May 11, 2023
The newest product from Springfield Armory is something that, honestly, I’m surprised it’s taken them this long to introduce—a 9mm AR. The Springfield Armory Saint Victor 9mm is currently only available in carbine form, but if this AR arm brace thing gets settled anywhere close to in accordance with the Constitution, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them, sooner rather than later, introducing a pistol version, as the 9mm cartridge is maximized for velocity out of a nine-inch barrel or so. Springfield’s Victor line was introduced a few years ago and features a few upgrades from base-level ARs. This is a 16-inch barreled carbine with an adjustable stock, and is fed by Colt-pattern magazines, which might be a surprise to many people.
Why Colt-pattern magazines when everyone these days seems to be making 9mm ARs that feed from Glock magazines? Just because something is popular, doesn’t mean it’s better. There is no one Glock-magazine-fed-pattern 9mm AR, no standard; every company making one seems to do things a little differently. The original 9mm AR conversion was by Colt, back in the 1980s. Not only does it work, it’s been proven over the better part of 35 years in semi-auto carbines and full-auto SMGs. Generally, the only difference you’ll find in Colt-pattern 9mm ARs is whether it has a dedicated magazine well, or (like Colt) features an insert pinned in place inside a standard .223 mag well. The Saint Victor features a dedicated 9mm lower receiver, the magazine well reduced in profile externally to the stick magazine.
This is what the folks at Springfield Armory told me:
1. Our testing revealed that the Colt stick mags were much more reliable in this PCC platform.
2. We wanted to have a purpose made carbine mag rather than a repurposed pistol mag.
3. Colt pattern mags are readily available, low cost, and the most reliable in a PCC configuration like our PCC. We essentially sought to optimize the PCC platform, so we wanted to make sure the magazine we chose to feed the gun with was optimized for this platform, and the Colt-pattern mags rose to the top in our testing (plus we felt it’s more aesthetically pleasing than a swept-back pistol magazine).
Unlike the gas impingement operated AR-15, the Saint Victor 9mm (and most 9mm ARs) features a direct blowback operating system. For some backstory on Colt’s development of this original design, check out the History section of this article, as it’s pretty interesting. The Saint Victor 9mm sports a 16-inch chromemoly vanadium barrel that is Melonited inside and out for durability and corrosion resistance. The barrel has a 1:10 twist and because this is a blowback gun, there is no gas system or gas block.
The barrel free floats inside a 15-inch handguard of Springfield’s own design, with M-LOK attachment slots every 45 degrees around the circumference. While there is a section of rail at the end of the handguard, and where it mates with the upper receiver, for most of its length the top of the handguard is slick to both keep it slim and help keep the weight down.
The muzzle device is a blast diverter. This is made out of steel, for longevity, and features ports in the front to send all expanding gases forward, and nothing to the side. Interestingly, the diverter slips over and encloses the end of the barrel—the barrel extends to within half an inch or so of the end of the blast diverter. The muzzle is threaded 1/2x28 if you want to swap it out. This is the standard threading for .223/5.56 ARs, so if you do opt to buy a new muzzle device make sure it is for 9mm, so you don’t thread something with a tiny .223 hole atop this barrel with a .355 bore…. I do find it interesting that Springfield chose a blast diverter as their muzzle device.
When it comes to shooting 9mm out of a rifle-length barrel, you will get little to no flash, even with the dirtiest ammo, so a flash hider would be more of an affectation than anything. A muzzle brake will provide some recoil attenuation, depending on the cartridge, but it will also make the gun a little bit louder. A blast diverter will do nothing to reduce recoil, but it will make the gun noticeably quieter to the shooter. Considering I think a pistol caliber carbine is the best choice for home defense for everybody, I think a blast diverter is a great choice for a gun that might be used in that role.
