Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Getting Serious About Home Defense

Well, now that I'm actually in a house, I guess I'll talk about house guns as well, just like every other gun blogger, their neighbor, their cousin ...

Aaaanyway, sit back because this is a LOOOOONG one (about 22 pages)

Let's talk about home defense as a whole, not just house guns. Guns are a very small (but important) component of your entire home defense; and their relative importance is tiny in comparison to the mental components.

The first thing I want to talk about is preparation. I always say, the only thing more useless than an unloaded weapon, is an unprepared mind.

You need to make a searching moral inventory of yourself. Are you prepared to defend yourself and your family against an intruder? Are you prepared to use lethal force in doing so?

If not, stop right now; because loaded guns in your house are more a danger to you, and those around you, than they are protection.

Next, you need to do a tactical analysis of your home, and its surroundings. What are your sight lines? Where is there cover, and where are the blind spots? What are your approach angles like. What is the structure of your walls and furnishing and how does that effect the above? Where do your family sleep?

Now, reverse the equation; how would you invade your own home to avoid being shot by the homeowner? Run through it and see what the lines of attack are. Where can you invade without being seen? Where is YOUR cover? How can you best compromise the structure?

Now, figure out how you are going to minimize your disadvantages, and maximize your advantages.

First tip? A decent alarm system. Look for one with panic buttons for your entries, and your bedroom. If you can't do that, then put individually activated screamer alarms on your doors and windows. For both types, you want setups with a shock sensor and if possible a motion sensor, not just beams or magnetic contacts (though these can be a problem with pets).

Next, house lighting. Human beings don't operate well in the dark; especially when they are not well trained and prepped to do so.

I like a wall or baseboard outlet mounted flashlight in every room; preferably one that turns on as an emergency light if the power fails.

With your normal lighting, are there dark wells that will leave hiding places? If so you want to put some kind of lighting there. It's just better looking and more pleasant anyway, and it's definitely more secure. Remember, don't neglect lighting the exterior approaches to your house as well.

Also, I HIGHLY recommend that you have some battery powered emergency lighting in (and out of) your home. Not just flashlights, but wall mounted battery backed floods, and some battery powered touch lights. You only need a few; one in the entry, one in the garage, one by the back door, one covering stairs etc... If you can get a command lighting system with a switch by the front door, and another in your bedroom (next to your panic button) so much the better.

Third, mirrors. If you have blind spots (and everyone does), you need to compensate for them. One of the best ways to do this, is with ceiling mirrors. It might sound silly, but there are half globe shaped mirrors as small as 4" across, designed for retail environments. They are really unobtrusive when selected and mounted properly. Even better, only you know they are there, and only you know that blind spot isn't really a blind spot (how many goblins are going to look at the corners of your cielings?). That said, remember, if you can see them, they can see you. If you can't mount cieling mirrors, try positioning decorative mirrors strategially as well as decoratively.

Oh and remember, bare windows at night are a one way mirror from the outside into a lighted room, and a blindspot to the outside.

Now on to flashlights. You should have plenty. How many is plenty? How about one personal sized flashlight per room in your house, plus one per person, plus a portable spot light, and a few large heavy duty flashlight and lanterns?

Does it sound like too much? Well actually it's just barely enough.

I wrote a post on flashlight's a while back that you're going to want to check out, but I'll make a couple of recommendations here.

First, MagLites are decent flashlights, but they aren't the be-all and end all. They are the top of the low end so to speak. The mini maglite and maglite soliaire for example are far inferior to modern tactical flashlights. Of course they also don't cost from $50 to $300 dollars.

Yep, that's right, $300. Do you NEED a $300 flashlight? Well, probably not; but a good case can be made that you should stick to the $30 to $50 flashlights.

Good flashlights give you more light, better focus, a more controlled beem, and better, more consistent lamp life, as well as being tougher, and mostly water proof.

Personally, I can't recommend two brands enough: SureFire, and StreamLight. If you don't mind spending the money, they will give you all the light you need and more. I also recommend MagLites multi-c and d-cell models, and the higher end flashlights from Brinkman, and Innova.

On my nightstand right now, theres a SureFire E1 outdoorsman, and an A2 aviatior. Rattling around somewhere else are a G2, and a 6P combat light (which are both quite reasonably price); and I've got several MagLites around the house, as well as some lower cost but decent multi c-cell aluminum cased 1.5 watt LED lights sold by Target under the Rock Creek brand name. They were under $20 a piece and seem to be excellent lights for general home use.

Importantly, practice with your flashlights. Shut all the lights off, and navigate your house with each of your flashlights, so you know what you're seeing and importantly, what you aren't. Also important, test them all at least monthly, and replace the batteries as necessary.

Oh yeah, keep LOTS of spare batteries around. The resoruces I linked in the other article will help there.

Now, make plans. First make maps of your house and surroundings, and map and plan out escape routes, and escape procedures. Response procedures to the major possible emregencies. Contact procedures. Especially important, COMMUNICATIONS procedures. And remember, WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN.

Now its time to go through all of this with your family, and anyone else who spends a large amount of time in your house (espeically if they stay the night). Everyone has to know the plans, in what situation they apply, what role they play, and generally what they are supposed to do.

