Rifles for home defense

There’s no question that the expert consensus on rifles for home defense is that they’re good to go. In the AR15 platform, a rifle offers a considerable amount of firepower, easy handling in tight quarters, and good shootability. Most members of the family over age 12 can quite likely handle a carbine and get good hits with it. However, if you do choose a rifle for home defense, here are some things you should remember.

Get a sling
A rifle without a sling is like a carry gun without a holster. In the event that you do need to use your hands for something while running a carbine, a sling means you don’t have to put the rifle on the deck, or somewhere out of your control. Let it hang (with control) and then take care of whatever needs taking care of.

Get a white light
If someone ever tells you that white lights will give away your position in a home defense scenario, you don’t need to listen to anything else they’re going to say after that. One of the drawbacks of a rifle means that you can’t hold a flashlight in your weak hand like you could with a pistol, so you definitely need a white light. But remember, whatever your white light gets pointed at, you’re also now pointing the muzzle of your gun at it. Learn your house and how to bounce the light off surfaces to provide illumination for searching and ID without muzzling things.

Rifles are high pressure and very loud
Cooking off an un-suppressed rifle indoors without hearing protection will absolutely cause hearing damage. The shorter the rifle, the louder it’s going to be. The best option to mitigate this issue is a suppressor, but that’s not necessarily realistic for most shooters. The next best option is to keep a set of electronic earpro next to your rack. However, if you have kids around whom you may need to fire the rifle? That presents a problem, because their ears are even more sensitive. At that point, going with a lower pressure/noise option like a shotgun may make sense.

Know what your ammo does after penetrating sheetrock
There are countless studies, some good and some bad on how rifle bullets behave after passing through common interior wallboard material. Generally speaking, overpenetration isn’t an issue with .223, as many commercially available rounds fragment/destabilize after penetrating wallboard. But, you should know what your round is going to do.


Figure out how you’re going to stage the rifle, and practice from that condition
There are quite a few options for how to stage an HD gun. Probably the most common is the rifle version of the ancient “cruiser ready” status. Fully loaded magazine inserted, no round in the chamber, safety off. You could also stage it in Condition 1, fully loaded and safety on, or even loaded mag, empty chamber, and safety on, so long as you rack the bolt on an empty chamber first. Whatever ready position you set your carbine in, make sure when you’re at the range practicing with it, you practice getting it in action from that condition.

Rifles are great tools for home defense. They might not be the perfect fit for everyone and every circumstance, but they’re an incredibly versatile and easy to employ platform. I’m sure there are plenty of other things to remember about using a rifle for HD, but hopefully this list will get you started.


  1. For ARs, how about loaded and inserted mag, safety off, bolt locked back? That way you just have to hit the bolt release button and go? It’s like condition 1 but with the added convenience of being able to render the firearm inert by simply removing the magazine rather than having to also eject a live round.

    What are the detriments, assuming there are no kids in the house, to keeping a rifle that way.

    1. That’s not a safe condition for an AR. A significant (or sometimes insignificant) bump and that BHO will let go and close the bolt. Because the bolt on an AR can close at slight provocation, combining that with a loaded magazine is inherently bad.

      Generally you’ll want to keep the AR Cruiser Safe (safety on, bolt closed on an empty chamber, full mag) or Cruiser Ready (Charged and ready to go, safety on).

    2. Inserted mag + bolt locked back + safety off is exactly like storing the rifle chamber loaded, safety off, because all it takes for the bolt to slam forward in that condition is for the rifle to be bumped or knocked over. Except that locking the bolt back adds the small-but-present risk of a slamfire if you have an out-of-spec primer, making it even worse from a safety standpoint than storing it cocked-and-unlocked (itself a bad idea).

      For a gun kept in a safe or otherwise secured from kids and unauthorized adults, cocked-and-LOCKED (chamber loaded, safety on) is a far better alternative. Or go chamber empty, bolt closed, magazine inserted.

  2. I’m building an AR pistol with a Sig arm brace for this very reason…and budgeting $$ to slap a suppressor on it. I’m partial to keeping my own hearing…and having three little kids makes the suppressor a no-brainer.

  3. I live in CT and am limited on what I can own as well as magazine capacity. A shotgun remains my most practical option. Nov is almost here. I hope we can vote Gov Malloy out of office.

  4. I think a 5.56 carbine loaded with M-193 or frangible ammo is useful for home defense. Unless you live in the boonies far from another dwelling, i think a rifle chambered for a heavier round capable of zipping through walls like they were made of cheese is a bad idea.

  5. Based on decibel measurements I’ve seen, I don’t think a 16″ unbraked .223 is any louder than an 18″ 12-gauge (both around 156-160 dBA at the shooter’s ear), and neither is anywhere near as loud as a short-ish barreled .357 (165ish dBA). A brake is a really bad idea, though.

    1. I have a .357 mag. hearing loss already from yrs. ago. Just as I was taking off my Muffs, he, my (Friend?) , let a few off down range. Although, over the years most of the effects got better?.

  6. I prefer to keep pistols ready with a full magazine inserted 75% of the way, and the slide locked back. That way it is close to being usable, with everything necessary to have it ready to fire *obvious* and quick.

    The “obvious” part (which safeties might not be in a hectic circumstance) is as important as the quick part, while still keeping the firearm un an unloaded/safe-to-handle state.

  7. Look we can each pick our tools based on what works, I prefer a 12ga loaded with 7 rnds 00 buck and rifled slugs in the sidesaddle, we have bears here too. My point is this gear is dictated by reality!

    Also I prefer to have things SECURE and SAFE! The mag goes locked in the butt of the gun or mag well and the slide is closed (regardless of round in chamber). Nothing special because it became standard practice for a reason, it’s safe, it don’t jam as much and my mag is in the gun… not on the damned floor.

    After that JUST PRACTICE with you’re damned gear!!!!

  8. Slide or bolt open is just a great way to get more crap in the guts of your gun, and presents a risk (however small) that you’ll get a slam fire if the gun gets jostled after the mag gets seated.

    Storing it with the mag partially inserted presents a risk (however small) that the mag will fall out as you pick it up.

    Mag in, chamber empty — rack action to prep. By and large, your SAFEST “ready storage” method if you wish to keep the chamber empty.

  9. benEzra — it’s more than just straight dB — it’s the frequency ranges involved. The higher the frequency, the more damage at similar levels.

    But barrel length makes a HUGE difference. I got a chance to compare (subjectively) similarly set up 16″ and 14.5″ barrels (14.5″ with permanent extended flash suppressor), firing the same lot ammo. The 14.5″ was DISCERNABLY louder — but the ammo selected was XM193, which is designed for maximum efficiency in 20″ barrels, so the results were expected.

    I just didn;t expect the subjective effect to be so great that the 14.5″ was uncomfortable through my electronic muffs, whilst the 16″ wasn’t.

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