The AR is a Legitimate Home Defense Weapon

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 8 months ago

Chris Brown at Media Matters gives us an amusing take on so-called “assault rifles.”

Last week, a gun blogger going by “Eric at the Gunmart Blog” writing at broke with the gun industry trade association National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) over its recently made-up terminology, “modern sporting rifles.”

Many of the rifles Eric discusses are modified civilian versions of military rifles, and some were classified as assault weapons under the Federal Assault Weapons ban in place from 1994-2004. But NSSF would rather the public thinks about hunters stalking game than soldiers on the battlefield. Eric isn’t down with the branding effort:

Words are powerful, and choosing to use certain words instead of others (i.e assault rifle) can have a powerful influence on public opinion. But come on… lets be real… “Modern Sporting Rifle” has not been an effective choice of words.


I honestly don’t know what we should choose, but I think the time has come to move on to something different. Heck, perhaps we should just embrace the term “assault rifle” and normalize its usage so that there is not a stigma attached to it anymore.

This week, NSSF launched a web assault defending its rebranding effort, comically asking, “The Term ‘Assault Rifle’ as Dangerous as Weapon Itself?” If you’re only worried about gun sales, then the answer is probably yes.

At the well-read The Truth About Guns, they weren’t buying the NSSF attack, going beyond Eric at Gunmart’s critique, calling NSSF’s terminology “a failed attempt at O[r]wellian language modification“:

Still, when  Eric at Gunmart Blog wrote an essay entitled I Dont like the Term “Modern Sporting Rifle,” the NSSF felt obliged to defend their failed attempt at O[r]wellian language modification and accuse our pal of sedition . . .

We’re guessing NSSF wishes it could send the whole episode down the memory hole.

Chris wrongly assumes that the firearms community must be ashamed and embarrassed at the debate.  With Robert Farago, I think that this alleged takedown is much ado about nothing.  This is just the firearms community talking to each other.  Frankly, it doesn’t much matter to me whether one calls it an AR, a home defense weapon, a rifle, a long gun, or a modern sporting rifle.  It’s all of those things, and more.  But there is one particular myth that I want to take down once and for all, and it is given to us by someone calling himself “progressive” at Media Matters.

I’d personally consider an ‘assault rifle’ to be a weapon other than a handgun (ex: semi-automatic or revolver) or submachine gun (ex: FN Herstal P90, Tec-DC9, H&K MP5) that can fire high-powered rounds such as .223cal, .308cal, or 7.62mm with a selective fire capability. Many tend to have a lever built into the trigger assembly for selecting single-shot, multi-round burst, or safety-on.

The category especially includes military-derived rifles like the AR-15/M4 family used by many US and NATO forces, Kalashnikov-style rifles (AK-47, AKM, AK-74) that originated from the former USSR, and newer high-tech weapons from Europe like the FN Herstal SCAR, H&K G36, or SIG-Sauer 556.

I think ‘assault rifle’ is a perfectly accurate term. These rifles were all designed and mass-produced to be (quite literally) anti-personnel weapons in a combat situation. They were NOT designed with residential protection, competitive shooting, or hunting in mind- otherwise there would be no need to sell a modified version of any of the above rifles to the general public. For example, you cannot wisely use an AR-15 rifle to protect your home from a burglar who is inside- the penetration properties of a high-powered weapon would make the risk to your family in an adjacent room a serious concern. There’s a reason that police SWAT units rarely use assault rifles for operations inside an occupied building.

Oh my.  There are so many errors in this one post that it’s difficult to know where to begin, but I want to cover this notion that the AR isn’t a legitimate home defense weapon.  The acronym AR, as we all know, stands for Armalite.  My own rifle is a Rock River Arms Elite CAR A4, an M4-style variant that has a long enough barrel to be legal (the M4 does not for civilian use).  I have put many rounds through it, and never had a failure to feed or failure to eject.  Until you have shot the 5.56 round, you simply don’t get a feel for how high the muzzle velocity is (viewing through scopes at 100+ yards shows no discernible time delay between firing and observing impact on target) compared to the extremely low recoil.

