Battle Rifles for Home Defense?

This is a guest post by Andrew Bettsbattle rifle

Just like the adults in Ralphie’s life, “You’ll shoot through the whole neighborhood!” is the inevitable response whenever a person admits they have chosen a battle rifle for home defense. It certainly does seem to be a poor choice for home defense at an intuitive level. A natural reaction to the suggestion is that it is large, cumbersome, and over powered. It is certainly true that other firearms offer features that may be more perfectly tailored to the task of home defense than a battle rifle, but battle rifles do bring a lot to the table. Maybe they are not as poor a choice as they might first appear.

First, what is a battle rifle? One of the most defining characteristics is that it is a shoulder fired weapon chambered in a full power rifle cartridge such as 7.62x51mm or .30-06, as opposed to an intermediate rifle cartridge such as 7.62x39mm or 5.56mm. The other primary characteristic of a battle rifle is that it is a military service rifle so many battle rifles are also semi-automatic and may be fed by a detachable box magazine. By way of example, the M-14 is considered by many to be the quintessential battle rifle, while the AR-15 is not, because it is chambered in an intermediate rifle cartridge.

One of the foremost concerns about using a battle rifle for home defense is that the powerful rifle cartridge mentioned above may penetrate too much and endanger the neighbors. There is no argument that a full power rifle cartridge can penetrate more material, but the penetration concern might be somewhat overstated.

We can see here that when the 7.62x51mm cartridge is compared to the 5.56mm it does appear to have slightly more “oomph” but the difference is actually fairly minor. It is important to remember that any cartridge that is capable of penetrating a bad guy deeply enough to reliably incapacitate will also pass through multiple walls. With that in mind, one should apply the fourth rule of firearm safety (be sure of your target and what is beyond), even in self-defense. Still, the risk of over penetration does not appear to be as severe as one might imagine. It can be further mitigated by using a projectile that is less solidly constructed than the full metal jacket shown in the test above. Hornady’s 155 gr AMAX produces phenomenal wounding and no more penetration in tissue than most defensive pistol ammunition. Its lighter construction will also reduce penetration through hard obstacles and it is typically very accurate in most rifles.battle rifles

There is still the criticism that battle rifles are large and cumbersome and it is true that some are. A full size M14 or Springfield Armory M1A, with its 22” barrel, is a long and heavy gun when compared to a 16” .223 carbine or an 18” 12ga shotgun. Not all battle rifles are that unwieldy, though. There are 16”-18” versions of the M1A and FAL and the CETME and HK91 have 18” barrels. The SCAR 17 can be had with a variety of barrel lengths as well. While the RFB might not technically qualify as a battle rifle because it has not been issued by any military, its bullpup design makes it more compact with a full 22” barrel than most traditional 16” barreled rifles.

Even with a long barrel, a rifle like the M14 can be used effectively indoors so long as you don’t live in a hoarder double-wide with stacks of National Geographic and empty laundry detergent bottles piled floor to ceiling. To be sure, a shorter rifle is faster and easier to maneuver but this is largely a training issue. It is common to see people without proper training attempt to maneuver a long gun like a rifle or shotgun with the weapon shouldered and more or less level. Some trainers will argue that this technique is useful for “pieing” a corner and there is merit to that argument, but that assumes the room to “pie”, the intention to conduct a methodical search, and generally works best with adequate ambient light. Another method is to pin the toe of the stock at the armpit and use it like a hinge. The rifle stays pointed almost straight down until a threat is identified. This allows the shooter to maneuver and pivot much more easily. It also keeps the muzzle pointed in a known safe direction (for the ground floor) and allows a weapon mounted light to be used for navigation by the “splash” of the light off the floor as the light is momentarily activated. When a threat is identified, the shooter steps quickly to the side, if possible, while raising the rifle, battle riflesactivating the light, and pressing the trigger once the sights are settled on target.

Another legitimate criticism of the battle rifle in the home defense role is that the heavy recoil slows shot recovery, resulting in slower target engagement. There is no argument that a .30 caliber rifle has more recoil than a .223 rifle and that the recoil does influence split times. Still, those .30 caliber rounds hit harder (assuming you choose an appropriate bullet) and should require less rounds per target to get the job done. It’s also worth noting that shotguns have similarly heavy recoil but are widely accepted for home defense. Moreover, most shotguns do not come with twenty round detachable magazines and cannot penetrate soft body armor.

We would be remiss if we did not also address the fact that .30 caliber rifles are loud. That is, any unsuppressed center fire gun is loud, especially when fired indoors, but battle rifles are really loud. There is a psychological phenomenon caused by adrenaline called auditory exclusion that will likely prevent you from noticing just how loud the rifle is when you fire it in self-defense, but it will cause some permanent hearing damage unless you mount a silencer or use hearing protection.

It seems reasonable to conclude that a rifle chambered in an intermediate caliber is generally a better choice for home defense. A battle rifle is not really a terrible choice for home defense, though. There are some solid, rational reasons to choose one. If a battle rifle is your only home defense gun, you gotta run what you brung, as they say. As always, software > hardware. It is the Indian, not the arrow. No matter what tool you choose, get qualified training and learn to use that tool safely, legally, effectively, and responsibly.

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.


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Photo credit – Andrew Betts

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