Thoughts on Rifles for Home Defense--May 2017 May 24, 2017 13:05

Modern Criminal Trends

We take for granted that a man is responsible for safeguarding his home, family, and himself, but noting the ever-changing paradigm of criminal tactics and equipment, armed criminals invade private property on a daily basis in this nation as well as abroad.  The purpose of this article is to address the topic of rifles in the home as the most effective tool for single or multiple attackers, who are increasingly employing pseudo-military tactics, weapons, and strategies.  You will not be facing the masked burglar spooked out of the house upon your arrival while looking for your family jewelry box.  These are violent people who know you are home and want your property.  They also want your body and the bodies of your family for their entertainment.  They are home invaders, not simple thieves.

Per Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, a home invasion is defined as:  the crime of entering a dwelling and committing or with intent to commit a crime (as assault) while armed and while another is lawfully presentCurrent criminal practices include multiple assailants and take place both day and night.  Expect fast entry, chaos, violence, and extreme duress.  In these circumstances, a rifle is the most effective tool to thwart a home invasion. 

Advantages of a Rifle

The rifle I recommend most for home defense is a quality AR-15 chambered in 5.56 with a 16” barrel.  A standard 16” rifle with a white light attached is highly utilitarian and practical.  An AK can be used, but I would recommend one in 5.45x39 as opposed to 7.62x39 in urban settings.  Rural settings are much less densely populated and therefore an AK in 7.62x39 would be more practical, but you must still be aware of your target and what is beyond it at all times.  

Compared with a pistol, the rifle is a superior weapon for home defense.  The first advantage is magazine capacity. Many police departments in urban areas are reporting home invasions that include seven or even more aggressors.  Yes, you read that right, seven armed criminals inside of a house.   A modern, magazine-fed rifle holds between 20-30 rounds, two to three times the amount of ammunition of most pistols.  Against multiple attackers, this ammunition may be required to end hostilities.  That six-shot .357 or seven-shot 1911 doesn’t sound so great against those odds, does it?  Since it is up to the individual whether or not to obey laws that violate every aspect of natural rights, I will not even address unconstitutional states that restrict standard magazines 

Another advantage of a rifle is incapacitation.  Given a lethal hit, rifles will incapacitate attackers far more effectively than pistols.  Higher muzzle velocity, projectiles that either fragment or expand in flesh, and tissue damage mean greater damage to organs and/or the central nervous system.  There is no debate that rifle rounds are much more lethal than pistol projectiles. Emergency room data across the nation bears this out.  Most people shot with pistols live.  Most people shot with rifles die.  It’s that simple.  

Another advantage of a rifle is that of accuracy at speed.  An individual can fire faster with a rifle than with a pistol, and do so more accurately.  A rifle is fired with at least four points of contact: support hand, firing hand, cheek, and shoulder. Comparatively, a pistol is fired at best with two points of contact, firing hand and support hand.  Many incidents have proven that despite training, people resort to one-handed fire under pressure, even when the support hand is unoccupied. You want to try an experiment?  Go out to the range, set up three separate targets, and fire 3-4 rounds per target.  Only count hits to the vitals or central nervous system.  Do the course of fire with a pistol, count and tape your hits, record your time, and then do it with a rifle.  Then repeat the course of fire while moving. The rifle will be far and away more accurate and faster, without exception.  Multiple targets, at speed, where only hits count--the very conditions of a home invasion.  Then do the experiment in low light.  With the rifle, you have the ability to mount optics as well as white light, and the ability to operate the white light with both hands on the rifle. Enough said. 

The last advantage of a rifle over a pistol for home defense is the issue of over-penetration.  AR-15 rifles penetrate LESS inside of structures than pistols.  Expect pistol rounds to exit your house, even with a hit on a criminal.  Pistol rounds tend to go through people and things.    Numerous studies, including the FBI’s Firearms Training Unit at the request of the Bureau Tactical and Special Operations personnel indicate that 5.56 is far more effective on soft targets than any hollow point pistol rounds.  In addition, 5.56 exited structures LESS than pistol rounds.  That means the possibility of a round exiting a house, apartment, or condominium is minimized with 5.56 over a pistol of any serviceable caliber.  Ammunition for 5.56 rifles tends to stay put inside things.

Why Not the Shotgun?

The shotgun is a firearm that had its place in time.  It is still a versatile hunting option for deer, quail, turkey, and other game.  For self-defense, could it still be useful?  Sure, just as the revolver can still be useful.  Would either be a first choice?  Absolutely not.  Clearly better options are available in terms of accuracy, ease of manipulation, and yes, even reliability.  Shotguns have less magazine capacity, more recoil, and more difficult manipulations than a rifle.  Additionally most shotguns are pump-action, which means the shooter must use the support hand to work the action to manually extract and eject the spent shell as well as chamber a fresh one.  Doing this at speed against multiple attackers is far from ideal. I have seen dozens of students jam up their “unjammable” pump shotguns in training because they either failed to eject the spent shell or short-stroked the action.  If it doesn’t work on the square range with no stress, it will not work during a home invasion with maximum stress.  Semi-automatic rifles take that entire issue out of the equation. 

At this point someone usually says, “But they make semi-automatic shotguns too!” With semi-automatic shotguns, one must consider that not all run reliably with various brands or loads, even within the same brand of shotgun.  Of the loads that do run, over-penetration is a serious concern, even with buck shot and especially slugs.  Couple that with the price tag, and there are no real advantages of a shotgun over a rifle, only disadvantages.

I don’t want to hear, “You only gotta shoot ‘em once with the ole’ twelve gauge.”  Perpetuating myths and sabre-rattling does nothing for the individual whose life or whose family will be reaping the consequences of such folly.  To avoid over-penetration, some people have claimed to use a very light load of buck shot, or even bird shot.  One, the smaller the buck shot, the less likely you will hit the enemy’s vitals or central nervous system.  Two, if you go too small, the shell is useless.  Bird shot is for shooting rats with wings, not human beings.  It will only aggravate a criminal if you shoot him with bird shot.  With larger buck shot or slugs, you will have over-penetration.  In fact, 00 buck shot and slugs are the farthest penetrators of all, as well as having the most recoil.      


Despite decades of testing by numerous law enforcement agencies--includingthe FBI, old myths still make their rounds.  Internet commandos, gun store gurus, and self-professed gun range experts still spout off that they would never use a rifle for home defense because of over-penetration and collateral damage.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Modern ammunition such as Black Hills TSX, Federal Trophy Bonded Bear Claw, Winchester Solid Bonded Base, Black Hills MK262, and Speer Gold Dot are highly effective against armed criminals yet still generally penetrate through structures less than pistol rounds, and certainly not any more. 

You are free to choose whatever firearm you want to defend your home and loved ones.  You have literally three choices: a pistol, shotgun, or rifle.  My first choice is an AR-15/M-16 with quality ammunition.  I base this on my experience serving with the rifle in virtually every climate in the US Marine Corps, during times of chaos in law enforcement, countless studies as to the superiority of 5.56 over pistols in almost any situation, and as a professional instructor who has trained thousands of individuals from across all spectrums of careers, experience, and uniforms.  Make your decision accordingly.