Is an AR-15 suitable for Home Defense?

The term AR-15 generally refers to the civilian version of the M16 military rifle. The civilian version is usually semi-automatic, while the military rifle has a full-auto setting. Legally, “AR-15″ is a trademark owned by Colt. But many people use the term to refer to any similar rifle.

The AR-15 has become something of a standard, if a loose one, among gun manufacturers. Parts from different manufacturers are often, but not always, interchangeable. The number of after-market parts and accessories is very large. Prices for the rifle range from under $1000.00 for an entry level rifle to $3000.00 or more on the high end. Quality varies quite a bit, as you might expect when a large number of different companies are making the same type of product. The Smith and Wesson M&P15 Sport is a good example of a well-made but lower priced AR-15 rifle.

Now at, we are big supporters of the second amendment. So the question in this survival blog post is not whether civilians should own AR-15 type rifles, but whether the AR-15 is a good home defense gun. My answer is a little more complicated than ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. I would suggest that the AR-15 is better suited for some situations than for others.

The advantages of the AR-15 for home defense are several. The effectiveness of the .223 ammunition is battle-proven. The range is greater than many other home defense guns, such as shotguns, pistols, revolvers, and most lever-action rifles. The 30-round magazines are inexpensive and easy to find; so is the ammo. It is an accurate gun, and the recoil is relatively limited (much less than a shotgun). The available options for accessories and replacements parts seem endless.

But there are also some disadvantages. The .223 ammunition is loud, especially when used indoors. If you need to defend your home unexpectedly, you might not have hearing protection. Other family members in the house will also generally not have hearing protection. The loud noise can damage your hearing. It also has a fair amount of muzzle flash and blast, which is especially problematic indoors or at night.

Also, the ammunition has perhaps more power at close range than you might want for self-defense. If you live in a suburb, where the houses are crowded close together, you really need to consider whether a missed shot might harm your neighbors. And indoors, a missed shot can easily go through an interior wall and perhaps hit a family member. Careful accurate shots are one solution to this problem. But under duress, you cannot be certain that every shot will hit its mark. And at close range a .223 round might over-penetrate.

My opinion is that the AR-15 is a good home defense gun for more rural areas. As Butch said in one of our many conversations on guns, it is a good “property defense gun”. In other words, it is best suited to the defense of self, family, and home in an outdoor and more rural setting. If you have several acres or more of land, you might need a home defense gun with a greater reach than the typical pistol, shotgun, pistol-caliber carbine, or lever-action rifle can provide. And the accuracy of the AR-15 is good enough for even a mediocre shooter to hit a target at 300 yards. As a survival gun, the AR-15 is suitable for home defense and perhaps for hunting some types of game (check your local laws).

But I also suggest that the AR-15 is not your best option for home defense in the city or suburbs. As I’ve said in previous articles, the pistol-caliber carbine is an excellent option for self-defense in the home. A good pistol is very handy in close quarters. And a well-made revolver in particular is reliable and easy for a less experienced shooter to use.

I know this post only scratches the surface of the endless online AR-15 debate, but I wanted to put in my two cents. Reasonable opinions to the contrary are welcome. Add your comments below.


Note that firearms laws, self-defense laws, and hunting laws vary from place to place and change from time to time. Become well-informed about the laws affecting you in your situation and your location. Use your own good judgment. This article is the author’s opinion, and should not be considered as expert advice or as any type of recommendation.

3 Responses to Is an AR-15 suitable for Home Defense?

  1. Interesting article – thank you. Two points however: 1) Tests at the Department of Energy’s – Central Training Academy noted that over penetration concerns regarding the 55 grain FMJ 5.56×45 projectile is a fallacy. The test conducted at that facility showed that often penetration of a 115 grain FMJ 9x19mm projectile was greater than the 5.56 projectile. In addition careful bullet selection and lower grain weights can decrease over penetration issues. My agency’s firearms staff and I witnessed the tests and used the data to “sell” my administration on our patrol rifle program. 2) Flash suppressors work. I often fire my rifle in low light conditions and have found that my half bird cage flash suppressor significantly reduces flash, at least compared to my partner’s rifle which is without one. Its antidotal I know but based on experience. On a side note I’ve fired many handguns, rifles, and shotguns indoors during CQB training, and on operations; they are all very loud and my hearing isn’t acute enough to determine which one is louder, they all leave my ears ringing. Anyway, thanks for the interesting insights.

  2. “Property defense” weapon (as in defending your family out to the property line) is a great way to describe the AR-15 for home defense.

    Just make sure that you also consider the legal environment you live in if ‘defending your property’…defense of personal property would be hard to justify in a court of law…and even after a protracted WROL situation there may be courts of law passing judgement on actions during ‘the crunch.’

    Protect your family with violence when you must, but protect yourself from legal action as well.

  3. The availability of the .223 and 5.56 should also be of concern. Both are readily available. The over-pennetration issue can be lessoned by some of the polymer-tipped varminting rounds as well.