Home Defense Rifles

A Brief Primer On Home Defense Rifles

The decision has been made – you are going to be selecting a home defense rifle. Whether it’s due to familiarity with a rifle platform, or the inherent accuracy in a larger firearm, you’ll be going down this route for the critical task of securing your home and property against intruders and unwelcome attention.

For the purposes of this article, we will be also including pistol-caliber rifle platforms, aka “pistol caliber carbines”, or PCC. Think of a rifle, but one that uses pistol ammunition. You have the advantage of a larger firearm to increase accuracy, and you also minimize the risk of overpenetration in a smaller residence by using pistol ammunition. You also get the advantage of a longer barrel, which increases the overall velocity of the bullet, increasing the chances of an incapacitating shot in an emergency.

While in smaller quarters, rifles can be more of a liability than an asset in home defense due to their larger size and increased bullet velocities, there are certain situations where a rifle is the preferred platform. For example, if your residence is a standalone single-family home situated on a respectable-sized plot of land, being able to engage a threat at distance can be beneficial. Rifles and their pistol-caliber carbine brethren also benefit from (on average) an increased ammunition capacity. Whether it is an AR-pattern rifle or a similarly-sized PCC, the standard magazine capacity is usually between 20 and 30 rounds, allowing for more effective follow-up shots, and an increased ability to engage multiple assailants. Also, despite the misconceptions propagated by movies and television shows, handling most rifles that are suitable for home defense is a snap. The increased size of the firearm along with features like buffer springs, weights, and muzzle brakes allows for recoil to be mitigated more effectively.

Rifles are also easier to fit with a suppressor. As with any firearm, the report of a rifle is loud, often in excess of 160 dB. For reference, an airliner at takeoff generates about 140-150 dB. The sound of the rifle is also magnified if you are indoors. A suppressor will bring down the sound of the blast to a less-damaging level, often in the neighborhood of 119-135 db. Loud, but not deafening. Suppressors, aka “silencers”, are legal for civilian use in 42 states as of January 2017. There is a process to acquire one, and rifle suppressors are expensive ($800 on average), but if you live in an area where they are legal, and are willing to go through the process to acquire one (there is currently an 8 month backlog on the approval process…), the hearing safety benefits are very much worth it. Though often presented as tools of “pros”, suppressors are an excellent addition to anyone’s inventory who is interested in home defense.

Below, you’ll see over a dozen rifle and PCC models, sortable by various criterion such as ammunition and action-type. The models we’ve chosen here vary widely on price and expertise required, but we’ve provided brief descriptions and specs to help make your gun shopping easier, and to allow you to explore the differences between major models and manufacturers.

At the very bottom of this article we have an additional section on “Ammunition Selection” and “Rifle Actions”, in addition to a robust “Resource Guide” of links for people who’d like to learn even more.

1. Action

2. Caliber

3. Capacity

4. Price Range

Colt LE6920

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $900   |   Capacity: 30 rounds (standard) 10 rounds (restricted states)   |   Caliber: .223/5.56mm   |   Manufacturer: Colt

Product Details:


Familiar to even people who aren’t interested in firearms, Colt is one of the oldest gunmakers in the United States. As the saying goes, “God created man, and Sam Colt made them equal…”. Colt was responsible for the first mass-marketing and production of rifles and handguns in the US. As the 1800s progressed, Colts were in use by the military, police, and civilians alike. Colt became “the” standard for gunmakers to emulate, and of course Colt is still in business today.

Though invented by Eugene Stoner while working for ArmaLite, the AR-15 (sidebar – “AR” does not mean “assault rifle”, it means “ArmaLite Rifle”) design was quickly sold off to Colt, and to this day, Colt produces several fine variants of the AR-15, one of which is the LE6920.

The LE6920 is as close as you can get to legally possessing a military-issue M4A1 without being in the military or a licensed dealer. Commonly called the “M4Gery” in gun-enthusiast circles, the LE6920 is like it’s military cousin in every way, except for the fact that it shoots in semi-automatic mode (one shot per trigger operation) only, and sports a 16 inch barrel for ATF compliance. Otherwise, the rifle is spot-on up to military standards. Several rail attachment points allow for the user to expand and customize the rifle at will. Part of the magic of having an AR is having the ability to customize. Your $900 Colt can suddenly become a $3000 wonder-gun as you add and swap optics, triggers, muzzle brakes, and so forth.

Several variants of the LE6920 are available, each of which sports differing combinations of grips, stocks, and sights. However, the heart of each rifle remains unchanged, with a 16.1 inch chrome lined barrel, a military-spec bolt carrier (the bolt carrier houses the bolt and firing pin), and a relatively friendly 6.95 lbs unloaded weight. Accuracy, even with bargain .223 or 5.56mm ammunition, is unquestionable, with the rifle itself being as accurate as the shooter’s skill level allows it to. Reliability is spot-on, with both civilian and law enforcement users reporting that the LE6920 can shoot thousands of rounds without malfunction, and only minimal maintenance. With it’s roots in a battle-proven design, this is not surprising.

