The AR-15/16 is the weapon of choice of armies and sport shooters around the globe. It is versatile and with certain configurations makes the top choice in home defense. It's light weight, reliability and easy field breakdown features has won the hearts and minds of US military personnel for decades – outperforming and selling the more economical AK-47. In rural areas, it has become a favorite predator and varmint control rifle and homestead defense weapon.
With all the build configurations available today, it can be confusing as to making a choice of how to configure your stock AR-15.
Hurricane Katrina was a lesson in the need for home defense when disaster strikes; but at the same time, it is a lesson on how the government can throw out Second Amendment rights at will. If your family is faced with a mob of criminals with intent to loot and other evil actions, an AR-style rifle with a few magazines, especially large capacity, can certainly be a blessing and life/property saver – more so than a shotgun or handgun.
But the firearm owner is faced with a myriad of configurations that can be perplexing and difficult to decide what makes the best AR for multiple uses. This is where the military's adage, “Keep It Simple Stupid” (KISS) comes into play.
AR rifles have been traditionally been related to Armalite (the one who developed it) and Colt (the one who won the military contract); but includes many brands and configurations – to include the M4 carbine popular with Rangers and Special Forces personnel beginning in the Vietnam War to today. The shorter barrel and configuration means it is easier to handle in confined spaces, something to consider when shopping for a home defense rifle.
Based upon statistics, experience and real-life situations, this article presents guidelines and tips in that line of thought.
First, remember, adding several nifty features to your rifle will also add to its complexity; so for marksmanship and knowledge of your weapon – practice frequently at your local range or on your rural property. Do not think that you need to have a light match trigger pull – the military pull is set for practicality. The pull weight of your trigger system should be around 4 lbs. Never less than 3 lbs.
A match grade barrel is not needed, just an added expense; unless you want to enter competition matches. The average working distance for home defense would be less than 30 feet. I also advise that your barrel be rated for the military ammunition, whether you choose to use 5.56x45mm NATO or 7.62x51mm NATO. This will allow the versatility of using either .223 or 5.56mm (or 7.62mm/.308). Since your home defense weapon should be versatile, I recommend the rifle be chambered for 7.62mm/.308, so you can use it for hunting as well. Turnbull Manufacturing offers an AR-15 platform chambered for 7.62x39mm, the AK-47 round, for those seeking hunting firepower at a cheaper price than 7.62 NATO. Turnbull's model is unique in that the AR platform has a Black Walnut stock, grip and fore-end (urethane or oil finish) with its famous Turnbull bone charcoal bluing process for the receiver. With Picatinny rail, oversized trigger guard for gloved finger, hard case, 5/10 round magazine and screw-on muzzle brake, 16” 7.62x39 barrel (20” barrel extra charge) has a MRSP of $2750, not including a scope. Muzzle flash suppressor/muzzle brake is essential to reduce muzzle flash to prevent messing up your night vision.
If your AR has the original carry-handle upper receiver, consider replacing it with an A3 flattop upper receiver so you can mount optics, custom sights and other accessories.
Replace extractor springs with those from Wolff Gunsprings or Brownells. I purchase almost exclusively with Brownells for gunsmith tools, parts and accessories; never regretting the quality. However, you can shop around to get the best price – but do not compromise on quality.
To list a few quality retailers: JP Enterprises, Tubb Speedlock Systems, and DPMS custom parts; the latter offered extensively in Brownells catalog.
Quality trigger and hammer pins can be found at Brownells, but also directly from JP Rifles or KNS Precision.
Bilateral safety levers (ambidextrous) is a good addition, as well as an extended charging handle. Handgrips might be considered, but it might make the rifle more bulky. Some handgrips offer a light or laser built in, which provides useful enhancement.
The handguard should have Picatinny rail sections for adding accessories. If you do not like grasping the Picatinny rail handguard, rail covers are available.
A sling could be useful if your going to carry a rifle, especially when performing actions that require two hands. It could get in the way during a home defense situation. I advise choosing the two-/three-point sling where the rifle will hand conveniently and ready for any required action; yet not get in the way – if you choose to install a sling.