A brief aside on that—why do I think PCCs (or pistol-caliber “large format” pistols, PCPs) are the best choice for home defense, no matter your skill level or body type? A combination of reasons. Nothing hits harder than a shotgun, but they are long and awkward for indoor work, loud, have serious recoil, and low capacity. Handguns are maneuverable, but the single toughest type of firearm to shoot fast and accurately. Rifles hit hard, but if you shoot one indoors without hearing protection you are almost guaranteed permanent hearing loss. PCCs and PCPs are easy to aim, low recoiling, hold 30+ rounds, quieter than any of the above firearms, and hit a bit harder than pistols because of the longer barrel. Their only downside is their inability to defeat soft body armor.
While pistol caliber carbines are currently very popular, they are nothing new. The pistol caliber carbine concept has been around for 150 years. Think lever actions chambered in the same caliber as the revolver at your waist, say .45 Colt or .44-40. These cartridges usually get a velocity boost when first out of the longer barrel, but the main advantage to firing them out of a larger package is the increased practical accuracy. While a carbine may be no mechanically accurate than a long-barreled revolver if both are locked in a vise, most people can shoot shoulder-mounted guns far more accurately than they can handguns.
I am far from the only person to think that every AR meant for serious use should have iron sights—for backup if nothing else, as batteries die, and scopes break. However, I doubt you can find two people who agree on the best iron sights out there. The iron sights on the Saint 9mm were designed new for Springfield’s Saint Edge series a few years ago by Leapers UTG. If their proportions look a little weird that’s because they have been designed to take up as little real estate on the rail as possible. The tradeoff is that they sit a little bit taller when folded. These are pop-up sights—press a button on the left side of the body and they pop up and lock in place.
The upper and lower receivers are traditional forged models, with “SPRINGFIELD SAINT” in subdued letters on the right side of the smaller magazine well, and the Springfield Armory crossed cannons logo on the left side. Most of the controls—charging handle, bolt release, safety selector—are traditional GI in design. The trigger, as you can see from the photos, is not. All Saint Victor rifles come equipped with Springfield’s enhanced nickel-boron coated flat single stage trigger. Generally, I don’t care for flat-faced triggers in ARs, but I like these. Trigger pull on every sample I’ve tried has been about six pounds and relatively smooth, which is not exactly match grade but still better than the average GI-style gritty trigger pull. Trigger pull on this sample had a rolling break that came in at exactly six pounds.
At the rear of the receiver you’ll see a QD sling swivel socket in the receiver end plate. I wish Springfield provided a QD socket mounted on the handguard so you didn’t have to buy an aftermarket part before being able to mount a two-point sling, but that’s a small complaint. Hidden from view inside the receiver is Springfield’s Accu-Tite tension system. This is a nylon-tipped screw that you access through the bottom of the pistol grip. When screwed in it binds on the bottom of the rear lug of the upper receiver, eliminating play between the two receivers. This should tighten up groups a tiny bit and eliminates any rattle in the receivers.
Interestingly, this carbine has no forward assist. Generally, a forward assist is used when your bolt won’t lock up inside the barrel extension—hopefully due to dirt, as opposed to the cartridge being out of spec. But for a straight blowback gun like this, with no rotating bolt, a forward assist isn’t nearly as useful. The lower receiver is purpose-built for the 9mm Colt-pattern magazines. These magazines are available in 20- and 32-round capacities, but the 32 rounders are far more common. One 32-round magazine was provided with the gun, manufactured by Metalform. And FYI—Colt never made their own 9mm magazines. They were always made by Metalform after Colt stopped using modified UZI magazines. The bolt does lock back on an empty magazine.
Inside the aluminum lower receiver, you’ll see a steel feed ramp pinned into the front, and an extended fixed ejector pinned into the back. The bolt stop is extended to reach to the follower on the smaller magazines. All of the controls of the 9mm Saint are identical to that of a standard AR-15, although this model is equipped with a 45-degree safety, instead of the standard 90-degree. The pistol grip and stock come from B5 System. The B5 Bravo stock is six-position adjustable and has numerous sling-mounting options.