Okay, now to what y'all are really here for, the weaponry.

First, I recommend everyone have at least two, and possibly four DIFFERENT home defense weapons; and I strongly recommend multiple copies of each if you can afford it

Why multiple copies? Because in some cases you want more than one weapon of each type hidden through the house; or multiple copies of one type accessible in the bedroom so that you AND your spouse can both be adequately armed.

Now, to the choices themselves:

1. 12ga Pump Shotgun

The first, and primary home defense weapon is the 12ga pump action shotgun. This is an obvious one; the shotgun is the ideal room to room long arm.

Some folks recommend a 20ga, because it's easier for smaller shooters to use, and there's a lot of truth in that. Personally, I say go with the 12ga (assuming it phsyically fits you, which it may not if you're of smaller stature, have short arms, or breasts to get in the way), because you have the option of reduced power loadings. All of the major ammunition manufacturers are loading manged recoil/reduced recoil shells now, in various configurations; that bring the 12 down to the recoil of the 16ga, but still retain the short range advantages in effectiveness.

That said, if the 20ga fits you well, or if your wife is worried about the 12ga recoil (or if YOU are for that matter), then go with the 20ga. It's still ten times the weapon that a handgun is, and you don't want to bet your life on a weapon you arent comfortable with. Plus, if it's hard to shoot, you won't practicce with it, and that's a BIG problem.

As to which one? Winchester (and FN), Remington, or Mossberg all make excellent examples; as did Ithaca with the model 37 up until last year; and as do HK, Benelli, and Beretta, but those are more expensive, and less common. My only suggestion here is as to configuration: Get one with an 18" to 20" barrel, at least a five shot magazine (7 or 8 preferred); a conventional stock, or full stock with pistol grip; and rifle, ghost ring, or fiber optic sights. Include a sidesaddle or buttstock ammo sleeve (or both) with a full reload for the gun if possible.

Some people like a vertical foregrip on the slide, but I prefer a standard corncob style forend; with the possible addition of a cycling strap.

That said, I also HIGHLY recommend that you get a forearm light if you can afford one. They are $250 to $450, but they are WELL worth it (see more in the flashlights section). Other dedicated weapon lights can be just as good, but the SureFire forearm light is definitely the best I've used.

I myself have an FN police shotgun (which is substantially identical to the Winchester Defender), with a 7 shot mag, 18" barrel, and rifle sights. I'd like to change the sights out for ghost rings, with tritium dots in the rear and a tritium dot or fiber optic up front.

I have been thinking about picking up one of the recoil reducing pistol grip stocks, from Knoxx ; which would make the gun shorter, lighter, and handier, as well as reducing felt recoil. This would make it much easier for Mel to shoot (she has a problem with the LOP and the recoil of the gun as it is; but I havent been able to find a 20ga that she likes either ). Also their COPStock folder is an interesting option for a trunk gun, that I'm very seriously considering. The thing is, I like the handling characteristics as they currently exist, so I'm not sure.

Oh and after my sterling recommendation of them, I don't happen to have a SureFire forearm light for this one; mostly because I haven't had the cash handy and the inclination at the same time. I plan on getting one as soon as I am able to. I DO have a butt stock ammo sleeve, and I'm going add a side saddle again (I had one for a while, but took it off when I was messing with different stock, and then lost it).

Some stock their sidesaddle with slugs, to give them the extra versatility, but I say if you need slugs, you need to grab a different weapon; and slugs are flat out dangerous inside a house or appartment, because they WILL penetrate the interior and exterior doors and walls of most stick built homes; and you never know what's behind that wall or door.

Which brings up general ammo selection...

My personal choice and general reccommendation here is a managed recoil buckshot loading. 00 buck, and #2 buck are the best bet for wounding capability in commonly available loadings; in fact several experts on wound ballistics believe #2 is a better wounder, because it tends to penetrate completely, while not overpenetrating, and has about twice the pellets in a typical load. I recommend #4 buckshot if you live in an apartment, or have thin walls (like most houses unfortunately), because there is a lot less retained energy by the shot after passing through a wall (all buckshot and most birdshot loads WILL pass through a standard drywall interior wall).

Some folks recommend birdshot for the same reason, but birdshot DOES NOT produce disabling wounds. They are nasty, and they bleed, but birdshot generally penetrates less than 3" into tissue, which isn't enough to disable an attacker unless you shoot them in the throat or face.

I used to love the Federal Premium Personal Defense Buckshot load, which was a mixed load of #2, #4, and 00 buck. Unfortunately, the shell is very expensive to make, and never sold well. Federal is longer cataloguing their premium personal defense loads; having switched everything to their "tactical" line, which doesn't have a mixed load any more. I've switched to the Remington LE reduced recoil tactical buckshot load, because it's cheap, available, and patterns very well.

As to special loads, like flechettes, ball bearings, thumb tacks, or incendiary powder, those things might be fun to mess around with, but dont use them for your home defense gun.

Oh and you all know how I feel about "less lethal" force...

The one specialty ammo that might be useful, are the Aguila 12ga mini shells. These are 1-1/2" shells, loaded to the same pressure as standard shells, but with a lighter shot load.

