The Home Defense Carbine
Discussions about the best firearm for any purpose are sure to cause heated arguments around the gun store counter. I believe that an AR-15 carbine is one of the best possible choices for home defense: defending yourself and your family from a violent intruder in your home. We are not talking about concealed carry, breaching doors, or counter-sniper operations. We are talking about average citizens protecting themselves from harm within their homes. Here are some reasons why I think an AR-15 carbine is the best choice for home defense for most people:
An AR-15 Carbine is better than a phone.
I don’t like those bumper stickers that show an image of a pistol and the words, “I don’t dial 911.” They project an image to the public of firearm owners as outlaw vigilantes who care nothing for the law. If at all possible, call 911 anytime you are faced with a violent threat, and make sure you have the means to keep yourself alive until the police arrive.
By the way, we don’t shoot people for walking across our lawn, for stealing the stereo out of our car, or even for stealing our car (so long as there are no family members inside). We call the police in those cases and let them sort it out. We use deadly force (usually just the threat of deadly force is sufficient) only to protect ourselves and those close to us from the threat of serious harm.
The advantages of an Ar-15 carbine over a phone:
A phone sends the police racing to your home within minutes to draw artistic chalk lines around a body.
An AR-15 sends a .223 bullet racing at 2,750 feet per second to decide who’s body gets outlined.
An AR-15 carbine is better than a pistol.
Pistols are the great equalizers. They allow the average law-abiding citizen to defend himself or herself from violent criminals. A small woman in a wheelchair can defeat a large male criminal, who sees her only as prey, if she is armed with a pistol. Across the country citizens and governments are recognizing the benefits of an armed, law-abiding citizenry and most states recognize their citizen’s right to cary pistols in their daily lives. But is your carry pistol the best choice for defending your home?
Many of the advantages that make pistols ideal for concealed carry are also disadvantages. Even expert pistol shooters tend to shoot rifles more accurately. In your home, business, or vehicle (in those locations where vehicle carry is legal) you are not confined to a small, light, concealable weapon. An AR-15 rifle is easier to manipulate under stress than many pistols. Contrary to popular belief, the right 5.56 or .223 bullet from a carbine or rifle hits harder and does more damage than most pistol cartridges are capable of doing. Also contrary to gunstore counter mythology, the proper 5.56/.223 bullet will tend to fragment from hitting building walls, often beginning to fragment after hitting the first drywall wall. Even if fragmentation does not take place, it looses velocity and lethality quickly. Pistol bullets, on the other hand, are much more stable and will often penetrate several walls and nearby buildings. This is one of the reasons law enforcement agencies are increasingly transitioning from pistol-caliber submachine guns or carbines to AR-15 carbines in 5.56 mm. Don’t expect the designer frangible-type pistol cartridges to do much better. Their penetration is insuficient for effective self-defense, and tests show that some tend to crimp and do not fragment at all when they hit drywall. If pistols were truly better for home defense because they are smaller and more maneuverable, we would see our troops slinging their carbines and using side-arms to clear buildings.
The advantages of an AR-15 Carbine over a pistol:
Easier to shoot accurately
Easier to manipulate under stress
More effective cartridge for stopping violent criminals
Easier to mount optics, lasers, and lights
Less chance of overpenetration of target or walls. Fragments that do totally penetrate the target tend to be less dangerous.
An AR-15 carbine is better than a shotgun.
This is where the debate really heats up. You’ve heard all the arguments in favor of shotguns: You don’t even have to aim – anything in the general vicinity will be hit. All you have to do is rack it and criminals make a run for it. Everyone knows that the ultimate home defense weapon is a twelve-gage shotgun, right? Maybe not. A twelve-gage shotgun is an awesome weapon, a favorite of law enforcement, and is experiencing a major comeback in modern combat use.
We are not talking about combat use here, though. We are talking about you in your house in your pajamas, an armed intruder across a room from you, and your children in the bunk bed behind him. Can you get all of that buckshot into the intruder, or will some go past? What is on the other side of the wall? What if he has his arm around your husband’s throat? If this sounds unrealistic to you, read the Armed Citizen column in your back-issues of American Rifleman magazine and see how many home invasions involve an intruder grabbing or struggling with a family member. Shotguns are usually longer than AR-15 carbines. They shoot a pattern instead of a single, precise projectile. All mythology aside, a shotgun has to be aimed to be effective. One hit from a .223 projectile can often cause incapacitation quicker than a hit from several buckshot pellets. Recoil can be a factor to consider for children and for smaller or less experienced adults. Recoil also slows subsequent shots.
