EDIT Jan 19, 2023: This article previously said that there were no 9mm lever action rifles in production. A commenter informed us about the POF-USA Tombstone & a UK variation. We have added this in the answer in the yellow box below but have left the rest of the article as it was. Let us know if you hear of any others!
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 do a little bit of educated speculating as to why you haven’t seen, and are unlikely to find, a lever-action rifle in 9mm.
Are there any 9mm Lever Action Rifles?
The only 9mm lever actions we could find is 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 others that have been lever actions calibered in 9mm.
As far as we can tell, there are two major mechanical issues in trying to make a lever-action rifle in 9mm.
The first is that the 9mm is a rimless cartridge. In most lever-action rifles, the rifle is fed from a magazine tube that runs below, and parallel to the barrel. The diameter of the tube is nearly the same as that of the cartridge, which allows them to be, in effect, stacked end to end inside of the tube without tipping, which prevents jams. Since the 9mm has no rim, we suspect the rounds would be a little more likely to tip, which could result in a jam that is extremely difficult to resolve and would likely mean disassembling the magazine tube from the front.
The best solution to this would likely be a total redesign of the firearm to feed from box magazines like most 9mm pistols, but this is unlikely given how niche lever-action rifles still are and are likely to be in the future.
Second, the fact that the 9mm parabellum is relatively short makes it difficult to line up well in the loading gates present on lever-action rifles. While this is more of an inconvenience rather than a mechanical issue that would stop the rifle from functioning, it would make it harder to use and require further redesigns.
With a lot of redesign work, it might well be possible to get a 9mm lever-action rifle that would function mechanically. Were you to do so, it would likely perform about as well as the 9mm pistol caliber carbines that are popular today, and likely with similar ammunition capacities since magazine tubes on lever-action rifles can run the length of the barrel. With that said, because pistol caliber carbines already exist, there might not be much market pressure for such a thing to exist.
If one did exist, we’d love to get a chance to shoot it. Our ideal setup on such a theoretical lever-action would be one of the new more tactical models, kitted out with a red dot sight and a silencer. Performance-wise, it would likely be accurate out to about 75 yards, and thanks to the lever-action, almost certainly suppress incredibly well with subsonic ammunition, which would cycle easily thanks to the design of the extractor which forces you to do it manually. Sadly, no such gun exists as of this writing.
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.
The Future of 9mm Lever-Action Rifles
Although we would love to shoot a 9mm lever-action rifle, 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, much of this is copies or updates of design work that has already been done, and it doesn’t necessarily make a ton of financial sense of a firearms company to make a lever-action rifle that would overcome the mechanical difficulties of the cartridge, knowing full well it would only sell to a few customers.
So, barring something highly unusual, or a custom-made firearm, we would not hold our breath on seeing a 9mm lever-action rifle.
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.