Regarded as the benchmark standard for AR-15 rifles, the Colt LE6920 is a proven performer, with millions of rounds of real-world civilian and law enforcement testing to back it up. Simplicity, familiarity, and reliability, the LE6920 is a worthy contender for an all-around home defense rifle.

Aero Precision AC-15

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $700   |   Capacity: 30 rounds (standard) 10 rounds (restricted states)   |   Caliber: .223/5.56   |   Manufacturer: Aero Precision

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One fact that is not known outside of the firearms world is that the AR-15 design is essentially public domain. Eugene Stoner may have invented it for ArmaLite, and Colt may have picked it up after, but the actual design of the AR-15 is essentially public domain. Anyone in the US can get the plans and specs for the AR-15, and start building them. Colt only owns the trademark, “AR-15”, after all. In the past decade or so, spurred on by market demand and advances in manufacturing technology, literally thousands of AR manufacturers have sprung up, including Tacoma, Washington’s Aero Precision.

With their roots in the aerospace industry, the transition to making rifle components and rifles was a simple one for Aero. With prices often hundreds of dollars lower than their more famous counterparts, Aero Precision has effectively addressed the need for a quality AR-15 style rifle at an affordable price. And with their most affordable offering, the AC-15, the price-to-performance ratio is even better.

To the mark, the AC-15 appears just like any other standard AR. The upper and lower receivers (the parts that hold the trigger, bolt carrier, etc…) are made out of military-spec aluminum, and the barrel, made by Aero’s subsidiary Ballistic Advantage, is forged from a chrome-molybdenum alloy and treated with a proprietary QPQ (quench-polish-quench) finishing process to aid in barrel durability, accuracy, and corrosion resistance. Accessories are kept to a minimum, with a military-spec stock, handguard, flash hider, and front sight rounding out the package. Other than lacking the ability to go full-auto, the AC-15 looks like a bog-standard M4 issued to a front-line soldier.

Of course, in the world of service firearms, “bog-standard” is not a term of derision. A service rifle must be reliable, reasonably accurate, and simple to use. The AC-15 truly shines in this department.  Real-world testing shows that the AC-15 is truly built to spec, with users reporting no malfunctions regardless of ammunition, magazine, and accessory selection. The Aero rifle just simply works, all the time, every time.

For the home defense user, the bargain price point makes the AC-15 attractive. Whether one leaves the rifle as-is, or uses it as the start to build a truly custom rifle, the AC-15 is a solid and reliable performer, with it’s simplicity making it as a great all-around rifle for everyone in the household.

Century Arms C39v2

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $800   |   Capacity: 30 rounds (standard) 10 rounds (restricted states)   |   Caliber: 7.62 x 39mm   |   Manufacturer:

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When one thinks of the AK-47 platform, invariably one thinks of the rugged and reliable rifle developed by Mikhail Kalashnikov after WWII. Cheap, robust (you can leave one alone for decades, toss some motor oil in the action, and it’s ready to shoot), and reliable, the “AK” has become, among other things, the symbol of a “good enough” rifle that will just work, every time. However, much like the AR system, no one owns the patent on how the AK works. Thus, scores of companies make AK-style rifles, including the American company, Century Arms.

An American AK sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it’s not. Century has long been the exclusive importer of all manner of Eastern Bloc AKs, such as WASRs from Romania, and several Russian rifles until former President Obama put the embargo in place. After years of importing, Century finally decided to go at it for themselves, and rolled out their C39 series of rifles. Now in it’s second generation (hence v2), the rifle has taken it’s place as a solid performer in the US market. Unlike most imported AKs, the C39v2’s receiver (where the trigger and bolt are located), is milled from a solid chunk of steel. Most import AKs are “stamped” from sheet metal, and they rattle around quite a bit during operation. With 11 pounds of steel holding things together, the C39v2 feels quite robust. Add on the weight of the bolt, barrel, and accessories such as the Magpul grips and folding stock, and it becomes a true beast.

Of course, the AK has a reputation for being relatively inaccurate as compared to the AR. While with a stamped Eastern Bloc (“Combloc” if you want to sound hip to your friends) rifle, this is true, the hefty bulk of the C39v2 tames the recoil of the 7.62 x 39mm cartridge, allowing for a satisfying and pleasant shooting experience. The operation is moderate, even pleasant, and users report this rifle becoming one of their favorites. A small universe of accessories exist for AKs, but care must be taken in selecting, as rifles can vary between manufacturers. A new bolt from an old Yugoslav AK may not work in your Century. And much like any other AK, the generous engineering tolerances allow for a definite feeling of reliability. One recommendation we have is that purchasing this rifle should be considered carefully, as the weight is substantial. However, practice makes perfect. More time with this rifle will lead to more confidence and ability.

