When I started down the road to armed self defense, I was initially somewhat startled to find that pretty much all of my instructors (including Gunsite and Suarez International personnel) carried a loaded rifle with them in their vehicle at all times. This sort of shocked me as, in my ignorance, I had no idea why anyone would need a rifle readily at hand . . .

Over the next several years, the idea of keeping a rifle handy — in the vehicle, in the office and at home — has started to appeal to me more and more. Simply stated, I started my firearms training with pistols. As I transitioned to learning the rifle the last few months, I see very clearly how a rifle is a much more precise, easy to use and powerful tool. Rifles trump pistols in every category except portability, concealment, and convenience.

Recently I came across the above video of a police officer ending the Sikh temple shooting by standing off a ways, and engaging the bad guy with a rifle kept in his vehicle. The perpetrator had previously incapacitated and grievously wounded one officer in a closer range, pistol to pistol shootout in the same parking lot.

Now I’m thinking about keeping a rifle in the car. It’s completely legal in Arizona and seems to be the standard approach amongst my firearms instructor friends. Is this paranoia or a reasonable precaution?

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80 Responses to Question of the Day: Do You Keep a Rifle Handy?

  1. I’ve thought about it quite a bit.Unfortunately, the vehicle I drive does not make a “trunk gun” easy—as it does not have a trunk. I drive a Honda Element, and I can’t see just leaving a cased gun in the cargo area for all the world to see.

    Now, a Kel-Tec Sub 2K folded and in a nondescript bugout bag would be one solution, but leaving a bag in the cargo area, even under a pullout cargo area cover still leaves the possibility of opportunistic thieves who steal the bag not knowing what’s in it—then my gun is on the streets.

    How could I carry a rifle? Suggestions?

    • Im assuming there is some product out there where you can install some sort of device that would lock the rifle to the car. Are you against installing something in your car? I mean with all the preposterous rules they have in the freedom hating states, there has to be something out there right?

      • On American Guns (I know, I know) they recently did a Winchester 94 truck gun for a guy. They built him a box for the rear area of his extended cab PU, and put a remote switch to pop the lock on the center console. Pretty neat.

      • I got the Element because it makes transporting a bicycle really easy—seats fold to the sides and bike goes in with both wheels on. Any sort of installed hardware would make that difficult, I think.

        It may be possible to put a folded Sub 2K in the spare tire compartment in a laptop bag.

        • Here’s the opportunity to make a lot of money. The hide-a-gun lock box for your car conveniently and discretely stow it away underneath haha jk

    • There are several rifles that have folding stocks or are takedown models, especially in .22LR. Sears sells a plastic “truck” tool box that is designed to go under the seat of a pick-up. It is long, not very tall and would hold a take down Ruger 10-22. I’m not familiar with the Honda Element, but I would think there is a spot somewhere in the cab to hide a box like this out of sight. My dad is an avid trap shooter, and rather than constantly load and unload all his gear out of his SUV, he built a wooden box that occupies the whole back floor. It has a 1/2″ thk plywood top and bottom spaced apart with 2x4s, and he built drawers that slid out only when the tail gate is down. He covered the top with carpet that matches the rest of the car, so from outside, you don’t even realize he has this storage area. I’m not sure what loosing 4 1/2″ of height in your cargo area would do to your bicycle storage, but where there is a will, there is a way.

    • That’s why you use a kel-tec. Relatively reliable for self defense purposes, but cheap enough to not lose sleep over if it breaks or gets stolen. Just make sure it’s concealed with at least a blanket or something.

      • They’re not super expensive rifles, but damned if they’re not rare as hen’s teeth. If somebody steals your Sub 2K, you’re looking at a year wait to find another one—and I’m still looking for the Glock 19 model. LOL

        • buy the g17 model & trim the grip! easy…
          i wanted the beretta model but couldnt find one so i bought an S&W model & bought the $1.67 beretta mag catch from kel-tec

  2. I keep a .22 rifle by the door of the house ever since I spotted a copperhead in the yard.

    I’ve thought about keeping a long gun in the trunk, but had always leaned towards the idea of a shotgun.

