A Discussion on Personal Defense Weapons

I know I’m probably going to get a lot of flak for this, but if you have an AR15-style rifle for “home defense” I think you’re making a big mistake. It’s a totally unsuitable weapon – too long and with far too much penetration. Do you actually want to open fire inside your home with a weapon that can effortlessly rip through most internal walls? Unless your mental map can instantly plot trajectories and be 100% certain none of your bullets are going to end up sharing a bed with your kids or neighbors I would suggest not. Equally, one of my co-writers has already discussed the harm some open-carry advocates are doing. I’m going to go a bit further: If you carry a rifle when you go out for groceries, you’re being either childish (“Hey look folks, I got a gun!”) or dangerously irresponsible. In the unlikely event an incident kicks off in Costco, you’re really going to unsling that weapon and start laying down high-velocity rounds in the breakfast cereals aisle? Remind me never to go shopping in your town.

Anyway, I’ve been wondering about personal defense weapons recently. These haven’t exactly caught on very widely, mostly on financial grounds, but I think the concept is sound from a civilian point of view if not a military one. The basic idea is a military one and it’s not entirely new. Most soldiers don’t regularly take part in the infantry battle. They have other jobs to do and while they need to be ready to defend themselves, winning the firefight isn’t their main role. That means a full-size rifle is, generally, just dead weight. They’d be better off with a lighter and more compact weapon that had a reasonable part of a rifle’s capability but didn’t get in the way as much the rest of the time.

M1 Carbine
M1 Carbine

The US Army was the first to act on this idea and they did it as early as 1942. The M1 Garand rifle was a superb weapon but it was also long and heavy; for drivers, logistics troops and most other non-infantry it tended to get in the way. The result was the famous M1 carbine. This has had its share of criticism over the years and, true enough, as a rifle it’s awful – underpowered and short on range. It isn’t a rifle though – it’s a personal defense weapon. At 5.2 pounds empty, compared to the Garand’s 9.5, and a full eight inches shorter, it was a lot handier to have around if you needed to concentrate on doing something else. It had a 15 round magazine (later it got a 30-round one and, as the M2, selective fire capability). And it worked. Sure, it was outranged by a Mauser Kar98 and outgunned by the new Stg44 assault rifle, but most of the time it was a convenient, reliable little weapon with pretty decent firepower out to a couple of hundred yards. In fact it worked so well it soon became the standard weapon of US airborne troops, and regular infantry liked them for house-to-house fighting. It certainly beat a submachinegun.

Now there are modern versions of the PDW on the market; FN has their futuristic-looking P90 and the German Army has adopted Heckler & Koch’s MP7. These are compact, SMG-sized weapons that fire small caliber rounds out to an effective range of about 200 yards. Military ammunition for them is designed to penetrate body armor, which isn’t desirable in a civilian PDW – it means it will also penetrate your kids’ bedroom door – but switch that for an expanding bullet and it might just be the perfect home defense weapon. With most of them coming in at 18 to 20 inches long they’re also ideal for the car or, if you really have to take a gun shopping, stuffing in a bag. That way it will be out of sight, so when ISIS attacks your local Walmart you can go for it while they’re busy shooting all the guys with slung AKs.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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19 thoughts on “A Discussion on Personal Defense Weapons

  1. I love the condescending snark in his last line…….

    “so when ISIS attacks your local Walmart you can go for it while they’re busy shooting all the guys with slung AKs.”

    Yeah……Because ISIS wackos NEVER attack public events in the US with AKs…… I mean, when is the last time THAT happened? Oh wait….

  2. I think the author’s “one size fits all” dismissal of the AR-15 as a PDW is rather myopic and ignores the plethora of choices available to configure these rifles. From barrel length, collapsing, folding, or even stock-less options, caliber – there must be 20 available by now including a subsonic .30 caliber option – and last but not least, ammunition choices including frangible bullets.

    The author also misses, or ignores, that a rifle, any rifle, is far more accurate and quicker on target particularly when equipped with a holographic sight, something that is rarely found on a handgun outside of competitive shooting.
    This would tend to negate the author’s “mental map” argument.
    A rifle also makes a far better skull cracking blunt object should the need arise.

  3. I have been increasingly interested in pistol caliber carbines as a PDW. My most recent purchase is a Definitive Arms AKX -9P. It will be upgraded with a side-folding buttstock when my tax stamp comes. Heavy pistol with 32 round magazines should make a fine truck gun and stay by my bedside as well.

    1. Fit the stock and a good light, load it with JHP, and that might be pretty much the perfect civilian PDW.

  4. This author, in my opinion, does not have sufficient training with a patrol rifle and doesn’t understand its basic ballistic capabilities or sight radius advantages (without optics), and greater advantages with optics. As teachers, instructors and authors of these types of publications, you can’t espouse “one-sided” options as the only way to do business.

    1. This author, as a former Skill At Arms instructor trained at the School of Infantry in Brecon, disagrees.

  5. This is why I have my Vector full size. Even though it has a 16 inch barrel it is quite handy. Mods Israeli K grip, RMR top cover, and coupled 25 round mags. But it will be getting SBR’d down the road.

  6. I care my 9MM Pistol with two fully loaded mags. I use it to defend my self and my family, I am not looking for a gun fight just want to get out of the way and get some where safe. Leave the fun battle to the ones that are trained and have the gun power to do so.