In certain situations, this rifle can be ideal for home defense. While we don’t recommend it for close-quarters situations, the C39v2 would be a definite force to be reckoned with in a remote and spread out living situation, or in conditions of wilderness survival. The robust nature of the rifle, coupled with the potent 7.62 x 39mm (30 caliber for you hunters…) round means it is a devastating performer in the right situations.

Kel-Tec SUB2000

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $400   |   Capacity: 17 rounds (standard) 10 rounds (restricted states)   |   Caliber: 9mm   |   Manufacturer: Kel Tec

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Kel-Tec is not a typical firearms manufacturer. Based out of Cocoa, Florida, and founded by George Kellgren, Kel-Tec has been known for it’s creative approach to firearms design. Not content to just turn out yet another 9mm pistol, or yet another AR-15 style rifle, Kel-Tec has always prided itself on it’s unique and reliable firearms designs. And with their pistol-caliber carbine, the SUB2000, it shows.

Available in 9 mm or .40 S&W, this rifle is unlike anything else on the market. The biggest selling point is that the rifle accepts magazines from other manufacturers. Upon purchase, the user specifies which type of magazine they want their SUB2000 to accept. The rifle works with magazines from GLOCK, SIG, Smith & Wesson, and Beretta. So, if you have a 9mm GLOCK 17 pistol, the magazines will work inside of a SUB2000 that accepts GLOCK magazines. This is a useful feature for those looking to standardize their magazine loadout across weapons platforms. In an emergency, this could prove useful. In a home defense situation, one person could be operating a GLOCK pistol, and one person could be operating a SUB2000, and both can share ammunition and magazines. In addition, the weapon folds in on itself for storage and transport, making it easy to stow in a backpack or similar arrangement if the need arises. Unlike a standard AR, where the charging mechanism is on top of the rifle and requires the user to “come off” the weapon to effect a reload, the SUB2000’s charging handle is located below the weapon and close to the user, and with practice, the weapon can be reloaded while still keeping on target. Seconds can count in an emergency.

Operationally, the SUB2000 benefits from it’s simplicity and size. With standard 9mm ammunition, the recoil is almost a non-event. With practice, the Kel-Tec can become a true tack-driver (gun guy slang for ‘accurate’) for just about any user in the household. The weapon itself is superbly balanced, with most of it’s scant 4-pound weight being closer to the rear, adding to the comfort level, which is useful for new or less-able shooters.

For a great all-around home defense firearm that anyone can use, the Kel-Tec SUB2000 shines. Affordable, reliable, and simple, it’s a true American winner.

CZ Scorpion EVO 3 S1 Carbine

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $1000   |   Capacity: 20 rounds (standard) 10 rounds (restricted states)   |   Caliber: 9mm   |   Manufacturer: CZ

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To the unschooled, one doesn’t associate the Czech Republic with firearms manufacturing. Most think of the US, Austria, and Germany when it comes to quality gunmakers. However, Česká zbrojovka a.s., aka CZ, bucks the trend. Almost a century old, CZ has a storied history in the firearms world, both as a government-owned entity during the Cold War, and as a free-market enterprise after the Iron Curtain fell in 1991. After this momentous event, the Czech Republic enacted very liberal (for Europe) firearms legislation, allowing for a significant “gun culture” to develop in the nation. Local users demanded quality, and CZ complied, producing top-notch handguns and rifles for eager citizens. Soon after, CZ became a force to be reckoned with, marketing their reliable and affordable firearms to the US. Their latest offering is the CZ Scorpion EVO 3 S1 Carbine.

Taking it’s name from the historic CZ Škorpion vz. 61 personal defense submachine gun developed in the late 1950s, the new Scorpion looks like something out of a sci-fi movie. Lots of angled polymer on the handguard, and a slim, fully-adjustable stock, along with a blocky and robust adjustable sights, the Scorpion wouldn’t look out of place in an Aliens remake. The charging handle is located on the forend of the firearm, allowing for the practiced user to execute reloads without “coming off the gun”. In a home-defense situation, seconds count, and the cops are often many minutes away. Staying on target during a reload can be critical. Accessory rails complete the package, allowing for the user to attach all manner of optical sights, scopes, and sling attachment points. The gun is easily disassembled for expedient field service.

Operationally, the firearm runs accurately and reliably. The simple method of operation, coupled with an extremely mild recoil courtesy of the firearm’s size enables for even novice shooters to attain an operational competency with the Scorpion in no time at all. With a light and defined trigger pull, the Scorpion can seemingly be run as fast as it’s full-auto ancestor. Having a balanced trigger like this enables the user to confidently deliver follow-up shots in any situation.

On the home-defense front, having a large 9mm pistol-caliber carbine is an effective choice, especially in households where there could be a variety of users. The forgiving nature of the 9mm cartridge and the large frame of the Scorpion, along with it’s ease of use means that anyone can pick it up in an emergency, and take decisive action with confidence and conviction.

