Defending Home & Hearth
The AR-15 Carbine Gets The Job Done
By Matt Jacques
It doesn't matter if I'm teaching a class, at an industry event, or attending a social gathering with friends, a discussion of home defense is almost guaranteed to come up. And when these conversations arise, they almost always revolve around the question, "What gun should I get?"
On the surface, it seems like a simple question, but I usually respond by asking a few questions to get people thinking about what they want to accomplish. There is quite a difference between "thinking you need" and "knowing you need." My questions are very similar to a requirements document I use to assist law enforcement agencies and corporations that want to enhance their security.
WHAT'S YOUR BUDGET?
Just like any major household purchase, the first consideration should be budgetary. Simply buying a gun doesn't grace you with the magical ability to use it effectively with confidence and accuracy. There are additional monetary expenses beyond the gun itself: ammunition, accessories, and training. Most folks have not considered the investment of time, as well, to train how to use the homedefense firearm safely and effectively.
This means you need to do some due diligence and research before making that first purchase. There are many articles on how to buy a gun, so I won't delve into that. Go to a reputable gun store with a range that rents the firearms you are considering, and take them for a "test drive." Treat buying a home defense firearm like buying a car: a calculated project you research well to be sure it will perform on demand. It is a potentially life-saving investment.
There are many articles on how to buy a gun, so I won't delve into that. Go to a reputable gun store with a range that rents the firearms you are considering, and take them for a "test drive." Treat buying a home defense firearm like buying a car: a calculated project you research well to be sure it will perform on demand. It is a potentially life-saving investment.
WHO WILL BE USING IT?
When choosing a firearm for home defense, carefully consider if more than one person in the household will be using it. The "who" affects not only the size and weight of the gun, but also the training, choice of ammunition, and selection of accessories.
Your spouse needs to be both proficient and comfortable with the selection. If you have kids, they'll fall into one of two categories: too small to use a firearm or old enough to use one competently. You need a firearm the "old enoughs" can operate safely.
THE AR-15 CARBINE
In a self-defense emergency, having almost any kind of firearm in hand is better than none, and strong cases can be made for both a handgun and a shotgun as a home defense gun. I believe the carbine, specifically the AR-15 carbine, is the best choice for many situations.
There is a reason why the military and many law enforcement agencies have turned to the carbine as their long gun of choice. It offers a good combination of reasonably compact size, controllability, ammunition capacity, accuracy, and manageable recoil.
WHY A CARBINE?
Easy to operate. The controls on an AR-15 are very user friendly and can be operated by anybody from a preteen to an elderly adult. Young people can operate them effectively. There are many properly trained pre-teens who run them efficiently and safely in twoand three-gun competitions.
Customizable. You can customize an AR carbine with a different pistol grip, forward grip, or other hardware to make it easy for almost anyone to use. The AR platform also gives you the ability to have a six-position buttstock with several inches of length-of-pull adjustment. The wide variety of aftermarket stocks means you can probably find one that works for everybody in the family.
Minimal recoil. The modest recoil of the 5.56/.223 cartridge makes the gun pleasant to shoot and easy to control, even by a person without a lot of upper body strength, so training is fun and not intimidating.
Lightweight. You can absolutely build out an AR-15 with a great light (more on lights below) that weighs less than 8 lbs. Again, an important consideration when people of different stature and strength may need to use the gun.
HANDGUN VS. CARBINE
While a semi-auto pistol will provide you with a capacity of 7 to 17 rounds, your typical AR-15 magazine nets you 30 rounds in a fairly compact package. True, you can get a 33-round mag for your Glock, and you can also get a 60-round magazine for an AR. Both of those come with bulk and weight penalties, so I'm specifically discussing typical magazine offerings.
The handgun's short sight radius is a handicap. The distance between the rear sight aperture and front sight makes a difference when you need to be accurate. Less-than-perfect sight alignment can cause several inches of deviation even at 10 yards. Ease of sight alignment is one of the main reasons why a carbine is more accurate, even at close range. Adding a red dot sight levels the playing field somewhat, but due to size considerations, there are more red dot sight options for carbines than pistols.
SHOTGUN VS. CARBINE
Shotguns are in a different class all together. The ammunition capacity is very different, recoil is dramatically different, and the options for mounting a light on the gun are limited. Shotguns, specifically pump guns, have a very different operating system from a semi-auto pistol and an AR-15.
You can also mount a red dot sight on a shotgun, but with the ammunition capacity, manual operation, and limited light-mounting options, the carbine wins an educated debate almost every time.
These other firearms can be configured for home defense, and individuals can certainly be trained to use them effectively. But on almost every point, the carbine is easier to learn. It is not a "good" vs "bad" dichotomy but rather one of choosing the best solution.
BEYOND THE GUN - AMMUNITION, A SLING
After the gun itself, the most important consideration when selecting a carbine for home defense is having the right ammunition. Surplus military M855 is NOT what you want for home defense. Look for a round purposedesigned for defensive use, that doesn't have a penetrator or solid core. Asym, Black Hills, Federal, Hornady, Nosler, PMC, and Winchester, among others, offer loads designed specifically not to over-penetrate through walls, doors, and the like.