Advantages of the AR-15 carbine over a shotgun:
Generally shorter and lighter
Higher magazine capacity
Quicker and easier to load/reload
Easier to carry extra ammo
Easier to handle, especially for children
Fires a single, accurate, and effective projectile.
Lower recoil for faster followup shots.
Safer in situations in which a violent intruder is in close proximity to a family member
What you need to defend your family with an AR-15
1. Good firearm safety training
Guys, just because you are a man doesn’t mean you know everything about firearms. Make sure you get good safety training. We need to be trained to safely use any piece of equipment. I grew up around construction. My father was an explosives engineer. Occasionally I would hear of a bad construction related injury, but they were surprisingly rare. Later I spent two years in a farming area. I was shocked by the frequency of horrific injuries and deaths that were easily avoidable. Many of these farmers were being maimed and killed by equipment they had operated for a lifetime. The difference? Construction workers received safety training. Firearm safety is not something to learn from Uncle Bob over some beers in the local bar. Find a professional and get proper training.
2. A Good AR-15 Carbine
You don’t need the Uber-Geergeek branded, registered short-barreled rifle, gas-piston system, $3,000 AR-15. In fact, our recommendation is to keep it as simple as possible. Definitely don’t spend money on unnecessary features and accessories. Here is where to start:
Get a basic, quality, AR-15 carbine. There are many manufacturers who sell good quality carbines. The truth in the AR-15 world is that many manufacturers are assemblers who assemble parts made by other companies. As a result, the differences between some manufacturer’s rifles are little more than the logo on the side of the receiver. Some companies to check out are Charles Daly Defense, CMMG, Del-Ton, DPMS (Panther Arms), Rock River Arms, Spike’s Tactical, and Stag Arms. All of these companies offer very good quality and reasonable pricing. We have seen great customer service and support from all of these companies.
Get a carbine with a flat top upper receiver (just a rail on top, no carry handle). This gives more flexibility in the mounting of optics than an upper with a carry handle.
The barrel can be 16 inches, or 14.5 if the right flash hider is permanently attached. The barrel does not need to be chrome lined, and the M4 barrel profile is not necessary, but can save weight if desired. A 1/9 rifling twist rate is OK, but a 1/8 or 1/7 is best for the most effective bullets.
Use a collapsible buttstock of you need it, or a fixed buttstock if you prefer it. Normal people probably don’t wear body armor to bed most nights, so many do not have need for a collapsible stock. Others have children who would benefit from a shorter length of pull, or a wife who shoots better with a shorter stock. A collapsible stock allows one weapon to be comfortable for several members of the family. Price is similar for a basic collapsible buttstock and a basic fixed buttstock. Cavalry Arms manufactures A1-length fixed buttstocks, which is a good length for close-quarters self-defense shooting. Cav Arms also manufactures polymer (similar to the material that Glocks are made from) MkII lower receivers. With many parts combined into one molded piece, the Cavalry Arms MkII receiver drops a pound of weight from the rifle and saves a considerable amount of money as well.
Standard M4 handguards are fine, but it is nice to have a couple rails to mount lights or lasers. The least expensive way to add rails is to use small rails that mount to the standard M4 handguards. A much more elegant solution is the FGR-3 handguards from The Mako Group/FAB Defense. The FGR-3 handguards are a drop-in replacement for the factory M4/AR-15 carbine handguards. Built of heavy-duty reinforced polymer, they index solidly with the barrel nut to prevent movement. They include three built-in rails. There are also several lightweight aluminum rail systems that are reasonably priced drop-in replacements for the factory handguards, such as the MD-QR1. The MD-QR1 also indexes to the barrel nut for a very secure fit. There are many other good handguard options at an increasing price levels ranging from reasonable to spectacularly expensive. Most shooters should be able find what works for them at a price they can afford. Just remember that it if is really cheap, there is probably a reason. Don’t put junk on a weapon that your life may depend on.
3. Good Magazines
The magazine is often the weakest link in a weapon system. Make sure you have quality magazines, and test them for function. I recommend one set of magazines for serious use and another set for training, since the training range time will beat up magazines. If you experience function problems with a particular magazine, mark it and use it for training. I never try to adjust a magazine that is not working for any serious use; once it fails to work properly, I never want to trust my life to it.
I like C-Product’s stainless steel magazines. They are very affordable and are very well made. They draw smoothly from pouches. C-Products magazines have self-leveling followers for more reliable function. I have always been partial to 20 round magazines, and C-Product’s makes a very nice stainless steel 20 round magazine as well.
Remember that magazines are an expendable item. Magazines can deteriorate slowly with use, or suddenly due to damage. Keep track of your mags and test them periodically for function.