TNW Aero Survival Rifle

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $800   |   Capacity: 15 rounds (standard) 10 rounds (restricted states)   |   Caliber: 9mm - .40 S&W & .357 SIG with a barrel/bolt face swap   |   Manufacturer: TNW (Aero Survival Rifle)

Product Details:


TNW Firearms started out as small custom operation that specialized in the replication and restoration of historical firearms. As of late, this small shop has struck out into new territory with their Aero Survival Rifle. Originally designed as a (you guessed it) survival rifle for pilots who were stranded in the wilderness, TNW has begun offering this unique rifle to the general public.

The “ASR” is quite the unique firearm. Designed to be rugged and reliable, the gun has the unique ability to be rapidly converted between common pistol calibers. For example, one can purchase the ASR in 9mm, and with a swap of the barrel and bolt face (TNW provides concise instructions on how to execute this simple procedure), the rifle can be converted into a .40 S&W shooter as needed. The rifle also can be readily collapsed for easy storage in a safe or a bug-out bag for emergencies. On the ergonomics side, the rifle can accept a standard AR-15 stock and pistol grip. Another defining feature is the ability of the rifle to accept GLOCK magazines. The idea being that in a true emergency, it might be necessary to scavenge for supplies, and GLOCK magazines wouldn’t be terribly difficult to stock up on or find.

On the operational side, the rifle is reliable and efficient. It’ll load and fire just about any brand of ammunition fed to it, whether it’s US-made quality ammunition, or leftover surplus Russian ammo from a range trip 20 years ago. Again, with the focus on survival and defense, the rifle is equipped to be very tolerant. The recoil is best described as moderate, especially when configured for .40 S&W cartridge, but is by no means unmanageable. Accuracy is spot-on, especially after training and practice.

For a hardy, versatile and compact defensive firearm with the handling characteristics of a rifle, the TNW Aero Survival Rifle is hard to beat, especially at it’s price point and ability to convert between common (and some not-so-common) pistol calibers in a snap.

KRISS Vector CRB Gen II .45 ACP

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $1400   |   Capacity: 13 rounds (standard) 10 rounds (restricted states)   |   Caliber: .45 ACP   |   Manufacturer: Kriss Vector

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With it’s roots in Switzerland, KRISS USA is another firearms company breaking the conventional mold. It’s central offering is it’s family of Vector firearms, which all sport a unique patented recoil system. The KRISS Super V System (KSVS), is an articulated mechanism which allows the bolt and an inertia block to move downward into a recess behind the magazine well. theory is that at the end of this travel, energy is transmitted downward rather than rearward, reducing felt recoil. This engineering decision influences design, leading to some truly unique looking “space guns”.

One of the latest iterations from KRISS is the Vector CRB Gen II, chambered in .45 ACP. From the get-go, this futuristic-looking firearm is a head-turner. Based on a full-auto design for the military, the CRB Gen II inherits a robust feature set, including the ability to accept AR-style buttstocks, and is also equipped with accessory rails so optical sights and grips can be easily attached. Rounding out things, the rifle accepts GLOCK magazines, which are cheap and easy to find in just about any gun shop.

On the operational side, users report that this rifle’s size and patented recoil system make the beefy .45 ACP cartridge very manageable and pleasant. The big gun soaks up the recoil impulse, letting the user put those large rounds on target with little difficulty. While Gen I versions of this firearm were reportedly equipped with a mediocre trigger, the Gen II version of this gun has resolved that issue, and the trigger is crisp and precise. KRISS sells the trigger as an aftermarket component, so users of Gen I firearms can upgrade their trigger if desired.

For the home defense user looking for a decisive fight-stopper chambered in the classic .45 ACP, the unique KRISS Vector CRB Gen II is a viable option. After familiarization, the firearm can be a true winner for all in the household.

JP Enterprises GMR-13

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $1600   |   Capacity: 17 rounds (standard) 10 rounds (restricted states)   |   Caliber: 9mm   |   Manufacturer: JP 9mm

Product Details:

jp_gmr13 artipro

Founded by champion competitive shooter John Paul, JP Enterprises seeks to bring reliable and robust firearms to the mass market. From full-sized rifles, to pistols, “JP” pride themselves on competition-grade quality at a reasonable price.

One of their more notable firearms is the GMR-13. It looks like an AR, it handles like an AR, but yet it shoots a 9mm pistol cartridge. AR-pattern rifles that shoot 9mm and accept GLOCK magazines aren’t terribly rare, but most of them are “Frankengun” conglomerations which source components from diverse manufacturers. Some work, and some don’t. JP’s GMR-13 was built from the ground-up as a 9mm AR-style carbine. As JP notes, the GMR-13 is designed by “real shooters”. Ergonomically, it’s little different than a modern AR. Fitted with a SOPMOD (special-forces style) ergonomic stock, rail attachment points for all manner of accessories, and a pistol grip, an AR shooter will be right at home with the GMR-13. Like other 9mm ARs, the GMR-13 accepts common GLOCK magazines.

