Sunday, May 31, 2015

Kyle Lamb Discusses Using the AR For Home Defense

The American Rifleman has published a brief interview with Kyle Lamb about using the AR-15 for home defense. (H/t TTAG). The article is presented by the American Rifleman editors as advocating the AR over other types of commonly used weapons for self defense. However, after reading it a couple times, I realized that was not Lamb's intent. In fact, he stated in the interview that  "as an unbending supporter of the Second Amendment I am in favor of whatever you prefer, are comfortable with, or can afford." Rather, the article is a response to the naysayers who contend that the AR is unsuited to home defense.

With that, I would like to go through his article and interject my own thoughts on the pro's and con's of using a carbine or rifle in home defense.

Lamb's reasons for using the AR system is that it is easy to shoot, accurate, with low recoil.  He does not believe that the shotgun is the best firearm for home defense because the semi-auto versions are not reliable enough, and the pump actions can't be operated with only one-hand; also, the AR (even with a 10-round magazine) packs more firepower. As for handguns, he says:
If you are among those who say, “If I can’t fix the problem with my eight rounds of .45 ACP, it can’t be fixed,” I say please grab a big old mug of black coffee and wake up from your dream. No one knows who, what, when, where or why the fight will start—blowhard statements only degrade an intelligent conversation.

Once again, focusing on reality, 5.56x45 mm NATO ammunition just plain works. There are literally thousands upon thousands of terrorists who have met their ends because of it. Apparently, they did not have a chance to read the latest gun blog decrying the lack of stopping power from the 5.56.

“Pistols point faster,” is a common proclamation, and it can be true if you already have your hands on the gun. However, the last part of that statement is often overlooked: “Pistols point faster, and miss more often.” Although we can quickly get the pistol into the fight, the carbine will get there and be more shootable for the average person. With a carbine in the low-ready position, the average shooter can get shots on target in less than one second. Of course, that is the reaction time once you have made the determination that you should, in fact, shoot. It does not take into consideration the fact that you will have to work your way through a decision-making process that includes threat identification.
The article goes on to address or respond to some specific issues of using a carbine, and tips on running the AR. (I would also recommend Lamb's book, Green Eyes, Black Rifles, for anyone using an AR or thinking about using an AR).

So, with that out of the way, let me add some thoughts on the pro's and con's of using a rifle or carbine:

First, accuracy. Lamb is obviously correct that you are not going to get the same level of accuracy from a handgun as you will from a rifle; and the multiple projectiles from a shotgun preclude the same level of accuracy. However, you must also consider the level of accuracy that you need.  Massad Ayoob has previously addressed this argument, writing:
For you, it won't happen on a battlefield where the nearest Soviet soldier is 600 meters away behind a French hedgerow. For you, it will happen at point-blank range. Studies by the FBI show that the great majority of shoot-outs occur at a range of 7 yards or less, and more commonly at about 7 feet. And this is among police, whose statistics include running gunfights on the highway and long-distance gunfire exchanges with snipers and barricaded felons.

The civilian, almost always, will fight his opponent face-to-face. In that close space he won't be able to bring a rifle or shotgun up before the attacker can take two steps forward and stab, club, or disarm him, or fire his own illegal gun. ...
(The Truth About Self Protection, p. 346). To me, a small apartment where it would be physically impossible to engage anyone at more than 20 feet is a whole different proposition from a 5,000 square foot open plan house where you may be looking at distances of 75 feet or more inside the home, or a rural property where you may be poking around a barnyard to see what disturbed the chickens. Some environments may allow, or demand, something with greater accuracy than a handgun; but I doubt that the Average Joe lives in a home requiring that degree of long range accuracy.

Second, ease of use. To me, this depends. I can't think of any firearm where the controls are more easily manipulated than a Glock or similar handgun, and I think the 1911 is at least as easy to manipulate as an AR. Ease of use is more than just operating the weapon, but also maneuvering with the weapon, and I'm not convinced that moving through the tight confines of the typical apartment or home is easier with an AR than a handgun. I've run mock clearing drills through my house with carbines and handguns, and there are areas were because of the location of the doorways and the proximity of another wall, I cannot negotiate the doorway/corner with a carbine at a ready position, whereas I can with a handgun. Perhaps an SBR would work better, but, like most people, I'm using something with a barrel of 16+ inches in length. This is something that you really need to test yourself before choosing.

Third, Lamb is dismissive of the noise from an AR, suggesting that a .40 S&W is loud, and that the reader could look into obtaining a silencer. All other things being equal, a 5.56 carbine (particularly a short barreled carbine), is going to have more noise and blast than a typical handgun, especially if you discharge it in the tight confines of a narrow interior hallway or other small space. (If your preferred handgun is the .454 Casull, ignore what I just wrote). Other than .22 LR, I haven't fired a rifle in a building (the only indoor ranges I've used have been for handgun and/or .22 rifle), so again I must defer to Massad Ayoob's comments:
Fire a high-powered rifle in an enclosed room and the blast is literally deafening: the muzzle flash looks like a grenade explosion. It will stun and disorient the user and can even cause some degree of permanent hearing damage.
(The Truth About Self Protection, p. 342). What I can say is that I've stood next to or near many people firing different rifles at gun ranges and in the field, and the noise and blast from a .223 without a muzzle device is spectacular--you can sometimes even see the fireball in the daylight; and in the evening it is truly awesome. Flash-hiders are very effective at reducing flash, but the noise remains. And recoil compensator just makes the noise worse for anyone to the sides of the rifle--and in a tight space, reflect that noise back to the shooter. I supposes some may argue that you can put on hearing protections, but if the front door has crashed open and the burglar alarm is already going off, will you have, or take, the time?