The buckshot minishell has seven #4 and four #2 buckshot pellets; which strikes me as a decent defensive loading, especially in a drywalled house. They also have a minislug which may have the slugs advantages without as much of an overpenetration issue (and the thing is 385 gr at 1350 fps for 1570 ftlbs of energy vs the 440+gr at 1400+ fps for about 2000ftlbs of a standard slug and the 1200 or so ftlbs of the 12ga reduced recoil). The big thing though, these minishells have both significantly reduced recoil over standard shells, AND even better, you can fit just under twice as many into your magazine. Instantly that seven shell mag becomes a thirteen shell mag. The disadvantage? The only shotgun they seem to work reliably without modification in is the Winchester 1300 series (and the FN police series of course).

I wonder if a side saddle would properly hold on to two in each clip instead of one...

Okay, on to

2. A major caliber, full size (med or large frame) revolver

As effective as a shotgun is, it's a big, long weapon. That means it isn't going to be good in tight places, it's a bit slower to get into action when you're not ready for it, and you can't just quickly grab it to go and answer the door late at night.

A revolver has a lot of advantages as a home defense weapon, and many of it's disadvantages are minimized in this application.

The revoler is dead simple, and as reliable as a stick. You pull the trigger, and it goes bang. Period. No safeties, no slides or magazines, just the original point and click interface. At three am, woken from a sound sleep by a not-good noise, I say, the simpler the better.

The disadvantages of the revolver, especially in it's full sized variants? Well, they are bigger, and bulkier than many auto pistols; and they hold fewer rounds than auto pistols of comparable size.

To my mind, in the home defense environment the larger size is actually an advanage, because it means more weight, more stability, and less felt recoil. You aren't trying to conceal the weapon, you want every shooting advantage you can get. This is also a plus because of the longer barrel lengths you can choose; which agian means less felt recoil, along with better accuracy, and less muzzle blast, flash, and flip.

The ammo capacity issue can be addressed by choosing one of the 8 shot .357 models available; or by keeping several speed loaders, or loaded moon clips handy (or both).

My recommendation is to choose a revolver in .357 magnum, 10mm, .44 special, .45 colt or .45acp. They are the most powerful handguns that are useful on human beings, and are available chambered in many excellent revolvers.

If you don't have any other pistols, you can't go wrong in choosing a .357 magnum. It gives you what is unquestionably the historically best stopper of any handgun caliber in civilian use; and allows the option of the far cheaper and easier to shoot .38spl for practice ammo, for people who are recoil sensitive, and to reduce noise and flash in a darkened room. If however you have a full power auto pistol (9mm or higher), you may want to consider a revolver in the same chambering as your pistol; to increase your ammo commonality.

As to brand or model, well that's pretty subjective, but I'll tell you my preference. Yoiu can't go wrong K, L, or N frame Smith and Wesson, with a 3-5" barrel, and high visibility sights (the integral frame sights on many medium and small frame revolvers disappear in the dark). Equally good are the medium and large frame revolvers from Taurus (and they have a lifetime warranty).

Unfortunately Colt has pretty much deserted the defensive revolver market; their only revolver offerings these days are Single Action Army, and Python variants from the custom shop. That said, their older police revolvers, and the python itself are excellent choices should you have one, or pick one up for a reasonable price (and I wish you the best of luck in doing so).

Generally speaking, I would leave off the lower end choices from Rossi, EAA, and the like, as well as older Charter Arms offerings (though recent Charter revolvers are an excellent choice, especially in .44spl). I would also leave the more powerful .44 and higher magnum chamberings for hunting, and competitive shooting, where they really belong. While they may perform excellently against the human nody, their recoil, muzzle blast, and overpenetration all make them more than you want to handle early one shaky morning.

My personal bedside gun is a S&W 625 5" in .45acp, with a fiber optic front sight. I keep it stoked with Hornady 200gr XTP +p+ hollowpoints, and have 4 fully loaded moon clips in a dual speedloader pouch next to it in my bedside drawer.

I plan on mounting an uncle mikes soft holster to the drawer side with velcro and slapping both the holster and the speedloader pouch into ready position using it; but for now they are just loose in the drawer (along with my carry auto for the day and it's spare mags).

I made my choice, because I have a half dozen other guns in .45acp; and I'm a strong believer in ammo commonality; but my previous bedside gun before I sold it, was an S&W 686+ 7 shot .357 revolver with a 3" barrel.

For more on my pistol ammo choices see Basic Ammo Questions, and Serious Chamberings for Serious Business, oh and if this is going to be your first pistol, I have more on choosing a beginner pistol here in The First Handgun.

So why not an auto pistol? After all, I'm a HUGE fan of the 1911, my carry weapons are all automatics etc...

I'm not one of those folks that consider automatics unreliable; but as I said above, there is almost nothing to go wrong on the part of the revolver, and there is less for the user to screw up. TO me that means if it's going to be your only house handgun, it should be a revolver.

Now if you are going to have more guns, THEN is when I say it's time to pick...

3. A high capacity Auto Pistol in a major caliber:

Why? Because you may need to address multiple intruders, clear the house, or leave your wife with a weapon to defend herself and your children with while you do so.