Operationally, the GMR-13 shines in close-in and intermediate range work. Out of the box, it can be zeroed in rapidly, and from there on out it runs like a champ, enabling the user to land “combat accurate”, i.e. incapacitating, shots each and every time. The reliable AR-style action ensures the firearm will be ready when the user needs it, with only basic maintenance. The rifle itself is fairly lightweight, permitting easy transitions between multiple targets.

For home defense, this 9mm carbine should fill a good niche. It’s familiar feel and superb field-proven reliability will make it a real winner for anyone in the household to use, regardless of skill level.

Tresna JAG9G

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $1000   |   Capacity: 33 rounds (standard) 10 rounds (restricted)   |   Caliber: 9mm   |   Manufacturer: Tresna

Product Details:


When TAC-GRIP LLC decided to get into the business of manufacturing full firearms, they didn’t go the usual route and just start cranking out ARs. Their lineup is starting off with a blowback-operated carbine chambered in 9 mm, the JAG9G which is configured to accept easy-to-find GLOCK Gen4 magazines. Blowback operation is as simple as it sounds, where the spent cartridge is blown back, and pushes the operating mechanism (in this case the bolt) to the rear of the firearm, and then it springs forward, loading the next round to be fired. Almost all semi-automatic pistols operate on this principle. For a pistol-caliber carbine, this makes sense, as it is designed from the get-go to fire a pistol cartridge.

The JAG9G looks like an AR, and handles like an AR, but assuredly, it is not an AR. Yes, you can use some aftermarket AR accessories on the firearm, such as grips, stocks, lights, lasers, and so forth. But there is where the similarity ends. Instead of adapting the AR platform to a 9mm cartridge, Tresna built a new gun from the ground up. At the core of the firearm is the proprietary lower receiver, maximized for ergonomics and speed of reloading. In addition, the controls are in the standard AR positions, allowing users coming from the Black Rifle to easily familiarize themselves with the JAG9G.

On the operational side, the JAG9G is commendable. Special attention was paid to the trigger, which sports a nickel-boron finish for increased smoothness in operation. With a pull weight of 5lbs 9ozs, the JAG9G’s trigger is neither too light and sensitive, nor too heavy. To a novice, having a light trigger can sometimes be a burden, and if it is too heavy, when the gun fires, it may be a surprise. When firing, the rifle exhibits a modest and easily handled recoil, with zero malfunctions regardless of brand of ammunition. Whatever 9mm you have on hand, the JAG9G will gladly eat it up and spit it out. Users report the rifle running with no issues, even after thousands of rounds fired in one session. Obviously, the firearm must be given due care and maintenance as needed, but one can rest assured that the JAG9G will be ready to go at all times.

Pistol-caliber carbines tend to be the best all-around rifles for home defense use. The JAG9G excels in this regard, with it’s familiar and easy-to-learn operational characteristics and reliability. This is definitely a gun that anyone in the home can utilize in an emergency.

Thureon Defense GA Basic Carbine

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $700   |   Capacity: 33 rounds (standard) 10 rounds (restricted)   |   Caliber: 9mm   |   Manufacturer: Thureon

Product Details:


A small firm out of Wisconsin, Thureon Defense specializes in pistol-caliber carbines. Much like other firms, their carbines will accept magazines from all the major handgun manufacturers, such as GLOCK, SIG Sauer, Smith & Wesson, as well as magazines designed for the venerable UZI platform. The reasoning behind this is simple, in that pistol-caliber carbines are most likely to be used for defensive purposes. Having a defensive firearm with a proprietary magazine can be problematic, as if the magazines get damaged or lost, it can be a hassle to find new ones in a timely fashion – and in that interim, the firearm is “offline”.

Like other PCCs, the GA Basic Carbine takes design cues from AR-pattern rifles. The GA Basic Carbine will accept AR-compatible stocks, grips, and rail accessories like lights, optics, and laser sights. This firearm is essentially ready to go out of the box, with an adjustable stock, well-textured handguard, and 16-inch barrel to give those 9mm pistol rounds some extra velocity and stopping power. Pro-tip, the longer your barrel, the faster the bullet will travel, to a point. One small and welcome difference is the charging handle of the Basic Carbine, which is mounted on the left side of the receiver. Such a positioning is a marked advantage, as the operator does not have to take his eyes off the sights of the gun in order to execute a reload. With practice, one can keep the firearm trained on the target, grab a fresh magazine with their weak hand, load, and make ready. On a typical AR-pattern rifle, one has to “come off” the gun to effect a reload, losing valuable seconds in an emergency.

Operationally, the Basic Carbine is familiar to any AR shooter, with most users reporting it being a bit faster to manipulate due to it’s charging handle layout and relative light weight. Magazine changes are easy to execute, owing to the ample magazine well and familiar release button locations. The firearm will “digest” just about any 9mm ammunition given to it, and exhibits real-world accuracy sufficient enough for defensive use. Basic maintenance and cleaning will ensure trouble-free operation, even if the GA Carbine is left in a safe for long periods of time.