  3. When I first got into shooting pistols and was looking a buy my first CCW piece, I heard repeatedly “the pistol on your hip is just to get you to the rifle in your trunk” (one guy told me the AR-15 in his truck was to get him to his AR-10 at home). When my AR-15 is complete, it’s going in my trunk was my bug out/get home bag.

  4. In my mind, the perfect weapon for this is an SBR in .223 or 7.62 with a side folding stock (which eliminates any AR15 based rifles from the competition). It’s compact enough to be there all the time and yet has enough accuracy and firepower to resolve the situation.

  5. Preparing for the unlikely is part of carrying a gun every day–just like wearing a seat belt and having a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. While it’s unlikely you’ll ever need a rifle, that doesn’t make it impossible. If you can do so legally, there’s no real reason not to.

  6. I currently carry a lever action .45-70 in the back seat of my truck. I was once made aware of a threat against my family after the fact where the threat had a rifle. The threat was stopped before anything happened, but I realized right then that I did not have a chance against a rifle with my pistol. Ever since then I have had some sort of rifle in my truck either my lever action .45-70 or my lever .44 Mag.

    • A .45-70?!

      That’s some over-penetration on a massive scale, unless you’re planning on defending yourself against buffalo. The 350 grain JSP Buffalo Bore will blast through 11+ water – filled milk jugs.

      Still, I’d rather have that against an active shooter than a handgun.

    • people seldom clump up during a gunfight. In the videos I seen they scatter. an expanding bullet will leave most if its energy inside a target. besides , fmj is the ammo of choice among villians , (see FBI uniform crime report), so the sooner you stop them from shooting , the fewer fmj rounds going into the neighborhoods behind you.

  7. @Watzadon. If I am not mistaken, the .223/5.56 has the least penetration from the yawing action and how the bullet usually disintegrates upon hitting the target from the higher velocity vice a pistol bullet.

  8. In my mind, it’s a totally reasonable precaution. I wish I could as well, but I commute to the People’s Demokratik Republik of NJ every day for work.

    • You’d have to check the laws carefully, but if it were unloaded and you only had crippled-capacity mags, I’d think you’d be ok.

      New York state is generally fine for rifles (with 10 round mags, of course) but NYC is a whole ‘nother ballgame.

  9. Good idea, only suggestion I have for you is to get some sort of locking mechanism that you can keep the rifle secure and locked to the vehicle. Border Patrol use a type of device like this to keep others from trying to take their weapons.

    This is something I’d like to do, but most likely cannot.

  10. I figure you can run if you’re in a vehicle, if a threat is at rifle distances especially. That being said, I have no qualms about lobbing .357’s at 125 yds from my truck gun – a handi rifle – if there isn’t a better way to gtfo.

    • +100

      If you cannot drive away from a threat or feel compelled to stop a threat anyway, then a rifle is the answer.

      With the right ammunition .357 Magnum lever action carbines are an excellent defensive rifle. Because they are somewhat short, they store easily and are highly maneuverable. And they pack a wallop: with hot 158 grain hollowpoints, you can expect 2150 fps at the muzzle and 1500 fps at 150 yards! At close ranges where the velocity is high, I imagine the bullet will fragment and minimize the chances for serious injury from over-penetration. At longer distances where velocity has dropped off, the hollowpoint will expand and should prevent over-penetration.

      Consider also that .357 Magnum lever action carbines usually hold 9 rounds in the tubular magazine … and you can reload in the middle of a firefight between shots. What’s not to like?

  11. I’ve thought about keeping one in my car, but I drive a mini-van and have the same problem mention earlier; no actual trunk. I have stow-and-go which would function just like a trunk, but I think an overzelous officer in Michigan could interpert storing a firearm in it as not complying with the letter of the law. Dispite the fact that it would be harder to retrieve a weapon from the stow-and-go than it would be from the back hatch, it is still rather close to the driver seat.

    I like the idea of keeping a kel-tec in the car. Its folding nature would make it easy to keep hidden.

