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A reader asks:

I am a Vietnam Airforce Vet and would like to buy a very nice to excellent AR15 for tactical and self defense. Would you mind sharing with me your top 3 choices/picks with model numbers from $ top down order. I have considered building my own from top quality parts but would rather buy one fully assembled and under a lifetime warranty.

Thank you very much for your service during that conflict, and let’s see if I can find you an AR-15 that fits your bill.

When you say “self defense” and “AR-15” there’s a flag that instantly goes up in my mind that says to pimp the .300 AAC Blackout round.

Standard 5.56x45mm NATO ammunition does OK for self defense and tactical situations, but the versatility that is offered by .300 BLK (especially when you throw a silencer into the mix) makes it the ideal self defense caliber for AR-15 rifles. At the probable distances you’ll need to fire there’s nothing better, and I’m not just saying that because I’m trying to drive down the price of ammo with increased demand.

The ideal barrel length for a self defense AR-15 is somewhere around 9 inches, but in an effort to keep this list NFA-free I’m going to recommend 16 inch rifles only. 16 inches is the legal minimum for non-NFA rifles and will still give you a relatively compact weapon system to ease movement around your house or concealment in a vehicle (where allowed by local laws, of course).

I try to guide people into the “build it yourself” route with AR-15 rifles and put my money where my mouth is with my own self defense AR-15 (pictured up top), but there is something to be said about buying a rifle pre-built that comes with a manufacturer’s warranty on the whole thing. With that in mind here are my top 3 self defense AR-15 rifles for under $1,500.

For that reason this .300 BLK AR-15 by CMMG, the LE-M300-1603R, tops my list. It’s a 16″ AR-15 chambered in .300 AAC Blackout that has a free floating barrel for increased accuracy, an (almost continuous) full length top rail and quad rail system on the forward handguards to mount all the tactical accessories your heart could desire. All you need is a sight of some kind and you’re good to go, and I recommend a Primary Arms red dot to fit that bill. Just a note: make sure you specify the carbine length gas system (pistol length is also available) or else your rifle will beat itself to death.

If it were my gun I would also swap out the pistol grip for a Magpul grip and the stock for a Magpul MOE stock, but other than that it looks great to me. It does come with a higher than average price tag of $950ish, but it looks worth the money.

(Hat tip to Tyler Kee and his buddy for finding this one)

#2 on my list is a firearm chambered in the more traditional 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge. Despite my issues with the round it still works well, and Spike’s Tactical has a reputation for making reliable firearms and accessories. This Spike’s Tactical ST-15 LE Carbine with a mid-length gas system comes with iron sights already installed and a limited lifetime warranty, all for $769.

Again, the grip and the stock I would replace if it were my gun but other than that it seems to be a solid product. The flat top upper receiver allows you to pop on a red dot or other sight, and even though the barrel isn’t free floating it still should provide “minute of bad guy” accuracy.

A late addition (added after initial publication) is the Smith & Wesson M&P-15 Sport. Ben Shotzberger reviewed this rifle extensively for TTAG and gave it a five star rating, and if it’s good enough for Ben it’s good enough for me. The only question I have is why my brain neglected to remind me that S&W had an AR-15. $709 (MSRP) gets you one of these puppies.

This last rifle is just slightly out of your price range, but I’m including it because you would be hard pressed to find a better rifle.

Noveske Rifleworks makes some of the best barrels I’ve ever used and I wouldn’t trust any other company to make the barrel for my competition rifle. It stands to reason that if they can make a great 5.56 barrel they can make a great .300 BLK barrel, and that’s what they did. This 16″ Rogue Hunter .300BLK Rifle will set you back a pretty penny — about $1,665 before taxes — but it is the embodiment of perfection. The free floated barrel is encased in a comfortable rounded handguard, the full length rail along the top allows mounting of sights and optics, the Blackout flash hider provides an attachment point for your future silencer, and it even comes with a BCM Gunfighter charging handle (my favorite). I don’t think I’d even change out the grip or stock.

And that’s my list in terms of pre-built firearms.

If you’re looking to build yourself a custom AR-15 (which I highly recommend) then here’s my parts list for my personal self defense AR-15 (with some suggested improvements):

Total build: $1,766 + tax + shipping.

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  1. Whats the problem with 5.56? Do you think the 5.56 is week or too fast for a small round or simply not suited for home defence or civilian use? I have 2 AR-15s and I’m considering the .300BLK or more than likely the 6.8SPC so that I could use for hunting and I would rather have a bigger round for home defence.

