The AR-15 Rifle For Home Defense? Absolutely!

The debate as to whether the AR-15 rifle is suitable (or the most suitable choice) for home defence is universal. The argument often compares the semi-automatic rifle or carbine against pistols and shotguns, and while everyone is certainly entitled to their own opinion, there are some clearly evident pros to using an AR-15 for home defence. So is the AR-15 an ideal choice for home defence, and if so then why?

The answer is without any doubt, YES! The AR-15 rifle has a lot going for it when compared to other firearms.

  • They are lightweight, at around 7-8lbs or 3.5kgs, and easy to manoeuvre
  • The controls (safety catch and mag release) are easy to use and instinctively positioned
  • Common bullets (such as the 55gr FMJ) are designed to naturally tumble and fragment within human tissue at close ranges, dealing devastating terminal wounds
  • Recoil is minimal, allowing for rapid engagements of multiple shots
  • High magazine capacity allows for superior firepower against multiple intruders
  • The rifle is extremely accurate
  • Modular rails and forends allow for easy mounting of illuminated optics, lights and laser pointing devices

Despite the rifle’s rugged and possibly intimidating appearance (to some), it is often said to be the most enjoyable and easy-to-use firearm amongst all age groups and genders alike.

Defence Against Home Invasion and Multiple Intruders

Having a plan can be the most important preparation that a homeowner can take to confront a crisis. This is particularly true when planning for the possibility of a home invasion, whether it be rural or urban.

According to statistics shown on, over 25% of home invasions involve violent crimes, with a violent home invasion occurring roughly every 2 minutes.

It is common for violent home invasions to include multiple intruders. This often means that homeowners who are involved in these unfortunate incidents may be facing up to three (or more) attackers at any one time.

If you cannot undoubtably confirm that there is more than one intruder, always assume that there are more

While pistols and shotguns are very often used as primary defensive firearms, there is often a concern as to whether they will be sufficient against MULTIPLE violent intruders, particularly when the intruders are armed with similar firearms themselves.

Since pistols and shotguns are known to be inferior in ammunition capacity, felt recoil, follow-up capability and accuracy, experts will often suggest an alternate home defence firearm that was designed for multiple-threat encounters; commonly referring to the AR-15 rifle (or carbine).

Limited Recoil & Superior Follow-Up Shot Accuracy

Thanks to the AR-15’s direct impingement (DI) gas operation and recoil buffer system, it produces an extremely light felt recoil effect, or net recoil energy, which is the measured energy in translational kinetic energy imparted onto the shooter. The result is extremely fast and accurate follow-up shooting, even in the hands of those less-experienced. This means that AR-15 owners are capable of placing multiple shots into their target in quick succession, dealing more damage to human tissue, and are therefore more likely to cause rapid to instant incapacitation of their threat (or threats).

Incapacitation: stopping a hostile from carrying out his (or her) will

While pistols and shotguns are certainly capable of fast follow-up shots as well, they require a lot more training in order to keep these shots fluent and accurate. Since the majority of pistol owners (those who are less proficient) don’t train as often as they should, follow-up shots under stress typically tend to group poorly, with a hit rate of roughly 20 to 50%.

Figures taken from: New Study on Shooting Accuracy. How Does Your Agency Stack Up?

The semi-automatic rifle is designed to produce a series of fast and accurately aimed shots on the battlefield

Oh, and let’s not forget the AR-15’s standard 30-round magazine capacity; twice that of the common pistol and more than three times than the average shotgun.

Stopping Power & Lethality

The AR-15 really has a log going for it when it comes to stopping power and terminal capability.

Most rifle owners understand that the AR-15’s 5.56x45mm cartridge was designed to deliver a bullet that fragments and tumbles upon impact, inflicting catastrophic internal wounds inside of human tissue. So what we will discuss next may help you in understanding how to best utilise the AR-15 for home defence.

5.56mm Fragmentation Threshold

Many 5.56mm FMJ bullets are designed with a thin copper jacket which has a special ability to tear away and fragment when impacting a target at high speed. Two bullets which have undergone extensive studies in this area are the military’s M193 (55gr FMJ) and M855 (62gr steel-tipped FMJ). While not all civilian FMJ bullets are designed to produce the same effects, many are, or at least to some degree.

62gr M855 (Left) and 55gr M193 (Right)

Ballistic Gel studies have demonstrated the severe fragmenting effects of these bullets upon impact, which tear and puncture other organs which are away from the permanent cavity or original bullet path, causing a large amount of additional internal damage.

