Wednesday, August 11, 2010

AR for Home Defense?

A reader (and attendee at one of last year's legal seminars) writes to ask about whether the Great Black Rifle Buying Spree of recent years has removed the stigma possibly associated with using an AR-15 in a self-defense scenario.

This is a good question to ask in Northern Virginia, since one of the few instances of using an automatic weapon (yes, I know that AR-15's are not fully automatic, but bear with me) in self-defense happened in Fairfax County a little over 25 years ago. Gary Fadden used an AC556, the select-fire version of the Ruger Mini-14, to defend himself against a belligerent assailant that chased Fadden and Fadden's fiancee until they had nowhere else to retreat to. Massad Ayoob's excellent write-up is here.

Fadden believes that if he had used a pump-action shotgun to kill his attacker, then he wouldn't have been prosecuted.

So, is it unwise to put your AR in the closet as a tool to use against home invaders?

Two things to note on this issue.

First, ANY gun can be demonized by a prosecutor to allege that the defendant acted outside the bounds of self-defense or was otherwise up to no good. Harold Fish was walking a trail in Arizona in an area where mountain lions roam, armed with a 10mm loaded with hollowpoint ammunition. If you were to ask me what gun to carry for mountain lion, I would tell you to carry what Fish had. Yet when he killed a man who charged him on the trail with (presumably) murderous intent, the prosecutor railed on about what an overpowered gun Fish had and how the bullets he carried would violate the Hague Regulations (not the Geneva Conventions, a popular misconception) if used on the battlefield. Never mind that the cops in Arizona (and everywhere else in America) carry hollowpoints for the same reasons Fish did.

Second, there is no solid answer as to whether your particular choice of carry gun or home defense longarm will strike a jury as evidence of murderous intent. Harold Fish was demonized as a vigilante and convicted of murder in Arizona, not San Francisco. The jury selection process makes a big difference in this regard, and you never know what you're going to get. I suspect that the concealed carry revolution of the 1990's and two Supreme Court decisions supporting a right to keep and bear arms for self-defense move the general direction of public support in favor of self-defense claims, but I also suspect that the urbanization of Northern Virginia makes it less gun-friendly than the rest of the Commonwealth.

If I decide to put a longarm (shotgun or black rifle) under the bed or in the closet, I'll use one of the action locks that GunVault produces: AR and shotgun versions available. And I'd put a light on it.

What are your thoughts on using an AR for self-defense?

By the way, I've scheduled two legal seminars for Saturday, October 23rd. If you want to get certified for a Virginia Concealed Handgun Permit, let me know and we can do range time afterwards, meeting the requirements for your permit AND giving you a good legal education on self-defense in the Commonwealth. Contact me if interested.


  1. Though not arguing with your take on Harold Fish's conviction, I'd like to point out that at the time, self defense had to be proven by the accused. It was a stupid law, and has since been changed because of Fish's case.

  2. Tim,

    While Arizona has changed its self-defense laws around Harold Fish's case, it remains in the minority. In the overwhelming majority of states, self-defense is an affirmative defense, where the defendant is in the position of saying, "yes, I did it, but..."

    Good point, though. State legal regimes for self-defense make a big difference.

  3. From a legal standpoint, doesn't the "Castle Doctrine" make it immaterial what kind of gun is used for self-defense inside the home?

    All The Best,
    Frank W. James

  4. a good shoot is a good shoot, as long as your life was in danger and you had no way or duty to retreat, it dont matter if you use a gun, knife, bat or point stick...

  5. I keep an AR handy for defending the home. If its use ever became an issue my attorney plans to use a local Police Cruiser in the defense.

    They all have AR-15s in the gun rack.

  6. Dave,
    I was unaware that SD is an affirmative defense for most states. That's awful.

    The Fish case was particularly bad because it happened in the middle of nowhere. There were no witnesses except Fish and his dead attacker. He tried to save the man's life after stopping the attack and was punished for it.

    Regarding firearm, or even caliber selection: some models/configurations are more likely to set off prosecutor/jury alarm bells than others. Exactly which ones is a highly situational issue. The current legal environment (local, state, and national), current events (was that specific weapon used in a recent mass murder, is there a crime wave in the area), regional culture, and election cycles all figure in here.

    Furthermore, if the prosecution has it out for you, they can make anything seem especially evil. Take the Fish case, if he had been using a Beretta 92FS, it would have been a 'military gun.' If it was some other 9mm gun, it might be 'the same, powerful caliber police and the military use to bring down hardened criminals/terrorists.' If it's a small .380, the gun is 'ultra-concealable and deadly.'

    Just look at how the media portrays the Five-Seven used in the Fort Hood shootings. Funny how the focus is primarily on the tools, rather than the actions and intent.

  7. I'm with Tim, no matter what you do, prosecutors would make something out of nothing. But hopefully, the police wouldn't bring up charges in the first place. I don't see an issue with having whatever gun you want as a home defense weapon, I keep a Mossberg 12g myself, and plan on adding more to that in the form of a high-powered rifle.

  8. Thank goodness I live in Texas. With our 'stand your ground law' and the 'castle doctrine' it's not so bad.

    My HD weapon is a M1 GI WW2 Carbine. Yep the little war baby. 15 shoot mags are what I use. And since I have a CHL license going back to the very first when CHL started here in Texas, and the LEOs here are favorably disposed to people with good behavior, I see no problems unless I do something really stupid like run after the bad guys down the street spraying away with my carbine!

    But if I lived up north…. Whoa, different matter!

    So here in Texas, as long as you are well known as a good guy, go ahead and get a AR if you want for home defense. But up north, I’d just stick with a Mossberg 500 12 gauge.