As a tool for home defense, the GA Carbine is cost-effective and easy to use for shooters of all ages and sizes, and is also a great entry point for anyone interested in the world of pistol-caliber carbines.

Beretta Cx4 Storm

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $700   |   Capacity: 17 rounds (standard) 10 rounds (restricted states)   |   Caliber: 9mm   |   Manufacturer: Beretta CX4

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If you’ve been reading our firearms buying guides here at Science of Skill, you’ll know by now that Beretta is the oldest continuously-operating arms manufacturer in the world, with a history spanning over 500 years. Originating and based out of Italy, but with a strong American presence courtesy of their new factory in Tennessee, Beretta has been producing top-quality arms for generations.

Never one for sticking to the norms, Beretta produced the Cx4 Storm pistol-caliber carbine, the companion long gun to their successful Px4 Storm line of handguns. Astute observers will note that this gun has a bit of a minor celebrity status attached to it, as it was the primary long gun featured in the Battlestar Galactica reboot during the last decade. Most of the time, armorers in the movie industry have to “dress up” current guns for sci-fi shows, but the Cx4’s “space gun” appearance needed no modification. It’s sleek and modern lines are amazingly ergonomic, with the gun feeling as if it were crafted to the user. Beretta’s ergonomics research paid off in this regard. The firearm also sports rail attachment points for all manner of lights, scopes, and sights, if the user wants to customize the weapon. The Cx4 accepts magazines from the Px4 line of handguns, so finding extra magazines isn’t a show-stopper. Like other PCCs, the charging handle is side-mounted, allowing the user to stay “on the gun” for quicker reloads. Conveniently, a small and dedicated cult userbase exists online, offering plenty of how-tos so that even a novice can optimize this firearm beyond it’s original specs, including threading the barrel so one can attach a suppressor, making a “Silent Storm”.

Operationally, the firearm is ready to go out of the box. The trigger may be heavy to some, but can be mastered with practice, or it can be swapped for a lighter one with little trouble. Despite it’s 5.55lb weight, the firearm effectively soaks up the recoil of any 9mm load that’s fed to it, leading for a pleasant and reasonably accurate shooting experience. The light weight also lends itself to the firearm being very maneuverable, a decided advantage in close quarters. With proper maintenance, the Storm will be ready to go all day, every day.

With it’s light weight, unique ergonomics, and forgiving operational nature, the Cx4 Storm makes for another reliable home defense pistol caliber carbine.

Hi-Point 995TS

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $270   |   Capacity: 10 rounds   |   Caliber: 9mm   |   Manufacturer: Hi-Point

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If you are new to the firearms community, you may not have heard of Hi-Point as of yet. Based out of Ohio, the company manufactures functional firearms at unbelievably low prices. Their handguns often retail for under $200, and their rifles are usually under $300. Hi-Point is a controversial company. Their inexpensive firearms are, well, not what one would consider attractive. There is some sacrifice in ergonomics. However, their reliability is for the most part unquestioned. A Hi-Point will go “bang”.

The 995 is definitely a Hi-Point. It isn’t purchased for ergonomics or good looks. It’s a simple pistol-caliber carbine with basic sights, a functional trigger, and an easy-to-understand operational procedure. Surprisingly, it incorporates a side-charging handle, so much like more expensive PCCs, one doesn’t have to “come off” the gun to execute a reload.

Operationally, as has been said, the firearm goes “bang” when you press the trigger. Out of the box, it is accurate enough. A spring mechanism in the butt of the firearm soaks up most of the recoil of the 9mm round. Users report decent reliability, with the carbine firing most ammunition that it’s fed.

Where the Hi-Point fits in is in the price point. No other new carbine on the market comes in at such a low price. It isn’t an excellent gun, but it is “good enough”. This is the gun a non-gun person in a restricted state would purchase, especially if they are on a budget, and can’t afford to train often. As some would have it, the 995TS certainly beats the pants off of pepper spray and strong words in an emergency.


Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $1500   |   Capacity: 30 rounds (standard) 10 rounds (restricted states)   |   Caliber: 9mm   |   Manufacturer:

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With the opening of their new facility in Exeter, New Hampshire, SIG Sauer has been on a binge of innovation as of late. Branching far beyond their pistol and rifle offerings, the Switzerland-rooted company has started to offer ammunition, suppressors, and pistol-caliber carbines such as the MPX.

Derived from a submachine gun design, the MPX shows it’s professional roots in it’s robust and ergonomic design characteristics. At first glance, it looks like yet another AR-based pistol-caliber carbine, but that’s where the differences end. The firearm is driven by a proprietary piston gas system. This has the advantage over blowback firearms in reducing felt recoil by delaying the unlocking of the action until pressure levels drop within safe parameters. Since the piston is doing most of the work, the bolt itself is lighter, and the recoil spring isn’t as heavy, so the firearm is lighter, and easier to effect a reload with. Instead of sharing a magazine type with one of their pistols, SIG chose to go with a proprietary design from Lancer. Despite this, MPX magazines are easy to find through most outlets. It would be recommended to stock up, to be prudent. The ample handguards are surprisingly light, preventing a “nose-heavy” effect that plagues some other rifles with long handguard arrangements.

