A Personal Defense Weapon is anything from a 9mm pistol that you can carry concealed on your person to an AR-10 chambered in .308 and beyond: if you take the definitions of each individual word.

However, in industry parlance, the term “personal defense weapon” refers to a rather specific class of firearms, which over time has been expanded to include many weapons commonly employed by citizens for defensive needs.

In order to explain the benefits of owning such a weapon, one must know precisely what a personal defense weapon is.


What is a Personal Defense Weapon?

Like many firearms industry definitions, ambiguous terms can and usually do refer to specific types and classes of weapons.

Strictly defined, a personal defense weapon (PDW) is a select-fire magazine-fed firearm that is chambered in a small, high-velocity cartridge that usually resembled a scaled-down intermediate or battle rifle cartridge.

For professional users such as law enforcement and military, personal defense weapons are ostensibly supposed to fill the gap between a submachine gun chambered in a pistol caliber, i.e. a Heckler & Koch MP5 chambered in 9mm, and a carbine, such as a Colt or FN-manufactured M4A1 chambered in 5.56mm.

The name itself describes the specific role of the weapon – a compact and effective firearm that can be carried for personal defense. The idea is that these types of firearms would be issued to logistical and support personnel in a military organization, i.e. those men and women whose primary purpose is not to engage an enemy or a threat.

What is the Role of A Personal Defense Weapon?

Think engineers, drivers, medics, artillery/missile crews, and communications specialists. Basically the “tail” that keeps any modern military functioning and fighting. Since ideally, these personnel aren’t engaged in heavy combat, the compact size of a personal defense weapon proves to be less of a burden than a full-size carbine or battle rifle.

Because of their compact size and ballistic performance, traditional personal defense weapons have been adopted by combat troops who specialize in close-quarters fighting, tactical law enforcement units aka SWAT, and specialist roles like executive protection personnel.

Modern personal defense weapons, by the strict definition, include firearms like the FN P90 chambered in 5.7x28mm, the Heckler & Koch MP7 chambered in 4.6x30mm HK, and the Chinese QCW-05 chambered in 5.8x21mm.

H&K MP7 Personal Defense Weapon chambered in 9mm

Can Civilians Own Personal Defense Weapons?

Yes, however, as is painfully apparent to armed citizens, all these weapons are select-fire and thus heavily restricted and near-impossible for non-government users to possess. Also, as these firearms are chambered in rather hard-to-find cartridges, they can be rather expensive to own and train with.

With that in mind, several enterprising manufacturers have, over the past decade or so, introduced firearms that combine the compactness and portability of traditional personal defense weapons, with features that make them more palatable and easier to acquire for the citizen market.

Some manufacturers have simply made individual citizen-legal variants of their existing personal defense weapons.

For example, soon after the debut of the P90, FN Herstal introduced the PS90, a semi-automatic personal defense weapon, with a 16-inch barrel to ensure the firearm does not fall under the provisions of the National Firearms Act.

Of course, chambered in 5.7x28mm, the PS90 does ship with 50 or 30-round magazines, and yes, 10-round magazines for restricted states such as New York.

CMMG has recently bridged the gap with AR-styled pistols chambered in 4.6x30mm HK and 5.7x28mm, offering users the opportunity to use these exotic cartridges, in a compact platform that is immediately familiar to most American gun owners.

Along those lines, other manufacturers have taken the AR-15 platform and simply reduced it’s footprint to provide a more compact weapons system, while retaining the ubiquitous and familiar 5.56x45mm cartridge.

For example, Daniel Defense offers PDW-sized versions of their DDM4 carbine, usually shipping in a pistol configuration, but is available as a short-barreled rifle for those who wish to file the proper NFA paperwork and navigate the bureaucratic maze.

More and more, manufacturers do realize the ideal market for a personal defense weapon is the American citizen market, and they have designed and engineered accordingly.

Of course, before one makes the commitment to a personal defense weapon, one should know the benefits of owning one.

What Are the Benefits of A PDW?

Personal defense weapons, as a class of firearms, were designed to be utilized by support personnel in a modern military, i.e. those soldiers who aren’t combat troops per se, but still run the risk of encountering enemy combatants, especially in today’s warfighting environments where the lines of battle are not clear, and the threat can present itself anywhere, at any time.

In a sense, these support personnel experience a similar threat profile to what a citizen user does.

PS90 chambered in 5.7x28mm

As citizens, we’re usually not in a role as a combat soldier. We’re at our jobs, we’re at home, we’re on the go in the modern buzz of American life.

Thus, toting around a carbine or similar-sized weapon in a daily defensive role could prove to be burdensome. Especially for new gun owners, if a firearm becomes truly burdensome, they are often tempted to leave it at home and not use it at all.

A personal defense weapon fills this void, giving the citizen user plenty of firepower on tap, in a compact and portable package. Whether it’s an AR-pistol build sporting a PDW-styled brace, or something a little more exotic like the PS90, the modern PDW truly gives the citizen defender the edge.

A personal defense weapon’s compact size also lends itself to a specific advantage in close quarters use. Most of the American population lives in cities and the suburbs, where space is at a premium.

While with training, it is entirely possible to manipulate and utilize a standard-sized AR-15 rifle with a 16-inch barrel inside of the home, it can prove problematic, especially under stress. Clearing that corner could see the barrel of the rifle butting into walls and other objects, which can be hazardous and even deadly depending on the situation.

Scaling down the AR to a compact PDW-sized pistol configuration makes navigating the cramped corridors of the home and urban environment that much easier to manage, especially if one chooses to purchase a suppressor and fit it to their PDW.

Some may note that a personal defense weapon is larger than a handgun. While true, a PDW is not exceedingly larger than a handgun, and provides the advantage of a larger-framed weapon which aids in recoil management and ease of use, especially under duress. Pistols may be ubiquitous, but as compared to larger weapons, they are harder to truly master.

Along those lines, personal defense weapons also benefit from increased effectiveness at close range, especially those which are chambered in dedicated PDW cartridges such as 5.7x28mm and 4.6x30mm.

Why You Should Buy a Personal Defense Weapon

Whether the PDW is chambered in those dedicated cartridges, or traditional carbine/rifle rounds, a personal defense weapon puts increased performance in the hands of the defender, while maintaining a compact weapon size and form factor.

Though personal defense weapons got their start in the military and law enforcement sector, their benefits of compact size, increased terminal performance as compared to a handgun, and ease of use have started to endear them to the citizen sector, with more and more consumers picking PDWs as their tool of choice for defense of life, liberty, and property.