It’s not secret that the AR15 is the most popular model of rifle in the United States. It’s a flexible platform that allows for aftermarket additions and customization, can be adapted to a wide variety of calibers, and offers a user-friendly design. Its Eastern Bloc counterpart/arch-nemesis the AK family of weapons is also fairly popular and for many of the same reasons. I don’t want to revisit that debate here; it’s been done to death. However, I do think there’s a lot more to be said about the role of these rifles in home defense, especially how and when they are best deployed.
As with so many things in the world of firearms and personal protection, it all comes down to individual circumstances. One of the reasons we have so many different schools of thought, kinds of equipment, and makes/models of firearms is that they fill different needs. For purposes of home defense, AR/AK style weapons offer a lot of obvious strengths: they reload quickly, offer good firepower at a variety of ranges, and handle fairly well in enclosed spaces—particularly with collapsible/telescoping stocks. Add a weapon light on the end and you’ve got a pretty formidable setup for protecting your castle.
But there are some drawbacks, and they must be considered.
If you’ve got an afternoon’s worth of time to kill, I recommend making some coffee and heading over to The Box o’ Truth. For years, these fine folks have been testing the performance of firearms and ammunition against a variety of targets—very often creatively selected and constructed. The very first test involved evaluating the penetration of various kinds of ammo against layers of drywall, sheetrock, and other construction materials. The results were interesting:
- Sheetrock (drywall) doesn’t slow any round down much. If you shoot in the house, walls will not stop any serious round.
- Twelve pine boards will not stop a .223 round.
- Shooting stuff is fun.
Apartment dwellers and suburbanites take note: with 5.56/.223—heck, with most calibers—over-penetration is an issue in home defense. A stray round, or even a through-and-through puncturing a bad guy, could enter the next unit and injure a bystander. This doesn’t mean that your beloved rifle is off-limits for home defense; rather you should be aware of this issue and plan for your unique circumstances.
Additional considerations come from the nature of long weapons. While many carbines are nimble in close quarters, they’re significantly less handy than a pistol. Weapons handling and retention thus become issues—so learn how to use your weapon properly. Likewise, working with a weapon light requires a fair amount of technique that you’ll want to master as well.
I should note that handguns are not immune from these problems either—retention techniques are very different, but they are critical skills. Likewise, handgun calibers can also over-penetrate if you’re not careful. And as for the AR vs. shotgun debate? My colleague Jason Hanson has addressed that in some detail, so I’ll refer you to his article.
So in summation: it all comes down to you and your needs. Let me know your thoughts either via email or in the comments—and stay safe out there.