Selecting and Setting Up the Best Rifle for Home Defense


In this report, I am covering rifles for home defense. While the AR-15 type of rifle is easily the most likely type of rifle to be obtained and deployed for home defense, there are others. I will give these rifles a sub heading and concentrate on America’s rifle the AR-15.

I am a student of human behavior and criminology. I have taught at the University level. Yet. I find the role of criminals in society unchanging for many centuries. Those of us with a moral compass, or at least a respect for the law, find a home invasion an unexpected play, something that may surprise us. We must be prepared.

Bob Campbell aiming an AR-15 home defense rifle with a red dot sight
Be certain to practice with the red dot sight. It is a great accuracy magnifier.

A home invader is quite different from a burglar or thief. They are driven by desperation, impulse, and stupidity. These are terrible things to confront. Add a lack of moral center and you have a dangerous combination in a threat. The hate and aggression in some of these assailants is stupefying.

I have dealt with them and sometimes my bones sing about it. I have returned home — the key point — with bruises resembling Africa and Australia. Once, I sported a red welt of Channel Islands on my body. Bruises, detailing the point of impact, lend me perhaps a dubious qualifier as an authority, but these are among my bona fides. While I am satisfied with my education, it was all theoretical until my feet met the pavement.

A splintered door or the Canidae (dog) rustling from his bed are all warnings. Best be ready. You are under attack. While I keep a handgun at ready (usually the piece I have carried during the day), I also rely on long guns for personal defense. A good rifle increases your odds.

The difference in handling accuracy, and sometimes reliability in a rifle versus a handgun, is severe. If you have a problem getting hits with the handgun, consider a reliable rifle. You don’t have to spend a ton of money for a reliable rifle. As I learned firing the polymer frame AR, even that can indeed be trustworthy as well as affordable.

Quite a few with military experience are aware of the pitfalls of house-to-house fighting. Is it the same in a home invasion? Maybe. But they also tell me the armed individual who stays put and defends his or her ground is hard to shake out. That should be you.

HK .22 LR rifle with a Truglo red dot optic
This HK is just a .22 but set up well for practice. Note the TruGlo red dot sight.

AR-15 Rifles

We are all individuals, and fortunately the AR-15 rifle is user friendly. The rifle is easily adapted to your frame. With the modern six-position stock, you shouldn’t need to change the stock on most factory rifles. Some prefer a forward handle, some like a Hogue pistol grip. The AR is easily moldable.

I don’t like AR pistols and feel they are very overrated and seriously limited compared to the AR rifle. I was in at the beginning of the move to the AR in institutional use. An abstract I wrote was cataloged at the Federal training level. So, what do I know compared to the fanboys who push the AR pistol? A good quality AR rifle will shoot rings around a pistol and the ballistics very much compromised in a rifle caliber pistol.  

Which caliber AR? Most any centerfire rifle cartridge will give you an edge in home defense. I still feel the .223/5.56mm cartridge is the best choice. With a 55-grain JSP, the bullet will quickly fragment. Their effect upon animate targets is proven.

Six position AR stock for a home defense rifle
Most AR factory stocks work fine.

I don’t like 36- to 40-grain loads. They are great for varmints but lack penetration in a personal defense situation. Again, what the fanboys recommend doesn’t pan out in testing. The lightweight 36- to 40-grain bullet loads sometimes short cycle AR-type rifles, and certain buffers are not friendly to 40-grain loads.

There are purpose designed 55- to 69-grain loads that offer an ideal balance of penetration and expansion for personal defense. An expanding .223 penetrates less than the majority of 9mm, .38, and .45 ACP handgun loads. If you are concerned with over penetration, the answer is simple enough. Don’t miss and the bullet will stay in the attacker’s body. The .223 also has limited muzzle flash and modest recoil.

Home Defense Setup

To outfit the rifle properly, you must first understand the environment that you will be using it in. There are few range drills that prepare you for this type of work. The range is short, and if you are not certain of your manipulations, you may not make the piece ready in time to respond to a threat. If you are unaware of retention, and have not trained, then you may lose your firearm to a home invader. This has happened often — within the past few months.

Lever-action rifle with Picatinny rail and rifle scope mounted
If you go with a lever gun, then consider a good rail for optics and lights.