Need a 9mm competition pistol to match? Check out Springfield's DS Prodigy
This carbine weighs six pounds 15 ounces empty, which might be more than you’re expecting, but in a blowback gun, when the hammer drops, you want to keep the bolt from moving backward, and opening up that chamber, until pressures have dropped to a safe level. In the 9mm AR this is done via weight—added weight in the bolt, and weight in the buffer. If you want a little more detail about the workings of this gun, now’s the time:
History of the Colt 9mm Carbine
The Colt 9mm SMG was officially the M635, and current semi-auto carbine versions are currently sold as the AR6951 (the original semi-auto carbine was released as the R6540 in the mid-late 1980s). Colt (and subsequently other manufacturers, including now Springfield Armory) have sold thousands of semi-
auto 9mm AR-pattern carbines and pistols over the last three-plus decades, and 9mm AR carbines have never been more popular. But that original Colt design…I will be the first to admit it is an odd weapon. Less of a hybrid than a chop-shop special. That stick mag sticking out the bottom of the much larger .223 mag well looks like somebody’s idea of a practical joke, or an example of garage gunsmithing.
The Colt 9mm SMG came about in the mid-1980s as a commercial venture specifically to compete against the Heckler & Koch MP5 9mm submachine gun. This was the dawning era of the SWAT team, and those teams needed specialized weapons including submachine guns. H&K MP5s were excellent weapons, but H&K wasn’t exactly easy to deal with, and MP5s weren’t cheap.
A number of agencies at the time still had some older weapons in their inventory including M1 carbines and Thompson submachine guns, but they needed something modern. Combine that with the fact that the police ranks were filled with Vietnam War veterans who had some serious time behind the M16 platform, and a 9mm SMG based on the M16 platform made perfect sense.
From a training standpoint, veterans would make an easy transition to any SMG based on the M16. The M16 was and still is considered one of the most ergonomic rifles ever made, with common sense controls. Colt’s senior engineer Henry Tatro was appointed the SMG Project leader. The original platform for the SMG prototypes was the XM177E1 carbine, a 10½-inch barreled version with a collapsible stock. The standard .223/5.56 AR/M16 is a direct gas impingement design with a rotating bolt. The 9x19mm cartridge is generally thought to be underpowered to work a “gas gun,” which is why the majority of 9mm SMGs in the world are straight blowback designs. Colt engineers did away with the rotating bolt and instead reworked the bolt carrier into the bolt.
The original Colt SMG prototypes were designed to fire from the open bolt. In “open bolt” guns, the firing pin is fixed, and the bolt stays to the rear in the receiver until the trigger is pulled. The bolt then moves forward, strips a round from the magazine, and as it enters the chamber and gets lined up with the bolt the fixed firing pin hits the primer and ignites the cartridge.
Open bolt guns are not quite as safe as closed bolt designs, and have been known to go off when dropped. Colt engineers originally constructed their prototypes with grip safeties on the rear of the pistol grip where the web of the shooter’s hand rests (very similar to what is found on the 1911). The well-known Uzi SMG also has a grip safety. The grip safety was found to add cost and complexity to the design, so it was ultimately scrapped, as was the open bolt operating system…but this caused an unforeseen problem.
The technical term for open bolt operation is “advanced primer ignition, blowback.” It uses the forward momentum of the bolt, plus the standing inertia, plus the weight of the bolt to counter the rearward force of the fired cartridge and keep the breech closed. When the Colt engineers moved from an open bolt design to a closed bolt, by eliminating the forward thrust approximately one-third of the counter recoil was eliminated. The cyclic rate jumped up to 1,200 rpm, compared to the 800–1,000 rpm of the open bolt guns. Things broke, especially hammer and trigger pins.
The standard pins were replaced by stainless steel for the 9mm to reduce breakage, but that was a stop-gap measure. Eventually Colt engineers added a lot of weight to the carrier and designed a heavier buffer to keep the cyclic rate down and reduce parts breakage. Colt designed the recoil system around the 9mm NATO round, which is slightly hotter than SAAMI specs for the 9mm Luger. However, when they started fielding samples to U.S. law enforcement, the departments began feeding the SMGs +P and +P+ ammunition, which is hotter than even the 9mm NATO cartridge. The carrier weights and buffer had to be adjusted again.
