What constitutes the best home defense firearm has sparked vigorous debate for decades. Today, although many choose a handgun or shotgun, rifles have also become an excellent home defense weapon.
Best Home Defense Rifles
1. Radian Model 1
The Radian Arms Model 1 is an ambidextrous weapon system based on the AR-15 pattern. Radian Arms takes a discerning approach to build quality and craftsmanship—every rifle is assembled, tested, and cleaned by a trained gunsmith to ensure optimum performance.
The company specializes in ambidextrous functionality, and the Model 1 exemplifies that goal. Radian’s Ambidextrous Charging Handle, optimized for suppressor use, keeps gas leakage to a minimum. Unlike traditional AR-15 charging handles, the Radian can be unlocked and retracted with either hand and won’t bind on the receiver.
Thanks to the A-DAC (Ambidextrous Dual-Action Control) system, you can lock the bolt open and drop the empty magazine from both sides. While the controls remain the same on the left side, the right side incorporates the A-DAC, so to lock the bolt open, all you have to do is retract the charging handle fully and press the magazine release button. The bolt locks open without pivoting the bolt catch on the opposite side.
The safety selector lever is user-adjustable, can be set to 45° or 90° throws, and is accessible via either side.
The .223 Wylde, a hybrid chamber design, allows you to fire both cartridges safely and accurately in the same barrel. However, if you’re interested in another caliber, Radian offers the Model 1 in the popular and suppressor-optimized .300 Blackout cartridge.
2. TRIARC Systems TSR-15S
If you’re interested in an AR-15-pattern rifle that blends combat effectiveness with target-grade accuracy, the TSR-15S, manufactured by TRIARC Systems, is worth considering. While sub-MOA accuracy is not critical in a home-defense firearm, especially when the expected engagement ranges don’t exceed the length of a hallway, it does provide versatility for other applications.
An uncommon feature on AR-15 rifles, the TSR-15S features a 16” Single Edge Polygonal (SEP) TRACK 2.0 barrel with a 1:7” twist rate. Polygonal rifling substitutes slopes or lobes for traditional rifling lands and grooves. The reduced sharpness of the rifling causes less deformation of the bullet and reduces fouling. By creating a more efficient gas seal, the muzzle velocity of the round also increases.
Like with the Radian Model 1, the TSR-15S is hand-fitted at the factory, ensuring that the forged upper and lower receivers are perfectly matched.
As with modern tactical rifles, you’ll find a full-length free-floating handguard with M-LOK slots for attaching everything from offset backup sights to weapon lights and vertical foregrips. The top of the handguard and upper receiver each have a Picatinny rail that continues uninterrupted so you can determine your preferred sight radius.
3. KelTec SUB-2000
The Kel-Tec SUB-2000 is a semi-automatic, blowback-operated carbine chambered in 9mm Luger or .40 S&W. Light and handy, the SUB-2000 weighs only 4.25 lbs. A neat feature of this design is that the barrel assembly can fold vertically, reducing the overall length from a compact 30.5” to 16.25” — the same as some rifle barrels.
Even a pistol-caliber carbine should allow accessorizing as a home-defense weapon, and the SUB-2000 meets that requirement. The handguard has a series of M-LOK slots for attaching weapon lights, and the top and bottom feature Picatinny rails for optical sights and vertical foregrips.
The buttstock is collapsible for length-of-pull adjustment — this isn’t only a feature you find on AR-15-pattern rifles.
The safety is the cross-bolt type — a horizontally sliding button that exposes a red ring when set to fire. You’ll often see this on sporting rifles, such as the Ruger 10/22, and pump-action shotguns, such as the Remington 870.
In the interest of versatility, the SUB-2000 can accept either Glock magazines or, in its Multi-Mag configuration, one of several magazine catch kits that the company sells. If you want to use magazines from your CZ 75, SIG P226, or Smith & Wesson 59, KelTec carries a kit to accommodate you.
4. Henry Repeating Arms Big Boy
There are still other options available if you live in a jurisdiction that restricts access to semi-automatic rifles. One of these is a repeating rifle in which the action is manually cycled.
The famous Henry repeating rifle, introduced in 1860, and firing a .44-caliber rimfire cartridge, was highly innovative and paved the way for the Winchester and Marlin rifles that become so successful.
Available in .327 Magnum/.32 H&R Magnum, .357 Magnum/.38 Special, .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum/.44 Special, and .45 Colt, the Big Boy offers ten rounds of hard-hitting stopping power. As the Big Boy uses a manually operated action, there is no concern regarding the use of low-pressure loads affecting the weapon’s cycle.
Featuring a 20” octagonal barrel and a weight of 8.68 lbs., the Big Boy is heavier than many AR-15-pattern rifles but delivers more power. That extra heft will help keep the recoil down.
Henry has opted to keep the original loading method, whereby the magazine tube is loaded from the front. While slower to reload, the rifle’s 10+1 capacity should provide ample firepower for most self-defense scenarios that you’re likely to encounter.