    • Bonus: Michigan defines the SUB-2000 to be a pistol … which means you can keep it loaded, on the seat, next to you, in plain view, if you have a concealed handgun carry license!

      As of January 1st, 2013, Michigan will consider any newly purchased SUB-2000s to be rifles and then you would have to keep them unloaded, in a case, in the trunk, etc.

      Just keep in mind that 9mm and .40 S&W pistol caliber carbines do not generate rifle velocities and energies.

      • Interesting. How could you possibly deal with this, though? If your Sub2K was an older model and you got pulled over in 2013+, how could you possibly prove to the LEO that it’s considered a pistol or is legal? I would assume that he would simply arrest you, confiscate your hard-to-acquire gun, and “let the judge deal with it”. Even if you were never charged, you now have an arrest that will follow you for the rest of your life!

        Why would anyone possibly take this risk?

  12. “Is this paranoia or a reasonable precaution?”

    That would depend where you live, the types of areas you drive through, and the activity(s) you are doing. Yeah, I know trouble can come anytime anywhere. If it is the only emergency tool (neglecting a first aid kit, bug out bag, etc) that a person keeps in their car then IMHO I would call it too much focus on SD weapons and not enough on other important tools.

    Are there known cases of a legally armed civilian with a handgun (in proximity to their car) being under-armed when they needed a long gun to win or survive? Bottom line: only you can decide.

  13. I don’t think its paranoid at all. a rifle is far superior to a handgun, and police choose them over a hangun whenever they can.
    a 30 carbine with soft point ammo would be a good choice to. they can be had with a side folder, and 110gr@1990 fps is 958 ft lbs. better than any handgun.

  14. NO.

    My first year in college I lived in the campus dorm.Unfortunately for me college policy banned guns in the university housing building, so I had to leave my entire collection in the trunk of my car-including my rifle.It seemed like a good idea having a loaded AR15 handy, but I ran into some practical problems during the course of the year.

    Problem #1 is security. There is no way to prevent someone from gaining access to your car. If push comes to shove a brick and 20 seconds will get even the dumbest crook into any wheeled vehicle equipped with windows. If the bad guys see a lockbox or sophisticated security apparatus, they’ll merely jack the entire vehicle and bust open the storage container someplace else. Either way, the only thing standing between your trunk gun and a lucky thief is random chance. I parked my car at an on campus parking lot within viewing distance of my campus room, and a vehicle parked two spaces from my car got robbed. I never heard a thing, one minute I looked out the window, and an hour later someone’s driver side window was missing. Had I been hit that day, my entire collection would be on the streets.

    Problem #2:The Weather.

    This may not be AS much of a problem for some people here,but I live in a midwest state with two seasons:hot summers, and long cold winters. Neither season is kind to firearms stored in metal automobiles for long periods of time. In winter, condensation buildup can result in rust issues depending on the finish of the weapon. Because the weapon spends days inside of the car in the elements, there’s that much more time for condensation-and its cousin rust- to build up not just on the outside of the weapon but also in the action and bolt system. I needed to clean and inspect my cased weapons weekly to ensure they didn’t turn into rusticles come rain , sleet, or snow. Rifles with fragile finishes need not apply, and I took the extra precaution of storing my AR15 sans BCG just to be safe ( the campus law said nothing about gun parts , wink wink). Without dilligent attention to the weapon, you may find a rusted artifact waiting for you should an emergency come forth.

    Problem #3: A trunk gun poses logistical problems.

    I remember a situation came up where my tailight bulb failed on my car. The procedure to fix it required opening the trunk and unscrewing a fixture inside. Well, I had an AR15 back there.Not wanting attention from LE or sticky fingered bystanders, I had to keep the thing hidden which meant keeping my trunk lid suspiciously low as I changed the bulb .

    “Got Jumper Cables?” asked the cute girl with her car propped open.

    Nope, said I. It was a lie, but opening the trunk to get them meant introducing her to my rifle.

