Editors note: Some questions were raised as to whether this was a legal AR-15 setup with the vertical foregrip. After doing some research and sifting through ATF documents, the answer is yes. For a full explanation of this, please reference this article. The authors AR-15 seen in this article has an overall length of 28″.
Ask 5 people who have a home defense weapon what the best home defense weapon is, and you’ll get 5 different answers, with 3 of them telling you why their way is the best way. As always, I’m not here to tell you what to do or tell you that my way is right, I’m just going to go through the thought process and experiences that drove me to my home defense weapon setup.
Short barreled AR’s or “Shorties” as we call them, have had a place in SOF for years. They are compact, maneuverable, and don’t give up round size or capacity when compared with some of the sub guns on the market. I’m not really an AR obsessed guy, and I’m sure there are plenty of short barreled guns or “pistols” out there that hold their own in the CQB world, I’m just very familiar with the platform, and have countless hours of time behind an AR and M4 platforms. I think that is a big one with home defense weapons that some people really don’t take into account. Going with something you have a lot of time behind or are willing to put time into, will help you out tremendously. If you have tons of time behind a Glock 17, why would you make the switch to a weapon system that you have less training time on for your primary home defense weapon? Doesn’t make much sense to me, but guys do it. Having something you know inside and out and will have no issues handling in darkness is probably a good place to start with the weapon. For me, that is the AR-15.
I’ll start with the meat and potatoes of the build. For the upper, I went with a complete BCM 11.5 5.56 Keymod upper. They didn’t start producing the MLOK for the complete uppers when I bought it, but I’ve had no issues with the Keymod so far. This gun isn’t getting knocked around on target or on some cliff face in Afghanistan, so I think it will hold up fine. I obviously chose the shorter barrel because in a home defense situation I’m more than likely going to be internal to the building, in tight spaces etc. Pretty self-explanatory. The BCG is BCM branded, and I went with the medium sized BCM charging handle. I’ve had 2 charging handles that had the big gangster latches fail on me before, (NOT BCM branded,) so I thought I would play it safe. The super large latches also tend to snag on a lot of shit in my experience.
The lower is a stripped Spikes lower. The lower doesn’t really make a difference to me, as a lot of them are made from the same manufacturer. Just thought the spider looked cool, and they are pretty cheap. I don’t even remember the parts kit that I used for the lower, but again, not a huge deal to me what mag release, detent, etc. I put in my gun, as long as it’s from a somewhat reputable company. The lower kit came with a Magpul trigger guard which is bigger than a standard trigger guard which I like. Onto the lower parts that matter, the trigger is a Geissele SSA (Super Semi-Automatic.) It is essentially a civilian version of the Geissele trigger that is made for SOCOM. I really liked the trigger in my work gun, and it is a solid combat trigger. Not too light, but not super gritty like the mil specs. The pistol grip is a BCM, which is more vertical than the standard A2 grip and has a nice texture to it. I have a Noveske 60-degree short throw ambi selector that I love. The short throw really makes a difference and I like the fact that the opposite selector is shorter and doesn’t get caught up on my hand when switching from safe to fire. I always rock a Magpul B.A.D. lever on both my work and home guns and think it makes a world of difference on reloads and clearing malfunctions.
Moving towards the rear of the gun, I have an SBM4 Pistol Brace. This thing is about as close to a stock as you can get without getting your gun SBR’d. It rotates a bit on the buffer but is a solid piece of kit. The buffer tube is a KAC branded one and gives the pistol brace a bit of space between it and the receiver. (Imagine a standard adjustable stock, 1 or 2 clicks out.) For my work gun, I would usually keep the stock 1 click out for CQB, so naturally, I went with this buffer tube, being that the pistol brace is non-adjustable. Inside the buffer tube, is a Spikes Heavy buffer, which I plan on switching out. (If you guys have any recommendations for buffers that reduce felt recoil on shorties, let me know in the comments.)
My muzzle device is a KAK Mini Flash Can. It’s pretty much a small version of the Flaming Pig, but much cheaper. It’s not timed properly, but its torqued to spec, and honestly, it doesn’t need to be timed. Linear compensators definitely do what they are designed to do by pushing the concussion/muzzle blast forward, but also increase “straight back” recoil. Any of you who have fired or been next to an unsuppressed or nonlinear comped short barrel firing know the type of concussion and gas blowback these things produce. Knowing that my primary engagements with this gun would be building internal, I went with the linear comp, and I plan on suppressing sometime in the future. Overall, it definitely works and is a cheap way to make sure your eardrums don’t blow out if you are firing it indoors.
I’m sure I’ll get an earful on this, but my CQB optic of choice is an EOTECH. It’s heavy, the battery life is not as great as many other optics on the market, but it’s what I’m used to. I’ve used plenty of different optics over the years, but my combat optic of choice for average distance engagements has been the EOTECH with a 3x magnifier. I know they have been subject to some severe controversy, but I’m hooked. The 65-moa circle and 1 moa center dot make a great combat reticle. (Pro tip- if you are zeroed at 200, use the top of the bottom tick mark for POA/POI on anything 25 and in.) I like the large window as well and prefer the holographic sight over a red dot. I got the lower end 5.12 EOTECH, as it does the exact same thing as the others. I haven’t felt the need for a riser, and you can still use a non-NV EOTECH with night vision, just turn the brightness down really low. Thousands of assaulters have used an EOTech to clear structures, and I think it is still a great CQB optic. I usually turn on the EOTECH before I go to bed and adjust it with my white light on. This is important because you do not want to have your optic brightness so low, that when your white light turns on it drowns it out. It usually turns off around the time I wake up, as it has an 8-hour auto shutoff if turned on using the right side (upward) arrow. I know, I don’t have iron sights on the gun. If my EOTECH goes down on an engagement within 10 meters, I’m not going to stop and aim through iron sights, I’m going to keep shooting.