As for choosing a magazine, considering all the other problems the Colt engineers had to solve they didn’t feel like reinventing the wheel and chose to design their SMG around the well-respected Uzi magazine. The Uzi magazine is in actuality derived from the Beretta Model 38 submachine-gun series’ magazine. There is very little difference between the Uzi magazine and the Colt magazine. They use the same magazine body and feed lips. Both the body and follower are steel, and it is a double-feed design, feeding rounds into the chamber from both the left and right. The Colt magazine has a different cutout for the magazine release, and there is a raised channel at the rear of the magazine for the tab that hits the bolt stop when the follower reaches the top of the magazine. It is possible to modify Uzi magazines so they work in a Colt-pattern 9mm AR, but they won’t lock the bolt back.
The Uzi magazine of course is much smaller than the .223 magazine well of an M16, so Colt engineers developed a simple but ingenious block that could be roll-pinned in place which contained the steel feed ramp and the fixed ejector. This mag well block was originally a one-piece design, then Colt switched to a two-piece due to problems with dimensional tolerances in the magazine well itself. In 2001, Colt returned to a one-piece design which addressed previous issues, this one designed by Art Daigle. It was both less expensive and easier to manufacture. This block has a steel feed ramp located between the magazine and chamber. The steel feed ramp piece also has a lip on the bottom which prevents a magazine from being over-inserted.
Colt engineers wanted the bolt of their SMG to lock back on an empty magazine, and a functional bolt release, not only because that makes sense but also to set their weapon apart from the MP5. The biggest complaint with the MP5 is that the bolt does not lock back on an empty magazine (FYI: H&K’s response to that complaint has always been “Don’t run your magazine dry.” I’m serious.) The Colt 9mm magazine is positioned roughly in the middle of the magazine well, which means a standard bolt release isn’t long enough. The simple solution was an extended arm on the bolt catch, but to get it to work the follower of the magazine had to be redesigned to include a tab at the rear to engage the bolt stop. Colt offered 20- and 32-round magazines.
If there’s no magazine in place the quickest way to (usually) spot a 9mm M16/AR-15 is the polymer deflector at the rear of the ejection port. For years I thought this deflector was to keep the brass out of the shooter’s face, but in fact it is designed to keep the gas out of the shooter’s face. Blowback guns tend to spray a lot of gas out of the ejection port. The Springfield Victor just has a standard brass deflector on the upper receiver.
While the Colt 9mm SMG was never as popular as the HK MP5, it did see a lot of use by American law enforcement agencies as well as around the world. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Colt 9mm SMG simply because it was the very first full-auto firearm I ever fired. My friend Scott and I have been friends since Reagan’s first term. We were brothers-in-law for twenty years, and are now back to just being friends. Thirty years ago, we were sharing an apartment when he got hired by the DEA. The Colt 9mm SMG was his first issued long gun, and he and I put a lot of rounds through that thing. From a steady rest we found it was easy to put all of a three-round burst into a silhouette target at 100 yards, and the recoil of a 9mm in a near six-pound gun was nothing. The only weird thing about the design is that it was often hard to tell how many rounds you had fired in a burst, between the sound of the round going off and the bang and twang of the buffer spring under your cheek.
Ironically, one of the few complaints about 9mm ARs is the increased recoil when compared to .223/5.56 guns. No, recoil of the 9mm in a six-to-seven-pound shoulder-fired gun is not bad at all, but because the 9mm is a blowback design the recoil of a 9mm is actually often heavier than that of an identical .223 gas impingement rifle. Out of a 16-inch barrel, you will see increased velocity when compared to a handgun, but how much depends on the cartridge. I’ve found rounds with lighter bullets loaded to +P pressures show the most velocity increase when fired out of longer barrels. With the right choice in ammo you can get .357 Magnum-level performance, if not better.