On the operational side, the MPX performs like just about every other SIG firearm out there. Accurate, reliable, and dependable. With quick familiarization, the novice shooter can pick up the MPX, and get rounds on target consistently. The gun just runs, and runs well. Ammunition choice isn’t an issue – if you have it on hand, the SIG will eat it up and spit it back out, repeatedly, without fail.

The MPX breaks most of the traditions of the rifle and pistol-caliber carbine market. With it’s superb ergonomics, minimal felt recoil, and stellar looks, this rifle can be a true home defense performer, in addition to being a great recreational rifle.

Ruger PC-9

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $600   |   Capacity: 17 rounds (standard) 10 rounds (restricted states)   |   Caliber: 9mm   |   Manufacturer: Ruger PC-9

Product Details:


Though not manufactured anymore, the Ruger PC9 is considered a classic in the pistol-caliber carbine market.

Designed as a companion to their P-series handguns, the PC9 was initially marketed to police departments, where Ruger hoped to equip each officer with a handgun and rifle that took the same ammunition and magazines. Manufactured from 1996 til 2006, the firearm didn’t enjoy much success in the law enforcement market, but it did get a cult following in the civilian sector, due to it’s simplicity and versatility. Exceptionally well-balanced, users find the firearm easy to aim and easy to manipulate. It’s traditional styling is a bonus for those users who reside in states where the cosmetic features of firearms are regulated.

Operationally, the PC9 is designed for close-in work and fast action. Out of the box, the firearm is accurate and extremely well-balanced. The large frame soaks up the modest recoil of the 9mm cartridge, making shooting a pleasant and enjoyable experience. The PC9 is a simple “point and shoot” weapon, designed to be rugged and reliable, even in adverse conditions. The uncomplicated operating mechanism ensures that the gun will go “bang”, all the time.

While not a new-generation wonder-gun, the PC9 is a rugged and reliable firearm. With the backing of one of America’s most reputable gunmakers, Ruger, this firearm is a great all-around choice for those looking to acquire a simple and effective home-defense tool.

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Rifle Ammunition Selection


Full Metal Jacket –  “FMJ” projectiles are what people most commonly think of when you say “bullet”. The tip is either round or flattened, and there’s no “cup” in the nose. FMJ cartridges are cheap and easy to produce, so they are most often used for training. If in fact they are used for a defensive application, they will most likely go through the target, leaving a small wound channel, and aren’t likely to incapacitate the target. And yes, the risk of overpenetration is high, i.e. the bullet will keep going and strike something else, whether you intend it to or not. Common brands of FMJ rifle ammunition are Federal, Winchester, and Tula.

Hollow Point – This is the go-to ammunition for home and self-defense. Observe the pit in the tip of the projectile, along with the small lines emanating from it. This is to facilitate the expansion of the projectile when it strikes a target, which means there is a larger wound channel created, increasing the chances of incapacitation. Also, since the bullet is rendered un-aerodynamic upon impact, it is far less likely to overpenetrate and strike something unintended. For this reason, they are the ideal self-defense round. You hit what you intend to, and there’s little risk of an unintended strike on something beyond it. Common brands of hollow point rifle ammunition include offerings by Federal, Winchester, Speer, and Hornady. Due to the shape of the projectile, which requires more machining and “lost” material, hollow points are always more expensive than FMJ.

Bullets aren’t just a uniform chunk of lead and copper in front of some explosive powder. They’re of different diameters and weights, as well.


Caliber is the diameter of the barrel of the gun, and the diameter of the bullet going through said barrel. The units used depend on where the bullet was developed. In general, if the bullet was developed in Europe, the measurement is in millimeters, i.e. the 7.62 x 39mm round from Russia. If the bullet was developed in the US, the measure is in hundredths of an inch, i.e. the .223 Remington, which is .223 hundredths of an inch in diameter.


Often abbreviated “gr”, you’ll see the term “grains” on the sides of every box of ammunition on the shelves. This number tells you how much the bullet itself weighs, in the antiquated unit of “grains”. A grain is 64.798 milligrams. One thing you’ll learn is that the firearms industry, no matter how high-tech the guns get, the industry will still use some positively antiquated measurement schemes. Even European ammunition manufacturers use “grains”. In general, the heavier the bullet, the slower it goes as compared to a lighter bullet with the same amount of propellant behind it.

The major rifle calibers

Rifle Calibers

.223/5.56x45mm – 5.56mm and .223 caliber ammunition are very similar, but with some key differences. To keep it simple for the novice user, the .223 load was developed here in the US originally for the military. Since the US is allied with European militaries via NATO, European firearms designers found themselves in a quandary, as their concepts for weapons engineering differed from how the US saw things. A compromise was struck, and the 5.56mm cartridge was born. At first glance, they both look the same, but the external cartridge dimensions differ ever so slightly. However, if a firearm is labeled for 5.56mm ammunition, it can accept the .223 round as well. Warning, if the firearm is labeled for .223, it is not advisable to load it up with 5.56mm ammunition due to pressure differences.