    • It’s a combination of the availability of spare parts (the only difference is the barrel so all 5.56 accessories and parts work), the ability to be suppressed and the fact that it has over 20% more muzzle energy than 5.56 out of a 16″ barrel. It packs more of a punch and can be quieter than 5.56 ever can.

      • In a home defense type situation though, I can only assume the slower heavier .300blk bullets don’t fragment in drywall like 5.56, and that is very much an issue for me. I want a round that can put down an intruder quickly, but won’t go right through the walls into my children or neighbors rooms.

    • Which alternative you go with has a lot of variables, but from where I sit, .300 blk looks the best in terms of parts (barrel is the only incompatible part), and performance out of a short barrel. .300 blk was designed for a 9″ barrel, and until you get close to 16″ (and higher) it has the better terminal ballistics than 6.8 spc.

      Add in that it was designed to be suppressed, and you get the trifecta: good performance, short barrel, and low noise. Last I checked, those were the three most important factors to consider before going live-fire in my home…

  2. Military 5.56 is not known for effectiveness. That said, civilians are not restricted to that specific ammunition. We can use heavier bullets than the military and we can also use hollow points–both increase the effectiveness of the cartridge.My primary defensive rifles are 6.8SPC, but I also have 5.56s. I keep at least 1000 rounds of defensive ammo in each caliber, but in a pinch, 5.56/.223 will be far easier to find/trade if the need arises in an emergency.

    • Armorer’s tool (looks like a big wrench) for about $30, a screwdriver and a hammer are all I’ve ever needed. Handguard removal tool is a nice optional component along with a table mounted vice.

      I feel like I’m forgetting something, but that’s all I have in this box…

  3. Spikes is an excellent choice. I also recommend Palmetto State Armory as a sound entry level carbine. You can get a base M4 style rifle for around $620. The better option is the Patrol option which includes a hammer forged barrel and the AimPoint PRO optic for $1100. Honestly at these prices you’re only saving a very small amount on the build-it yourself option.

    Anytime friends ask me about a M4 style rifle I also recommend that they add any where between $100 and $400 for things like magazines, rear sights, optics, light, sling and the ever necessary ammo. More if they can actually afford time/money to get to a course to learn how to use the rifle.

    As for defensive loads, I typically refer them to Dr. Gary Roberts’ summary of best defensive loads:

  4. I’d replace the Spike’s Tactical recommendation with the S&W M&P 15 Sport ($739 List, $650 – $675 Street). Check out the TTAG review if any questions.

      • Nick – Just trying to help a fellow PSU alum.

        FYI – Since Benjamin reviewed it, S&W replaced the rear sight with a MagPul BUS and raised the list by $30. I bought it for my first AR after Ben’s review and it’s never disappointed me.

  5. Despite my dislike of Belgians, I was thinking of getting my folks an FN P90. Light recoil and the balance of the bullpup works in favor of folks with bad shoulders.

    • Suppose for 5.56 you could consider the F2000. Otherwise a pistol cal carbine (maybe even with a happy stick) would work.

    • A rhetorical question: is the FN PS90 the ideal home defense rifle? It is light weight, has low recoil, has a large capacity magazine, reputedly will not over penetrate and is easy to maneuver.

      Downsides e.g. compared to an AR-15: more expensive to purchase, more expensive ammo.

      • It is hard to find really cheap ammo, but has 1k of FN factory for $450, which isn’t too far off decent, US made 5.56 anyway.

  6. At across the room distances even a shorty AR will have more than enough energy to fragment and kill efficiently (provided proper shot placement and all). You can also use soft points etc. Note: Applicable to any shorty firing an intermediate round.
    CMMG occasionally has ‘bargain’ ARs that are built from leftover parts but they function fine.

  7. I may be missing something about the upper you recommended, but it looks like your recommended build is missing a front sight. A person could go with the matching MBUS front sight, or another option is this .

  8. I think the first question one must ask oneself is “is an AR the right self-defense choice for me?” As Box O’ Truth demonstrated, a stray 5.56 round will go through a bunch of walls. If like me you live in a typical suburb, or a city, that is something that should be considered.

    Also, at what sort of range does one envision engaging someone at?

    • I forget which gun magazine it was, but they had a penetration test of a 9mm versus 5.56mm and the 9mm penetrated more walls than the 5.56mm. I know years ago, Pistolero Magazine built a house in the desert and shoot all sorts of different caliber rounds through it. The results were stark and sobering. Made me swap my thinking towards shotguns with medium shot, especially in an area with houses close by.

