Who else grew up with everyone telling you that a rifle is not good for home defense? I sure did. In fact, not all that long ago the only weapons according to most folks that were suitable for home defense were .12 gauge shotguns loaded with 00 Buck, a wheel gun, or a finely polished and tuned .45ACP 1911 pistol. Times have changed.
When you look at ballistics, which we won’t dive too deeply into here, pistol rounds and 00 Buck are notorious over penetrators. Not good if you have to defend you and your loved ones in a modern house with thin sheetrock walls. Yes, there are loads for shotguns and handguns that work well in that environment, but that is a subject for another time.
Contrary to common belief, much of the ammunition used in tactical rifles today does not have over penetration issues. A simple reason why is because a rifle round moves with greater speed out of the muzzle, it will simply expand or tumble greatly upon hitting an object, including a soft target such as an intruder. Don’t believe me? Look it up.
No, I don’t recommend Daddy’s M1 Garand loaded with armor piercing rounds as a primary home defense rifle. That is unless you are concerned that a mechanized Wehrmacht platoon is going to descend on your farm and be coming at you with half-tracks and schmissers. If you don’t know what the Wehrmacht is, look that up, you may learn something about history.
Here are a few choices I choose for a perfect Home Defense Rifle. I specifically chose rifles that fire rounds that are good at not over penetrating. You won’t find 7.62x51 or heavier rifle cartridges on this list as they are great cinder blockbusters and can plow through a tree trunk. The 3 rifles I chose have rounds that expand or tumble well.
The AK-47, AKM, are popular rifles here in the USA. They have a well-deserved reputation for reliability and ruggedness. Utilizing a long stroke piston and built with loose tolerances it is hard to stop an AK from running. The AK-47 has a forged receiver and is generally more expensive, examples of the AK-47 in the USA would be the Arsenal SAM7. The AKM, is by far the most popular AK in America, examples include the WASR-10, Arsenal SLR series, PAP rifles, WBPs, Norinco 56s, and MAK90 rifles, and many others. The receiver is stamped as opposed to forged.
Currently, the AK-47 and AKM, is the most common tactical rifle in the United States, after the AR-15. Millions of these rifles have been imported from China, Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Serbia, and other nations over the last 30 years. Its only weakness is the cartridge, the 7.62x39mm Soviet cartridge can over penetrate, especially if you are shooting imported FMJ (full metal jacketed) ammunition. Soft tip hunting bullets, frangible ammunition, and Hornady ballistic tip rounds are available and are a better option for someone using an AKM/47 for home defense.
If you have decided on an AK, I strongly recommend that you purchase an imported rifle such as a WASR-10, WBP Fox, one of Arsenal’s many models, or a Serbian N-PAP. I highly advise against purchasing a 100% USA built AK. The only exception to this rule might be a rifle from Palmetto State Armory. The reason being is the superiority of foreign parts of domestic, with forged trunnions and carrier over cast, and proper barrel population. Foreign AKs tend to use forged trunnions, bolts and carriers as opposed to the cast parts often used in domestically built AK rifles. Imported AKs are known to last over 100,000 of ammunition, and that is a lot of shooting!
AK-74: This cold war rifle is the younger brother of the above mentioned AK-47/AKM, and was adopted into Soviet service in, you guessed it, 1974. The rifle is chambered in the superb 5.45x39 cartridge, which can be found here in the states cheaply, even with the ban on 7n6 ammunition in 2014. Hornady even offers outstanding V-max loads for this rifle. To me, this rifle is much smoother than an AR-15 certainly has a slight edge in reliability. The long stroke gas piston system iconic of the AK is the reason for this, as is the rifle’s loose tolerances. With the standard AK-74 muzzle device/compensator it is hard to find a softer shooting rifle.
The round is on par with the .223/5.56 in performance, it is cheaper, and the AK-74 doesn’t have any issue with steel cased rounds. In fact, it was designed for a steady diet of steel. The Hornady V-max rounds are your best bet for home defense and having 2 mags full of them by your rifle is plenty to deter and deal with any threat you should encounter.
One major issue with AK-74s currently, is that they are getting harder and harder to find. Your best bet is the secondhand market or having one built from an imported kit.
AR-15: I like the AR-15, and I currently have 2 rifles set up specifically for home defense. For someone seeking their first home defensive rifle, I strongly suggest you purchase an AR-15. The reason is twofold; first, they are readily available and affordable. The second reason is the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge has a proven track record for personal defense. Rifles are far easier to control over pistols and 5.56 does not over penetrate nearly as bad as pistol cartridges or shotgun rounds.
In 2004, after the sunset of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, a new AR-15 often cost over $1000, and an average of 200,000 were produced annually. Times have changed, and the same rifle that would have cost $1000 in 2004, now can be purchased for $400. Millions of rifles are built for American civilians every year and demand has not gone away.
An AR-15 can be purchased as a complete rifle or can be built from parts. I strongly recommend that any AR-15 you purchase or build, be built upon 7075 T6 mil-spec upper and lower receivers, with a mil-spec buffer tube. Your rifles bolt carrier group should be made from 158 Carpenter Steel that is chrome lined at the very least. Your gas key should be properly staked (bolted) to the bolt and should also be chrome lined. A good bolt will last between 20,000-30,000 rounds. Most of the well-known companies out there put quality bolts in their rifles, and this is one area you don’t want to shy away from to save a few bucks.
I strongly recommend a Cold Hammer Forged and chrome lined barrel for your AR-15 or a 4150 Chrome Moly Vanadium barrel that is nitrided or chrome lined. Both chrome-lined and nitride offer superior corrosion resistance as opposed to an unlined barrel, both offer greater longevity. Nitride has an edge when it comes to accuracy, chrome has a slight edge in longevity.
In closing, for home defense, you should have a light mounted on your rifle at the very least. Maybe a laser. I prefer irons for defensive use, others prefer a red dot. Take time to practice and become familiar with your rifle.
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