It's been said that the United States of America is a nation of riflemen and it really isn't all that surprising that the rifle has been so favored here in the U.S., especially if you look at the history of guns.
The development of the rifle coincides with the early days of America.
Given that history, it’s no wonder the rifle is often a popular choice as a home defense weapon. But should it be?
Hunting Rifles as Home Defense Weapons
There are pros and cons to having a rifle as your primary home defense gun.
Without getting caught in the weeds and degenerating into some kind of caliber war, we should first discuss what we aren't talking about.
We are not discussing hunting rifles here.
Most hunting rifles and calibers are inappropriate for home defense because they're too powerful — not to mention too cumbersome.
You can't give your house an effective once-over when looking for intruders with your 32x magnified .30-06.
Even if you do hit them, you might end up shooting clear through to your neighbor’s home, and no one wants that.
Don't misunderstand: There's a time and a place for those rifles.
Certainly, having optics is a good thing, but some rifles are good for home defense and some are not. You're not fighting the Bush War here; you're defending your home.
Why choose a Rifle for Home Defense?
Rifles are inherently more accurate than handguns for a variety of reasons. Barrel length, cartridge ballistics, and barrel twist are just a few.
On top of that, rifles rely much less on fine motor control.
Gross motor function in a stressful home defense situation can be difficult to manage, and rifles are easier to use under those conditions than handguns.
The logical progression from there would seem to point to shotguns as better than rifles, as they are similar to wield and require even less aiming due to spread pattern.
The problem with shotguns is over penetration because of the way shotgun ammo spreads, you’re almost guaranteed to hit targets you weren’t intending to shoot than you would be with a rifle.
Believe it or not — the same holds true for handguns.
Modern handgun loads for most of the common calibers are all at risk of traveling through the intended target and what's behind it.
When coupled with the issue of accuracy, it's far more likely that you would miss with a handgun and shoot through a wall and hit something on the other side.
For modern rifles, the risk is often mitigated by the tumble of the round.
This tumble effect can increase the chances of the round staying in the target rather than exiting and hitting something else.
Muzzle energy and bullet velocity can be higher with rifles than with other guns, but the ballistics of certain types of rifle ammunition and calibers reduces this threat considerably.
Some rifles might shoot bullets that penetrate the target, but rather than traveling through to other unintended targets, these rounds often lose velocity and embed in a wall rather than penetrate it.
Best Rifles for Home Defense
For home defense rifles, look for options in the intermediate range for caliber and ballistics.
The .223/5.56 will be the one with the most tumble, but the 300 Blackout works well at subsonic speeds and with a suppressor, which really lowers your chance for over penetration.
The 6.5 Creedmoor packs quite a punch and can be used over distances, but it still has less chance of over penetration than some other rifle calibers.
Plus, if you get any of these in hollow point, you have even less to worry about.
You might have noticed a pattern with the calibers mentioned. That's because while these can be found in a variety of rifles, they're all likely to be in an AR configuration.
It shouldn't surprise anyone to see that the AR platform is the rifle recommended for home defense. The U.S. might be a country with rifles in its DNA, but the AR is largely considered America's rifle.
Why the AR15?
There will be critics who disagree, but the AR platform is the best rifle for home defense for a catalog of reasons.
First, it's the single most widely available rifle in the United States today. Walk into any gun store anywhere in the U.S. and you will find walls covered in ARs.
With a variety of configurations, sizes and prices, there's little chance that you can't find an AR that fits your body type, experience level, and budget.
That popularity also makes it one of the most customizable platforms. There's a cornucopia of aftermarket manufacturers providing custom versions and enhancements for every piece of the AR.
From trigger enhancements to attachments and recoil mitigation, the options available are virtually limitless.
Speaking of effective, the AR is perhaps the most inherently accurate platform available in the U.S. — if not the world.
The design of the rifle, originally created by Eugene Stoner, has seen few structural changes since its creation in 1956.
In fact, most changes to it have simply been improvements in materials used, such as chrome lining or nitride coatings. However, even without those advancements, it has proven its effectiveness in every military conflict involving the U.S. since Vietnam.
If it works in every conceivable war zone — from jungles to deserts — it will work to defend your home.
What About an AK?
Despite the long list of reasons for the AR platform as your home defense weapon of choice, some simply do not like the AR.
Many might suggest that another rifle has just as much battlefield history and options for customization as the AR but in a superior configuration and caliber.
This is, of course, the AK.
Created in 1947 by Mikhail Kalashnikov as an infantry rifle for the Soviet Union, the AK platform is probably the most common rifle outside the United States and other NATO countries.
There is no debating that the AK is a fantastic battle rifle and one of the most reliable guns ever created.
Still, we're trying to defend our home, not liberate the proletariat from the bourgeoisie.
The AK platform is more overpowered than what you would want in a home defense rifle, mostly because of the 7.62 by 39mm cartridge that it shoots.
While you can get other rounds, the 7.62 is the most readily available configuration and is less accurate than the .223/5.56 of the standard AR in an apples to apples comparison of base configurations.
Plus, the 7.62 is more likely to over penetrate, which negates one of the reasons for choosing a rifle.
The point here is not to bash this rifle. The goal is to make you aware of why you might not want to choose it for home defense.
Just because something is a capable and popular rifle doesn't mean it's good for home defense.
Other Options for Home Defense Rifles
Perhaps you're still not totally sold on the AR platform as a good rifle for home defense.
Or, maybe you're in a state where regulations make AR ownership essentially out of the question. For those who find themselves in one of these or other categories, other choices are available.
The main things to keep in mind are the caliber and size of the rifle.
Just as you don't want some extreme caliber that will blow a hole in your wall, your car, or the neighbor's house, you also don't want some large and unwieldy rifle for home defense.
A cumbersome long gun or overly heavy rifle makes it difficult to maneuver around your house and slow down the speed with which you can engage your assailant.
Conversely, you don't want to go too low and get something like a lever action .22 — no matter how good they might be for varmint control.
Lastly, under no circumstances should you choose a bolt action rifle for home defense, regardless of caliber.
It takes extra time to work the bolt and requires fine motor control that might be lacking during an adrenaline-pumping situation.
Don't take chances with your life or your family's lives.
Stick with what has been proven to work. And if you want a non-AR rifle, look for something in a mid-range caliber like .223 or others mentioned here — such as the Mini-14 or even a CZ BREN in 5.56.
Home defense has many aspects. Guns are just one part.
No matter what gun you choose, develop your home defense plan, practice it, and stay safe. If you do go with a rifle, make sure you do your due diligence in finding the right style and caliber for you.