  9. I personally think all this huff and puff about Home Defense Rifles is ridiculous.
    Cawadooty at its best. Home Defense Rifle. Thats an Oxymoron.

    Most engagements in self defense scenarios will occur over short distances.

    I would think you have a hard time proving self defense if your intruder is on the other side of a football field. Rifles, unless your an Operator are better suited for distance. Home defense is about defending your self and your family from harm or other great bodily injury. Rifles wont look so great in court. Especially when its all tacblack spooky rifle. (PDRK Resident here).
    Whats wrong with a 870? whats wrong with a 500? whats wrong with a pistol?

    Heres something to think about… You fear for your life and have to use your fancy rifle. Well… You loose that rifle when the cops show up and take it in as evidence. You pay lost of money to get it back. You end up spending huge amounts of money on lawyers and hope to god they don’t come after you in civil suit. You could have just bought a decent pistol or shotgun for $300-$800 (R870, M500, XD, XDm, Glock, M&P, RRA, Taurus etc etc etc).

    Number one rule of thumb I go by in home defense. Shoot what the police shoot. It looks better in court.

    I enjoy rifles, love them actually, but would never in a million years, unless in a WROL situation, even consider using one for home defense. Shotguns and pistols are much better for engagements in the home IMO.


    • “unless your [sic] an Operator”

      Should be “you’re” and you don’t need to capitalize “operator”. If you use proper spelling and English people will be more likely to take your opinion seriously.

        • In defense of grammar Nazis, when I read a very grammatically tormented sentence or, worse yet, a whole paragraph of sentences with nonsensical syntax I just stop reading and move on to the next comments because it takes so much time to try to unravel the meaning of an extremely poorly stated idea or position.

          If you want people to be influenced or informed by what you write, do try to keep it semantically, syntactically and grammatically correct. Some of us just don’t have the patience to learn a new language that is based on gibberish.



    • I dunno, I suppose an AR15 could work in home defense, but I really would hate to go in front of a jury pleading self defense with a Tacticool Rifle. I actually sort of try to make my self defense weapons sort of look non threatening and of a ” sporting” nature.

      • My pistol is my HD weapon. If I need to use my rifle for HD, I’m in a much worse situation than your average B&E. Its more convenient to carry or stash a pistol in your house than a rifle. I cant think of many people who fancy keeping a loaded rifle near their bed versus a loaded pistol in a bed holster or night stand.

    • “Number one rule of thumb I go by in home defense. Shoot what the police shoot.”

      I understand it’s nearly 2 years later, but it has to be said: Don’t know about you but the police near me all use AR15s in their patrol cars.

  10. Friend has a Spikes Tactical AR15 and he seems to love it. His is the direct impingement model and it will carbon up after a few hundred rounds. Steel case ammo seems to sort of work and sometimes will jam in the chamber. Use good brass ammo and it works fine.

  11. Although the .300 AAC Blackout round is the newest, latest and greatest. Um. Question. If the SHTF,exactly where are you going to find the .300 in any quantities to re-stock you depleted supply???? For that reason alone I’d stick with 5.56 all day and twice on Sunday. The 5.56 is on every continent and every corner of the world as much as the 7.62×39 is.

  12. What is your fascination with the 300 blk?!?

    While i understand where it has its uses, i don’t see them being useful in the home defense role. From my understanding the 300 blk is designed to replicate the 7.62×39 in an AR platform. That and there’s a subsonic version from suppressed AR’s. I think its a great option for hunting or spec-ops but home defense?!?
    In all of the debates over home defense rifles the overall consensus seems to be that AK’s are horrible for that purpose due to way more chance at over-penetration, yet all of the sudden 300 blk is better than the 7.62×39 (which it’s supposed to emulate) because it’s being fired from an AR? I keep reading that the 5.56×45 is a reasonable round for home defense because it doesn’t penetrate too much, BUT if you wanted more stopping power why NOT an AK?
    Cheaper to buy, sub-moa doesn’t matter for bedroom distances, and ammo is CHEAP and PLENTIFUL, unlike 300 black. Parts are also plentiful for repair.
    Is somebody getting kickbacks from AAC? that’s the only reason i can see behind this recommendation. I’m not an AK fanboy, I have both platforms and myself would rather use an AR in 5.56 in my home…

  13. IF I was going to use a rifle for HD, it would be an AK-74 with it’s 5.45 round, and not an AK-47 with it’s 7.62×39. The smaller round is capable of overpenetrating a body, but the 7.62 is a beast and is guaranteed to overpenetrate. However, I’m not going to use a rifle. I prefer a pistol, loaded with hollowpoints. I also keep a 12 gauge pump handy, with low recoil buckshot, just for giggles.