The 5.56 mm is a high velocity round with superior terminal ballistics, yawing upon impact and leaving an enlarged trail of tissue damage.  Yet this idea that it will kill people one or two houses away or that it is more dangerous to people in adjacent rooms than other rounds, even pistol caliber rounds, is entirely wrong.  Tests have demonstrated that the 5.56 mm penetrates less drywall than most of the pistol caliber rounds (depending upon the specific brand and type).

My AR is fabricated (with its quad rail) to hold attachments such as a forend grip and a tactical light, and upon meeting a home intruder in the dark, without a tactical light you may as well be blind.  Sending the wife to the movies for the night lends a wonderful chance to darken the home and practice clearing tactics from room to room.  The light weight of the rifle along with its collapsible stock make it a great weapon for maneuverability around doorways, and so it makes a great CQB firearm.  Finally, while the round does yaw and tend to fragment (causing tissue damage or conversely beginning the process of disintegration if it misses), it does well if the home intruder is wearing soft body armor, a trend in the more violent home invasions in urban areas.  While there are those who disagree, I believe that Eugene Stoner was a genius.

Tiger McKee sums it up it well.

When people ask, “What do you keep beside your bed at night,” I tell them it’s an AR. Usually their first response is, “Yeah, but you live in the middle of Alafrickinbama.” Which is true, but that doesn’t mean the .223/5.56 carbine isn’t an excellent weapon for home defense, even in urban environments.

When it comes to terminal ballistics high velocity rifle rounds perform much better than pistol rounds. Another advantage of the .223/5.56 round is its limited penetration, unless you’re firing steel core rounds specifically designed for penetration. Numerous tests show the .223/5.56 round penetrating through less interior walls than 9mm, .40 and .45 ACP rounds. This is even true for hollow-point pistol rounds, which fill up with sheetrock and such and never expand the way they are supposed to, and buckshot. If you’re shooting, the possibility of missing shots exists. Limited penetration of errant rounds is a good thing.

The carbine allows you to place one bullet exactly where you want it to go, as opposed to a shotgun. Even though great advances have occurred in shotgun rounds, you still have to be concerned with distance and pattern, and wads and spacers, which at close distances can injure or kill. In a hostage situation, an AR and the proper skills allow you to place one round with surgical precision. The AR is accurate from three yards to three hundred. Not that you could justify to a grand jury shooting someone at an extended distance, but this means it’s no problem to hit at thirty yards, which could be necessary.

The AR is lightweight, has limited recoil, and simple to operate. Anyone in the family of age can learn how to use it, effectively, in a short amount of time. A lot of people, even hard-core operators, will flinch when pressing off a magnum round of twelve-gauge buck. After firing the shotgun you have to pump it, which a lot of people forget or fumble under stress. When firing a semi-auto without getting a good aggressive position there’s a chance the shooter will be clearing a malfunction. With an AR you slip off the safety, get a good sight picture, press the trigger, follow through, and repeat as necessary.

While most self-defense problems only require a few rounds to solve, the AR’s high capacity magazine does allow you to stay in an extended fight for longer periods of time without having to reload. Just keep in mind Clint Smith’s saying that a higher capacity magazine isn’t a license to shoot more, it just means you have to manipulate the weapon less.

We also can’t ignore the psychological advantages of the carbine. I’ve seen people with pistols pointed at them who really didn’t seem to care. A carbine normally commands much respect.

The AR may not be the weapon for your home defense, but don’t discount it without serious consideration. When attacked, your task is to stop the threat as efficiently as possible. With the proper training and practice the .223/5.56 carbine is an excellent tool for this task.

Lastly, there is always the threat of bear in Pennsylvania, bear in Idaho, mountain lions in Sierra Madre, feral hogs in South Carolina, Georgia, or frankly anywhere in the Southeast running children indoors (if they don’t harm or kill them first), or rabid  Coyotes in suburban Charlotte (McAlpine Greenway near where I live and  walk my dog).  Even if you want something more hefty for bear, you may not have ready access to it.  The AR platform provides a ready and reliable means of defense against nearly all threats (confession: I don’t carry my AR while I walk my dog, I open carry my XDm .45).

