunition from Winchester, Wolf, and Streak. Wolf is a survivalist standard, as it is well known for being inexpensive, and when you want to stockpile ammo for when the SHTF, price is a major consideration. All three groups were under three inches with the best right on at two inches. That group without the flyer measured at 1.05 inches. Not bad for inexpensive “stockpile” ammo. You can definitely hit rabbits at 50 yards with Wolf ammo out of the Sub-2000.

Kel-Tec Sub-2000 folding 9mm backpack carbine
Streak ammunition manufactured by Ammunition, Inc. is a non-flammable tracer round, which works very well. The tracer’s distance in this photo is approximately 35 yards, and is very clear at night.(Firearms News photo)

Next up was Winchester Personal Protection 147-grain JHP. My best group was 1.37 inches and the largest was just over two inches. The best group without the flyer measured in at 1.07 inches. Last on the list was unique, Streak ammunition manufactured by Ammunition, Inc. I have fired a lot of tracers over the years, but nothing that was non-flammable. Streak ammo is a chemical tracer, which activates when the round is fired, but there is absolutely no burning like a traditional tracer round. This stuff is not just a novelty, it’s pretty accurate as well. Streak 115-gr. JHP, in red tracer, produced a 1.7-inch group, and without the flyer in this group, it measured 1.06 inches. I fired the Streak ammo at night, and this stuff works!

After the bench work at 50 yards, I decided to tag some steel at 100 yards, so I set up a 12x20-inch torso target from ShootSteel and fired away with the Winchester ammo. I had no problem hitting the target while in a standing shooting position. This is a really nice carbine. Magazine reloads were fast, and all ammunition fired flawlessly with no jams, with the exception of a couple failures to eject shells with the Winchester and Streak ammo. However, I discovered that this was due to my shooting position on the bench, where I did not have a tight lockdown on the carbine and possibly because the gun was completely dry. The Sub-2000 fired flawlessly dry or lubed from a standing position — about 300 rounds fired dry and about 100 fired after lubricant was applied.

Kel-Tec Sub-2000 folding 9mm backpack carbine
The Sub-2000 field stripped and ready for cleaning. The gun automatically locks in the folded position with a spring-loaded latch located on the top of the stock. This latch locks in at the bottom front of the P-rail behind the front sight.(Firearms News photo)

Disassembly for cleaning is pretty straight forward. First, remove the magazine and pull back the charging handle to be sure that the chamber is clear. Next, push a takedown “button” of sorts on the back of the stock and hold it down (this “button” is also the buffer) and drift the stock pin out and remove the stock. (This pin is also the same one that would be removed if you wanted to adjust the stock for a longer or shorter length of pull.) Pulling the charging handle to the rear until it stops will allow you to remove it, and you will notice that the bolt has moved rearward and that the recoil spring is sticking out of the back of the receiver, remove this spring.  The bolt and bolt head will slide out of the back of the receiver/tube stock. That’s it, you are ready to clean the Sub-2000.

When I was a deputy sheriff back in the mid-1990s, we were only issued pump 12-gauge shotguns, loaded with 4-buck, as long arms for patrol work. I was responsible for about 23 .24-inch diameter lead projectiles with that load. I would have loved to have a Kel-Tec Sub-2000 paired up with my S&W 6944 pistol, and it would have fit perfectly in my briefcase. If you are looking for a very small, very lightweight, pistol-caliber carbine that can use the same magazine as your pistol, the Kel-Tec Sub-2000 can be it, especially if you want something for your bug-out pack. If you don’t have a bug-out pack, or emergency supplies, start getting them together today.

Kel-Tec Sub-2000 folding 9mm backpack carbine

Kel-Tec Sub-2000 Carbine Specs

  • Type: Blowback-operated, semiautomatic
  • Caliber: 9mm or .40S&W
  • Weight: 4.25 lbs. (unloaded)
  • Magazine Capacity: Varies by magazine
  • Overall Length: 30.5 in. 
  • Length Collapsed: 29.25 in. (stock in shortest position)
  • Barrel Length: 16.25 in., 1:10- or 1:16-in. twist
  • Trigger: 9.5 lbs. 
  • MSRP: $578-$621
  • Manufacturer: Kel-Tec

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