AR-15 “overpenetration” only exists if you do THIS wrong…


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

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

What is this myth?: “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 if you miss your intended target..

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 make your 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.  They both penetrate a few layers, but handgun rounds tend to penetrate more.

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.

Additionally, there are .22, pistol caliber, pellet, bb, and airsoft training versions of the AR…but not so much for the shotgun.

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.

Prices on ARs have dropped to levels that would have been unbelievable a couple of years ago, and a LOT of people are buying one “just in case.”

I want to strongly encourage you to take the next step and get solid at-home training for the AR.

It will add to and reinforce any live training that you’ve had AND, if you’ve had military or law enforcement training with the M4, it’ll help you make the transition from military & law enforcement tactics to tactics that are more appropriate for a civilian home defense situation.

So go ahead and take the next step…Learn more now by going to

So, what are your thoughts on ARs for home defense?  Please sound off by commenting below!


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  • Scott Roder

    Reply Reply January 17, 2019

    During my law enforcement career my agency shot 2 people with .357 magnums, both lived. We shot 4 people with 9mm, none of them survived, and 1 with a 5.56 who lived, but is now one armed. In the 5.56 shooting the guy pulled a pistol from under a sleeping infant, and pointed it at a swat officer. One burst was fired. All 3 rounds penetrated the guys arm. Causing him to drop the gun, one of the rounds followed the bone down into his chest, taking out his artery in his arm. So it stopped the threat, did not over penetrate, and made him a one armed dope dealer.
    In my opinion, placement of the bullet was the major factor. Those shot with other than 9mm rounds were not hit in the chest.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply January 17, 2019

      Excellent info. Thank you.

      It’s worth noting that .357, .38, .380, and 9mm are the same diameter bullet. The weight and muzzle velocity are normally different, and the trigger press on a .357 is normally longer and heavier than a semi-auto double action only or single action 9, but the bullet diameter is the same. There are SEVERAL variables that may have been at play, but the shorter, lighter trigger press could very well be one of the biggest factors why the people shot with the 9 were shot in the chest and those shot with the .357 weren’t.

  • John Turner

    Reply Reply January 10, 2019

    Comments on shotguns for home defense
    They’re ammo deficient. Pistol calibers are ballistically deficient
    A pump shotgun can be short stroked. Click.
    Just like a semi auto pistol can be limp wristed
    How many of you have your malfunction drills down cold
    to where clearing a double feed in under 4 seconds is instinctual?
    So 12 gauge 00 buck? Great stuff. The best I’ve seen is Federal Flite Control. Patterns are 1/2 the diameter of regular stuff
    at the same distance. Meaning my Benelli gets 5 00 Buck
    pellets into the thoracic cavity at 25 yards with the Flite Control
    With regular stuff? 15 yards, 5 of 9 pellets.
    If you get a 12 gauge for home defense get an extended magazine. I’d recommend a semi auto, tac light and laser like the Streamlight TLR 4. I’ll add Benelli semis have low
    felt recoil. Downside? Plan on $2k. You have 8 red
    Now a really nice AR15 set up could cost 1/2 that and you have
    28 rds loaded in your 30 rd mag. Collapsible stock. Short barrel
    Suppressor. OK so there’s another grand but try shooting one in an enclosed area at night without ear pro. You’re blind and deaf after the first shot! Try it once.
    I’ll add that ARs take work to be proficient. Good instruction.
    Practice reloads and malfunction drills. Oh yeah! Dry practice

  • william

    Reply Reply January 10, 2019

    Ox, sometimes you use frangible ammo in your carry pistol. Is frangible ammo made for 5.56, and might this ammo still be effective in this application and add a margin of safety? However, as you say, there is no substitute for accuracy!

    • Ox

      Reply Reply January 10, 2019

      Hey William,

      You’re right, I pretty much always use frangible ammo as the first 2 rounds in my carry pistol. And, yes, TNQ and Polyfrang both make frangible 5.56 rounds (I prefer Polyfrang in this case because I’ve talked with the owner at length about it’s use in suppressed guns)

      And, yes, frangible MAY add a margin of safety, but it won’t disintegrate when it hits sheetrock…it will when it hits a cement floor, solid rock, or steel (not all metals…as an extreme example, it’ll go through an aluminum can) and it will break up when it hits fluids, but it’s not a miracle bullet that stops on a dime when it hits 3/8″ sheetrock.

      I certainly wouldn’t discourage you from using frangible. It’s a solid, proven solution that MAY provide a little more margin of safety, depending on your backstops.

  • Dave Sain

    Reply Reply January 9, 2019

    What are your thoughts on pistol caliber carbines for home defense?

    • Ox

      Reply Reply January 9, 2019

      I shoot a Next Generation Arms X9 Pistol Caliber Pistol (short AR pattern pistol in 9mm with a 6″ barrel) and am a HUGE fan of PCCs and PCPs, which I’ll refer to collectively as PCCs.

      They let people do AR training way cheaper and in more places than what you can do with a .223 and they don’t have the .22 specific malfunctions that you get with a .22 conversion kit or 15-22 (which we use a lot)

      Recoil isn’t as hard on PCCs as ARs, but I’ve found that PCC recoil throws my sights off more.

      With a good barrel, trigger, and decent ammo, you can shoot hand sized groups out to over 100 yards.

      As for a home defense weapon…

      The shortcomings of self defense pistols are because of bullet design, so they apply to both pistols and PCCs.

      That being said, let’s go back to the fact that the best way to avoid a bullet going through several walls is for it to go through your intended target first.

      Now we’re not just looking at the bullet, but how to get that bullet on target 100% of the time and as quickly as possible.

