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NFA Devices for Home Defense

This is a guest post by Andrew BettsNFA devices

NFA Devices for Home Defense

The problem with opinions is that people who really don’t have any clue what they’re talking about are happy to offer one. They’ll just repeat any old garbage that they’ve heard on a subject, no matter how ridiculous and unfounded. It probably has a lot to do with universal human foibles and a psychologist could go into great detail about what causes people to do that. Ask a truck driver what he thinks about nuclear power, though, and he’ll expound at great length about the virtues of CANDU style generating facilities and the political feasibility of certifying a LFTR generating station, considering the influence that GE lobbyists have on the NRC. The same problem happens when the topic of home defense guns is discussed. Everybody fancies themselves an attorney or a marine-delta-SEAL-reconsniper instructor. Mention the use of a registered NFA device for defense and they start tearing their garments and foaming at the mouth. Why would someone want to use a registered NFA device in home defense anyway, though? Things like silencers and SBRs are just range toys, right?

Discharging any unsuppressed center-fire weapon indoors is obviously extremely loud and will result in some permanent hearing loss as well as much more severe temporary hearing loss. Perhaps more important than the permanent loss, the temporary hearing loss associated with such an event can make it very difficult to communicate with family members, the 911 operator, or police. A sound moderator can eliminate this problem.BFA device

Don’t roll your eyes at me, I’m serious. No, I don’t fancy myself some ninja assassin. If you’ve ever fired one, you know that in the real world, silencers don’t “pew pew.” The term “silencer” may not be the most accurate term, but it’s what Hiram Maxim called his invention and it’s what the BATFE calls it on my Form 4 so it’s good enough for me. It certainly isn’t silent, though. My Surefire FA556AR sounds a little louder than an unsuppressed .22lr rifle. Quiet enough that you’ll still be able to hear the dispatcher and your kids after firing several rounds in enclosed spaces, but certainly not the sort of thing any self-respecting ninja assassin would choose. Silencers also reduce recoil and eliminate muzzle flash far more efficiently than flash suppressors do. That matters a great deal if you have to shoot in the dark. As Martha would say, “It’s a good thing.”

Most silencers add considerable length to your rifle, though. They’ll turn a handy little 16” carbine into an unwieldy pole. This is where the short barreled rifle or AR pistol becomes far more appealing for home defense. SBRs with

NFA devices

Left: 11.5” suppressed AR, Right: 16” unsuppressed AR

10”-12” barrels handle beautifully but they are insanely loud, especially if used indoors without hearing protection. A typical short barrel AR style rifle with a typical silencer will usually be about the same length or even shorter than an unsuppressed 16” carbine. With one of the later generation of compact suppressors attached, it can be even shorter.

How does rifle ammunition perform when fired from a short barrel, though? .223 Remington and 5.56x45mm NATO require significant velocity to have good terminal effect. Doesn’t rifle ammunition lose a lot of velocity when fired from a short barrel? Does .223 lose so much velocity that it’s little better than a .22 magnum? Hardly. This ballistic test of the new Black Hills 77 gr Tipped MatchKing tells a very different story.

To be sure, the short barrel velocity is 200 feet per second slower than the carbine length barrel test. There is no avoiding the fact that a shorter barrel does generate lower velocity, but 2,572 fps is still very respectable, especially for a 77 gr projectile. More importantly, the performance in tissue did not suffer at all. If anything, the short barrel test turned out slightly better numbers, though realistically the difference is too small to be of any real note. The performance of this ammunition was certainly not harmed by the short barrel for home defense distances.

In fact, a shorter barrel can actually improve the performance of some ammunition. Ammunition will only perform correctly within a specific velocity range. Too much speed and it can expand and/or fragment too quickly and penetrate inadequately. Too little and it can fail to expand or fragment at all and it will penetrate much too deeply. In this test of Hornady 55 gr soft point, we see that the velocity imparted by the 16” barrel caused substantial fragmentation, which resulted in penetration that fell well short of the 12” minimum. When the same ammunition was fired from a shorter barrel, the 260 fps lower velocity allowed the bullet to expand a little less and retain more weight so that it could drive deep enough to meet the standard.

.223 isn’t the only cartridge that can do well in short barrels. In fact, 7.62x39mm loses a bit less velocity to a short barrel than .223 and can also turn in respectable results. Winchester’s PDX-1 line may not perform exactly as the manufacturer claims, but it is very effective. It absolutely wrecked the ballistic gel block in this test. Although it does not meet advertising claims, the bullet does disrupt well and produces significant tissue damage coupled with the modest penetration one expects from an expanding or fragmenting intermediate rifle cartridge.

Let’s get back to the people that breathlessly exclaim the universe will implode if you use a registered NFA device in home defense. The theory is that if you have to shoot someone with a Title II device, that the prosecuting attorney will hold the evil silencer, machine gun, SBR, or phased plasma rifle in front of the jury and expound about what an evil person you are. What these would be litigators fail to mention is that the same thing is likely to happen if you use any other firearm and the case ends up at trial. If you used your granddaddy’s duck gun, the prosecutor will try to BFA devicepaint you as an out of control ignorant hayseed. If you use a Glock Model 22 loaded with 180 gr Gold  Dots, he’ll claim that you’re a cop wannabe who never had the stones to sign up for the academy.

