In the past few years, we’ve noticed that more and more people are getting into lever-action rifles. Whether it’s from some nostalgia about the old west or liking these often fun to shoot and practice rifles, lever actions seem to be having somewhat of a moment in the firearms market.
Of course, since a lot of the old lever guns shot pistol rounds, people want the same today, and thus people have been looking for a 9mm lever-action rifle. In this piece, we’re going to go over some of the historical challenges in designing and selling a commercially viable 9mm lever-acton rifle and tell you about two that currently exist. These are still rarities in the firearms market, so much so that the first version of this piece was written before we could discover any 9mm lever actions. So, we want to update this piece with the best information we have, and we sincerely thank our readers who pointed out that we had incomplete information!
Until very recently, there have not been many, if any, commercially-available lever actions in 9mm. Now, there are two: the Tombstone by POF USA, which is available in, as you might guess, the United States, and Southern Gun Company’s 9mm Under Lever. Thus, there are 9mm lever action rifles available today, but before we get to these modern designs, we want to cover some of the mechanical challenges in making a traditional 9mm lever action rifle.
Are there any 9mm Lever Action Rifles?
Yes, we found two 9mm lever actions – the Tombstone by POF-USA and one by Southern Gun Company for the UK. That being said, many people have made custom firearms over the years and so there could be other lever actions calibered in 9mm.
The first is the Tombstone 9mm by Patriot Ordinance Factory. Appearance-wise, it looks a lot like the modernized offerings by Henry and Marlin, including lots of Picatinny rail, a Magpul Stock, and a skeletonized handguard over the free-floating barrel. Where this design gets interesting in our minds is in the magazine.
Rather than the traditional magazine tube of older lever-action designs, the Tombstone feeds from proprietary box magazines: the standard model comes with a 20-round magazine, but you can also request a ten-round magazine if you live in a state that requires it.
In redesigning the magazine system from a tube to a box, there are some major benefits over older designs. First and foremost, 9mm will feed a lot better out of a box magazine than a tube considering it is a rimless cartridge. After all, 9mm was designed specifically for box magazines in pistols in the early 20th century, so trying to put them in a tube, as POF likely discovered, is very much the hard way of doing things.
Secondly, reloading with box magazines is substantially faster than feeding loose ammunition into tubes. This is, one of the main reasons that the lever-action rifle is relegated to hobby shooters and museums: militaries jumped on the idea of detachable box magazines by World War Two and have largely not looked back since then.
The POF tombstone is an excellent update of the lever action that will likely be exactly what some shooters are looking for. We admire the design, though we do wish it took an industry-standard magazine. With that said, one cannot have everything one wants all the time, and we imagine that being free to design their own magazine made the engineering work for this design at POF a lot more doable.
South Gun Company Under Lever (U.K.)
Another model that one of our readers pointed out to us comes from across the pond: Southern Gun Company’s 9mm Under Lever is one of the more clever designs that we’ve seen in recent years. It is, in effect, legally impossible for British citizens to own a semi-automatic AR15 with the blessing of the government. To get a similar-ish experience, some UK-based companies have designed and sold straight bull bolt action rifles roughly in the shape of an AR15. Of course, it would be pretty tedious to shoot since the AR’s ergonomics are not designed to be used as a bolt action.
Seeing this, Southern Gun Company has come up with an inventive solution: the 9mm Under Lever. At first glance, it looks like one of the many AR9’s on the American market, as it’s an AR that takes what appears to be Glock-style magazines. But, upon closer inspection, you’ll see that it has a lever right by the pistol grip that allows the shooter to fire much faster than the usual British straight-pulls.
In the broader context, this lever gun will fire a lot slower than a semi-automatic AR15, but this inventive rifle, which can be customized with a great deal of standard AR parts right on Southern Gun Company’s website, is an inventive solution to comply with otherwise extremely strict British gun laws.
Why Get a 9mm Lever Action Rifle?
A lever-action 9mm would likely appeal to folks who live in places where it’s legally difficult to own semi-automatic firearms, but that’s not the only reason we think it would be an interesting design. Assuming that the challenges surrounding the magazine were worked out, then a lever-action 9mm, paired with subsonic ammunition, would be an excellent suppressor host.
This is for two reasons. First, the user manually cycles the action, meaning that reliability issues from the lower relative power of subsonic ammunition would be greatly reduced. From there, the action remains closed during firing in a lever gun, meaning that most of the gas, flash, and noise, have to go through, and be tamed by, the suppressor.
Lever Action Rifle History
Lever action firearms were developed in the 1820s, and were popular around the 1870s-90s, mostly in sporting, but sometimes in military use. At the time, many people’s first firearms that would shoot a modern style of cartridge would have been a pair: a revolver and a lever-action rifle shooting the same, rimmed cartridge. This was a relatively popular combination in the expansion of the Old West and remains popular for some cowboy action shooters, as well as hunters today
The 9mm parabellum came slightly later, being invented in 1901 and gaining popularity mostly in self-loading pistols and submachine guns and, today, it is the most used pistol round on the planet.
Lever Guns Today
Most of the lever-action firearms that you’re likely to find today fall into one of two camps. Many are modern recreations of the firearms that were in popular use around the turn of the 20the century, including the chamberings that were popular at the time, such as .45-70. The important thing to recall here is that these cartridges were rimmed: the rim at the base of the cartridge made it possible to use them in revolvers, and also aided in the tubular loading mechanics present in lever-action rifles.
The other major kind of lever-action rifle you’ll see now are, in effect, contemporary interpretations of the old designs. These often have some Picatinny rail for the installation of optics, as well as threaded barrels for the attachment of a suppressor, and sometimes come with polymer stocks. These rifles are interesting and practical firearms for folks who want a rugged, reliable, and fun-to-shoot system that’s capable of serving as an awesome hunting or backpacking rifle for short to medium ranges. It’s mostly these that people are surprised that you cannot find in 9mm.
It’s important to keep in mind that firearms in the US are, first and foremost, a commodity for the companies that make them. In the contemporary era, most firearms are likely going to be of the typical AR/AK or bolt action type, or variations of the self-loading pistol. Those sorts of guns are the bread and butter of what keeps the firearms industry turning, and thus that’s where the research and development money is likely to go.
Lever-action firearms, we must admit, are more of a niche product rather than what most companies are likely to specialize in. While there is still a small market for them in the United States, you’re not likely to see too many of them where AR-15s and other semi automatic rifles are plentiful and legal.
Regardless, we’d love to play around with a lever action 9mm rifle. Lever action rifles bring back nostalgia unlike any other firearm and are just a ton of fun to shoot.
George has been an avid shooter for twenty years. He began shooting when he was gifted a Browning SA-22 for target practice. Now, as an academic, he combines his love of firearms and knowledge of history to write for firearms blogs and is still a frequent sight at the local range.