I also recommend a bandoleer to carry magazines in. A bandoleer can be thrown over your shoulder whatever your state of dress (or undress). A couple pockets can hold magazines and another pocket could be used to carry some first aid dressings or anything else that may be useful.
4. A Good Optic
Remember that rail on top of your upper? Put a reflex optic on it. Whether you use an Aimpoint, an EOTech, or a less expensive red dot optic, once you use it you will amazed at the speed of your target acquisition. Just don’t go too cheap; it needs to work when you need it to. Expect to pay at least $175. $300 to $400 will get you into the best quality. Look for a sight with long battery life for those times the sight gets left on. A good economically priced option is Millett’s Zoom Dot optic. Check your batteries periodically and replace them before they go dead.
5. A Good Light
I trained a lot in the dark. When it was dark, I wanted to be dark. To my mind, illumination served no purpose except to turn me into a target. Then I trained with a tactical light and I saw the light – I realized how valuable a light was when properly employed. To a citizen defending his or her family in the home, a weapon mounted light is a necessity. Imagine the following scenario:
It’s three a.m. and your neighbor down the street, totally inebriated, is clumsily extricating himself from a taxi. A dog barks somewhere in the distance, but otherwise all is quiet and your sleep is undisturbed. Suddenly your eyes are open and you stare into the dark, wondering why you are awake. Then you hear it again – a strange noise from the living room. Silently you pick up your AR-15 and slide a bandoleer over your shoulder. Good tactical sense would require you to remain stationary, alert the police, and wait for the threat to approach your position. Instead, you follow your impulse as your instinctive urge to investigate overcomes good judgement. You are moving through the dark hallway when you catch sight of a dark shape standing in the middle of your living room. Faint light from your open front door imperfectly illuminates the scene and you realize that you had forgotten to lock the door. Suddenly the dark form lurches menacingly toward you and, almost automatically, the glowing dot of your sight centers on the shape before disappearing in the illumination of two bright flashes. As your vision comes back you can see a dark heap on the floor. Your hearing returns and you become aware of a ringing in your ears from the shots you fired. You reach for the light switch . . .
When that light comes on, what will you find? A dead, armed intruder? A homeless person hoping to score a quick meal from your kitchen? A narcotics officer executing a no-knock warrant on a wrong address? One of the fundamental rules of firearm safety is to identify your target before firing. Lets make a small change to this scenario:
. . . you catch sight of a dark shape standing in the middle of your living room. You immediately center the glowing reticle of your sight on the dark form and press a switch as you aggressively order the intruder to the floor. The scene is instantly flooded with bright white light. There, swaying drunkenly as he attempts to escape the blinding light, staggers your intoxicated neighbor. As you assist him back to his own home, you manage to determine from his ramblings that the cab dropped him off in front of the wrong house. Finding the door open, he mistakenly entered your home, where you found him wondering what had happened to his living room. You return him safely to the care of his embarrassed wife and return home, thankful that you spent the money for your SureFire light.
Years ago, a pastor in a nearby town was seeing his church repeatedly vandalized. One evening he heard a sound in the church basement and went down to investigate. The lights were off, but he could see someone in the basement who told the pastor that he was armed. The intruder moved toward the pastor in the dark and the pastor fired at him, killing him. When the police arrived, it was determined that the young man was not armed and had actually been retreating from this pastor. The bullets had entered his back. This pastor narrowly avoided a murder conviction. He should have called the police instead of investigating the break-in himself, but if he had at least had a light, he could have avoided killing an unarmed young man, and all of the legal problems and community outrage that resulted.
The Surefire G2 lights are well made, reliable, and inexpensive. They fit in most light mounts that are designed to hold 1″ lights. LED versions tend to be a bit more expensive, but have an advantage in battery run time. For those who want something with an aluminum body, the Speedlight and Speedlight 6v are great option for compact LED tactical lights. The light cam be mounted to a rail using a mount such as the PLS-1, or incorporated into a foregrip such as the T-Grip or T-GripR. For those who may use their carbines in other roles in addition to self-defense in the home, the T-PodSL combines vertical foregrip, bipod, and the Speedlight LED light into one compact accessory.
6. Good Ammunition
One of the keys to using a firearm in a self-defense role is to choose ammunition that gives you the greatest chance of success. Determining this is a very difficult process, which none of us can afford to do ourselves. Fortunately, there are organizations that take the performance of their ammo very seriously and have made the determination for us. We simply need to determine who we can trust to help us make the best decision.