At the range, the Saint Victor 9mm provided no surprises. My friend Scott and I back in the day hadn’t learned the simple trick to loading Colt SMG mags, and so suffered and struggled, but I didn’t have any problems there. Whether you’re talking self-defense or fun, the 9mm AR is really meant to be a 50-yards-and-in gun, although generally, with ammunition they like, they are accurate enough to hit pie plate-sized targets out past 150 yards. I topped the Victor with a Primary Arms compact 1-8X scope for accuracy testing, but for most of my testing I used a Trijicon MRO red dot in an American Defense Mfg. QD mount. I like this optic as it eliminates the “tube effect” seen on many red dots.
Hammering steel and paper with the Saint Victor was a lot of fun. This carbine is well-balanced, not muzzle heavy at all, and I didn’t have to fight overswing when practicing transitions between targets. While I prefer a lighter trigger pull, the smooth six-pounder on this gun was eminently workable. My kids grew up shooting 9mm ARs, and I recommend this and similar guns for when you take your kids to the range shooting. It is not the low recoil that is a good selling point for these guns with new shooters, it is the lack of blast and noise—especially with a blast diverter. Even shooting indoors these guns are nearly tame, especially with standard pressure 9mmrounds—which are often starting to slow down by the time they reach the end of a 16-inch tube.
I like the Saint Victor 9mm, and had a great time with it, but in my opinion, Springfield Armory has a bit of an uphill battle with this gun. First, they are way late to the PCC game. Sure, PCCs have never been more popular, for fun, self-defense, and competition, but the market is saturated. Sales of ARs are in the toilet (that’s a technical industry term), and they can’t introduce a pistol version (which would likely be more popular) until the brace issue gets settled. Then again, people thought Springfield was late to the game when they entered the AR-15 market with the Saint, and they grew to own the largest percent of the American AR market.
Second, while I think Colt-pattern mags are as good if not a better choice for a feeding device than Glock magazines, many consumers will likely disagree. Springfield needs to argue their case to the consumer, and I don’t see them doing that. I had to email them to find out why they went with Colt mags over Glock. And, lastly, while at $1,299 the Springfield Armory Saint Victor 9mm Carbine is priced in line with many of Springfield’s other midgrade AR offerings, the market is saturated with 9mm AR carbines priced substantially lower than that. When Springfield jumped into the AR market it was with the original base model Saint, which offered a great combination of features at a price lower than that of the name-brand competition ($899 in 2016). Lower. Currently, Colt is selling their 9mm Model 6951 carbine for $1,099, $200 less than the Springfield. Sure, it’s got less features, but still, it’s a Colt, and that name is worth more to many people. Personally, I don’t think $1,299 is a competitive price for a factory 9mm carbine in today’s cutthroat, cut-rate 9mm AR environment, but I’ll be happy to be proved wrong.
Springfield Armory Saint Victor 9mm Carbine Specs
- Type: Blowback-operated, semi-automatic
- Caliber: 9mm
- Weight: 6 lbs., 15 oz.
- Overall Length: 31.75 in. (collapsed), 35 in. (extended)
- Receiver: Forged aluminum
- Barrel: 16 in., CMV, 1/10-in. twist, Melonited
- Bolt: Melonited
- Muzzle Device: SA blast diverter
- Stock: B5 Systems Bravo
- Pistol Grip: B5 Systems Type 23 P-Grip
- Handguard: 15 in. aluminum, M-LOK compatible
- Charging Handle: Standard GI
- Trigger: Flat, NiB coated, single stage, 6 lbs. (tested)
- Sights: Flip-up
- Accessories: One 32-rd. magazine, soft case, cable lock
- MSRP: $1,299
- Contact: Springfield Armory
About the Author
James Tarr is a longtime contributor to Firearms News and other firearms publications. A former police officer he is a USPSA Production Division Grand Master. He is also the author of several books, including CARNIVORE, which was featured on The O’Reilly Factor. His current best-selling novel, Dogsoldiers, is available now through Amazon.
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