This is one thing that I am telling you need if you don’t already have it. A white light. You need to have a white light in order to positively identify your target in low light. This is especially true if you live in a house with other people, and especially, especially true if you live in a house with other people who aren’t on the same schedule as you. Whether they are in your home or not, it is your job to positively id your target. Bullets don’t come back once the trigger is pulled, and you need to be 15542529489% sure that what you’re shooting needs to die. The game changes drastically in low-light CQB situations, and you have got to be switched on. If assaulters feel the need to utilize white light overseas when clearing compounds where there is a high potential for hostiles, you should definitely have one when deciding to engage within your own home. Rule of thumb, have it mounted as far forward as you can, so it doesn’t cast a shadow over the barrel, and preferably where you can reach it with either hand. For my light, I have a Streamlight Protac HL. I bought it years ago when it first came out as a handheld, and have it positioned at the one o’clock. It’s a pretty high lumen output and has yet to fail on me. You’ll notice I don’t like to use pressure pads on my accessories very much. I think the gun community has grown far too reliant on pressure pads. By using one, (if you don’t NEED one,) you are simply adding another failure point on the weapon system. I’ve had 2 instances where a pressure pad has failed on me, and that was all it took for me to minimize their usage. I understand that some setups require using them, but pressure pads were designed as products of necessity, not primary. I usually rock a stubby grip (in this case BCM) far forward and activate my lights tail switch with my thumb. It’s a setup I’ve used for years and it’s just my preference.
A sling is a pretty good thing to have on a home defense weapon. You never know when you might have to go hand to hand, detain, or render first aid in a home defense situation. My preference lies with the VTAC slings. Padded ones are better in my opinion, but I had this one laying around, so it went on the gun. A good rule of thumb when adjusting and taping the sling, is that when fully extended, you should be able to comfortably to a strong to weak side transition of the rifle. As far as where to attach the sling, it should be attached in a manner that allows you to clear malfunctions (i.e. pull the charging handle back,) conduct reloads, and fire without interfering. I personally don’t like my sling to extended past my support hand. Attachment points for me are pretty minimalist. I hate QD swivels and push-button sling attachments. I’ve had probably 4 or 5 fail on me at different points throughout my career so I ditched them entirely. This was mainly due to longer duration missions in wet areas. Normally I route the sling through the stock and then use a Magpul Paraclip as my quick release somewhere on the rail system. Unfortunately, my Noveske endplate had a QD attachment so that’s what I ended up going with, as routing a sling through the pistol brace really doesn’t function too well. The sling attachment point on my rail is just a gutted piece of 550 cord, square knotted with safety knots. It works well, and it didn’t cost $50. Magpul Paraclips are the best sling attachments I’ve ever used, and I couldn’t speak more highly of them if I tried. They can be purchased individually so you can place them on the sling of your preference.
A habit that I have yet to kick is putting a cleaning rod segment on the side of my rail with zip ties. As long as it is an inch or two longer than the barrel, a cleaning rod is good to have. I don’t use them for cleaning at all, but if a round gets stuck in the barrel, you can shotgun the rifle, take the bolt out and jam the round out with the rod/Gerber/rock or whatever. A round getting stuck in the barrel is definitely not common, but it happens. We shoot tens of thousands of rounds every year and a round in the barrel isn’t that uncommon when putting that many rounds downrange. Many people in Regiment do the cleaning rod trick, and I’m sure in other places as well. It’s the one malfunction that you more than likely won’t be able to treat in a fight without a cleaning rod. Also, if you do force on force or UTM style training, you know the struggle of having multiple rounds stuck in your barrel.
I use a standard 30 round GI mag with a tan follower. My ammo of choice for home defense is Hornady TAP 55gr Urban. I live in the suburbs and all the homes around here have siding, so my biggest safety concern is over penetration. There are no real barriers throughout my home I can foresee shooting through, and Hornady TAP has great ballistics and a good track record with law enforcement. If I end up going through more than 30 rounds (hits only) during a home invasion, that’s a bad day that I haven’t really planned for.
The paint job is accomplished with a rattle can and some burlap to spray through. Nothing fancy, just Rustoleum camo colors. Start with a light coat of tan, alternate with brown and OD green. It’s the way we do it in Ranger Battalion and it’s the way I do it now. The paint job isn’t super relevant to home defense but figured it could come up. I’m sure Cerakote or Duracoat is a better solution, but they are also expensive. This paint job was used with paint from work and took about 10 minutes. If it starts to look bad I can just spray more on (or strip it off).
There you have it. My home defense gun setup. This was just to give you my idea behind a good home defense setup, and maybe provide some insight into things you might not have thought about before. Either way, your home defense gun is based on your experiences and what you can make work. Stay vigilant, have a plan, and when in doubt keep shooting.
Author – Tim M. is an Army Ranger who has served in Afghanistan and is currently a K9 handler for ARSOF. In his free time he enjoys shooting, working out and hitting the trails with the dog.