5. Marlin Model 336
Introduced in 1948, the Marlin 336 is a lever-action rifle fed from a 6-round tubular magazine. Rather than loading the magazine tube from the front, as in the Henry Big Boy, the Marlin is fed through a loading gate on the side of the receiver, like the Winchester rifles that preceded it.
While the Big Boy is available in several revolver cartridges, including the potent .44 Magnum, the Marlin Model 336 is chambered in the more powerful .30-30. You may be thinking that the .30-30 is too penetrative for home-defense applications, and under ordinary circumstances, that may be true, but there are homeowners who may require the additional punch of this classic round.
Suitable for hunting and defense against wild animals, including black and grizzly bears, the .30-30 is not a long-range round.
6. Zastava M70 ZPAP
AR-15 rifles need some company, so why not add a Kalashnikov-pattern weapon? AK-47/AKM rifles rarely appear on lists like these, and for one of the most popular and mass-produced assault rifles in the world, that’s tragic. The Zastava M70 is a Serbian-manufactured AKM-pattern rifle chambered in 7.62×39mm Soviet.
Affordably priced for a weapon of this type, the M70 is a classic. One of the most critical differences between the original AK-47 and the AKM is the receiver — it’s made from stamped sheet steel in the AKM, reducing weight considerably. At 7.9 lbs., some may still find the M70 on the heavy side, especially when compared with AR-15-pattern carbines and pistols, but that extra weight helps absorb the recoil of the more powerful 7.62mm cartridge.
For those unfamiliar with the action, the AKM uses a long-stroke gas piston attached directly to the bolt carrier group and reciprocates with it. Cleaner than the direct-impingement gas system of the AR-15, this also allows for more positive feeding and chambering because of the additional mass.
While the leaf-type rear sight, which is mounted forward of the top cover, is not designed for precision shooting, and the sight radius is noticeably shorter. This is sufficient for home-defense purposes.
If you’re concerned about interior wall penetration, several companies manufacture JSP/JHP loads in this caliber that reduce penetration while maximizing wound trauma.
7. FightLite SCR
Standing for Sport Configurable Rifle, the SCR is the rifle you buy if you want an AR-15 but live in a jurisdiction restricting access to assault weapons. A featureless rifle, the SCR doesn’t have a bayonet lug, threaded muzzle or flash suppressor, or collapsible buttstock. It doesn’t have a pistol grip either.
This innovative rifle’s designers incorporated a semi-pistol grip Monte Carlo stock, traditionally found on hunting rifles, by modifying the bolt carrier group.
While cosmetically a sporting rifle, the SCR would serve effectively as a home-defense weapon for those who live in restricted states. It’s a semi-automatic .223/5.56mm rifle that shares some commonality with the AR-15 rifle pattern, including its USGI magazines.
The lack of a muzzle device, or provision for attaching one, may mean the muzzle flash is brighter than it would otherwise be, but the SCR still has the makings of a tactical weapon. Its upper receiver has a Picatinny rail, so you can attach an optical sight of your choice. The handguard is M-LOK compatible, so even in its sporting layout, you can still use whatever lights, lasers, or other accessories you require.
8. Ruger Mini-14 Ranch Rifle
Another option for those gun owners living in more restrictive states is the Ruger Mini-14 Ranch Rifle. The Ranch Rifle is a .223/5.56mm that bears a resemblance to the wooden-stocked military service rifles of WWII.
Ruger intended this rifle to appear as a scaled-down variant of the M14 battle rifle. Although the operating slide and bolt are comparable with those of the M1 Garand and M14, the gas system is different. Introduced in 1974, the Ruger Mini-14 has been in continuous production ever since. For decades, Ruger marketed this gun as a low-cost alternative to the AR-15. The AR-15 has since come down in price, but this Ruger still sells well because of its traditional appearance and excellent handling characteristics.
Rather than using USGI magazines, the Ruger uses a proprietary steel magazine that inserts by being rocked into place, not unlike that of the AK-47.
The gas system uses what Ruger refers to as a fixed gas piston, which is also called a gas pipe. This feeds gas directly into a blind hole in the slide, sending the slide and bolt to the rear.
Advantages of a Rifle for Home Defense
There are several advantages that a rifle offers compared to a handgun or shotgun.
- Handling: Unlike a handgun where the only point of contact between you and the weapon is your dominant hand on the grip, the rifle has three or four. This increased control enables you to stabilize the rifle and increases your ability to shoot accurately and rapidly.
- Power: More powerful than standard pistol calibers, these rifles produce less recoil than the 12- or 20-gauge shotgun.
- Range: Not critical to the urban or suburban homeowner, but for a farmer, homesteader or rancher, the rifle can reach farther than handguns or shotguns.
While the handgun and shotgun are the traditional weapons chosen for home defense, the rifle is increasingly gaining ground. This is because it’s easier to handle and more powerful than the handgun, recoils less than the shotgun, and reaches farther than both these weapons. The rifle may be the ideal home defense weapon because of its range of calibers and configurations.