Choosing The Right Home Defense Rifle

Best Home Defense Rifle
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Choosing The Right Home Defense Rifle

It is said that the United States of America is a nation of riflemen.

This hearkens all the way back to the Revolutionary War and the years preceding it. It was during the 18th century that the rifle entered into American use, and quickly became Americas favorite type of arm.

From the Appalachians to the Rockies, from the Saratoga battlefield to Gettysburg, rifles played a crucial role in the founding, formation, and development of this nation.

Millions of hunters, soldiers, and citizens have placed their life and trust into the hands of a rifled firearm.

I think you should be among them.

Best Home Defense Rifles

Today, just like in the 1770s, millions of Americans are purchasing firearms for home defense every year.

These firearms vary in type, cartridge, and ammunition capacity. A great number of them are handguns, commonly chambered in 9mm, or .45, with the .40 S&W shrinking in popularity daily.

The .12 gauge shotgun, often the venerable Remington 870 or Mossberg 500, are also purchased and kept for home defense in large numbers.

But the largest new trend in home defense arms is the purchase of a rifle for protection.

Contrary to common belief, a rifle is hard to beat for home defense. Handgun cartridges, including the common 9mm, .40 and .45ACP rounds are notorious over penetrators.

00 Buck rounds and slugs from shotguns also easily pass through targets, walls and other barriers.

Intermediate rifle cartridges, particularly those in the .223/5.56 range and a bit higher, hit harder, but can reliably expand or tumble, often without full penetration.

This has to do with bullet velocity and muzzle energy, and the construction of the rounds you feed your rifle.

The rifle will always beat the handgun in accuracy, both close range and long-distance.

It is far easier to aim and use a rifle when your adrenaline is pumping, and you are far more likely to miss with a handgun.

Longer sight radius and superior grip give the rifle the edge here in a defensive situation.

Handguns are great. When you can’t carry a rifle.

The AR 15 for Home Defense

America’s thirst for magazine-fed, semi-automatic rifles has deepened greatly over the last decade.

This is good news for those of us who value our rights, and who own and use firearms. It is an excellent time to get into tactical rifle ownership.

Prices are at historic lows, availability at historic highs. The annual production of tactical rifles exceeds 2 million per years, it may be as high as 4 million new rifles per year depending on who you ask.

The price of a decent rifle can be less than $450, and accessories can be had for a song.

For someone seeking their first rifle, I strongly suggest you purchase an AR-15.

The reason is twofold, first, they are readily available and affordable.

The second reason is the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge can be an excellent round for home defense and is also widely available and very affordable.

In 2004, after the sunset of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, a new AR-15 often cost over $1000, and an average of 200,000 were produced annually.

Times have changed, as many as 3 million enter circulation annually and the same rifle that would have cost $1000 in 2004, now can be purchased for $400.

An AR-15 can be purchased as a complete rifle or can be built from parts.

I strongly recommend that any AR-15 you purchase or build, be built upon 7075 T6 mil-spec upper and lower receivers, with a mil-spec buffer tube.

Your rifle's bolt carrier group should be made from 158 Carpenter Steel that is chrome lined at the least.

Your gas key should be properly staked (bolted) to the bolt and should also be chrome lined. A good bolt will last between 10,000-20,000 rounds.

Most of the well-known companies out there put quality bolts in their rifles, and this is one area you don’t want to shy away from to save a few bucks.

Your rifle’s barrel is another big deal. You will notice a dizzying variety between the different manufacturers when it comes to AR-15 barrels.

I recommend two types. I strongly recommend a Cold Hammer Forged and chrome-lined barrel for your AR-15 or a 4150 Chrome Moly Vanadium barrel that is nitrided or chrome lined.

Both chrome lined and nitride offers superior corrosion resistance to an unlined barrel, both offer greater longevity.

Nitride has an edge when it comes to accuracy, chrome has an edge in longevity. I also recommend that you purchase either a mid-length AR-15 with a 16-inch barrel or a full-length AR-15 with a 20-inch barrel.

Mid-length AR-15s have the advantage of being as short as an AR-15 carbine, but with a more reliable gas system.

Mid-length rifles often have longer parts life due to longer gas dwell time, and slightly less recoil. A full-length AR-15 with a 20-inch barrel is longer and not as compact.

However, a 20-inch rifle offers the ideal barrel length for shooting 5.56 cartridges.

The 5.56 thrives and can reach near peak velocity and muzzle energy due to the added 4 inches of barrel length.

A rifle-length gas system offers the lowest wear and tear on the system overall and the longest life on rifle bolts.