Bipods are great for the range or in combat from a fixed defensive position – but would be detrimental to movement for home defense. I still have my M3 spring-loaded bipod that clips quickly on/off the barrel, to include the canvas carrying case that has a zippered pouch to put tools/parts or cleaning rods. I still have my custom canvas carrying case that protected my rifle from blowing sand in Arabia/Persian Gulf.
A collapsible buttstock makes it easier for storage and carrying.
As far as ammunition, I would suggest sticking with the military spec FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) ammunition – the same goes for those with the 7.62mm NATO configuration.
Quality and properly fitted magazines prevents feeding issues as well as installing heavier extraction springs. You can retrofit military surplus mags with better springs and anti-tilt followers. Ejection issues (short-stroking) can be resolved by switching to a lighter buffer and/or buffer spring; especially if you choose to fire commercial ammunition. Remember, never fire commercial ammunition from barrels/chambers designed for military ammunition. For example, never fire 7.62 NATO cartridges in an AR designated to fire .223 Remington cartridges.
Your AR15 is designed to take abuse; however, do not allow dirt buildup, propellant residue or carbon in the chamber, gas tube, upper receiver, bolt locking recess, et cetera. Keep it clean and ready to use.
Sights and scopes are something that must be considered, but keep in mind you want the rifle to be for multi-use. Tritium front post and rear sight aperture like offered by Trijicon or XS Sight Systems is an excellent choice. The quick aim red dot system like the military uses is excellent for quick aiming at shorter ranges than scopes offer. Reflex sights are what you will be looking for.
Other companies offering quality accessories are: Daniel Defense, Wilson Combat, Troy Industries and Magpul.
Lights mounted on firearms are one of the first things people think of for home defense; but remember this: the assailant will use the light source as a target. If you choose to install a light, make sure it is easily accessible to turn on and off. Laser beams are excellent for target acquisition in the darkness – or daytime close range. It certainly would scare an assailant if he knows a laser beam is targeted on his person.
As far as ammunition, it does not need to be powerful loads. Indeed, using rifle ammunition in an indoor defense situation increases over-penetration, injuring/killing a person or pet beyond the walls and doors.
Above all, purchasing the ideal home defense and all-round utility rifle is not the only thing you should be concerned with. Training with it in firearm safety, proper firearm handling, shooting techniques and weapon familiarization required in any defense situation.
A good place to start would be the NRA Basic Rifle Course. For those who are well-trained, like military veterans, the need for practice cannot be overemphasized or taken for granted. Constant training over and over is essential so when real combat situations occur, little thinking is required – which means a person will react better under stress.
When you target practice at the range, do not just practice with long distance; but at 10 ft and 15 ft distances in a quick fire situation (directly at the hip without raising to eye for sighting). If possible, conduct your training drills at night as well as daytime, using an unloaded gun when reenacting what may happen to need to be done in a home defense situation. Practice the use of cover and remember if the assailant(s) are firing back, how thin home walls are.
You can outfit your rifle with training equipment that modifies firearms so that when the trigger is squeezed a flash of red or green lot is emitted from the barrel each time the trigger is pulled (without cocking the hammer). Next Level Training offers such a system.
And as a last tip, ensure you have an adequate home-security system of some sort, along with your configured AR-15. Go over escape and evade plans with the family. Practice fire control – meaning know what and where your target is. Police and military are constantly training for recognition targeting between friend and foe; which lessens the chance of friendly fire – injuring or killing innocent bystanders. Keep in mind where those bullets will travel. That is where practice and proper planning counts. No person in their right mind look forward to a firefight, but being prepared and trained makes the odds of surviving markedly increased. And, remember, even justified deadly force in a civilian environment is a traumatic experience and could be costly in terms of judicial matters. Using a weapon in self defense requires a preliminary hearing to lawfully determine justification in most circumstances. Even law enforcement officers who are forced to use their weapon require a formal or informal hearing to ensure justified actions have occurred.
Above all, be a safe and responsible firearm owner – respect law enforcement and be their partner in deterring crime and not a liability.