    Speaking of attention, what happens in the event of a car accident? Being rear ended is significantly more likely to happen than a long duration gunfight necessitating a long arm. What happens to the rifle in the trunk if some yokel slams into me ? Will the weapon slam fire from the force of the collision if its kept ready?

    My current roommate was rear-ended last month, and while the damage is superficial his trunklid is frozen shut on account of the damage. That situation poses an obvious dilemma for people carrying trunk guns.

    Due to those issues , the only weapon in my vehicle is the one I carry on my person.

  15. Im inclined to agree with ST. A trunk gun is a good idea untill I think of all the possible complications. I do drop a win 94 in my trunk if im going camping or to the farm. If im in need of a SD option its unlikely ill have time or ability to get out, go to trunk, open trunk, load rifle(legality), and then find my target and fire. LEOs have the option of knowing what is hitting most of the time when responding. They can do as this officer did and stage out to get their rife. As a civilian I wont have that option. If its threatening me chances are its going to be close.

      • If an ordinary Joe encounters a mobile situation that cannot be addressed by a concealed handgun,it is best solved by leaving entirely.

        There’s nothing wrong with seeing 3 guys with rifles and thinking its better to make like Michael Jackson and beat it.

  16. I’m surprised nobody is looking at this from the perspective of another armed citizen who may be present. What would your (or police) first reaction be if there was someone holding a rifle during a shootout? Or even in the aftermath once the real threat was eliminated?

    • If the police are there the need to stick around is gone. The rifle is like CCW in that it is for self defense. Where I live I could easily be engaged from a distance beyond 500 yards, All the local PoPo carry rifles

    • You can hold a pistol against your body and cover it with your other hand and it almost disappears. Police presence means you get your gun back to its holster or trunk as fast as possible unless the threat is still imminent. If police tell you to drop your gun, DO IT.

    • This is an excellent point, probably worthy of its own post and discussion. Can anyone with LEO experience please comment on this: If you see an individual holding a gun, do you tell the individual to drop it? Or do you not take the risk to your safety and simply shoot?

      I realize there could be a million other factors at play, but in general, if you encountered someone holding a firearm — in a situation where shots have been fired — what do you do? Is there a SOP for this?

      Any information or opinion is appreciated.

      • It’s hard to say – LEO mistakes and shooting errors have been well documented on these pages. I would sincerely hope that you would be alright, but it really depends on how you are viewed by the LEOs who respond. If it looks like you are an off duty copy or detective, you may be treated as one initially. If it looks like you are the threat, that is not going to be a good thing. On the other hand, stopping a mass murderer bent on his sick rampage is paramount. Many of the same situations could also happen with a handgun, although a rifle or shotgun is obviously a step above a handgun in terms of capability and preparation.

        Bottom line: you could get shot or arrested. Hopefully an on scene investigation would clear you of any tactical danger or wrongdoing, but investigations are done by human beings with flaws and biases. Know your local laws, and evaluate the risk versus gain of your actions. It helps to run scenarios before the adrenaline starts pumping.

        I’m an LEO who supports the 2A, freedom, and responsible firearm ownership. Not everyone in uniform shares those views, but many do, and believe that justice happens when the bad guy gets terminated, whether it be by an LEO or a Good Samaritan.

  17. Having a rifle in the car sounds like a good idea, but when would you use it? If you were attacked, as ST said, why not leave? And if you shot someone, I would think defending yourself in court would be very hard.

    • I am so thankful my state spells out the duty to retreat. The law says, “There is no duty to retreat.” Simplest laws on the books.

      Normally running away entails turning your back on the predator.

      No thanks.

  18. Winchester Model 94 .30-30. Bought for $100. I was going to refinish and sell it, but the action works so well, I just threw it under my seat. Doesn’t have to be pretty, just work.

  19. I sure do. I keep a magazine loaded AR-15 next to me at work (I work from home, lucky me) and I keep a magazine loaded AR-15 in my car, depending on what I’m doing/where I’m going. (Legal in Oklahoma to open carry a magazine loaded rifle or shotgun in the passenger compartment if you have a concealed weapons permit (weird how that works)). In case anyone is curious, muzzle down in the front passenger side using this setup: http://www.santacruzgunlocks.com/setups/complete931-5.html.