The AR-15 is one of the most customizable rifles out there. Handguards, stocks, lights, lasers, even can openers are all available from just about everywhere.

Overall, the AR-15 is the most readily customizable rifles on the market for defensive use.

All that said, there are some of us, who prefer a different rifle to an AR-15.

Other Rifles

For those of you who prefer something different to the AR-15, there are many choices to be had. I too have several other rifles.

A word to the wise, for a home defense rifle you must be aware of bullet overpenetration and cartridge availability.

We are not discussing hunting rifles here, or a battle rifle such as an M14 or FAL that fires full-power rifle cartridges.

Let’s look at some other options chambered in intermediate cartridges.

The AK-47, AKM, and AK-74 rifles have all become very popular rifles here in the USA.

They have a well-deserved reputation for reliability and ruggedness.

The AK-47 has a forged receiver and is generally more expensive, examples of the AK-47 in the USA would be the Arsenal SAM7.

The AKM is by far the most popular AK in America, examples include the WASR-10. The receiver is stamped as opposed to forged. The AK-74, once popular, has diminished over the last 5 years and I see no sign of that trend ending.

The AK-74, when available, is a good rifle and the 5.45x39mm is an excellent defensive cartridge. But the key is availability, and AK-74s and 5.45x39mm ammunition become less so as the years come and go.

Currently, the AK-47 and AKM, most common tactical rifles in the United States, after the AR-15.

Millions of these rifles have been imported from China, Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Serbia and other nations over the last 30 years.

The 7.62x39mm round that the AKM and AK-47 is chambered in, is also imported in huge numbers and is produced domestically.

The AK chambered in 7.62 is a decent defensive rifle.

Utilizing a long stroke piston and built with loose tolerances it is hard to stop an AK from running. Its only weakness is the cartridge, the 7.62x39mm can over penetrate, especially if you are shooting imported FMJ (full metal jacketed) ammunition.

Soft tip hunting bullets, frangible ammunition, and Hornady ballistic tip rounds are available and do very well in a defensive situation.

If you have decided on an AK, I strongly recommend that you purchase an imported rifle such as a WASR-10, one of Arsenal’s many models, or a Serbian NPAP.

I highly advise against purchasing a 100% USA built AK. The reason being is the superiority of foreign parts of domestic.

Foreign AKs tend to use forged trunnions, bolts and carriers as opposed to the cast parts often used in domestically built AK rifles.

Imported AKs are known to last over 100,000 of ammunition, and that is a lot of shooting!

In today’s market, a good import AK will cost around $700-$1500.

Another great rifle to consider, albeit costlier than an AR-15 or AK, is the IWI Tavor.

The Tavor is a bullpup, piston driven rifle from Israel with excellent ergonomics and reliability. It is chambered in the 5.56x45mm cartridge.

Its compact design lends itself to a perfect defensive rifle. The Tavor is actually the current issue rifle for the Israeli Military.

You can expect to shell out $1700-$2000 for a new Tavor rifle.

Rifles worth mentioning include the CZ BREN, FN SCAR, and the Mini-14.

The Mini-14 is a decent option for those who live in locations where 2nd Amendment freedoms have been infringed, and the Mini-14 is still often available.

The Mini-14 uses detachable magazines and can facilitate the mounting of an optic.


If you are purchasing your first rifle and you are able to, purchase an AR-15.

You can’t go wrong with a rifle that is built right, with a good bolt and a good barrel. Whatever rifle you buy, I strongly urge you to purchase a light for your rifle.

This is a very important feature for a home defense rifle, especially because you may have to use it at night, in the dark.

You can’t (shouldn’t) shoot at what you cannot see.

Sight it in, practice with it and when trouble comes knocking, you will be ready.

