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.

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