Retention is a separate subject, but the leverage of a long gun is an advantage — for those who train. The target isn’t an easy one. Don’t let anyone kid you. Quickly delivering a shot to center mass isn’t easy. Since we are moral people, the threat must be identified — this means illuminated. We need a light. Turning on outside lights to dissuade a prowler is good. However, once he is in the home, he is a burglar, and you should not destroy your night vision. And remember, if he is an easy target at close range… so are you.

Note, don’t be the scared moron in Florida who fired a volley of 30 rounds through his plate glass window at a late-arriving pool boy. This is not what Stand Your Ground is about (in my opinion). While this dummy wasn’t charged with a crime, he is certainly responsible (legally).

Be certain you are in control of your firearm. Panic and spray-and-pray firing a lot of ammunition — hoping you make a hit — is a poor idea and a serious liability. Panic leads to stupid decisions. Don’t be the fire chief who chased two youngsters turning around in his driveway and held them at gunpoint after they fled. While there seems to have been a cover up of sorts, there is now a lawsuit. He must foot the bill himself for his legal defense and it will not be cheap, however the cards fall.  

The more you have practiced, and the more confident you are of your ability and equipment, the less likely you are to panic. Keep your finger off the trigger until the moment you need to fire, and avoid unnecessary movement that may trip you up.

Every modification you attempt should enhance hit probability. Reliability is a given with most AR-15 rifles, so that isn’t a great concern. Keep the rifle clean and lubricated, and use quality ammunition and magazines. Using Magpul magazines will eliminate a lot of variables.

Practicing clearing a room in your home with a rifle
Practice firing from cover and around corners.

Quality ammunition, as we have often covered in these pages, will serve well. Few confrontations take place in true dark or a cavern-like absence of light. There is usually some ambient light. A set of night sights from XS is ideal for aiding in getting a good sight picture. I have used XS sights on several AR rifles with good-to-excellent results. When you practice the first shot is vital. That means good sights and practice.

For rapid target engagement, a red dot sight beats iron sights. The red dot allows the shooter to keep both eyes open. This makes for a greater field of view. Peripheral vision is an important part of combat ability. With the red dot properly set at its lowest setting, you have an advantage in rapid shot placement. There are several quality red dot sights. I use TruGlo, SIG, and Holosun primarily. Get a sturdy mount and plenty of practice behind the red dot.

A combat light is important. Illumination and identification are important. Many AR-15 rifles come with the older military-style forend. There are two types of attachment points Picatinny and M-Lok. Each has its adherents.

A TruGlo red dot and a mix of picatinny and M-Lok rails on a home defense rifle
The TruGlo, and a mix of picatinny and M-Lok, makes for a formidable home defender.

Picatinny rails are heavier and more likely to snag. Picatinny rails are rougher on the hand and often require a cover. Accessory mounting is important whichever mode you choose. The Picatinny rail is consistent and allows mounting a wide range of optics and lights. The .118-inch slot depth and .206-inch width work well in both ease of attachment and security.

The M-Lok is a slot type system. A rotating internal lever is tightened with a hex key. Not quite as simple, but versatile. When not in use, the M-Lok stock is smooth and doesn’t require covers. Snags are less, and the outside diameter is reduced with the M-Lok system.

I don’t find quick detach capabilities to be important in a home defense firearm, while a military operator may find this option sometimes desirable allowing quick accessory replacement. Solid mounting is what counts to me. Choosing the one best suited for your demands, requires some time. It is like choosing a Colt or a SIG rifle. Each is good; one is best for you.

Bob Campbell working a lever action with a combat light in the home
Marrying a light to a lever-action isn’t odd, it is smart!

Combat Lights

I have used quite a few combat lights, usually Surefire, Inforce, or another top maker. A decent combat light ranges from less than $100 to the earthquake-proof types at $300. These are necessary for target illumination. Practice and plan, and you will be on top of the game.


The lever-action rifle is intuitive to many who have walked with a hunting rifle. Light, easy handled, quick into action, and famously reliable, they have no magazine to snag on furniture. Load, rack the lever, aim, and fire. A good-quality lever-action rifle in .357 Magnum is a fine all around home defender.

The moral of the story… for home defense use, good ammunition and magazines, a red dot sight, and combat light is all you need.

What do you prefer for home defense — a rifle, pistol, or shotgun? Do you have a tip for setting up a home defense rifle? Share your answers in the Comment section.

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