The Myth of AR-15 Over Penetration and Muzzle Up vs. Muzzle Down


Last week, I shared 2 of the biggest training mistakes that people make with AR-15s.  If you missed it, I want to strongly encourage you to read it >HERE<

Today, we’re going to talk about 2 of the biggest misconceptions that people have about the AR-15.  To be fair, they get these misconceptions honestly.

They’re repeated ad nauseam in articles, blogs, forums, videos, and even on TV without proper context.  To complicate matters even more, there’s an element of truth to each of them.

Myth #3: “I think AR’s are bad for home defense because of over penetration.  I don’t want to shoot my neighbors or kids in another part of the house.”

Good.  I don’t want you to shoot anyone who’s innocent either.

But let’s dig into this a little…

First off, penetration is good.  It gets you to vital organs and stops threats fast.  In the FBI Miami Shootout, there was a famous bullet that stopped just short of hitting the heart of one of the bad guys…it was called “the bullet that failed.”  You don’t want to use bullets designed to fail.

You’ve got to have penetration to maximize effectiveness…you just don’t want to miss your targets and have ammo go through walls into bedrooms or into your neighbor’s house.

There’s 2 components to this…

The first and most important rule to minimize innocent people getting hit in a gunfight is to hit your target with every shot.  Don’t stop training when you can hit your target…keep training until you CAN’T MISS.

That is the standard that you should set for yourself.  100% hits and no misses.  It’s not reality and there’s a really good chance that Murphy will step in and mess things up, but you want to train so that any misses you have are beyond your control…not because of a lack of training or practice.

Second, you should realistically expect ANY ammunition that’s going to have effective penetration on a person to go through drywall, sheetrock, and other wall materials.

Ordinary defensive 9mm hollow points can go through 6 layers of sheetrock or 3-4 layers of steel in a car.  There’s a good chance that ANY caliber of defensive pistol or rifle ammo has the ability to go through walls and hurt innocent people.  Hollow points that may expand when they hit soft tissue oftentimes get plugged when they go through sheetrock, don’t expand, and act like a full metal jacket round.

There are bullet designs that claim to reduce over penetration on sheetrock, and some do better than others, but regardless of how realistic it is, the best way to minimize the chances of hurting innocent people is to have 100% hits.

One thing that’s surprisingly consistent in penetration/overpenetration testing is that typical defensive handgun rounds penetrate MORE layers of building materials than .223 from a carbine.

But what about shotguns?  If we look at both ends of the spectrum, slugs have a serious over-penetration problem and bird shot has a serious UNDER-penetration problem.  In the middle, Buckshot shares a problem that’s common to all shotgun loads—the recoil is harder for smaller shooters to control, slows down followup shots.  In addition, the recoil and weight of a shotgun make it less enjoyable to shoot for smaller shooters and less practice translate directly to less comfort with the gun and lower performance under stress.  Finally, there are fewer ranges that allow you to practice with a shotgun than there are that allow you to practice with a pistol or AR.

So, if all bullets are capable of penetrating through multiple walls, it stands to reason that you might want to use a weapon platform that will give you the highest probability of hitting your threat.  For most people, the increased barrel length and controllability of an AR makes it easier to hit man-sized targets at in-house distances in low light conditions under stress.

The proof is in the pudding…while nationwide hit ratios for law enforcement are in the 12%-25% range, hit ratios with rifles for many departments are over 80%.

In addition, it’s generally easier to put a light/laser on an AR than on a pistol.  There are great laser/light options for pistols, but most shooters find them easier to operate on an AR than on a pistol.

Finally, you can use both a pistol and an AR as an impact weapon, but the AR is much easier to control and keep control of if you decide to strike someone with it.

Next is another “rule” that I thought Moses delivered himself:  Always move with the muzzle of your gun pointed down.”

There’s a joke that this is an Army vs. Navy thing…more specifically, Special Forces vs. SEALs.  It’s said that SF points their guns down so that they don’t shoot their helicopter blades and SEALs don’t point their guns down so they don’t poke holes in their boats.

The reality is a little more complicated…

When you think about indoor ranges, VERY few have fully bullet resistant ceilings.  They may have a few sheets of AR-500 hanging from the ceiling a few yards downrange, but very few ranges have AR-500 right above the shooting bays.  If there’s a potential of having ANY students on the range who don’t have fully established trigger discipline, it makes more sense to have a rule that all muzzles remain pointed at the ground so that you don’t have an errant round escape the building.

When you move to outdoor ranges, you’ve normally got berms that define the shooting bays.  Shoot over the berm and there’s the possibility that your bullet will hit something that you don’t want it to hit…again, if there’s any chance of a shooter being on the range who doesn’t have fully established trigger discipline, it makes sense to always keep the muzzles pointed below the top of the berms so that no rounds escape.

There’s another factor at play.  And it has to do with live fire shoot houses.  In many cases, there are catwalks above the shoot house so instructors can watch students shooting and moving through the structure.  If you’re an instructor, and students are going through a shoot house below you, would you want them to point their muzzles down, or up…at you?

Muzzle down makes perfect sense in these situations…in fact, it makes perfect sense in almost all square range situations, but in a real-life, dynamic, close-quarters, fight, muzzle-down isn’t always the best solution.

