Marlin Camp 9 Carbine – A Transformation – Part 1

Way back in the mists of time (around 2005), I found a very good deal on a pistol caliber carbine – a Marlin Camp 9. It’s not as desirable amongst collectors as it’s sibling chambered in .45 ACP, but it filled a niche in my collection, and as the saying goes, “the price was right.”

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Marlin Firearms Company of North Haven, Connecticut produced the Camp Carbine from 1986 until 1999. It’s a fun shooter, with a nice trigger pull, relatively mild recoil, and at intermediate ranges, pretty accurate with the iron sights or a mounted scope. I find that the factory stock is a little uncomfortable to use, as the grip portion is very thick, making it slightly awkward for me to shoot.

It uses a direct blowback system, which adds a couple of the carbine’s drawbacks: it gets very dirty after a short amount of shooting time, and especially with the .45 ACP version, it is prone to cracking stocks if you use hotter loads. Some blogs recommend replacing the recoil spring in the .45 ACP version with a heavier one to mitigate the problem (I haven’t done this on my Camp 9). The factory recoil buffer tends to disintegrate quickly – Marlin had to replace mine within about a month of ownership. To be fair, while my carbine was new in the box when I bought it, it sat around for a number of years first. I don’t think these are the precise reasons Marlin stopped producing the rifle, but I wouldn’t doubt they were a factor.

The magazine well is forward of the trigger guard, and made of a dark gray polymer material.  As the name implies, it’s designed as a camp gun, but it was also marketed to police departments, giving them better firepower by allowing interchangeability with their service weapon. You can either use factory magazines, which can be found holding between ten to twenty rounds, or pistol magazines; S&W 59 Series for the 9mm, and most Colt 1911 Magazines for the .45 ACP (I say “most” based upon reading, I have no direct experience).

Because of the location of the magazine well, and it’s ability to accept high capacity magazines, modifications to the Camp Carbine quickly turned this rifle into an evil killing machine under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, as well as laws in several states, like the one here in Connecticut. The Connecticut Assault Weapons Ban didn’t expire in 2004, and directly mirrors the Federal one, with a couple of minor differences.

As I mentioned before, the one thing I didn’t like about my Camp Carbine was the stock – while I don’t have small hands, I find the grip to be too big, and I had to stretch my hand pretty far to reach the trigger. It’s not all that comfortable for me, but I’m pretty finicky about firearm ergonomics. In ignorance of the Connecticut AWB, I purchased an aftermarket stock for my carbine from Choate Machine and Tool, simply because it incorporated a pistol grip. The only stock  they produced at the time came with a folding stock. When I found out that I wouldn’t be able to legally add it to my carbine, I put it in the closet, hoping that at some point in the future, there would be some change to this silliness.

Late last year, I read a post about the Marlin Camp Carbine on the LiveJournal community for guns. I’d love to share the link with you, but unfortunately, it no longer exists. That’s a shame really, because it was quite an inspiration and brought me to the post I’m writing here today. I’m very glad I kept the post to come back to later. The writer, who’s name is also unfortunately lost, lives in New York, which has all the legal hurdles of Connecticut and a few more for good measure. He owns a .45 ACP version and had similar problems with the carbine’s ergonomics. The post clearly outlined the steps he took to modify his Camp Carbine, and where to find the parts.

I was inspired to revisit my plan to change out the stock on my Camp Carbine. I started checking into the details, just to make sure I wouldn’t run afoul of the law simply to improve my carbine’s ergonomics. I ordered the more robust recoil buffers that the article recommended. Because they degrade over time and the rifle is no longer made, I ordered two. While I’m not replacing the recoil spring, I’m considering buying an extra one for the same reason.

During the Federal Assault Weapon Ban, and for those of us living in Nanny States, the Holy Grail was a firearm produced before a magic date: a “pre-ban” gun. A “pre-ban” firearm is grandfathered in, can include  evil features like flash hiders, folding stocks and bayonet lugs, and can be modified in ways prohibited by the Assault Weapons Ban. In Connecticut, that magic date is September 13,1994.

Notwithstanding any provision of the general statutes, sections 53-202a to 53-202l, inclusive, shall not be construed to limit the transfer or require the registration of an assault weapon as defined in subdivision (3) or (4) of subsection (a) of section 53-202a, provided such firearm was legally manufactured prior to September 13, 1994.

For a Marlin Camp Carbine, there’s a simple formula for figuring out the year of manufacture: take the first two digits of the serial number and subtract it from 100. I found this out at work, and had to wait impatiently until I could get home and check. My hopes were soon dashed when I learned mine was manufactured in 1996. I was stymied again, and almost abandoned the project.

After some thought, I remembered a visit I made to a gunsmith over the summer. Jojo’s Gun Works in Southington, Connecticut is a great store, mostly specializing in customizing tactical-style rifles. I can’t honestly recommend them enough – the staff is friendly and knowledgeable, and my first visit, they didn’t even charge me for the work (adding a sling mount on an AR-15 – trivial for them, impossible for me without the proper tools).

While I was there, I was surprised to see a large variety of M4-style collapsible stocks on sale, un-pinned. Since installing one on a firearm in Connecticut is a felony, I asked them about it. It turns out that they set them to the customer’s specified length, and then permanently pin them in compliance with Connecticut law. I called them and asked them if they were able to do something similar for the folding stock mechanism on mine. For a mere $35, and a day or so later, I had my stock back, with the mechanism permanently locked open.

I could now legally modify my Camp Carbine.

Look for Part 2 to read about the actual transformation process.

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2 Responses to “Marlin Camp 9 Carbine – A Transformation – Part 1”

  1. Magman77 says:

    Congrats on the Camp-9. Good luck with the project. I’m sure it will be worth it. I personally own and shoot several Camp-9’s. Some with factory wood, and I also have a Choate folding stock and Choate’s new telescoping model.

    I think a 16.5 LB wolff recoil spring would be a good addition to your rifle along with the new buffer. I use the Blackjack buffer, but I know there are other brands as well. I believe you will have a reliable and long lasting carbine with these additions.

    As for hunting or defensive effectiveness it was stated in Marlin’s own literature that vs a 4″ barreled handgun standard 9mm performance in a Camp-9 was increased over 22% in velocity and 50% in energy. Very .357 ish.

    Good luck with your project.

    • Crapgame says:

      Thanks Magman.

      The project came together very nicely. I finally got good enough weather to take it to the range last weekend, and it performed flawlessly. I’m very happy to have it up and running again.

      I didn’t replace the spring, because I wasn’t having an issue with it, but I’m thinking of picking up some spares. Thanks very much for the recommendation for a replacement – I’ll be sure to grab a couple of those for future use.