Where else can you get 3100 fps muzzle velocity, rounds yawing upon impact, almost non-existent recoil, light weight, rails for needed attachments, ability to penetrate soft body armor during home invasions, relative safety for adjacent rooms compared to large shotgun shot, relatively short barrel and rapid ability to attain a viable sight picture?

It may not be the weapon for everyone, but while it isn’t the only weapon I use, it sits under my bed at night.  Media Matters can supply us with laughs, chuckles and snortles, but a serious assessment of the matter shows that the AR is not only a legitimate home defense weapon, it is a superior one.  Enough with the notion that this weapon is around only so that psychopathic kooks can “kill large numbers of innocent people.”  It’s high capacity magazine has turned out useful in defensive engagements before and will so in the future.  Besides, as I’ve said before, a high capacity magazine is an aluminum parallelepiped with a spring and follower.  Anyone with a little ambition can build one in his garage.  Prohibiting them from sale is both silly and deceiving.

I withhold my counsel on use of the AR for Chris Brown and Progressive at Media Matters.  I strongly advise that upon sensing a threat of any kind they call and wait for the police to arrive.  That should happen on the order of 8 – 20 minutes from placement of the call.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. On October 6, 2011 at 3:35 pm, wtfo said:

    “There’s a reason that police SWAT units rarely use assault rifles for operations inside an occupied building.”

    This is so wrong I don’t even know where to start. AR-15/M-16’s are the weapon of choice for SWAT teams due to greater accuracy and a lesser threat of over-penetration compared to subguns and buckshot.

    People need to stop regurgitating “facts” they learned from watching crappy action movies.

  2. On October 8, 2011 at 7:38 am, Lina Inverse said:

    Here are my arguments against using a 5.56 NATO AR or the like rifle for home defense:

    Long guns are easily ripped out of your hands by anyone who can grab them outside of your grip due to the superior leverage that provides (although I’m not sure nor have tested this with forearm and pistol grip equipped weapons).

    The tumbling and breaking at the cannulure (the latter is tremendously more important than the tumbling) wounding mechanism for 5.56 NATO FMJ ammo is iffy and not at all guaranteed to happen. A lot of people think appropriate expanding ammo is a much better bet and the stopping power of handgun rounds is much better understood (although that’s also iffy at best).

    Unless you’re wearing something like Wolf’s Ears amplifying earmuffs rifles are going to cost you a lot more of your hearing and you can’t be sure you’ll have time don yours.

    Regardless of demonstrated penetration (and I don’t know about tests with expanding ammo), you own whatever rounds exit your dwelling. I’m particularly interested in this issue since my normal dwelling is an apartment layout where there are people behind just about every threat direction I’m likely to experience.

    The above is a factor in the broader issue of your posture after a self-defense incident. If anything is iffy about the incident (see above) or even not (depending on your locality you may be in automatic trouble if you fire your weapon in a self-defense incident), a prosecutor may well try to crucify you for your legitimate choice of an interior home defense weapon, and we KNOW there’s a tremendous amount of prejudice against “assault rifles”, including rather importantly a lot of “Fudds” (hunting oriented gun owners) and I’d bet new pistol oriented CCW types as well. You could find yourself with some combination of otherwise pro-gun prosecutor, judge and members of the jury who don’t like Evil Black Rifles.

  3. On October 8, 2011 at 9:29 am, Jim Harris said:

    If U R acting in self defense, I don’t think you’ll worry about your hearing for the few rounds you might pop-off in a single incident. Serious hearing loss would normally only be an issue if you were firing in your house in an emergency all the time.

    The other arguments made in the last post — likely court outcomes in an uncertain world where self defense is concerned — apply to any weapon — or even a somebody who kills through skillful use of martial arts. In the latter case, idiot might ask why you couldn’t have disarmed the knife/gun wielding burglar (or whatever) and held him/her/it for the cops.

    These are issues that will resolved, not by picking an ineffective weapon, but by pre-legal preparation, perhaps insurance, changing residence, and above all, political agitation against thee hyplophobes amongst us.

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You are currently reading "The AR is a Legitimate Home Defense Weapon", entry #7702 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Firearms,Second Amendment and was published October 4th, 2011 by Herschel Smith.

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