I’ve done a couple posts in the last few months talking about self defense rifles. Like this one. And this one. I wrote both articles because someone was looking for a self defense rifle and wanted my $0.02 on the matter. The thing is, for me, self defense rifles are the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard of. Let’s look at a typical self defense scenario – specifically one I saw online recently – put a rifle, pistol and shotgun into the picture, and see which is best . . .
It’s 2:00 a.m., you’re sound asleep in your nice warm bed in your two story house when a loud noise wakes you up. Your wife, predictably, is still sound asleep (as are your 2.5 kids) as you head for the gun safe and then crouch at the top of the stairs.
There’s a man at the front door who sounds like he’s trying to break in. You call 911, and just as you finish telling the dispatcher what’s going on, the man applies boot to door and bursts through in a shower of splinters. He has an evil looking AK-47 in hand and baklava on his face. Or is it balaclava? I can never seem to remember…
Anyway, there you are with an immediate threat to your life staring you in the face. He has the means, opportunity and ability to kill you and has just made an overt act of aggression. In other words, you’re cleared hot on the bastard. So which gun is best for the job of protecting yourself, your wife, and your two point five small children?
Naturally any of the three (in a sufficiently man-stopping caliber) will do the job if you can hit him. But what if you miss?
With a handgun, you can quickly turn around to retreat before the bad guy starts hosing down your previous firing position with commie milsurp lead. Moving through the hallway to get back to your family and protect them won’t be a problem because the handgun is small and light and fits nicely in the waistband of your Fruit of the Looms if need be (it’s a bad idea, but in a pinch it could work).
Even when doing other tasks such as herding your family into your bedroom and out of harm’s way or barricading the door, the pistol is small enough that you don’t need to put it down to lift things or move stuff. You also don’t lose any accuracy or firepower when you use one of your hands to pick up the phone and dial 911 — something that probably should have been step #2 on your home defense checklist.
Ever tried to accurately fire an AR-15 one handed? I bet you haven’t, but I’ve done it a couple times. And in the heat of the moment, I very much prefer to be one-handing a light and nimble handgun than a chunky and long rifle.
With the shotgun, you’ve lost a lot of maneuverability so you’re likely to need an extra second to get up and turn around. It’s also harder to move through the house carrying a large metal pipe with you. You’re going to need to put it down to do just about any task that we mentioned previously.
Of course, that’ shotgun’s much more likely to (A) scare the ever-loving crap out of the attacker just by racking the action and (B) actually hit him. Unlike the other firearms, the shotgun has a distinct deterrent effect on attackers (the story I pulled this situation from was diffused when the homeowner racked the shotgun and the BG ran off), is somewhat more forgiving in terms of accuracy and packs a helluva punch when it does connect with flesh.
Rifles are, without a doubt, the worst idea. They’re cumbersome to maneuver, you need to put them down to do anything productive, and they don’t give you any additional benefits. The shotgun got you a little wiggle room in terms of accuracy, but the rifle is just as unforgiving – shooting wise – with the added benefit of having to worry about where the rounds eventually end up. Like the neighbor’s bedroom. Oh, and they’re much louder than handguns and therefor more likely to permanently harm your family members’ hearing.
The only situation where this ranking (pistols best, then shotguns, then rifles) is reversed is if you have large swaths of land and expect the bad guys to be firing at you from dozens of yards away. In that situation, a rifle would come in handy. But considering where most people in the world live (namely cities and suburbs) it doesn’t make a lot of sense.
There’s a huge difference between defending your home in the middle of the night and kicking down doors in Afghanistan that seems to be lost on most people who read this article. Home defense is about moving, communicating, and fighting in tight spaces when you’re not prepared. Soldiers benefit from radios and headset microphones and specialized equipment, but when all you’re wearing is your underwear and you need at least one hand to talk to the 911 operator in your cell phone, a rifle is not the ideal tool for the job.
For me, the handgun is the perfect self defense tool, hands down. Shotguns are a close second, mainly because of their forgiving nature but a rifle is something I would never consider for defending my apartment. Until my silencer comes in, that is. And probably not even then.
[This article was updated on 8/20/2014 to clarify the original point the writer was trying to make, and includes updated information.]