In self-defense or home protection, you generally have three choices – the handgun, the shotgun, and the carbine rifle. Later I’ll talk more about the handgun and the shotgun, but today, let’s talk about the carbine. Specifically, the AR-15 pattern carbine. I’ll start with some background and history on why it’s popular, then make some suggestions on how to set up your own AR for
self-defense or home protection.
First a quick explanation. A carbine is typically a rifle that has been shortened, most often the length removed from the barrel. An AR-15 rifle typically has a barrel length of twenty inches. For easier handling, a shorter “carbine” version of the AR-15 was developed with a barrel of 16 inches (the shortest legal length). As a result, the AR-15 carbine is lighter, shorter, and as a result, easier to handle and maneuver in close spaces.
Back in the day, all the cool kids (most SWAT teams, FBI Hostage Rescue, etc.) used the 9mm sub-guns, mainly variations of the H&K MP5. Today, most similar groups have changed to using some variation of the AR-15 platform, chambered in 223/556. Rifle rounds beat pistol rounds, the 223/556 high velocity rounds tend to create more serious wounds, and are more likely to penetrate light body armor – all good things in typical home or apartment dynamic entry situations. Yet, due to less bullet mass, when fired in buildings with standard interior construction, the 223/556 rounds penetrate fewer walls and layers of sheetrock than do the 9mm projectiles.
An AR-15 pattern carbine lets you have a 30 round magazine capacity (a significant amount more than a shotgun or pistol). Some criticize the length of a carbine, but if you stand with your back against a wall, and hold a handgun out at arms-length, then a carbine against your shoulder, you will find the distance from the wall to the end of the muzzles to be very similar. A bit of practice moving through doorways, and the advantages of a carbine will soon outweigh the small issue its length may cause.
Basic set-up suggestions – first, use what you’ve got, but if you are considering a purpose built firearm, here is basically what I’ve done. The result I achieved is a great balanced, fast shooting 223/556 carbine that including the optic (an Aimpoint T-1), weighs just under six pounds without ammo. I started with a 14.5” lightweight barrel with a mid-length gas system on a flat-top upper. With a welded muzzle device, the overall barrel length is 16 inches, a full 16” barrel with a muzzle device adds an extra inch and a half, and in some interior movement situations, that extra length may cause you to bump the barrel into walls and doorframes.
The lightweight 14.5” barrel length is just fine for hitting targets at the 0-50 yard distances in self-defense, but with a quality barrel, it still gives me great accuracy potential at 100 yards. The mid-length gas system gives me a softer recoil impulse, and makes it a joy to shoot. I use an ultra-lightweight foregrip – without any rails (a magnesium/aluminum alloy BCM KMR, 5.5oz). Regardless of the brand, with the Key-Mod and Magpul M-Lok systems, you can still mount accessories and avoid the “Cheese Grater” Picatinny effect.
I have a mini Red-Dot sight (I look to Aimpoint and Trijicon for the best ones), and a LED weapon light mounted above the barrel (to minimize the negative aspects of the shadow caused on the left or right when the light is not in front of the muzzle). I have the sight zeroed at 50 yards, that gives me a similar drop and rise as I train with on the other AR pattern rifles I use for 0-200 yards. Regardless of your sight set-up, remember that at close ranges, you will need to account for the offset between the sights and barrel. At up-close distance, you’ll need to hold your sight picture a few inches high for your round to hit where you want it to be.
A fixed length stock is best. If you have an adjustable stock, you need to determine the best length, and then leave it there, maybe even taking some action to lock it in that position (set screw, etc.). When you grab your self-defense carbine, you probably need it “right now” and the last thing you need to do is spend time messing with it and getting the adjustments set up for your preference. You should have a sling. Some may want to “sling-up” with a tactical set-up, or if not, at least have a standard two-point sling that gives you the option of keeping the firearm on your person instead of setting it down when you need to use your two hands for other purposes.
It’s smart to have a second magazine. Even if you don’t need the additional rounds, a problem with the carbine – or even smacking it hard into a wall or doorframe – can cause problems that may require a magazine change to keep the gun running. There are several carriers that let you carry a second magazine on the stock – it’s not sexy, but in the real world, it works pretty well – and you don’t have to suit-up with carriers, or try and figure out where to carry and stash a magazine (since you train with cargo pants, but at 3:00am you are responding while only in your underwear), when things happen fast – just grab the carbine and it’s all there and ready to go.
For range training, start with those drills similar to ones you would do with your self-defense pistol. Bend your knees and roll your shoulders forward, as you surround and almost wrap yourself around the carbine. This helps you keep your weight on the balls of your feet, and leaning toward the front – so you can more easily absorb the recoil of the carbine and recover your sight picture. As you move, keep the buttstock in contact with your shoulder, with the barrel pointed down, at a pointmaybe 5 or 6 feet in front of you. As you approach the targets to engage – all you should need to do while keeping the buttstock contact with your shoulder, is bring the carbine up and point it at the target – as you do so, you will re-obtain a cheek weld, and the red-dot in the sight will confirm the point of aim on the target.
The carbine allows four points of contact (left hand, right hand, shoulder, and cheek), where the handgun only offers two. At self-defense distances, these additional points of contact add up to greater accuracy, and getting on target quickly – especially when combined with a red-dot sighting system. If you are leaning forward and your upper body wrapped around the carbine, absorbing the recoil and keeping the gun on target for multiple rounds should be easy.
Practice multiple rounds on a single target, and multiple rounds into multiple targets. Two targets – quickly put two rounds into the first, then four rounds into the second, then two more into the first. When you have two threats, you balance the need to shoot both quickly, with the delay it takes to shoot one enough to remove the threat before moving to the second. While you are shooting the first one four times, the second can shoot you, so you split the rounds between them both in a 2-4-2 pattern.
Moving, shooting, moving again, then shooting again. Throw in several decision & reaction targets, and practice making those transitions. The advantage of the carbine is being able to shoot many high velocity rounds in a short period accurately – focus your training to build those skills that take full benefit of the carbine’s advantages in a self-defense situation. I suspect that you will find the speed available is very similar to, or better than, a pistol, yet the accuracy easier to achieve – all great reasons to use a carbine for self-defense use.