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Thomas Schwald
Springfield Armory "Saint" pistol 5.56 "Most Excellent"
Understand the KelTec Sub 2000 9mm is an excellent home defense weapon.
M1 Carbine
buy a short barrell shotgun and use double 00 . You just point, no aiming..
Darrell Howard
Apparently you’ve never practiced firing a short barrel shotgun with 00 buck shot.
Randy T. Davidson
My only choice for a home defense rifle would be My MPX (16" barrel). With its Tac light and green laser, it is quite formidable. And the high cap mags loaded with Sig V-Crown defense ammo are a plus, too. It is really easy to shoot, and ultra reliable.
.300 subsonic PDW with suppressor - in the absence of a suppressor being allowed, then 5.56 PDW w/ frangible rounds - both built on AR platform
John W Bletsch
My choice for nightstand is FN Five seveN. The 5.7x28mm round is less powerful than most suggested handgun rounds, but is unlikely to over penetrate. My AR choices are both Ruger 556 pistols in 5.56 & 300BK. The 5.56 SBR ammo is optimized for 10.5" barrel & 300BK is optimized for 9" barrel. Both are short & handy plus 30 round cap. Both have RDS and a rail for a light. Looking to suppress the 300BK for subsonic expanding ammo.
Darrell Howard
300 blackout subsonic = 45 APC. Blows right through intended target and walls. Most people in this country don’t live in mud huts.
Michael Fletcher
Great and informative article.
Ray Lopez
Excellant info. Thanks for sharing.
Dale Reamy
The best home defense rifle is a shotgun. Preferably the Mossberg Shockwave. Minute of doorway ; )
never again
12 ga shotgun for home defense
You forgot to mention the battle proven m1 carbine...especially when loaded with critical defense ammo. Short, handy, and lighter than many, if not most, of the AR’s.
I rely primarily on my AR-15 pistol chambered in .300 Blackout. I have semi-permanently attached a Gen 4 OSS Helix Magnum Ti suppressor and can fire subsonic rounds without damaging my hearing. With a Trijicon MRO dialed in and a Samson Manufacturing 3X magnifier, my build can reach out if need be to 400 yards while filling the role of the MP5SD for CQB. It is the best of both worlds.
Jeff Bell
Great article, very professional, great data. Everyone should read this. I should print this out and make copies for future reference. You covered all the bases. Keep posting this article, people need this information and guidance before making decisions. Thank You, very much.
Mark A
I like the article, and in most cases, agree most of what was said. However, I think there is a lot to be said about a vintage M1 Carbine, or one of the new clones. One could say because of it's weight, compact design, simplicity, and accuracy, it's the original CQB Rifle, and well suited to home and self-defense. The .30 caliber round has enough velocity and impact to handle an intruder(s), without going through the intruder(s) and every wall in the house. The M1 Carbine magazines range from sizes legal for hunting in most states, to 30-rounders, and has an easily effective range for medium game out to 300 yards. Finally, the M1 Carbine is adaptable to many versions of after market stocks including folding stocks, similar to the old airborne models.
Erich Dickenson
As for my home defense, I would use my MP5 or AR-9. For my property defense, larger area, either my AR-10, my RAS-12 or my AR-410.
Just received my first shipment. Great price. I was diss appointed in how the ammo was packed. When the box arrived it was packed so poorly that most of the individual boxes were opened and the contents spilled out in the box. There’s nothing quite like repackaging 500 rounds.
If worse comes to worse there is always the trusty old SKS. Same calibre as the AK and bit more affordable. Maybe less user friendly. Just a thought.
Robert Nordyke
At my house, my first grab is a AR-15! If I have to go further , high capacity 1911 in 10mm! then a 9mm! If it goes further an sks! Last an AR-10!
I inherited a 1893 Winchester .30 cws rifle. It was re-chambered to a .357 MAG. I wanted a handgun to go with the ammo I already had. Found a Magnum Research (baby eagle) at half price and about the same weight as the rifle. It shoots about the same as my Beretta 9MM. IT is sweet, also used by the Israeli military. restore the republic ! Death to tyrants
I would probably use a PCC if I didn't want a pistol for home defense, easier handling and you don't want to shoot through too many walls with the family home.
Randie Coulter
12 Gauge loaded with 00 buck! After that? Springfield Armory Saint, AR-10.
HW Stone
One rifle that was overlooked it the good old M1 Carbine. Very, very light, with even lighter recoil, an easy to watch action so you can spot problems and take corrective action quickly, and a penetration factor between 5.56x45mm and 7.62x39mm rounds. I personally prefer the AR over the Carbine or AK, but you need to be really familiar with its function because much of it is hidden inside the outer shell. The AK is much more open, but the carbine is so open and easy to understand is is almost impossible to find anything easier to learn. And, in the case of the AR, you can quickly and easily change calibers, as well as bullet types within one calibers by swapping out the upper. Pick what you are more comfortable with, and then spend money on practice, practice, practice.
I have a 9mm Beretta carbine and would probably use that but prefer a pistol for home defense.
Bemused Berserker
For Home Defense, an AR-15 Custom build in .300 AAC (180 - 220gr sub-sonic), to reach out and touch someone a 1000+ yards away, a Winchester Model 70 in .338 WinMag.