M193 bullet fragmentation after close encounters with ballistic gelatin
at various velocities
  • This severe fragmentation of copper and lead takes place when the bullet impacts its target at speeds that exceed 820mps (or 2700fps). As seen in blocks 1-4 above.
  • When speeds are slower, but still exceed 760mps (or 2500fps), fragmentation still takes place but to a lesser degree. As seen in blocks 5-8 above.
  • When impact speed is below 760mps (or 2500fps), there is no fragmenting effect and incapacitation relies largely on shot placement. As seen in the bottom row, blocks 9-16 above.

The barrel length of an AR-15 plays a significant role in determining the range (or distances) in which this projectile fragmentation will take place, with longer barrels achieving superior terminal performance.

I would advise against selecting a short-barrelled AR15 for home defence; ideally select a 14.5-inch carbine length or longer, as this will provide superior terminal performance at close range

Barrel LengthMuzzle Velocity: 55gr55gr M193 Max Frag. RangeMuzzle Velocity: 62gr62gr M855 Max Frag. Range
20″ Barrel3300fps< 140m3100fps< 95m
16″ Barrel3100fps< 100m2960fps< 65m
14.5″ Barrel3020fps< 80m2840fps< 35m
11″ Barrel2830fps< 35m2580fpsNo Frag
9″ Barrel2660fpsNo Frag2400fpsNo Frag
5.56mm Fragmentation Threshold – the above table represents the approximate distance at which projectile velocity will drop below 820mps, losing its ability to cause severe injury through fragmentation within human tissue.

So what can we learn from the above table?

  • If you are determined to use the 5.56mm bullet as it was intended during combat – with maximum fragmentation, then select a barrel length that is suitable.
  • When handloading ammunition, ensure that you are achieving a muzzle velocity that exceeds this fragmentation threshold, but still remains within safe chamber pressure guidelines.
  • Make your own ballistics gel and test your ammunition at various distances to ensure that projectile fragmentation will take place.

5.56mm Projectile Tumbling

In addition to fragmentation, the 5.56mm FMJ bullet is also prone to tumbling inside human tissue. This occurs because the bullet is not spinning fast enough to remain stable in human tissue, which is far denser than air.

Contrary to common belief, this tumbling effect is not unique to the 5.56mm bullet. Most FMJ rifle bullets with tapered noses will tumble in flesh with enough velocity. This is because their centre of gravity is aft of their length centre, causing them to spin around and travel “tail first” in denser mediums like human tissue.
5.56mm M855 Projectile Fragmenting and Tumbling – Ballistic Gelatin

Ballistic gelatin closely simulates the density and viscosity of human and animal muscle tissue, and is used as a standardized medium for testing the terminal performance of firearms ammunition.


5.56mm Stopping Power

When compared to pistol and shotgun rounds, once again the AR-15 takes the lead. The following chart represents the muzzle energy of common pistol and rifle cartridges, giving you an idea as to where the AR-15’s 5.56mm or .223 Remington bullet sits in relation.

  • As we can see, the 5.56mm (.223 Remington) bullet delivers approximately 3.5 times more stopping power than a 9mm projectile, and around 3 times more than the .45ACP
  • The shotgun is a little more difficult to compare, as each individual .33-caliber, 53.8-grain 00 buckshot pellet for example packs around 172 ft-lbs of energy. An eight-shot shell would therefore delivery a total muzzle energy of 1376ft-lbs in total, but spread into different areas of the body
  • A 2 and 3/4″ (437.5 grain) 12 gauge shotgun slug delivers a muzzle energy of approximately 2,363 ft-lbs, which is superior at close range
9x19mm.45ACP5.56x45mm00 Buckshot2 & 3/4 Slug
360ft-lbs430ft-lbs1300ft-lbs172ft-lbs (x8)2360ft-lbs
9x19mm, .45ACP, 5.56x45mm, 00 Buckshot, 2 and 3/4 Slug

Modularity & Ergonomics

Thanks to the AR-15’s modern forend, we have the option of adding endless accessories and attachments.

This mounting platform may prove to be priceless when it comes to fitting red dots, flashlights and laser pointers; all vital in remaining effective under low-light defensive conditions.


All things considered, I certainly don’t wish to take credit away from pistols and shotguns, as they certainly do perform well in self-defence scenarios.

However, I do personally believe that in preparing for defence against home invasion AND multiple intruders, the AR-15 has a ballistic advantage. It is hard to beat, whether it be for rural of urban preparedness.

So please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below, and look out for our future posts. And if you are in the market for an AR-15, read the following blog post: AR-15 Basics, and How to Select the Best AR-15 for You

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