In this case, the volume of fire and speed of reload offered by an automatic can't be discounted. The first weapon I reach for when disturbed at night is going to be my defensive revolver; but when it comes time to clear the house, I'm going to take an auto and at least two reloads.

Again, the major weakness of a full size auto pistol in carry situations is it's size, but that can be an asset for home defense purposes. A bulky doublestack with a 5" barrel may be hard to conceal, but so long as you can comfortably grip it; the 13 to 20 rounds inside, and the next 30 in your pocket can give you a big advantage; never mind the extra accuracy, and reuced muzzle flash

Another advantage, is that most full size autos today have a rail available for use of a weapon light. Now for general carry, and even general duty carry I don't like weapon lights, but late at night, in the dark... well as I said, humans dont operate well in the dark, and having a weapon mounted light can be useful in these situations. Yes, you can (and should) have a good flashlight handy, but what if you knock it under the bed? A weapon mounted light can't get lost, unless you lose the weapon, and then you've got bigger problems.

..and yes, I'm well aware that a weapon light spotlights you as much as it does what you are looking at, and that it throws off the balance of some guns etc... I DON'T recommend weapon lights for most situations, pretty much only for room clearing, and bedside guns.

Whether you have a weapon light or not, you should also practice flashlight techniques with a handgun. I personally prefer the dagger technique, the rodgers surefire technique, and the various cigar variants (look them up on flashlight sights for more detailed info).

Ok, so what brand or model? Well, as I recommend in my other posts, you really can't go wrong with a SIG, HK, Beretta, or Glock in 9mm or above; and preferably in .40, .357 sig, .45acp or 10mm. The Springfield Armory XD is also an excellent choice, as are the Taurus 24/7, some models from Ruger, and some autos from Smith and Wesson, provided you like the ergonomics.

Here's what I recommend: SA/DA, DAO, or Safe Action; 4" or 5" barrel; 8+1 or higher capacity; tritium night sights; a comfy secure grip (or a grip sock or stick on grips etc...); and at least 3 magazines handy.

Now, as to caliber and ammunition selection... oy this one is going to get me more flames than anything else I say, I can almost guarantee it. Choose a caliber (and weapon) you are comfortable shooting, but I strongly recommend a .40cal or more powerful. I also strongly recommend you use a premium hollowpoint in the highest pressure loading you feel comfortable with, and that groups well with your gun. Other than that, go read my other articles on caliber and ammo selction Basic Ammo Questions, and Serious Chamberings for Serious Business. They go into far more detail than I have room for in this already overlong post (about 3500 words to this point so far).

What? No 1911? The best auto pistol in the world not listed as an ideal bedside gun?

If you are a 1911 guy, if the 1911 is the right pistol for you to have by your bedside, You KNOW it. If you are well trained, well drilled, and have instinctive muscle memory for the 1911, then it absolutely SHOULD be your bedside gun. If not, then it absolutely should not. More importantly, if your spouse or bedmate isn't the same, then I would consider other options.

The 1911 is a single action weapon, that must be cocked before the first shot. I recommend that any 1911 that may be used to defend yourself, be carried or stored in condition 1 (cocked with a loaded chamber and magazine, and the safety on). If you are not comfortable with condition 1 in your bedside drawer, then it should be in condition 3 or 4 (hammer down on an empty chamber, with or without magazine). I've said this over and over again, but at 3am in the dark, you want to simplify your situation as much as possible, and without reflexive training the 1911 isn't that simple.

I prefer a double action with single action option (DA/SA), double action only (DAO), or safe action type weapon (Glock, XD, Kahr, other striker fired) for emergency defense; because you can go from condition 2 to fire without either manipulating a safety, or racking the slide. In the case of the Glock, and other "slick slide" pistols, they are just about as simple as a DA revolver, which as I've already gone over is my bedside gun of choice.

The loudest sound in the world is a click, when you are supposed to hear a BANG.

One significant factor that I weight in favor of SA/DA and DAO weapons (and against single action and safe action) however, is the restrike capability. By this I mean that if you have a round fail to ignite, you just need to pull the trigger again for the hammer to try and ignite the cartridge again. Most striker fired pistols do not have the ability to restrike (with the notable exception of the Taurus 24/7 pro).

That said, restrike isn't a BAD thing (well it can be if theres a squib or a hangfire), but if a round fails to ignote, you really SHOULD perform an FTI drill (deactivate the safety - again - pull the trigger - again - , slap the magazine to ensure it is fully seated, slingshot the slide, assess and fire).

Yeah, you SHOULD do that, but under extreme stress, you (and your spouse) may forget, and isn't it nice if you can jsut pull the trigger again, and maybe go BANG instead of CLICK the second time.

Now, my personal bedside automatic is? Well actually I'm not following my own recommendations here at the moment. It WAS a Glock 21 (13 rd full size .45acp), with a Glock light, but I sold that to a reader last year; and so I've been rotating my general carry pistols through the drawer, none of which have a capacity of more than 8+1; and none of which have a weapon light (though they all have tritium night sites).

Generally, the gun most frequently in the side drawer is my HK USP compact, followed by my Yost-Bonitz custom Springfield Champion, and my Glock 36. All have about 4" barrels, night sites, and are in .45acp; and I keep at least two reloads for them handy.