If there has been a perceived threat, what do you do with the gun when it's over? It doesn't matter if it was a harmless bump in the night, or you ended up using deadly force on an intruder who tried to kill you. If there are kids in the house, or someone is injured and you have to carry or drag them out to safety, you'll need to carry the firearm safely, too. It must not be left unattended. For that reason, I recommend adding a sling to your carbine's accessories. It lets you keep control of the gun, while leaving your hands free for other tasks.
BEYOND THE GUN - LIGHTS
After the gun and the ammo, the next most important decision is choosing a light to mount on your carbine. Why is a light so important? Dozens of times a year, we see news items about family members shooting other family members when they come home to surprise Mom and Dad for the holidays, or a teenager tries to sneak into the house after curfew. This is a scenario no family should have to face. Mount a light on the gun.
If you should have to use a firearm in self-defense during the hours of darkness, you will be questioned about the event in subsequent civil litigation: "How did you identify there was a threat?" (You can't see a knife or gun, unless you're being shot at, in the dark.) If you shot someone, "How did you identify their features and determine they were a threat?" Before you pull the trigger, you must identify what you are shooting at. The same rule applies in your home as it does in the woods during hunting season.
All of this means I insist on a white light mounted on whatever firearm you choose. When talking lights, brighter is better. There are great rail-mounted models from Inforce, SIG Sauer, Streamlight, and Surefire that output more than 500 lumens, which is very bright - and remember, more light is better.
Every carbine I own has one of two lights on it: a Surefire Fury or a Streamlight ProTac Rail Mount 2. The Streamlight is more economical, and at 625 lumens maximum output, it gives you plenty of power. A rail-mounted light can be positioned where it's most comfortable for you, and the other users in your household, to be able to operate it, and like the ProTac, most come with "clicky" tailcap controls and optional tape switches. Those two "switchology" options give you the most versatility for comfort and ease of use.
While mounting solutions and comfort are important, working with a light, handheld or carbine-mounted, takes training and practice. When searching a room, I employ a high port/high gun position that lets me bounce the light off the ceiling, so I can see nearly everything - and anybody - in the room without pointing the gun at it.
WHAT'S YOUR PLAN?
Home invasions are fast and violent. There is nothing like suddenly being awakened from a deep sleep by the sound of a breaking window. If you're lucky, you'll have enough time to get up, obtain the firearm (this could take longer than you think, depending on how it is secured), and grab what is within reach.
You might not even have time to put on pants and a shirt, if an intruder is moving toward your family. Don't be surprised if you end up clearing the house in your boxers with a carbine, a spare 30-round mag, and a high-lumen light. It happens - trust me.
Much like a family fire plan, your family should have a firearms plan. If there is an incident that involves the use of a firearm, how do you ensure the rest of the household is safe? Is there a place where you want the kids to hide? Under the bed perhaps - gets them on the floor, out of the line of sight in most cases.
Have code words for trouble. If I call to a family member by name and yell "SEVEN," the response of "UP" means everything is OK. If the response is "EIGHT" or anything other than "UP," everything is NOT OK.
The entire family should know where the first aid kit is and be trained in the basics of first aid. This comes back to training. Two of my kids have been through a first aid course, including hands-on instruction on the application of tourniquets. This is not just for firearms incidents; we live on a farm, and they both drive now, so it is good training for life in general.
Is your house a single-story ranch or a multi-level structure? There is a difference in how you clear a home with or without stairs. Make sure everybody knows how to get out of the house and move to a predesignated rally point. If you have very young kids (infants or toddlers), who responds to their room? If their room is upstairs, do both parents move to the bedroom, or will one of you hole up in the master bathroom as a hard point, while communicating with the police?
A family plan is something that the whole family has to decide, taking into account the ages of the members, the house layout, and individuals' ability to move to a rallying point.
TRAINING, TRAINING & MORE TRAINING
I have talked about training a lot in this article. Training is one of the most important factors in home defense planning, but the most often neglected. A self-defense firearm can be useless, even dangerous, if you fail to get proper training.
The good news is training doesn't have to be drudgery. I have husbandand- wife student pairs who use training as "date time," a shared project they can work on together. And, after all, part of the process is going to the range and shooting firearms!
Find a good instructor, somebody with experience who can relay the how's and why's of what you're learning. A credible trainer will be able to quantify his or her experience and certifications, so you'll know if he/she is equipped to teach you and your family to be proficient with your home defense gun. Don't go out with the SWAT/ Retired Tier 1 guys, but rather find somebody who has experience relevant to what you need to learn. Start out with a basic/fundamentals course, then move on to more advanced courses.
Be sure to read articles from reliable, recognized publications that offer education, not absolutes. I would suggest that you read, make a list of any questions that come to mind, and then ask your trainer those questions.
This is a journey of empowerment. You're taking the positive initiative to protect yourself and help your family members protect each other. We prepare for a self-defense emergency we hope never arises, just like we buy life insurance hoping we never need to use it. But isn't it good to be prepared?