The Home Defense Carbine

By Home Defense Gun Staffer Mike S.pistol caliber carbine

The Home Defense Carbine

A wise man once said that the purpose of a handgun is to fight your way to your rifle. It’s hard to argue that logic, rifles are more accurate, generally more powerful and much easier to use effectively than a pistol or a revolver or the other esteemed long gun of home defense, the shotgun. Add to that the fact that some people still live in jurisdictions where handgun ownership is limited if not outright banned, but rifles, for now are still permissible.

Handguns have their advantages. They are portable, concealable and can be wielded with one hand. In the past they were the top choice for defense of hearth and home, however, recent changes in criminal behavior may cause a change in plan for the average shooter.

Home invasions seem to be increasing in certain areas of the country. This is when a group of intruders decides to attack and rob a home using brute force and numbers to overwhelm the home owners. These usually occur when the home is occupied and depending on the numbers and equipment, a handgun may or may not be up to the task.

By carbine, we are referring to a shoulder fired long gun with a barrel length of 16” and usually not more than 20”. This length and profile gives the user a better chance at mobility within the home.

Caliber choice is important and pistol caliber carbines seem to make the best home defense carbines: 9mm, 30 Carbine, 40 S&W, 10mm, 44 Special, 44 Magnum, 357 Magnum, 45 ACP, 45 Colt and 5.7mm. Stepping up to an intermediate sized rifle caliber with the right ammunition is another sound choice for 5.56, 223, 300 Blackout and 7.62 X 39. Contrary to popular belief, most of these rounds will not over penetrate like a full sized rifle cartridge.

For those who live in locales that restrict handgun ownership, rifle choices may be limited as well. If semiautomatic rifles are restricted to the point where they are limited by magazine capacity or stocks that are not comfortable and ergonomic; the shooter may want to invest in a pump or lever action carbine in one of the Magnum handgun calibers.

The late Colonel Jeff Cooper referred to these types of carbines as “The Brooklyn Special” and identified a notorious part of the country steeped in racist and draconian handgun laws. Cooper’s students from similar locations were showing up with Winchester and Marlin lever action carbines decked out with tactical scopes, improved sights and sometimes a flashlight attachment.

Regardless of the carbine platform chosen, every home defense carbine needs only two basic accessories: a mounted flashlight and a sling. The sling aids in carrying the carbine, retention and keeping it “ready” while hands-free. The flashlight allows the shooter to see what he is aiming at in the dark. Other accessories such as improved iron sights, reflex sights, lasers and the like may be added, but those are discretions on the part of the shooter. Not everyone needs the same thing as someone else.

Pistol caliber carbines tend to be quieter than handguns (with the KRISS Vector being the notable exception) due to the powder completely burning in the chamber or barrel before the bullet clears the bore. In some cases a carbine may be noticeably louder than a handgun, most often with full sized rifle cartridges. In these instances a silencer may be a viable option.

The carbine gives improved terminal ballistics over a handgun. Rounds fired from pistol caliber carbines have more velocity and energy than those same rounds fired from a typical handgun. Intermediate rifle cartridges (such as 223 Remington, 7.62 X 39 and 300 AAC Blackout) offer superior terminal ballistics to pistol caliber cartridges; especially when used against armed criminals wearing body armor.

As for which home defense carbine to choose, that is for the shooter to decide. As a rule of thumb, it should be one that is manageable, ergonomic and above all else: accurate. The market is wide open with a number of choices from a multitude of companies such as Sig Sauer, FNH, Colt, IWI, Bushmaster, DPMS, Remington, Marlin, Rossi and the list goes on. There is a variant out there for every shooter based on size, caliber and budget.

Detractors may say that the long gun offers a disadvantage if the criminal tries to overtake the homeowner, by grabbing the barrel. There are two remedies to this: keep the barrel short (go the NFA route with a $200 tax stamp if you need to go less than 16”) and be ready to squeeze the trigger and light the bad guy up if he gets that close.

Increasingly, the home defense carbine is replacing the realm once dominated by the shotgun for very good reason: they are simply more manageable and thus more effective.


Photo credit – Phillip Williams


  1. Pierre Ferron says:

    A well-detailed and authoritative article. It supposes that firearm user is familiar with handguns and carbines. My personal preference would be for a .38 /.357 caliber bullets. For the handgun .357 and .38 caliber for the rifle, although both are interchangeable. A handgun bullet fired from a carbine has a devastating impact performance. Furthermore, handguns might be banned. Thank you.

  2. “above all else: accurate” – this is an article about home defense, correct? I would submit that reliability is above all else. Almost any modern carbine is more than accurate enough for home defense, especially if this is a consideration for a family member (ie, elderly, petite/low strength adult/teenager). We’re not talking about a low-trained individual taking hostage taker shots. After reliability, the next most important consideration is the manipulation of the action; many pistol caliber carbines are blowback operated and thus have very strong main springs which must be actuated by the user. I have two SUB-2000’s that are 4 lbs and take Glock magazines (one 9mm, one .40). Shooting and maneuvering are fine, they are very reliable, and much more accurate than needed for home defense. But the charging operation is too stiff for my young teenager to manipulate correctly, and clearing a stoppage is nearly impossible under stress. Thus while the 9mm and .40 have more ability to stop an intruder, my young teenager uses an M&P-15-22 most of the time we shoot. When the time comes, she’ll be ready to go to 5.56 AR and have the same manipulation of arms but in the meantime, I know that she is confident in working that system – even thought it is “just a .22 lr”, it is a better choice in this situation. There are many articles out there regarding pistol caliber carbines, as they do make sense, but very few address the issue of action manipulation.

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