Of course, any competent defense attorney will have no trouble turning those claims right back around on the prosecutor: “Ladies and gentlemen, my colleague has chosen to insult your intelligence by playing on your emotions and attempting to frighten you with a simple tool. I know that you are intelligent and rational and you are not inclined to be manipulated so easily. You heard the judge’s instructions, and you are fully aware that the only matter at issue in this court is whether my client acted in a legal manner.” Or something to that effect, anyway. I’m certainly no attorney myself.

More importantly, your case has to make it to a court room before you can worry about what the prosecutor will say. For that to happen in most districts, the shooting has to be somewhat questionable. In most jurisdictions the law is very clear that you have a right to defend yourself within your own home. If you shoot someone who broke into your home and you don’t go and make some stupid statement to the police it is unlikely that the state will even pursue charges, let alone secure an indictment. Of course, you may very well be detained and you will certainly be questioned. There are varying opinions as to how much you should tell police and that’s a subject for an entirely BFA devicesdifferent article.

It is also likely that your weapon will be seized in case it needs to be used in evidence. That means that it may be in police custody for a very long time and it could take a court order to get it released. That is the reason that some people argue that you should use a less expensive weapon for defense. One that doesn’t require two separate $200 tax stamps and a three to six month wait. That sounds like a reasonable argument on the surface. A quality SBR with a suppressor, a light, and a non-magnified optic could easily cost $2,000 or more once the dust settles and your wallet cools to room temperature. A nice television can cost that much too, but you wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to shoot right through it to save your family, would you? If an NFA device is a better tool for home defense for you, the cost or potential time in an evidence locker shouldn’t even be a factor when weighed against the safety of your family.

Now, people will also often cite the Gary Fadden incident as proof that one shouldn’t use any NFA device for defense. There are two main lessons from the Gary Fadden incident. The first lesson is to be familiar and well trained with whatever tool that you choose for defense. Because Gary was not particularly familiar with the AC556 with which he shot the biker he let off a long burst and, as the biker turned, Gary was still firing. One bullet struck across the biker’s back, causing the prosecutor to argue that Gary mercilessly shot the biker in the back. Had this shot not struck the biker in the back, the case might not have gone to trial. The second important takeaway is that Gary won the case. It cost him a lot of money and ruined his life for years, but he survived the incident and won the case.

It is true that the prosecutor mentioned the use of a scary machine gun, but the primary sticking point on that case, and the reason it went to trial was that single bullet that struck the bad guy in the back. In every case where a scary gun is mentioned at trial, it is actually the circumstances of the shooting that are the real reason the case went to trial and those circumstances are what will ultimately determine guilt or innocence, not the weapon used.

So using a scary gun is unlikely to cause any legal trouble, but the real issue is that to face legal trouble, you have to survive. I would be willing to risk prison and loss of property to prevent harm to my family and if you’re not, you may want to reconsider whether using a firearm for home defense is really the best plan for you. If you choose to use a firearm for defense, you should choose the best tool for the job. On the one hand, the best tool is the one with which you are most proficient. On the other hand, you should gain proficiency in the tool that is best suited for the job. You might be most comfortable with a framing hammer, but you’d be better off learning how to use a brad nailer if you plan to build your daughter a dollhouse.

So what is the best tool for home defense, though? That’s a complicated and subjective question. There really is no single answer to it. The best choice for you depends on your own abilities and priorities. We know that rifles and shotguns are far more powerful than pistols. We also know that they point much more naturally, making it easier to get quick, precise hits on a small, moving target. Fighting rifles also typically carry more ammunition than shotguns or pistols and reload faster than most shotguns.  Then again, you’re more likely to have a handgun on your person when you need it, and a handgun can be easier to actually fire if it comes to a hands-on fight. This doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition, though. You can carry your handgun and keep a rifle or shotgun handy. Carbines are increasingly favored over shotguns by police agencies because of the above reasons and because .223 or 5.56x45mm ammunition poses less risk to bystanders after passing through walls than does buckshot or pistol ammunition. It doesn’t hurt that rifle ammunition will defeat all soft armor. This, combined with their power, accuracy, and ease of use makes them very popular for home defense.

For all the reasons above, a suppressed SBR chambered in an intermediate cartridge may be the very best tool that a person could choose for home defense. The advantages are many and the arguments against are not as convincing as they might appear on their face. Of course, that’s just my opinion. It’s not really my place to tell another responsible adult what to do with their money, and that is not the aim of this article. The intention here was just to provide some food for thought.  Let us know in the comments what your take on this subject is.

Andrew Betts served with the Arizona National Guard for over 12 years, including a tour to Afghanistan.  Visit his YouTube Channel for more great shooting information.

Photo credit – Andrew Betts

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