Internet forums are a poor place to go for this kind of information. The forums are filled with self-proclaimed experts clamoring for their bit of fame. Some on the forums will give sound advice, others are totally wrong, and very loud about it. Ammunition manufacturers are trying to sell you their ammunition, and gun magazine writers are paid by the manufacturers. Don’t be too quick to take their claims as gospel. The guy behind the counter at your local gun store may or may not be a good source of information (many, if not most, are not). I am constantly amazed by what our customers are told by the gun shop gurus. One of our customers was sold light hollow point ammo for his new .44 magnum revolver recently. He was told by the gun store owner that it was the best choice for bear protection. Another customer went to a well-known gun store to purchase .270 Winchester ammunition. The guy working the counter said they didn’t have any, but his supervisor interrupted. Our customer listened in astonishment as the supervisor told him to buy .30-06 ammo instead. “.270 is based on .30-06,” he said, “so it will chamber if you slam the bolt really hard. Then, when you shoot it, it squeezes down to a .270.” Right. I bet he has some great marriage counseling for you, too.
(Never use any ammunition in any firearm that was not specifically designed to chamber that ammunition. This applies to one of the most misunderstood aspects of shooting AR-15s. 5.56 mm not .223 Remington. You may shoot .223 in a weapon chambered for 5.56, but never fire 5.56 ammunition from a weapon chambered for .223 Rem. Ignore the rumors and trust me on this one.)
The special operations personnel in the US military have been using the Mk 262 ammunition from Black Hills Ammunition with great success. This ammunition uses the 77 gr. Sierra MatchKing open-tip boat-tail bullet, and is a match load. It delivers excellent long-range performance, and at close range fragments early and violently for excellent terminal ballistics. Black Hills offers a civilian version of this load that is is as close as possible to the military version, but is safe for .223 Rem chambers. Price is very reasonable. This cartridge is my choice for almost any use in an AR-15, from home defense or hunting to long-range shooting. A 1/8 0r 1/7 twist is best for this bullet, but a 1/9 twist will work if necessary for close to medium range work.
I always recommend factory ammo for self-defense use. If you wish to use handloads, use your own carefully loaded and tested loads. Don’t be too quick to trust your buddy’s reloads for serious use.
7. A Good Plan
Sit down and work out a plan for defending yourself in your home. In a building, the person who is stationary has the advantage. The best tactic is usually to allow the intruder to come to you. What you want to do is to determine the best position to take as you alert the police and wait for them to arrive. This may mean that you will have to make a move to another room if you have small children in a different location in the house. Whatever your plan, practice it in advance with your family so that you will not find yourself unprepared.
The Home Defense Carbine Checklist
Basic equipment we recommend to effectively defend your family with a carbine.
• A flat-top AR-15 carbine from a reputable manufacturer.
Collapsible stock (if the ability to change length of pull is important)
• Quality reflex optic
• Good magazines
• Bandolier to carry magazines
• Tactical light with weapon mount
An AR-15 carbine is among the best weapons available. We feel it is the best choice for most. It is hard to get a comparable carbine for less money, and most will cost far more. If you can afford an FN FS2000, go for it, but most will find the AR-15 far more affordable.
We generally do not recommend an AK-47 or AK-74 style rifle for this purpose. Controls are archaic, they are less comfortable to shoot, and often more expensive to set up for mounting optics and accessories. The exception could be the Galil rifles, but even the Galil was an interim weapon that filled a gap for the IDF until they could be replaced with M16s and M4s. The currently available Galil rifles approach the price range of an AR-15.
There are SKS rifles everywhere in the US. While safety manipulation is better than the AK-47, there are other disadvantages with the SKS. Like the AK-47, it can, with practice, be used effectively despite these disadvantages.
The SA vz. 58 carbines are cool little carbines that are very lightweight and well-made. The controls are more modern than the AK-47.
The M1 Carbine is an effective little carbine that is especially easy for both children and adults to handle. This weapon has pretty intuitive controls. The sense of history felt when holding one is unbeatable. The M1 carbine’s terminal ballistics received a poor reputation from writers who compared it to the .30-06 M1 Garand rifle. In reality, it is very effective for the role it was designed for: close-in fighting. (German troops in WWII captured and used them whenever they could also capture sufficient ammo, while they discarded the Garand.)
Kel-Tec currently builds light, polymer-based .223 carbines. They are a bit rough, but have a reputation for going bang whenever the trigger is squeezed.
The 1866, 1873, and 1892 Winchesters and similar carbines are the original home defense carbines. They aren’t black, they aren’t covered with rails, but they have been used to effectively defend families from harm for a century and a half. The point? Get an AR-15 carbine if you can. If you can’t afford one right now, use what you have or what you can afford. If you don’t like the AR-15, get something you like. Make sure you are proficient with any weapon you plan to use.
While we recommend the AR-15 platform, many people already have another type of carbine that they will use in this role. We will be posting articles soon about upgrading and modernizing many of these weapons.