The handgun is the most common home-defense firearm. The second most common choice is the shotgun. And last but not least is the rifle.

Some consider the rifle to be too powerful for home defense. Others criticize it for its clumsy handling at close range. But don’t be so quick to discount the rifle for home-defense. This might surprise readers, but the handgun is the most difficult of these three defensive firearms to master. Handling, hit probability and accuracy all favor the rifle. This of course is only true if the user has the proper training.

A man in a red polo shirt inspects an AR-15 rifle fitted with an optical scope. He is practicing proper trigger finger discipline and has the muzzle pointed downrange at an indoor range.

A quality AR-15-type .22 rifle is a fine recreational rifle. It may also be pressed into service for home defense.

.22 Rifles

While there are better rifles available, a quality .22-caliber rifle has proven to be a capable (and affordable) home-defense weapon time and again. Some good options out there include the Ruger 10/22, the Walther Colt M4 and the Thompson/Center T/CR22. These rifles are reliable guns and are also able to deploy 25-round magazines. That is a good reserve of ammunition to have in a time of need.

Lever-Action Rifles

Many of us have lever-action hunting rifles stored in our gun safes. A pistol-caliber lever-action in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum or .45 ACP is another solid home-defense choice. If you enjoy the lever-action rifle, appreciate its fast handling and can learn to work the lever quickly, it can be a handy home-defense rifle.

A .30-30 Winchester lever-action rifle may be a wonderful rifle to handle, but it is inferior to pistol-caliber lever-action rifles when it comes to home defense. This is due to the fact that the .30-caliber cartridge is longer, so there is less leverage to work the action. Therefore, follow-up shots will be slower. The .30-30 also offers more penetration than required for most home-defense needs — even with a 150-grain JSP loading. The rule on caliber and loads is that you need a cartridge powerful enough to reliably stop a threat, but not so powerful that it is be difficult to control. Choose a pistol-caliber lever-action rifle.

A man fires a 9mm carbine during a shooting competition on an outdoor range

A 9mm carbine offers plenty of power, low recoil and high hit probability. It is even useful in competitions.

Pistol-Caliber Carbines

The most specialized type of home-defense rifles are pistol-caliber carbines. The Kel-Tec SUB2000 .40 and the larger Ruger Precision are among these. These carbines take pistol magazines. They are a little more difficult to handle than a standard .22 rifle and lack the power that I usually desire in a rifle. But after further study, I realized that these firearms are among the best choices for many homeowners.

The real gain from these carbines is their accurate delivery. A shooter who doesn’t do well with a handgun can be up and running and engaging targets with real accuracy with ones of these carbines. The little Kel-Tec carbine is reliable, friendly to use and easily folds up for storage. If a shooter seeks long-range accuracy, the Ruger Precision is accurate up to 100 yards and offers handling similar to the Ruger 10/22.


The AR-15 is America’s rifle. The rifle has a great reserve of ammunition, and its supply is easily replenished. It is a well-designed rifle that invites a lot of shooting. About the best AR-15s out there are Springfield Armory’s SAINT series when it comes to quality and performance. This is followed by AR-15s produced by Del-Ton, Inc. and Palmetto State Armory.

An AR-15 rifle which features optics including a red dot sight as well as iron ring sights

This Palmetto State Armory rifle features a TRUGLO red-dot sight, XS Backup Ghost-Ring iron sights and a Hiperfire trigger. It is an excellent all-around performer.

Don’t Forget Your Sights

When sights are considered, many optics fall short on all of the rifles discussed. A good option for the AR-15 is a quality red-dot sight. Scout scopes are worthless for home defense. If you use a red-dot scope, it isn’t a bad idea to add the XS Backup Ghost-Ring iron sights. These sights are canted to one side to allow aiming by slightly tilting the rifle. If you have a scope-mounted rifle, XS sights give the rifle a wider range of utility. Another option is mounting a compact red-dot sight, such as the Burris Optics FastFire 3, on a larger optic in order to give the user greater utility.

Multiple Options

Whichever rifle you decide to go with, remember that practice getting the rifle into action and firing at close range is essential. Despite arguments to the contrary, rifles are the best home-defense weapon when it comes to handling, hit probability and accuracy. You don’t have to spend a fortune to get your hands on one either. Do your research, get the right gun in your hands and get accustomed to handling it.

Consider these past blog posts for further reading:


Burris Optics:
Del-Ton, Inc.:
Palmetto State Armory:
Springfield Armory:
Thompson/Center Arms:
XS Sights:

About Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell is a writer for Concealed Carry Magazine with a degree in criminal justice. Bob has been a firearms writer for decades, writing for Concealed Carry HandgunsGun TestsAmerican GunsmithSWAT MagazineLaw and Order and Black Belt, among others. He has written 15 books primarily focused on handguns and training, including The Accurate Handgun from Gun Digest. In addition to serving as a peace officer and firearms instructor, he has also written curriculum at the university level.