Fourth, sight acquisition. At longer ranges, the sight acquisition using a red-dot on a carbine will be faster than the iron sights of a handgun because of the single focal plane. At short ranges, I don't know if it will make much of a difference: I had recently read (although I can't find the article) that for short ranges requiring quick shots, the red dot sight on a handgun was inferior to relying on the front sight. The ability to see the red-dot in low light is probably its biggest advantage for home defense.

Fifth, over-penetration. I think Lamb is being too kind to the AR detractors on this issue. There have been plenty of tests showing that handguns, particularly when using the heavier hollow-point bullets, will penetrate sheet rock better than the 5.56. (See, e.g., here, here, here and here). This test from Recoil magazine seems fairly typical:
Nine walls were constructed and spaced 4 yards apart.  Walls 1-8 were constructed of 2 ½” sheets of drywall. Wall 9 was constructed of 1 ½” drywall, 1 sheet of 7/16 inch plywood, 3” of soft insulation, 9/16” hard insulation and 1/16 hard plastic siding.  The test was designed to replicate an average home.  When bullets started flying, the 147 Grain 9mm consistently penetrated all 9 walls.  The 165 grain .40 S&W consistently penetrated all 9 walls.  The 55 grain .223 has a maximum penetration of 8 walls (fired from an M16, M4A1 and a H&K G36) the 62 grain bonded 5.56 (fired from the same weapons) had a maximum penetration of 8 walls.
If over-penetration is a concern, you are probably better off using the AR with light weight (i.e., 55 grain) hollow-point ammunition.

Sixth, Lamb states that carrying the carbine around a battlefield is much easier than a handgun because the carbine only requires a sling, while the methods of carrying a handgun are more complicated. In my mind, in the context of home defense, this is a non-issue. No one is going to home-carry a carbine, even if they can sling it over his/her shoulder; and if someone is grabbing the gun in the middle of the night, the issue of a holster or sling is a moot point.

Seventh. I don't see how anyone can disagree that the 5.56 round is going to be more effective, in terms of terminal ballistics, than a handgun (unless when shooting through walls--see some of the articles on barrier penetration cited above). The AR wins hands down.

Eighth. The magazine capacity of an AR (at 30 rounds) is definitely superior to the typical magazine capacity of a handgun. There are plenty of accounts of home invasions by multiple assailants, or perps being shot multiple times without any seeming effect, which tend to favor the carbine. (See my post "6-Reasons Why You Need a 30-Round Magazine"). But there are those 30-round Glock magazines ....

Ninth. Lamb obliquely discusses reliability of the AR on several points versus other types of weapons. I'll just say that, at least when discussing a semi-auto, that the AR is probably going to be more forgiving of incorrect posture or grip than a semi-auto handgun. I'm not saying that it is impossible to "limp-wrist" an AR, but that I've never seen it happen.

Tenth. Lamb seems to sidestep maneuverability and weapon retention issues, which are really important in the home defense context. Lamb seems to think that if you use the gun, the perp is going to die. But what if the perp surrenders without a shot, or is wounded, and you are trying to dial 911 while holding him/her at gun point? Or what if you turn a corner and find yourself face-to-face with a perp? Handguns are much easier to operate one-handed, or retain control of in a struggle, than a long arm. For instance, Massad Ayoob writes on this issue:
It is easier to get a shotgun or rifle away from someone than a pistol even if they're holding it with both hands. As any military recruit has been taught, all you have to do is grab the barrel and the stock farther out than the person holding it, and you have enough leverage to twist it out of their grasp. It is far, far easier to do this to a homeowner who has one hand on the shotgun and the other hand occupied by the telephone.
.(The Truth About Self Protection, p. 333).

So, in the end, the issue of AR versus handgun seems to be a wash--there are good and bad points, advantages and disadvantages to both. Frankly, I keep both a handgun and carbine available for use.


2 comments:

  1. The 5.56 round in enclosed spaces (a Mini-14 in my case) is brutal. The indoor shooting range I patronize is mostly dedicated to pistol shooting, but it has two lanes in a separate room for rifles. Even with two levels of hearing protection (foam ear plugs and over-the-ear earmuffs), shooting the 5.56 is a brutal experience. Besides the considerable noise (far more than most handguns) that still gets through to the ears, there is the concussion that just pounds the body.

    Permanent hearing damage is definitely preferable to being dead, gravely wounded, or tortured for hours by home invaders. But, you should actually shoot your carbine in an enclosed space (with hearing protection) so you have an inkling of what to expect if you ever need to use your carbine in your home.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you. Good to know, although not too surprising. It seems from my personal experience both shooting .223/5.56 or being near people shooting .223/5.56 that they produce an inordinate amount of blast and (if there is no flash hider) flash for their size.

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