If you go around a corner and someone starts striking you in the face, would you be able to defend and counter attack faster if your muzzle was up in front of your face or down by your knees?

If you go around a corner and someone grabs for your gun, do you want gravity working for you or against you?

Try this with a broom handle…hold it pointed down and have someone grab it and try to keep you from pointing it them.  Now hold it pointed up and have them try to keep you from pointing it at them.

It only takes a few seconds to see that muzzle-up gives you a significant advantage.  Add in a little friendly slapping to the face and the advantages of muzzle-up shoot through the roof.

If you go around a corner and are surprised, will muzzle-up or muzzle-down let you muzzle punch faster?  Muzzle-down is kind of like a kettlebell swing.  Muzzle-up is like a jab…with additional leverage and speed.

Muzzle down is not even always the safest solution.  What if you’ve got young “ankle biters”, family/innocent people curled up on the ground, pets, or you’re upstairs while the rest of your family is downstairs?

What if you’re in a multi-story apartment building, condo, or hotel?

This is something you’re going to have to struggle through on your own…It’s not a black and white choice.  Personally, I’ve chosen to practice muzzle-up because of the retention and striking advantages, but I have to switch to muzzle-down at many training and competition events because of range rules.

Where did this information come from?  It’s from the comprehensive Home Defense Rifle course from SEALed Mindset.  Learn more now by going to

So, what are your thoughts on ARs for home defense and muzzle-up vs. muzzle-down?  Please sound off by commenting below!



  • Mikey

    Reply Reply September 22, 2016

    …the advantages of muzzle-up shoot through the roof. lol

  • Wayne Ware

    Reply Reply September 22, 2016

    a hand gun with wad cutters will not go through much sheet rock – I have a 38S with Hornady Critical Defense FTX bullets – if you live in an apartment this would help in not shooting some one next door though the sheet rock – I know hit the target but that is not always possible

    If you use Hornady Critical Defense handgun ammo for home defense you cannot rely on it to perform if you have shoot through the corner of a wall or through sheet rock near a door jam, if that’s what it takes, to stop an attacker who’s partially exposed.

    Hornady Critical Defense handgun ammo is not designed to shoot through anything other than clothing. It’s not tested against anything other than bare gelatin and clothing. Performance against commonly encountered light barrier materials is untested and unknown. Therefore if your self-defense requirements include the capability to shoot through commonly encountered light barrier materials then Hornady Critical Defense handgun ammo is not your best choice.

  • BigTrout

    Reply Reply September 22, 2016

    Always concise and direct. Perceptive and useful info. Thanks.

  • Jason

    Reply Reply September 22, 2016

    I think it was the shootout you are referring to was the 1986 shootout in Miami Florida between FBI agents and two guys named Mattix and Platt.
    Excerpt from it:” As Platt climbed out of the passenger side car window, one of Dove’s 9 mm rounds hit his right upper arm and went on to penetrate his chest, stopping an inch away from his heart.”

    • Ox

      Reply Reply September 22, 2016

      You’re EXACTLY right…my bad.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply September 22, 2016

      I updated it to say the FBI Miami Shootout. Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

  • Bill

    Reply Reply September 22, 2016

    I live alone with no people close by, but thank you for reminder. However I am in habit of pointing down & of course down range. Have not really considered AR for home defense because of many pistol`s & Rem. 870. I do know over penetration must be considered.

  • marz

    Reply Reply September 22, 2016

    in a multistory concrete building muzzle up or down won’t make a difference, but my small pets that are more likely to be below the waist does make the difference… so in my situation, muzzle up would make the most sense.

  • Justin

    Reply Reply September 22, 2016

    Just a method I was ttrained on, but, muzzle downward at low-ready, roughly 45*, not directly down (to clear up any confusion) retains better center of gravity and better control in a combative scenario. Rolling a muzzle over its owner’s shoulder will put them on their back or at the very least off-balance the shooter, where downward allows protection of the rifle, with the ability to control the attacker.

  • left coast chuck

    Reply Reply September 22, 2016

    A useful and thought-provoking article. Thanks for posting it.

  • George Webber

    Reply Reply September 23, 2016

    If you are clearing your home then muzzle up ready to shoot makes far more sense. The whole point is to shoot first. On the topic of penetration, several years ago my daughter (then 11) built a wall just big enough to fire a number of rounds and trap them in several phone books. (This was a school project.Try that now!) She tried FMJ, hollow point and wad cutters. The hollow point rounds filled with plaster and acted like ball ammo. Depth of penetration was similar for each of the rounds after going through the wall. Perhaps not very scientific but it did demonstrate that someone on the other side of a wall can be injured by a stray bullet.

  • Herman

    Reply Reply September 23, 2016

    My question Ox – what about “entry ready” position when searching a structure? Thanks.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply September 23, 2016

      Great question…I’ve got an article+video on this that I’m going to post in the next few days.

  • Jacob Jackson

    Reply Reply January 19, 2017

    Good article that lets the air out of some persistent myths. It’s amazing how they stick around in spite of be debunked numerous times. In this article there are some video’s of the penetration effects of 9mm, 45 acp, 5.56 and 12 gauge. The are all pretty much consistently going through 12 layers of drywall.

    I think people make too much of muzzle up vs down reload. They both have their uses in certain situations and I think you need to master both to say that you are proficient with a rifle.

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