The HK and Springer are loaded with MagSafes +p silver loads with the reload mags stoked with either 200gr gold dot +p, 200gr HydraShok +p, or the 200gr +p+ Hornady XTP loads I mentioned in the revolver post. The Glock doesn't like any of the other loadings, but loves the XTPs, so that's what it gets.
A note on Glasers and MagSafes: Ok, they are effectively a birdshot load capped off with a buckshot pellet coming out of a pistol. I've already said that birdshot doesnt produce disabling wounds, so why do I use it in my handguns?

Well, the advantage to the Glaser is they produce massive soft tissue damage, with little chance of ricochet or overpenetration. Their disadvantage is, they dont produce deep wounds, and they are nearly ineffective against heavy leather or ballistic nylon clothing. They also shoot very differently than standard loads from most pistols. Oh, and they are RIDICULOUSLY expensive (about $3 per round).

Given all of this, I don't generally recommend them, unless you can afford to buy a few hundred to practice with; or get lucky like I did and manage to pick up over a thousand at auction for less than the cost of practice ammo. I've been able to shoot at least 100 rounds of the stuff through all of my defensive handguns except the Glock (which I dont use them in), and do penetration testing with them, so I know how they behave with each of my guns. I am confident that they are able to produce enough wounding effect on unarmored intruders, that the advantage of reduced overpenetration risk outweighs their ineffectiveness against heavy leather clothing.

Of course there are two factors weighting this for me. My two little girls sleep in the next room from me, with a plastered wall separating us (hardball will penetrate it, JHP's may, the glasers WON'T); and I live in Phoenix, where I'm unlikely to encounter an intruder in heavy clothing.

Ultimately the decision is up to you. I feel comfortable with my glasers, but I would feel just as comfortable with any of my premium hollowpoint loadings; I jsut like the extra safety against overpenetration the glasers offer.
At some point I'm going to buy either a fullsize USP, with light; or another Glock 21 with light (or maybe a G20, I love the 10mm), and it will do permanent duty as my bedside automatic; but for now I feel just fine with my carry guns protecting me.

On to...

4. Defensive Carbine (pistol caliber, 5.56, or 7.62x39):

This is the least common (and least critical) of the home defense pieces; and it's utility over the other three is somewhat limited. That said, when you need it's advantages, they are literally a lifesaver.

So, why a carbine?

Three reasons: Wounding potential, Accuracy, and Body Armor.

The first thing is, a full power +p (or magnum) pistol round, or medium power rifle round; out of a 16" barrel; will do an order of magnitude more damage than anything shot out of a 4" pistol.

Dr. Martin Fackler, the worlds foremost expert on wound ballistics, has identified a major quantitative and qualitative difference in the amount of damage done by a bullet of between 50 and 250 grains hitting the body above speeds of about 2500-2700 feet per second, and those hitting at speeds below it (note, these are also the speeds that most 5.56 bullets will tend to disintegrate, producing far greater wounding effect, however this is in addition to the shick cavity effect described here). Above 2500-2700 FPS, the temporary stretch cavity caused by the shock of the bullet tends to become a more permanent tear cavity, or bloodshot crush cavity. There appears to be another break point for greater damage around 1500-1700fps second, and at the other end around 3500-3700fps (though that is not really relevant to carbines); and the velocity numbers for bullets heavier than about 250-300gr go dwon for equivalent damage.

All the 5.56nato loads commonly available to civilians will handily exceed 2500fps from a 16" barrel. Some 7.62x39 loads do, but most don't (though they come close). Very few pistol calibers will; but most full power .357 sig or greater pistol loads WILL break the 1500fps mark from a carbine (as will all 7.62x39 loads). This means that with the same bullet a pistol would fire, you can be getting far greater wounding potential.

Also, if you use lightweight hollowpoint bullets (which would have the greatest velocities), they are more likely to break up on exiting a standard plaster or double drywalled wall than from a 4" or 5" pistol. Most hollowpoint 5.56 loading will also perform similarly (though most 7.62x39 will not).

Now, as to accuracy, there is also no comparison there between pistol and carbines. Just as a benchmark, a pistol is considered match grade accurate if it can group 5 shots into 2" at 25 yards from a rest; and minimum acceptable combat accuracy is generally considered 4" at 10 yards offhand. A carbine is considered match accurate if it can do the same at 100 yards and minimum combat accuracy is 4" at 50 yards (full rifles are even more accurate, many grouping into less than 1" at 100 yards).

A pistol is a 7-10 yard high percentage weapon, and 10-25 yard low percentage weapon; with a maximum effective range of about 50 yards. By this I mean you are less likely to hit a target in a vital area if they are more than 10 yards away, and far less likely if they are more than 25 yards away. A 16" carbine is a 50 yard high percentage, and 100 yard low percentage weapon, with a maximum effective range of about 200-300 yards.

Now of course most of us aren't worried about 50 and 100 yard distances for home defense, but some are, and if you need it, you REALLY need it. Not only that though, but that enhanced accuracy makes hits in the 7 to 25 yard range most of us ARE worried about, easier; especially followup hits for multiple shots, as we can control recoil and muzzle rise far better with a shoulder mounted weapon.