      And, when that’s the goal, I’d argue that the PCC beats a traditional pistol every time…and that’s why tactical teams are using PCCs over pistols in both military and law enforcement applications. Most still use traditional ARs more often, but PCCs are carrying more and more of the load when teams aren’t expecting distance shots or body armor.

      This isn’t a new thing. The PCC is basically an MP5 in an AR shell and the MP5 has been a proven and effective tactical weapon for decades.

      Personally, I run a Spartan 200 lumen light/laser combo on my PCC that’s intended for a pistol rail and it is a very effective setup…more effective than a pistol, but still not as effective as a .223.

    • John Turner

      Reply Reply January 10, 2019

      M1 Carbine? Good or better surplus.
      30 carbine caliber. About the same ballistically as a 357 magnum
      5 1/2#s. 30 rd mags available. 15 rd is standard.
      Easy to shoot. Very reliable and size is small enough for close qtrs
      Worked in WW2, Korea and the Nam.
      Also since they’re not black they’re not scary looking. ALSO since the milsurp varieties are C&Rs most states don’t require any registration
      However!!! Have a knowledgeable gunsmith look it over. Plan on $850 for a decent one.
      Lots of spare parts around too since over 5 million were made.
      Tons of fun to shoot even for say a woman, your wife perhaps? No recoil to speak of

      • Ox

        Reply Reply January 11, 2019

        Great point. Longer barrel for easier sighting, multiple points of contact, and you can get a scout mount rail so that you can use the Spartan light/laser combo or another similar setup.

  • left coast chuck

    Reply Reply April 19, 2018

    I have to disagree about a shotgun. Too many people don’t know that there are other loads besides birdshot, slugs and buckshot. A #2 shot or BB shot will have more penetration than birdshot but lack the penetration of slugs or buckshot. In addition to full strength buckshot, there are light buckshot loads available. Everyone talks about putting enough rounds on target to put the perp down. Nobody expects to do the same with a shotgun. Why is everybody only considering one round? Two shots to the torso and one to the head. I guarantee if you have a 3/4 of an inch diameter wound in your face or head you won’t much feel like continuing any aggressive moves, especial if you already have two 3/4 inch wounds in your torso, even if they are only an inch and a half to two inches deep.

    I can remember one case where the deceased was shot at about 18 inches with birdshot from a 20 ga. The coroner said that if he had fallen on an operating table with a trauma surgical team ready to start it wouldn’t have mattered the damage was so overwhelming that no amount of medical care could have saved the individual.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean that the old saw about “You don’t have to aim a shotgun, all you have to do is point it in the direction of the perp and pull the trigger” is by any means accurate. You have to aim the shotgun just like you do any other firearm. A high base goose load, even at 2 3/4″ in #2 or BB shot will certainly take the fight out of a bad guy in short order. At household distances even with a cylinder bore the shot column doesn’t have a chance to spread much so the perp is going to get hit with a .75 caliber bullet weight close to 1,000 grains going 1200 fps. Who thinks that isn’t better than a .35 caliber bullet weighing 124 grains going about the same speed?

    A gun writer, Will Dabbs, MD, who writes for Guns Magazine did a test in the last 18 months using a shotgun with bird shot at household distances. Even at the magic 21 feet the shot column had not spread that much and it tore a vicious hole in the plywood that he was using as a backstop.

    You can do the test yourself with gallon milk bottles. Fill them up with water, back off seven yards and see how many get blasted with the shot column.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply April 20, 2018

      Great points, Chuck. A shotgun is definitely better than nothing and has been used for home defense since (at least) frontier days, but two big factors for a home defense gun are how quickly you can put an accurate second shot on target (the same or different) and how easy it is to practice with. I’m not about to argue against a shotgun, but I will argue for a carbine over a shotgun in most cases…California laws may change that equation, but in a semi-free state, a carbine has a big advantage.

    • John

      Reply Reply January 12, 2019

      100% in agreement. Good article and great points

  • Larry Douglas

    Reply Reply April 19, 2018

    The best gun (or weapon) for self & home defense is the one you’re most comfortable using and have handy when needed. If a rock is my only choice, that’s what I’ll use.

    • Fred

      Reply Reply January 9, 2019

      Larry Douglas, I agree with you 100%. 30+ years as LEO, I was trained for a long time on the use of a hand gun, .357. Shotgun came later when the department I worked for could afford them.
      AR 15s did not come into play for about 20 years later and then only in certain circumstances. One of the biggest downfalls to any long gun is space, tight spaces. Hand gun is better in my opinion for what its worth.

  • H

    Reply Reply April 19, 2018

    I can speak from personal experience. My sister in law was killed by a guy she had just started dating. He used AR ( illegally owned as we later found out he was a felon). He also fired on police. he shot her 5 times from about 8 feet away as she sat in a chair. Not one round exited her body. She was hit from the left side. From the autopsy results ( yes I requested a copy and read it) the bullets did some major damage to her internal organs. Again not one exited. I don’t know what grain or type of bullets he used. I can only guess they were typical 55gr FMJ. I don’t know barrel length or twist either. If I remember correctly all of the bullets fragmented to some degree inside her body.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply April 20, 2018

      I’m very sorry for your loss, H.

  • Charlie Buck

    Reply Reply April 19, 2018

    I keep a Taurus Judge loaded with Winchester PDX ammo in it along with a Kimber Ultra Carry II with Crimson Trace grips loaded with Hornady Critical Defense Ammo in it. Used to be a bullseye shooter and still shoot on a regular basis.

    • Bountyhunter

      Reply Reply April 21, 2018

      CB,, I always knew you were a decent shot, but I never remember you deer hunting with a revolver/pistol. ( not that it would have surprised me ).

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