Note, in cartridges described using metric units, the second number describes the length. So, in 5.56x45mm, the 5.56 denotes the caliber of the bullet, while the 45 denotes the length of the entire cartridge.

That being said, this is the most common rifle caliber in the world today, due to it’s adoption by militaries around the world, and also by civilians, as it is the caliber most used in the AR-15 platform. Cheap and easy to find, .223/5.56mm sizzles along at around 3000 feet per second, and can penetrate and incapacitate in most defensive situations. Your projectile weight will range from 40 grains to around 77 grains for match-grade self-defense loads.

7.62x39mm – Developed after World War 2 in the Soviet Union, the 7.62x39mm cartridge is commonly found in the world’s most popular rifle platform, the AK-47. With a bullet size bigger than the American/NATO 5.56mm, it reflects the Russian attitude of “bigger is better” with regards to munitions design. Produced in untold quantities for Soviet (later Russian) military use, as well as use by allied nations, 7.62x39mm is cheap and easy to find in mass quantities. Online retailers will often sell bulk loads of this ammunition from military surplus stock. One can acquire a lot of 1000 for under $200US as of this writing.

Conveniently, the 7.62x39mm round performs roughly the same as some dedicated hunting rounds here in the US, leading to it being a popular and cheap alternative for hunters on a budget. For defensive use, this cartridge is an able performer when loaded up with a suitable hollow-point projectile. Moving along at 2400 feet per second, the projectile will impart a significant amount of energy when striking a target. The “cost”, as it were, is that there is increased recoil for the user, which can be overcome with diligent training and practice.

We list 7.62x39mm here due to it’s popularity, but we would only recommend it for those readers who have larger properties to defend, as the penetration characteristics of this round, even in hollow point, could be problematic in close quarters.


Note: The below are pistol-caliber cartridges, but we list them here with our rifle recommendations since some of our picks are pistol-caliber carbines, and they are chambered for pistol-caliber ammunition.

9 millimeter – Technically referred to as the 9x19mm Parabellum, (the 19mm part refers to the length of the overall cartridge, and Parabellum means ‘for war’ in Latin), the cartridge was developed in 1902 in the German Empire by a fellow named Georg Luger. You’ll often see on the headstamp (the rear of the cartridge where the firing pin strikes) the phrase “9mm Luger”. This refers to the inventor, of course. 9mm is the most common pistol round in the world today. It’s used by civilians for recreation and self-defense, major-league doorkickers in law enforcement, and just about every modern military unit out there today. It’s cheap, standard, and easy to find, even in a crisis. It’s low recoil and effective stopping power usually make it the first pistol round people shoot and purchase.

Your projectiles weigh in at anywhere between 90 grains and 157 grains for some subsonic (suppressor-optimized) rounds. When in doubt, go with the 9mm.

.40 S&W – Back in the 1980s, law enforcement guys at the federal level, mostly the FBI, had it in their heads that they needed more powerful ammunition beyond what their .38 Special revolvers could deliver. The original candidate was the powerful 10mm Auto cartridge. Fun fact, Don Johnson used a 10mm Bren Ten in Miami Vice. But anyways, the 10mm proved a handful for all but the most robust Fed cops, so they contacted Smith & Wesson to figure out an alternative. S&W figured if they reduced the power of the 10mm load, it could be manageable by most agents. By reducing the power (i.e. less propellant in the case), they could also reduce the size of the case. Their work begat the .40 S&W, which conveniently fit into their existing 9mm pistol frames, so the only real investment needed was on the of the ammo manufacturers, and all S&W really had to do was invest in some new tooling for the barrels and other associated parts.

Note that the measurement is in inches, since the round was developed here in the US. The Feds scooped up the guns and the ammo, along with a lot of state & local agencies. It proved somewhat popular in civilian usage, as well. However, recent advances in 9mm bullet technology have made the choice between it and .40 S&W more of a personal choice rather than a performance choice.

.45 ACP. – This is the quintessential American cartridge. Designed by John Browning (the “Jesus” of American firearms engineers) himself in 1904, the .45 ACP was designed, as most ammunition is, to address the shortfall in older military loads, notably because the Army’s prior choices proved ineffective in taking down determined Moro warriors during the Philippine conflicts from 1899-1902. After much testing, “JMB” came up with the .45 Automatic Colt Pistol cartridge. Big and burly, the “45” is known for it’s moderate recoil and effective stopping power just by virtue of it’s sheer size. The wound channel from .45 ACP in hollow point is simply stupendous. However, .45 pistols tend to be larger and more cumbersome for novice shooters. This is definitely not something you want to start someone off with. Bullets weigh in between 185 and 230 grains.