  14. There are worse choices for home protection than an AR-15, but not very many.

    Unless you live on a lot of very open property, like I do, keep in mind that 5.56 or .300 black out is going to go a very, very, very long way if you miss. And depending on the load, it will, even if you hit.

    And god forbid you should have to use it, you’re going to get freakin’ reamed in court for shooting some one with a scary ‘assault weapon’ with ‘high capacity’ magazines and that scary ‘shoulder thing that goes up’.

  15. Great choices. I would also recommend the Palmetto State Armory Patrol Rifle with the Aimpoint PRO red dot for about $1100 or a Bravo Company Manufacturing rifle.

  16. Just getting into modern Ar-15 rifles, I don’t see any reason to get into rounds like the .300blk right off the bat.

    5.56 is more readily available, has a long history of known terminal ballistics, much more available cheap practice ammo, and the benefit of reducing wall penetration in homes while still maintaining the ability to stop bad guys.

  17. You might check out some of Daniel Defense’s carbines. They’re normally a little on the expensive side but lately I’ve been seeing them sell (With the fancy rails and iron sights no less) than less than a bare bones Colt. I found a mid-length gas system carbine with the Omega rail and some Magpul furniture for less than $1200.

  18. I have to agree with Patrick, there is no reason to turn away from the 223 Remington/5.56 NATO. I’m constantly amazed at firearms writers who glom onto a new cartridge without making honest comparisons to what already exists. No matter how it is sliced, the 300 Blackout is a made over 7.62×39. A 30 caliber 125 grain bullet at 2400 fps is a 125 grain bullet at 2400 fps regardless of what case it is shot from, be it a 30-30, 7.62×39 or 300 Blackout. The only advantage a 300 Blackout offers is to handloaders as one can use 308 diameter bullets as opposed to choosing from the highly limited 310/311 diameter balls. As to 200 grian bullets in the 1000-1200 fps range, sounds like a 357 Magnum to me.

    Paraphasing Mr. Clinton, “It’s the bullet stupid”.

    After reading in the deer hunting section at and looking over the photos of deer taken with the 223 and then killing two myself this year with my own AR and then studing the articles linked above, I’ve no doubt the limiting if not failing factor of the 5.56 NATO is the lousy M195/M855 ammo. The bullet is simply inadequet for making reliable stops and kills.

    The rifle and ammunition available on the civilian market today so far exceed Eugene Stoners original offering as to be two completely different animals, related only by the original design concept, and we do the rifle, cartridge and ourselves a disservice by continuing to think of todays offerings as if it were 1964.


  20. I am amazed a recommendation for a round like 300 AC would be made to a novice. Your looking at close to $1 a round. That makes practice, and thus proficiency, much more expensive. 556 will get the job done and is much cheaper and thus suited to proficiency. The focus on terminal ballistic’s over training makes me wonder where the forest is in the trees with this author.

    With that logic, why not go NFA and recommend full auto with a suppressor? It would not wake the neighbors while you defend your house… although a few rounds through the wall across the yard into neighbors house due to lack of training might be an issue.

    The best weapon for home defense is a shotgun.

  21. Did you test any of the rifles, through a tactical rifle course, that you recommended? This would involve shooting 1200-1500 rounds over a two day rigorous course or, having someone you know do it. That is the ONLY way you could possibly know whether a given rifle will hold up under tactical conditions.

    AR platformed rifles all pretty much look the same but vary widely in dependability. I would never recommend one without extensive testing or testing done by someone I know and trust, and I definitely would not rely on a review in a gun magazine.

  22. Obvious choice is obvious. COLT 6920. Can be had at wal mart for $1100. Why would you not buy the rifle by which all the rest are measured?

  23. Obvious choice is obvious. COLT 6920. Can be had for $1100. Why would you not buy the rifle by which all the rest are measured?

  24. Suggested Primary Arms Red dot Foghorn likes ( cost 118.00 ) just does not seem to be available. any other comparable scopes. Also inespensive supressors. Even quality homemade.
    Keeping it real. Old Tom , HooRah

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