One of the most important principles of the gun-policy debate is that we do not seek or accept tactical advice from politicians or pundits. President Biden is many things, but he is not remotely qualified to tell me how to survive a violent criminal encounter. Michael Bloomberg, Rachel Maddow, David Hogg and many others are quick to tell us in various ways that we don’t need AR-15s. And they repeat that disinformation so often that it is slowly growing into an accepted narrative.
In a free country, the burden should never be on the people to justify maintaining a right. But on the battlefield of public opinion, we have to offer a powerful counternarrative. We owe American discourse a stronger argument for modern sporting rifles than a bumper-sticker slogan. The AR-15 is a valid choice in many self-defense scenarios, and in some cases, it is the best choice.
Refuting the Narrative
To explain the AR-15’s role in self-defense to others, we have to first understand it ourselves. In defensive shooting, we are firing to stop an attacker quickly — not necessarily to wound or kill but rather to incapacitate the shooter. We know from centuries of combat and thorough studies of terminal ballistics that probability of incapacitation goes up with the depth of penetration, the number of rounds on target, accurate shot placement, and the width of the wound channel to either damage a vital anatomical structure or drop blood pressure enough that the attacker loses consciousness. Put simply: To survive an attack, you have to put a piece of metal through a part of the bad guy or gal that he or she needs to function. The longer the incapacitation process takes, the more damage and harm the assailant can do.
The AR-15, along with most modern carbines, is lightweight and has intuitive ergonomics and low recoil, which enable even a novice shooter to accurately and quickly place rounds where they are needed. Those characteristics may have made the AR-15 appealing to a few rampage murderers, but the mere fact that it has sometimes been used by criminals does not make it any less necessary for lawful purposes. Even in the middle of the night, with an initiative disadvantage, homeowners can effectively stop a deadly threat — and they have.
A Florida Case
One particularly compelling case occurred in 2019, when an eight-month-pregnant woman in Lithia, Florida, defeated two armed attackers who were savagely beating her husband. In a second case, a homeowner in Summerfield, Florida, survived four shotgun- and pistol-wielding attackers during a home invasion robbery using his AR-15. In a four-on-one attack, the AR-15 gave him a choice and a chance instead of forcing him to beg for his life.1
It is not a coincidence that nearly every SWAT team in the country and nearly every military hostage-rescue unit in the world uses some variant of the AR-15 for close-quarters engagements. There is a common misconception that overpenetration from a rifle makes it incompatible with defense inside a dwelling, but the relatively small, light, high-velocity 5.56mm bullets that common AR-15s fire do a neat physics trick. The newest generations of personal-defense bullets perform brilliantly inside of an assailant but actually tend to slow down and ultimately stop when they enter the types of material that make up residential walls. A quick search online will show you both serious studies and some entertaining videos of the .223/5.56mm puncturing an intended target but stopping in drywall and performing better than common handgun and shotgun loads in this regard.2
The biggest risk factor for striking a bystander in a defensive scenario is missing the intended target. Due to the sight radius and inherent stability of a shouldered rifle, carbines are far easier for most people to shoot accurately than pistols. Since only one projectile leaves the rifle, there is no scattered shot pattern to account for as with a shotgun. The AR-15 is also lighter and smaller than most shotguns and is easier for people of smaller stature to wield.
Our Choice to Make
There are many considerations when selecting a personal-defense firearm, including budget, training, storage, physical stature, physical limitations, mobility, size of property, floor plan and more. The AR-15 is not always the first gun I want in a defensive scenario, but I should be able to make that choice. We want to ensure that individual citizens can apply their judgment and make their own risk decisions. Politicians can advise us to use shotguns or six-shooters, partly because they often enjoy the luxury of taxpayer-funded personal security details. (It is worth noting that the Secret Service would employ AR-15 variants to clear even the White House in the event of an intruder.)
The AR-15 is widely accepted and used for a variety of lawful purposes. Modern carbines are both suitable and effective in defense of self and home. The basic traits of the AR-15 that gun-controllers vilify are in fact vital features for someone who is trying to survive a fight for his or her life.
Doyle is a concerned citizen and gun-rights advocate. His opinions are his alone and do not reflect the official policy or position of his or any other agency. References and links to other gun advocacy sites do not imply endorsement of those organizations. He can be reached by mail at [email protected].
(1) David K. Li, “Pregnant Florida woman uses AR-15 to fatally shoot armed intruder,” NBC News, Nov. 4, 2019, NBCNews.com/news/us-news/home-invader-fatally-shot-florida-pregnant-woman-ar-15-n1076026; Austin L. Miller, “Summerfield homeowner injured, kills 2 Intruders with AR-15,” Sarasota Herald-Tribune, July 11, 2019, HeraldTribune.com/news/20190711/summerfield-homeowner-injured-kills-2-intruders-with-ar-15.
(2) For manufacturer data and video from two of the most common tactical rifle bullet producers, see “Wound Ballistics,” Vista Outdoor Operations, LE.VistaOutdoor.com/wound_ballistics/default.aspx and “FBI Test Protocol,” Hornady Law Enforcement & Military, HornadyLE.com/resources/fbi-test-protocol.