John Joyce
I own the Springfield Saint Edge, I love it.
The real question is: DO you want to stay within the "walls" or do you fight to win? (You don't go to war for any other reason! Build up a .300 Black Out pistol on the AR platform... 10.5" bbl.... Load with 125 gr HP in one of those 60-90 round double stack mags...or, a dependable "coiled/round mag"... Consider using a 200+gr sub-sonic every 3rd round to really hammer with gross weight... Practice, practice, practice....offhand... daylight and darkness... forget the sights... 5 to 10 yd range....point shooting....keep pouring lead on all targets until empty...eject and reload...then, check. ... learn muzzle control.... Depend on penetration if your target ducks behind a wall/door or furniture... pour lead and make sure you control your shots... Don't be carried by 6....
I have pong been a proponent of a good carbine for home defense over a pistol or shotgun for the reasons you state and more. A good, lightweight carbine is much more easily mastered and brought to bear in a difficult situation that the other two. That said a "pistol" length ar-15 (8-12" barrel), with a good brace, brings a lot of the advantages of a carbine in a smaller, handier package.
Paul Bukowski
M1 Carbine. The first close quarters rifle and still the best.
C0l. Jerry Vance
Making The Hard Choice, Easy ! For home defense, you want the most powerful weapon you can control, that being said you must train extensively with the weapon of choice. NEVER Risk your life or the lives of your loved ones with an unproved weapon. 1. Hand Cannon- Taurus Judge Poly Public Defender "black". .410 / 45 long colt. Use buckshot, first three rounds and long colt for last two rounds, 2. Short Rifles A. AR 15/ rifle or pistol B. HI POINT Rifle 10mm or 45 acp. "Tried and True Man Stoppers" & "Bad Girls" too ! No one with common sense wants to harm or kill another person but remember when criminals are attacking you they become predators and must be stopped . Also they usually attack in packs of two or more. I would rather have a gun and not need it than need a gun and not have it !
Well written and relevant article. However, for basic home defense, you must realize that a long gun is just that, a "long gun". Carbines and shotguns realistically require two hands to manipulate, which can be a major liability in close quarter confrontations. If you believe that a novice shooter or a small-frame adult can effectively manage the recoil of a 12 gauge shotgun, then you are in for a rude awakening. If you chose to rely on a shotgun for home defense, please consider a more manageable 20 gauge model. And, using both hands to brandish a long gun becomes a significant challenge when you attempt to utilize a cell phone or flashlight, open a door, or perhaps, cling to a small child. Retention of a long gun when grabbed by an adversary is often very difficult because of the extent of leverage that an adversary can apply to dislodge or deflect the weapon. Granted, these circumstances are most likely to occur when responding to someone pounding on your door or during the initial contact with an intruder. You are generally best served in a home defense situation by remaining behind cover and not moving about in your residence. If you have other family members that could be in perile, then comes the major liabilities of using a "long gun" when you have to leave cover to reach those family members. As always: practice, train and have a plan.
Shawn Nelson
The Idea of using what was once a varmit cartridge to stop an attacker? And over time has gone through many changes (bullets/powders/twist rates) When in the wilds do they use the 5.56 as backup when hunting dangerous game? Humans are some the most dangerous out there. What round was developed and exhaustivly tested specificly to stop humans? The .45acp So Id say any reliable carbine chambered in .45acp with saucer size MOA at 50 yards should suffice in a house. Otherwise Bonnie and Clydes idea of house busting was the 20 shot Browning .30-06 auto loading rifles. The normal infantryman could not see the enemy clearly or have any sense of whether he had made a hit. The BAR man, by contrast, had the sense that he could dominate a certain area—“hose it down,” in the military slang—and destroy anyone who happens to be there.
Walter Meyer
POF my choice of AR, American made, affordable, and top quality. .223 or 5.56...
It's important not to over complicate the issue. Most semi automatic rifles and carbines will provide a solid home defense option. AR's, AK's and pistol caliber carbines are good for home defense as are shotguns. In our case, we both have ARs but my wife far prefers her Beretta 92 to any other gun we own for her personal home defense weapon. I always carry my Jericho when at home and keep a Mossberg ShockwaveM next to the bed. In the end, choose what fits you best and what you can shoot effectively under pressure.
T. A. Clax
As a retired firearms instructor of over 28 years and currently qualified instructor for law enforcement retirees, I have always maintained that shotgun IS the PERFECT home defense weapon, either deployed or for the implied(constructive force) use against a threat, especially using .oo buck shot.
Sleepy. Creepy Joe said a double barrel shotgun fired through the door will scare anyone away ! Your advice is a whole lot better, and less prosecutable, too! I kinda like the Mossberg 500 with short shells, alternating slug/ buckshot and it holds 10 rounds with the short tube.