The final factor making carbines a part of my recommended home defense weapons package, is the potential for facing armored opponents.

Conventional soft body armor is specifically designed to stop pistol threats. In order to provide rifle protection you need to add a hard trauma plate; which of course only protects the area of the plate; and generally is only effective against one or two hits in a 6" square area.

The most common level of protection out there is level IIIa, which is designed to protect against a 9MM full metal jacket at 124gr and 1400fps or less (about 540ft lbs), or .44 magnum soft hollow point at 240gr and 1400fps or less (about 1045ftlbs).

A standard 5.56 load out of a 16" barrel will most likely penetrate a level IIIa vest completely, and then fragment and break up inside the body of the wearer, producing significant damage and blood loss. Most 7.62x39 loadings will do the same; as will many (though not all) +p or magnum pistol loadings from a 16" barreled carbine. I discuss pistol caliber carbine performance more extensively in the article of the same name; but suffice it to say, a 124 gr 9mm +p+ FMJ (or even better, copper solid) from a 16" carbine can easily exceed 1800 fps, which should penetrate and exit soft armor with enough energy to create disabling wounds. Even greater performance can be expected from .357sig, .357 magnum, 10mm, and .45 super; and the same performance MAY be achieved with extremely hot .40s&w and .45acp loads (though that can be difficult).

Okay, so now that I've talked about they why, how about the what...

What carbine should you choose?

Well, two schools of thought on that one. First choice, go for ammo commonality. In fact, if you can, go for magazine commonality. Beretta, Ruger, and Kel-Tec all make pistol caliber carbines that can use the magazined of their companies pistols. The Kel-Tec can actually be converted to use Glock, S&W, Beretta, or SIG magazines. MechTech also sells Carbine Conversion kits for Glock, and 1911 frames, that of course allow you to use the magazines for those pistols.

Being able to share magazines between your pistol and carbine is a HUGE plus in an emergency defensive situation, especially if for some reason you need to evacuate your home; or if you are in a natural disaster scenario, where you may be spending an extended amount of time defending yourself without the opportunity to acquire more ammo or magazines.

The other school says get a short, light, and handy rifle in an intermediate caliber (mostly 5.56 or 7.62x39) in order to maximize your range, wounding power, and armor penetration capabilities. The 5.56 is always going to have better range performance, and armor penetration than any pistol caliber (as will the 7.62); though at short range I actually think some of the hotter pistol calibers may be a more effective fight stopper.

Honestly, I can't tell you which way to go here. Both arguments have merit; both have advantages and disadvantages... really you just need to look at your personal situation and decide which is better for you.

My personal recommendations?

For either school of though, I recommend a 16" barrel, light weight, a pistol grip, and a short, or collapsible stock (to reduce the overall length of the package). Folding stocks can be good, or they can be horrible, it depends on the particular weapon.

For most folks, I think a carbine in 9mm, .357 sig, .40 S&W, 10mm, or .45 acp; that shares magazines with your primary bedside defensive auto pistol; is the best choice.

I think those chamberings, when loaded to their maximum capability will give adequate enough performance against soft body armor, even using a JHP load; while giving less risk of dangerous overpentration through a double drywalled wall than 7.62x39 (though not less than the 5.56).

Basically, I think it's the best tradeoff.

The good news is, if you want to you can build yourself an AR type carbine, and switch back and forth between different uppers in any of these calibers, as well as some others like the .50 beowulf and .458 socom; which are specifically designed to be close quarters combat rounds for 16" carbines (and which I think are overkill, best left for operators).

Most folks who choose a defensive carbine, go with an AR variant, because it IS a very versatile, and very modular platform, with a nearly unlimited number of options and accessories; and a great number of caliber options.

Other carbines to consider include the Kel-Tec sub 2000, The Beretta CX4, the Ruger PC9 and PC40, the Marlin Camp 9 and Camp .45 (if you can find one, both are unfortunately out of production), and the MechTech Carbine Conversion Unit (which combined with a high capacity frame like the G20 in 10mm, is a very nasty performer indeed) all of which share magazines with a companion pistol.

Oh and if you can find a decent example, although it doesn't share magazines with any handgun, the classic M1 carbine is an EXCELLENT home defense carbine, especially in folding stock pistol grip configuration. Personally I'd love one; especially if I could find one of the .45 win mag, or 10mm conversions (hens teeth doesnt begin to describe).

Now, as to ammunition for your carbines, there's also two schools of though on that (for pistols anyway). Most folks jsut shoot the same loads as they shoot through their defensive handguns; and that is generally adequate performance; plus you don't have to worry about which ammo for which gun, which was part of the point of having a pistol caliber carbine.

The problem with that is, most pistol ammo is optimized for short barrel lengths. A 16" barrel can give you a 40% increase in velocity over a 5" barrel, but not if the loading can't take adfantage of it. Given this, some carbine shooters choose to handload, or pick commercial loads, that are optimized for submachine guns or carbines.

Several commercial ammunition companies, including Black Hills, Buffalo Bore, DoubleTap ammo and others offer heavier loadings of the 9mm, .40, 10mm, and .45 that are designed to take advantage of longer barrel lengths by using larger amounts of slower burning powders for example.

The problem with this of course, is that it may not be safe to fire from your defensive pistol; but if your primary concerns are range and performance against armor, and if your defensive pistol is a very tough one like an HK USP .45 (which is rated for .45 super); then you may want to consider it.

Now that quation of priorities comes up again. Two of the main advantages of the carbine are wounding capability, and armor penetration; and those two factors can be somewhat in opposition to each other. Most hollowpoint ammunition has very poor performance against armor, even at carbine velocities. Although there will be a significant bludgeoning effect, most hollowpoint ammo will flatten out and disintegrate against soft body armor. The exceptions are the solid copper hollowpoints, which can be driven to ridiculous velocities without disintegrating (they tend to crush-weld themselves into a wadcutter on impact); and the .357 sig, 10mm, and .45 super, which when combined with a very solid hollowpoint (JHPs designed for hunting medium game like the Hornday XTP, and small cavity controlled expansion bullets like the Golden Saber, and Sliver tip) seem to have enough energy to penetrate reasonably well.

Of course even without penetration the impact will have a significant bludgeon effect, which is defensively useful; but it isn't a disabling wound.

Generally, you will need to load FMJ solids in order to achive armor penetration from pistol calibers (and extreme light weight 5.56 and 7.62x39 loads for that matter). Unfortunately, FMJ is far less effective at wounding unarmored opponents, because it generally doesn't expand much in bare flesh. The exception to this again is in the hot loaded 10mm round, which will cause some crush expansion in many FMJ bullets (and to a certain extend so will hot .357 sig and .45super).

note: Pistol caliber FMJ against armored opponents can be more effective than against unarmored, because the armor can cause the FMJ round to expand significantly, as well as yaw.

So, if armor penetration is a big concern for you, you should think about solid penetrator loads. Honestlyu though, if your biggest concern IS armor penetration, you should be thinking about rifle calibers. For pistol calibers armor presnts the problems noted above; for the 5.56 and 7.62x39, that's not a problem at all, because the standard XM193, XM855, and 124gr Russian loadings are all excellent penetrators against soft armor (especially the steel core 62 gr and 124 gr loadings).

Of course their disadvantage, is their tendency to produce through and through wounds (especially the steel cores loadings). At short ranges and high velocities the FMJ 5.56 loads mentioned above will tend to fragment in the body; but the same is not true of 7.62x39, which can retain enough energy to exit the body and damage objects on the other side.

Moving to a match grade hunting style hollowpoint in either caliber won't significantly reduce their performance against level IIIa soft body armor, but it WILL drastically reduce the tendency to overpenetrate; and is highly recommended (I personally like the 77gr sierra match king).

For more than you ever wanted to know about ammunition for your AR, check out the Ammo Oracle.

Now, another important factor, sights. Personally, I recommend that you have a good set of iron sights, preferably with tritium inserts, AND a red dot or holosight type sight, co-witnessed or quick detachable (or both).

Why both? Well, batteries die and optics get dirty or break, so having the irons is a good idea. Why include the optics at all then? Easy; go shoot an AR at some popper plates in the dark at 10 yards with iron sights. Now do the same thing with an EOtech. Which was faster and easier?

The sights I would consider are the EOtech, Trijicon Reflex and ACOG, CMore , OKO, Docter, Leupold CQT, ELCan (if you can get one. They are expensive, and not available through most distributors). and the AimPoint dot sights.

Each has their strengths and weaknesses, but for close quarters, low light defense, my personal recommendation here is the EOtech holographic Weapon Sight. It's about the fastest to acquire, toughest, most reliable optical sighting system there is. The EOtech will still work if the optics are dirty, wet, or even cracked in half; and it allows for full peripheral, both eyes open sighting under all conditions.

That's not to take away from the AimPoint, Reflex, or ACOG, which are excellent (in fact the ACOG and AimPoints can both be even tougher than the EOTech under certain circumstances); but I think the EOtech has the edge over them in short range, low light, close quarters defensive situations.

If you are choosing the carbine because of its extra range capacilities, seriously consider an ACOG. They are the most expensive of the listed sights (from $850 to $2500 depending on options), but they are also the best for long range, being more like a traditional scope. Also, most of them don't need batteries to fuction, a definite plus. There is even a model which includes a Docter red dot sight mounted to the top of eye piece, for fast close quarters sighting, or if the main unit breaks.

Now, there are certainly cheaper sighting options; even the least expensive of the sights above runs about $250; but do you really want to trust your life to a sight of unknown quality?

I've tested MANY cheap Chinese and eastern european red dot sights, including clones of the models above. Almos twithout excception they were trash. The only ones I ever found acceptable, we the Czech OK Optics line (which aren't all that much cheaper than the premium brands) , and the Hakko clones of the AimPoint sights. Hakko says they are just about as tough and reliable as the AimPoint, and users report that they are pretty tough, but not quite that much.

Ok, so what about if range IS a big concern for you, shouldn't you just use a standard scope? Well I still don't recommend a standard scope, because they are relatively slow to acquire; and far more fragile than the combat sights listed above.

As with the shotgun, I highly recommend mounting a weapon light of some kind; and for the same reasons. It is absolutely critical that you be able to identify targets in the dark; and unless you have night vision gear, you need light (heck even if you do, because nods fail sometimes).