  7. PDW…..
    Most important thing to remember,
    ALWAYS bring a Gun to a gunfight !
    Semper Fi
    Carry On

  8. I would have to agree with the author about the penetration of the .223/5.56nato and other high velocity rounds being a con in self defense at home, in town ext. if you live In The country and live alone or at least have no one else in the house then hey blast away, but I know I don’t want to be charged with reckless endangerment or some other charge because i shot through a criminal and it hits someone behind em. Personally for quick action I like a riot gun with low velocity rounds, which you still have the penetration slightly, but the smaller the shot size the lower the velocity after every thing it penetrates, But that is only for home defense outside world I like the idea of pistol caliber carbines with frangible rounds which can keep their trajectory accurately up to 100 yards in my experience, have never tried goin Any farther. Don’t give me too much flack but I really like my keltec sub 2000. For really close work the old sidearm works pretty good. Just my opinions on the matter

    For give me for terrible grammer

  9. You’re article makes no sense. It lacks a good thesis.
    It jumps from assault infantry, to home defense, to counter terrorism.
    No one weapon covers this.
    So… Pick a single topic…
    Interior home defense is just that… It is NOT a firefight. One shot will most likely suffice.. Or even ” i have a gun” … And far more important.. COMM.
    Shotgun with #6 shell.. Low recoil.. Light penetration.. Good coverage.. Shot will not travel overly far.. Sound and flash will amplify effectectivness.
    Experience as a LEO leads me to believe that the well aimed shot in this scenario is myth.. As is the in the home firefight.
    If god forbid you take a shot.. If you NEED to shoot.
    You will hopefully have a wounded not dead peeson.. Or best case, just one running scared.. That if you have COMM… Can be picked up later.
    All in all . Phone dog shotgun in that order

    1. I do tend to come at things from a military perspective and that probably colours my judgement. I’m not American – I’m a Brit living in Germany – so personally I’d never bother choosing a firearm for home defence; the risk just doesn’t warrant it. I do think a high-velocity weapon is inappropriate if it does come to it though.

      Many of your points I agree with 100%. In a combat or self-defence situation you’re not doing it like it was on the range. A shotgun is handy, effective and bystander-safe (also very intimidating, reducing the odds of having to fire at all). And no, there isn’t a single weapon that’s perfect for every situation. A PDW-style one is probably the best compromise though.

  10. I find everyone’s assessments to be interesting on this topic. I do feel that the author may be misjudging the capabilities of the AR15 and its use as a PDW. Most AR’s today are coming with barrels that are 16 inches or less (with legal tax stamps), and other useful features that make great options (within reasons) for personal defense of self and home. I do agree that one of the most important features on any home defensive firearm is to have a light attached for PID of friend/foe. The next thing is ammunition selection for the AR rifle. Most varmint rounds with their expanding projectiles make for a good home defensive round because of the explosive expansion they have on impact and are not going to over-penetrate the threat. Then lastly is training and knowing how to reach your love one’s and create that line in the sand for an intruder not to cross.

  11. Honestly, it remains for me a matter of common sense and personal responsibility. I’ve seen the folks who advocate the 2nd Amendment to ridiculous extremes (No, I don’t think your minigun is an appropriate hunting weapon), but it’s ultimately down to each of us to demonstrate we’re able to carry weapons responsibly. For instance, there was a gentleman on the news recently who carried an AR style rifle with a 100 round drum magazine into the public areas of an airport. Was he breaking the law? No, but neither was he acting in a responsible manner.

  12. Fergus, are you aware of studies by the FBI Ballistic Research Facility that show that 5.56/.223 service ammunition has less penetration through residential material than most service pistol and shotgun rounds? We used this research in writing our proposal for the patrol rifle program some years ago.

  13. I like simple & practical. In my suburban area my S&W 357. 2 speed loaders ready 115 gr flat & hollow. (reliable) Also- left over from my Ft. Hood field time (go ARMY) my Mossberg 410. Has a pistol grip so it is small and enough power for home defense. Even my arthritic wife handles it no problem.
    Old school like a revolver but in 20 years never a jam or misfire.

    Think about home defense for your home and your area.

  14. Fergus, would you care to address why so many police SWAT teams around the world and inside the U.S.A. all use .223/5.56 millimeter rifles inside cities when they conduct their raids? Do you know something that they don’t know? I’m kind of curious because I am presently writing a police active shooter response program for a small town police department.

    Here’s the thing, I know you mean well, as do I, but the truth is that if a shooter practices long and hard with their firearm of choice, there is no reason for them to not use a M-4 type carbine in the defense of their home. The key is accuracy of fire. If you can accurately hit the bad guy with your .223/5.56 bullet that pretty much insures that he will have a bad day and that will end the danger to you and your family. We already know that 1 fired round out of 4 hits anything at all. The other 3 bullets just go out into the night or daylight air to fall harmlessly to the ground somewhere. This information comes from 3 police studies involving shots fired by police officers in the line of duty.

    We also know that out of about 10K (10,000) fired rounds shot by police officers there exists one chance that a bullet might… note the word “might”… actually strike an innocent person not involved in a police-criminal confrontation. Again, that was the approximate figure reached by different police agencies using officer involved shootings for their basis of analysis.

    Unless you can come up with some really outstanding reasons that supersede what SWAT teams around the world are doing, you might want to rethink your position. Originally in urban combat from WW2, the main weapon used by G.I.s was the M-1 Garand rifle and the Thompson sub-machinegun. Up until the M-16/M-4 rifles came into being the M-1 carbines were sometimes used by the police because they were handy to store and maneuver in and out of a police car. They worked because the officers adapted their tactics to the carbine and because they wanted to use them. But even when allowed to carry the M-1 carbines there were still officers who did not like the little firearm and opted for something with a larger, heavier projectile like a M-1 rifle or a bolt action rifle.

    For more information, google what the various SWAT teams are using for their weapons and see what I mean.

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