Written by – Luis Valdes
Home defense has always been one of the primary reasons to buy a firearm. Accordingly, the debate over what kind of gun is best – rifle, pistol or shotgun – is right up there with “controversies” like 9mm vs. .45 and Glock vs. 1911, in terms of intensity and number of hot takes generated.
Everyone tries to make the case that “X” gun is the clearly the best option for home defense, and nothing else comes close. The fact is, there are a number of great options. Modern Sporting Rifles such as the AK-47/74 and AR-15, along with striker-fired handguns such as Glocks, are among the most commonly selected.
While they all have arguments in their favor, I use an AR-15 or 5.56 AK . My reasons include its light weight, low recoil, affordable price, good capacity, wide cartridge selection, and customizability.
My wife uses her AR-15 for both sport and home defense. It’s a Spike’s Tactical 2008 Arfcom Special Edition Lower with a custom built BCM lightweight 16-inch upper that she assembled herself. It’s her go-to gun. She’s a pro with it and has the targets to prove it.
But the AR-15 isn’t the only gun she’s handy with. Living in North Florida, we have plenty of hunting opportunities. Florida law has certain restrictions on hunting guns when hunting on public lands, so she uses a CZ 527M in 7.62×39 as her go-to hunting rifle.
The CZ is a superb bolt action rifle. With DNA from the famed Masuer 98 series, it’s slick, handy, accurate, low-recoiling, has an amazing trigger, and the 7.62x39mm is an effective deer slayer.
Rifles like our .30-30 Marlin 336 are also commonly used hunting guns all across the US. They’re rugged, reliable, handy, with a reasonable capacity, making them great as a brush gun or
riding in a saddle scabbard.
Col. Jeff Cooper is reputed to have called the pistol caliber lever gun the “Long Island assault rifle,” since it would even pass muster in New York City and is more than up to the task of putting down two-legged predators.
There are still a number of locations in the US and across the globe where it is difficult, expensive or inconvenient for the law-abiding citizen to own one firearm, let alone multiple guns for specific uses. Some people’s options are limited.
In New York, especially when you move North, you’ll seldom see a NY-legal AR-15 or pistol. People are more likely to own a bolt action hunting rifle, since they’re far easier to get. However, even though it is NY, there’s still some belief in personal protection, as well as legal backing for it.
While New York has a duty to retreat in public, the castle doctrine applies within the home. PL § 35.15(2)(a)(i) states:
“Retreat required if actor knows that with complete personal safety, to oneself and others, he or she may avoid the necessity of using deadly force by retreating, except that the actor is under no duty to retreat if he or she is in his or her dwelling and not the initial aggressor.”
Particularly in 2015, when there was an active manhunt for two escaped prisoners, New Yorkers took that law to heart and armed themselves accordingly.
Ken Snyder kept a loaded rifle handy in his laundry room and another one in his bedroom as the police mounted the manhunt in the Cadyville area. In neighboring Dannemora, residents like Clarke Currier got their hunting rifles ready for home defense, and Jennifer Hilchrey was at the ready, carrying her rifle between her home and her mother’s next door.
The Land Down Under also has strict gun control laws. Semi-Automatic long guns are heavily restricted, and the most readily available long gun is the bolt action hunting rifle. However, like New York, Australia still has castle doctrine-like home defense laws. In the state of South Australia for example:
“If a home owner honestly believes the threat to be imminent and made an objectively reasonable and proportionate response to the circumstances as the accused subjectively perceived them. They are deemed to use “whatever force they deem necessary” when confronted with a home invader.”
Back during the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, a number of Korean store owners armed themselves with whatever they could get their hands on. Standard common hunting guns were pressed into service. Traditional over/under shotguns and a Remington 700 bolt action rifle claimed some photographic fame during that tumultuous time.
A common bolt action hunting rifle, while not perfect, is far better than harsh words and a pointy stick. Most are chambered in capable cartridges that equal or surpass WWI and WWII-era service cartridges.
Capacity will more than likely be an issue, as will recoil and possibly sights. Many hunting rifles are designed for variable magnified optics and have no provision for iron sights. This can make it difficult to use the rifle for home defense. Additionally, since chamberings are typically more powerful, over-penetration is a factor.
When using a scoped bolt action rifle as a home defense gun, keep your scope on the lowest magnified setting. If you’re using it in the average home interior, shooting with both eyes open will give you a better field of view and ability to engage your target and still hit the mark.
To guard against over-penetration, select a quality expanding hunting load. Cheap FMJ will not do you any good. If you’re using a cartridge meant for hog/deer/sheep, it should do will against an attacker. The chest cavity of both a person and a common whitetail deer aren’t that much different in depth. For shooting a deer, the most common location is a broadside hit. When it comes to engaging an attacker, the most common is frontal. Both are similar in depth when it comes to penetration.
Shotguns offer a little more benefit. An O/U, SxS, or common pump will do the job with 00 Buck and Slug. The only difference is length of barrel and capacity. The most common gun, the one that settled the American West in the age of lever actions and revolvers, was the shotgun. The trusty single and double-barreled shotgun was the most common choice for a family in a covered wagon or sod home on the prairie. A modern hunting shotgun is no worse.
A typical hunting rifle has a much smaller capacity then a semi-auto, but four or five rounds is better than zero rounds. Also in certain jurisdictions, it’s beneficial to present yourself as the most non-threatening gun owner in the world. Being able to articulate that you had no other choice but to defend yourself with lethal force is a far better sale to an investigator or jury when a common hunting rifle is used.
In more freedom-loving areas, this isn’t as much of a problem, but not all of us live in those areas, and sometimes we have to play the cards we’re dealt. So if all you can get is a bolt action or lever action hunting rifle or hunting shotgun, you still have a viable means of self defense and you’re still ahead of the game. It might not be the most optimal choice, but it’s better than being unarmed and defenseless.