A common saying among tactical trainers is: “The purpose of a handgun is to fight your way to your rifle.”
That makes perfect sense on a battlefield in Iraq or Afghanistan, but what happens when that “battlefield” is in your home – especially in a rural setting?
When compared by sheer ballistics, the results of most handgun rounds are very marginal when compared to that of a rifle. Yet, handguns have the advantage of being more compact and portable. And since they only require one hand, your other hand is free to hold a flashlight or call 911.
So now you might be asking, “Should I choose a handgun or a rifle for home defense?”
I say choose the rifle. I’m not talking about old-style, single-shot Remington Rolling Block Buffalo rifles or a 300 Weatherby Magnum with a 10X scope on it for elk season (but if one of those are all you have, they beat a can of pepper spray). I’m referring to modern sporting rifles designed for more tactical use.
Here’s my list of the five best:
1. The AR-15 in 5.56/223
Perhaps the most popular rifle in the U.S. is the AR-15. It was designed in 1960 by Armalite for the U.S. military and has remained in military use for six decades. For home defense purposes, I strongly recommend the shortest barrel length you can legally own. In some cases, this can be a SBR (short barreled rifle) registered with the National Firearms Branch of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) for a $200 tax. SBRs have barrels less than 16 inches in length and can be as short as 7.5 inches. This makes the rifle more compact and maneuverable within the confines of the home.
2. The Kriss Vector
A California-based company builds a unique variety of carbines and pistols known as the KRISS Vector. This radical design eliminates felt recoil and is chambered in 9mm or 45 ACP. Those are pistol rounds but the longer barrels give these rifles significantly more velocity. Best of all, they take extended magazines designed for Glock pistols in the same caliber, so they work well for Glock shooters, too.
3. The FN PS90
This may seem like an odd choice, but this futuristic-looking firearm in its small 5.7mm cartridge was actually designed as a personal defense weapon and was used famously by the US Secret Service on president protection details. Compact with virtually no recoil, its bull pup-like design makes for a compact shooting platform. Having one of these converted to an SBR makes the weapon more desirable from a home defense standpoint.
4. The lever action carbine
Lever action rifles made by Winchester, Marlin, Rossi and several others chambered in one of the magnum handgun calibers such as 357 Magnum, 44 Magnum or 45 Colt make for a very effective and compact system for people who reside in areas where the ownership of semiautomatic rifles may be restricted or draw unwanted attention. Five to 10 rounds of a powerful revolver cartridge with the added ballistics of a longer barrel make these a primary fight-stopper. The late firearms guru, Colonel Jeff Cooper, used to refer to them as “Brooklyn Specials,” as they were one of the few firearms not castigated outright in what he viewed as the liberal courtrooms of the Northeast.
5. The Ruger 10/22
You read that right. I have been a longtime advocate of the popular Ruger carbine in a self-defense role. With the right ammunition and the correct bullet placement, these rifles can fill a vital role in any self-defense arsenal. Low recoil, fast follow-up shots and superb accuracy make for one heck of a home defense rifle.
It may be tempting to deck out a tactical rifle with all sorts of gizmos from red-dot sights to lasers, bipods and bayonets, but I suggest you keep it simple. More moving parts leads to more potential for something to fail, particularly if it is an accessory that the shooter comes to rely on more so than basic marksmanship.
The bare minimum I recommend is a mounted weapon light and a sling. Some shooters prefer a red-dot optic and if that makes you a better shooter, then go for it — particularly if you inhabit a substantial piece of property and might have to engage threats at a greater distance.
What would you add to this list? What would you delete? Share your thoughts in the section below: