Skip to main content

Best Gun for Home Defense: Considering the MSR

Using an MSR for home defense is lauded by some as the perfect solution and reviled by others as impractical and dangerous. However, the truth about using an AR for home defense lies somewhere in the middle.

Best Gun for Home Defense: Considering the MSR
Photo by Alfredo Rico

The use of rifles for home defense is nothing new. America’s history is full of instances where citizens have used everything from muskets to lever guns to surplus M1 Garands to protect hearth and home. At first glance, the Modern Sporting Rifle (MSR) has many things going for it. It is reliable, accurate and easy to control. Its modularity makes it ideal for everyone in the family to shoot. The MSR is equally comfortable in the hands of a 6-­foot tall man as it is for a 5-­foot tall woman. It is easy to outfit with everything from white lights to infrared lasers that will work in tandem with your $15,000 dual-tube white-phosphor night vision mounted to your ballistic Ops Core lid.

Despite the MSR’s sheer adaptability, there are some myths about using the MSR for home defense. Toss out what the guy at the gun counter told you: the rounds fired from the MSR are no more likely to over-­penetrate than the rounds from a 9mm pistol. The projectiles from the MSR are moving so fast and are so light in weight that they tend to destabilize once hitting a wall, which dumps all of its energy relatively quickly. In fact, the gun counter guy’s tried and true .45 ACP ball ammo usually penetrates more interior walls than a 55-­grain 5.56 round.

Another myth to dispel is that the 5.56 round is not up to the task of stopping a determined attacker. At home-­defense ranges, a round of 5.56 to the mid-­thoracic area is absolutely effective, and with the controllability of the MSR, follow-­up shots can be delivered quickly and effectively if necessary. If you’re still not convinced that the 5.56 is capable enough, consider an alternative cartridge like the 6.5 Grendel, 6.8 SPC or .300 BLK. Each of these has proven to be effective.

Home Defense AR
Photo by Alfredo Rico

There are some downsides, however, to using an MSR for home defense. First is the prodigious muzzle blast from most models. Those that are shaking their heads at this have likely never touched off a 5.56 in an enclosed space. It is absolutely deafening and disorienting, and in the event that you still need to fight, move or communicate, it could be a distinct disadvantage.


There are ways to mitigate this. First is a good suppressor. You can also have a set of ear-­pro next to your bed, but I know of very few home defense scenarios that allow the defender to wake up, figure out what’s going on, grab a rifle, put on their ear-­pro and then head to the fight. So is this a deal breaker for using a carbine for home defense? Maybe not, but it should factor in to your decision making.


If you’ve settled on an MSR for home defense, you’re looking to get it set up. I always recommend starting with a carbine-length barrel, as moving through a structure can be challenging. Also, be sure to avoid compensators or muzzlebrakes, as those can exacerbate the issues discussed above. Stick with a flash hider so you’re not spitting fireballs out of your gun. The next thing to think about is getting a light on the gun.

Home Defense AR
Photo by Alfredo Rico

I have used SureFire Scout lights personally and professionally for many years, and they have never let me down. Regardless of your brand choice, make sure that you get the brightest light you can. Blinding yourself with too much light is a myth proven wrong by multiple trainers and agencies. The more useful light you have, the more things you can see. The more things you can see, the better your decision making will be. It is that simple. Make sure that you install the light as far forward as you can comfortably activate it, and then practice using it.

Home Defense AR
Besides a quality gun, a quality red-dot sight, a flashlight and a sling are must-haves for a defensive AR. (Photo by Alfredo Rico)

Next on our list is an optic. For home defense, it’s hard to beat a good red dot. Aimpoint has led the field for years, but depending on your budget, there are alternates such as Trijicon, Vortex and SIG Sauer. I caution against going with an unknown brand of optic for home defense. Holographic sights like the EOTech or the Vortex UH-­1 are also great for defensive use, but realize that unlike traditional red dots, you can’t just leave them on and grab them when things go bump in the night. Because the laser diodes in holographic sights use energy at a much faster rate than the diodes in traditional dots, turning on your sight when something wakes you up out of a sound sleep adds an additional layer to an already chaotic event.

Home Defense AR
The rule of thumb when selecting accessories is pay more for what is designed to last. (Photo by Alfredo Rico)

Last but not least in our “must-­have” considerations is a quality sling. There are many great sling designs, but don’t go cheap. Honestly, the good ones don’t cost that much, and the last thing you want to deal with in the middle of the night is an easily preventable sling failure. Consider options from Blackhawk, Galco, Blue Force Gear, Magpul, Viking Tactical, among others.


Ultimately, one of the greatest strengths of the MSR is its flexibility and adaptability. From a stripped-­down retro blaster to a full-­blown modern fighting rifle with infrared aiming devices and the latest Cerakoted camo pattern, the MSR is a home-defense heavyweight.

Current Magazine Cover

Enjoy articles like this?

Subscribe to the magazine.

Get access to everything Guns & Ammo has to offer.
Subscribe to the Magazine

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Guns & Ammo TV: Wheelgun vs. Pistol

Guns & Ammo TV: Wheelgun vs. Pistol

In this segment of “Pros vs. Joes,” we put competitive shooter and author James Tarr against Guns & Ammo TV cameraman Nathan Wilt. With handguns, they see who can knock down plates the fastest on two Revolution Targets Heavy Duty Plate Racks. Here's the catch: Tarr has to use a Colt King Cobra in .357 Mag. while Wilt shoots a Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0 in 9mm.

Cameras Don

Cameras Don't Lie: Subsonic 9mm vs. .300 Blackout

In this segment of "Cameras Don't Lie," a subsonic-ammo showdown, 9mm vs. .300 Blackout fired from AR rifles.

Pocket-Pistol Carry Tips and Tricks

Pocket-Pistol Carry Tips and Tricks

Pocket carry, as a method of concealed carry for a defensive firearm, can be a practical option when done right. This is especially true during the colder months when heavy outer garments can obstruct access to a traditional waistline holster. Former U.S. Navy SEAL Jeff Gonzales, president of Trident Concepts, joins G&A contributor Kimberly Heath-Chudwin to discuss guns, training and gear, including Blackhawk's TecGrip holster that can make pocket carry more successful.

Guns & Ammo TV: 6.5 Creedmoor vs. .375 H&H

Guns & Ammo TV: 6.5 Creedmoor vs. .375 H&H

The 6.5 Creedmoor and the .375 H&H are almost complete opposites, or are they? The 6.5 Creedmoor is a newer and popular cartridge that transcends long-range precision rifle shooting and hunting big game. The .375 H&H is more than a century old, but still a popular and versatile choice for hunting big and dangerous game. For this shoot, Pro Tom Beckstrand, former U.S. Army Special Operations officer and sniper team leader, faces off against Guns & Ammo TV cameraman Ben LaLonde in a challenge that highlights the differences between these two cartridges.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

The Hornady 6.5 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge) is a 6.5 PRC - Magnumized 6.5 Creedmoor Rifle

6.5 PRC - Magnumized 6.5 Creedmoor

Tom Beckstrand - August 01, 2018

The Hornady 6.5 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge) is a "magnumized" 6.5 Creedmoor. It offers...

9 Commonly Misused Gun Terms How-To

9 Commonly Misused Gun Terms

Kyle Wintersteen

"Assault weapon." Sixteen-round "clip." A box of "bullets." When it comes to guns and gun...

The Winchester .350 Legend straight-wall cartridge is ideally suited for hunting hogs and deer; here's everything you need to know to make it work for you..350 Legend Cartridge: Everything You Need to Know Rifle

.350 Legend Cartridge: Everything You Need to Know

Tom Beckstrand - April 02, 2019

The Winchester .350 Legend straight-wall cartridge is ideally suited for hunting hogs and...

Don't mortgage the homestead to get into PRS, this is what's available from the likes of Mossberg, Tikka, Savage, Howa, Bergara, Weatherby and Remington.Starter Rifles for Under $1000 Rifles

Starter Rifles for Under $1000

Aaron Carter - May 09, 2019

Don't mortgage the homestead to get into PRS, this is what's available from the likes of...

See More Trending Articles

More Personal Defense

Regardless of whether or not you carry a gun for a living, you should understand that the dynamics of a gunfight are chaotic and unpredictable.Realistic Training for Concealed Carry Personal Defense

Realistic Training for Concealed Carry

Jeremy Stafford - August 06, 2019

Regardless of whether or not you carry a gun for a living, you should understand that the...

Searching, identifying and shooting are all different tasks that require different tools and skills, and they all need to be practiced — and often.Training with Flashlights for Home Defense Personal Defense

Training with Flashlights for Home Defense

Jeremy Stafford - November 06, 2019

Searching, identifying and shooting are all different tasks that require different tools and...

Combining the portability of a pistol and the terminal performance of a rifle makes the new Daniel Defense DDM4 PDW the ultimate personal defense firearm.Daniel Defense DDM4 PDW 300 Blackout Review for Personal Defense Reviews

Daniel Defense DDM4 PDW 300 Blackout Review for Personal Defense

Brad Fitzpatrick

Combining the portability of a pistol and the terminal performance of a rifle makes the new...

The physical, aural and visual feedback that airsoft training offers is more engaging than dryfire practice. The following list includes the gear and target arrangement that I've been using to practice at home. I've also added a number of drills that I've adapted from live-fire training to build certain skills applicable to personal defense.Airsoft Pistol Drills Personal Defense

Airsoft Pistol Drills

Alfredo Rico

The physical, aural and visual feedback that airsoft training offers is more engaging than...

See More Personal Defense

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Guns & Ammo App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Guns and Ammo subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now