  20. I’m in CA (worse, LA county ;)). CA law does require that the rifle be unloaded, and like most of the US, the Federal GFSZ act requires that the case be locked (I know many states just ignore it, but this is CA so you really don’t want to take that risk lest some pissy DA pass you off to the US Attorney). But if I drive further than 10 miles from home, drive into a bad neighborhood, am going somewhere I don’t know very well, or anything like that, I keep an AR in the trunk. My wife does the same with a handgun in her purse (locked and unloaded with a combo lock), so between the two of us we can fight our way to our rifle if need be. I’d love to keep one permanently in the car, but I unfortunately don’t have enough ARs to task one full time.

    I’ve got a Scion xB, so I’ve got similar visibility issues (add to it that LAPD and LASD think seeing a rifle case is probable cause to do a 12031(e) check and ensure it’s unloaded), but that’s a rather simply solved problem.

    A) My AR case is a soft sided $20 electric guitar case. I put some thin corrugated plastic from Home Depot inside the liners to add some rigidity and make it harder to tell what’s inside. My wife sewed loops of 4″ wide elastic inside that hold my magazines. I have a little 3 digit combo lock. With the bag over my shoulder, you simply grab the bottom with your left hand, swing the entire bag to your front, hit the combo lock that at this point is 3 inches from your face, yank the zipper, and voila, you’ve got a rifle and mags. Yeah, it’s atrocious compared to just keeping a loaded AR in my trunk, but compared to some of the ideas posed here (10-22 takedown in a locked toolbox under the seat?) or nothing at all, it’s a pretty decent setup.

    2) For the visibility issue, I have a very simple solution: I always have a blanket or unrolled sleeping bag in the back of my car. If I have the case in the back, the sleeping bag or blanket is wadded up covering it.

    Problem solved.

  21. I am planning on getting a Kel-Tec SU16C. This is a fold-able rifle that I would mount on the top side of my trunk underneath the rear window. I have been experimenting with some type of tear away mount that would keep it hidden but still be quick to remove. I am planning to keep 6 fully loaded mags in the car. I will do a lot of practice at 25-100 yards.

  22. I am a couple of days late but I still want to get my two cents in.

    While I can see a few cases where a private citizen in a rural area could benefit from having a rfile near by, urban self defense is another matter. Even in a stand your ground state engaging a threat much beyond 10-15 yards is going to get you into trouble with the law. You have to justify the threat to your own safety or someone very close to you to claim justify your actions. There are a few cases where a private citizen under police direction, e.g,, the 1966 Charles Whitman UT incident,
    where you can legally employ a rifle. The only time I can see that happening today is in a natural or man-made disaster where LEOs need all the help they can get. (That’s right Mr. Bonomo et al, there still is a militia and almost all citizens are in it.)

  23. Not daily no but on trips longer than an hour we’ll take along a Marlin 336 in addition to the EDC sidearms. It’s all just in case we should get stuck in the desert between destinations; that and lots of water.

  24. Growing up in the country, a rifle in the truck is normal. The window mount has been replaced with the cubby holes under the rear seats. Bar none IMO the best bet is M44 carbine, mine is accurate, loads and cycles quick, and the round is stout with steel tipped surplus.

  25. I recently bought a new Honda Civic and was pleasantly surprised to find that the trunk release lever has a lock on it. You just use the ignition key to lock or unlock the lever, which controls both the trunk and the fuel door. I feel much more peace of mind now leaving guns in the trunk, knowing that even if someone smashed a window and got into the car, they wouldn’t have immediate access to the trunk. I’m sure the lock could be broken if the thieves were motivated enough but it certainly adds another layer of protection. I wouldn’t recommend leaving it parked on the street overnight with a gun in the trunk but for going to the store or to a friend’s house, it works great. The car even came with a special “valet key” that will open the door and start the ignition, but won’t open the trunk or unlock the lever. Pretty cool.

    I hope all cars start putting in this feature.

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