My personal home defense carbine is an AR, in 5.56; specifically a customized Bushmaster SuperLight carbine (as described in "My AR Kit") with an EOTech 551 HWS on it, and co-witnessed back up iron sights (BUIS) with tritium inserts. I HAD a collapsible carbine stock on it, but it was too short for me; so I switched to the Ace tubular stock; but I've decided to get a MagPul MSS stock for it; which is a highly adjustible, ergonomic telescoping stock. I've also changed out the forend and pistol grip for ergonomic rubber ones, cleaned up the trigger, and put various recoil and rate reducing devices in it. I have a forward monuted gas block quad rail, with a flashlight mount, but I've removed it as I didnt like the location of the light, or the general lines of the thing. At this point I'm seriously thinking about moving to the A.R.M.S. SIR , or Bushmaster BMAS forend and mounting a SureFire off that.

I have one full 30rd magazine of the MagSafe 5.56 rounds for it, and I generally keep 10 mags full of the commercial version of the 62 gr nato m855 ball round handy. Really I should probably consider switching to light varmint bullets, because they'll fragment better in walls (and disintegrate in wounds in theory; hopefully producing nasty bleeding); but I'm worried that they'll have too little mass to adequately penetrate (as well as far worse performance against soft armor then the 62gr). I'm also going to need to investigate Hornadys TAP ammo; supposedly optimized to wound without overpentration.

I've recently switched my commercial general purpose ammo purchases to the commercial equivalent of the MK262 round (Black Hills 77gr Sierra Match King JHP); which has far more effective terminal performance out of short barrels (or long ones for that matter) than the 55gr and 62gr standard loads; as well as improved accuracy, assuming you have a 1-in-8 or faster twist rate barrel. If you don't (and my superlight is a 1-in-9) then the 77gr bullets will destablize somewhere past 100 yards; but since I'm not worried about those ranges from this barrel, I'm happy with the performance.

In the past I generally kept the gun upright, by my headboard, with a magazine loaded and the bolt locked back to get it into action faster; but now that I have kids I'm going to need to come up with a different strategy.

Finally, that brings up the consideration, where we are going to put these weapons?

Tough question that. We need to think about ease of access, as well as restricting access to those who shouldn't have it (like kids, cleaning ladies, the pool guy etc...).

The first real question is, do you have kids; and if so how old?

Kids under about 3-5 or so generally don't have the hand strength necessary to actuate the firing mechanism of most DA pistols; so there is less worry there. Kids over the age of 7 or 8 or so can be taught proper firearms safety and respect for their parents things. The problem is teenagers, who may think it's cool to play with guns even if you've tought them properly not to (because teenagers are mostly stupid and contrary by definition - they may do it just to spite you); and kids who are strong enough to accidentally work a trigger, and not mature enough to really undertand they shouldnt.

To my mind, an unloaded gun is basically useless; as is a locked gun. The purpose of having a gun by your bedside is that it is accessible to you to defend yourself INSTANTLY. That said, if you have children, it makes sense that when you aren't around the gun should be locked up, and unloaded. You simply make it part of your nightly routine to unlock and load the weapon, and your morning routine to render it safe again.

Long guns are a bigger problem to secure, but they are also not generally needed as quickly as a pistol might be.

My shotgun for exmple rides under my bed rail, with a full magazine, and empty chamber, safety off, slide lock forward. I'm not worried about the kids accidentally firing this gun, because they'd need to pick it up, pull the trigger, work the pump, and pull the trigger again; which would be a physical impossiblity... hell, Mel has enough problems doing it. This allows me very quick access; but in the future it could be a problem, and I'm going to need to find a better way to secure it, along with my carbine. One common answer is simply to hang them out of reach over a door or window; but that also puts them out of reach of Mel...

It's something I'm going to need to think about more.

Right now, I don't have any particular locking strategy for my guns, but my kids arent old enough to be worrisome yet. When they are (and the oldest will be soon enough), I intend first to train them in firearms safety, and then to get a fingertip safe for my bedside that I can insert my loaded handguns into. I also have other guns hidden around the house, and I will obtain secure fast acting locking mechanisms for them as the need arises.

Now I can only find a decent way to safely secure the long guns, while keeping them quickly acessible....

All my other guns that are not actively being used for home defense are (or will be; they're currently packed up) locked in a gun cabinet; which will soon be replaced by a secure gun safe. I can't recommend enough that you purchase a proper gun safe or security cabinet, and store all your non defensive guns and ammo inside it at all times.

Whether your guns are locked up or not; I recommend that anyone over the age of 5 or so spending any amount of time in a house with guns, be given basic safety training about how to deal with, and handle guns. I recommend the excellent NRA Eddie Eagle program, and the supplementary materials they have, as well as their home defense safety materials as guides. Make gun safety a part of your emergency response training for your household, along with all of the other things I mentioned above.

Remember above all else, the key to defending yourself at ANY time, in ANY situation, is mental preparation. Plan to react, and react to plan. Fight like you train, and train like you fight.

These saying may be trite, but they can save your life; and the lives of your family.

NOTE: This is officially my longest post, at 8736 words. It took me three days to write it, so it darn well should be.