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For most self defense situations a person is likely to encounter, a long barreled rifle is not the weapon of choice.  Intended primarily as an offensive armament, its greatest drawback in a defensive situation is the fact that it may be too long and too unwieldy to be quickly deployed and maneuvered in a close quarter, cluttered, or confined environment.  A rifle is designed to produce long, accurate shots.  Hence, it may pose a threat to innocent people from over penetration or excessive range.  

On the positive side, a rifle possesses better stopping power, presents a stronger visual deterrent, and provides greater accuracy than any handgun.  Recoil will be tolerable and manageable with the preferred urban defense rounds such as the sporting .223 Remington, its military cousin the 5.56 NATO, .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum.  These latter two revolver cartridges benefit significantly from being chambered in a carbine. 

An AR-15, which is the civilian semiautomatic version of the standard issue U.S. military M4 carbine or M16 rifle, is well suited for personal protection.  The shorter 16-inch barrel of the carbine is preferred.

The 5.56 NATO AR platform is extremely versatile.  The upper receiver is attached to the lower receiver by means of two movable pins.  This allows the upper receiver, which holds the barrel, to be easily removed from the lower receiver.  Shooters can swap out different barrel configurations depending upon the type of shooting they wish to pursue.  Numerous carbines and rifles can be conveniently built using only one lower.  Upper receivers from one manufacturer will generally fit on the lower receiver of a different manufacturer if both are mil-spec.  

Be sure to visit the Armory munitions room "Rifle Ammunition: Self Defense" for detailed information regarding rifle rounds suited to urban self defense.  The discussion of .223 Remington/5.56 NATO ammunition includes a matrix of bullet weights that can be stabilized from AR-15 carbines and rifles with differing barrel lengths and rifling twists.  Also investigate "Tech Tips" in this regard.   

In 1994, a number of makes and models of .223 Remington and 5.56 NATO semiautomatic rifles were banned by federal legislators as "assault rifles".  Other caliber rifles were included as well.  Rather than confront and address the nature of crime in this country (Duh!- criminals, particularly repeat offenders), these liberal and progressive politicians chose to blame societal ills on an inanimate tool: a household firearm.  In an orgy of  deceit, frenzy was substituted for foresight and illusion for substance in conjuring up this so-called "Crime Bill": the "Clinton Gun Ban".

True "assault rifles" are capable of firing select fire or full auto, in a manner comparable to the U.S. Army M4A1 carbine.  Rifles for the civilian market are restricted to semiautomatic operation only, in which the trigger must be pulled to initiate each shot.

Amazingly, the criteria used by the Clinton Gun Ban to classify a civilian rifle as an "assault rifle" was based solely on appearance, accessories or ancillary features that had no bearing on the operating mechanics of the firearm.  

 An "assault rifle" was defined by the Clinton Gun Ban as a semiautomatic rifle that had two of the five following features:

  1. folding or telescoping stock;
  2. pistol grip;
  3. flash suppressor;
  4. bayonet lug;
  5. grenade launcher.

The  civilian AR never incorporated a grenade launcher.  A weapon system of that type and its explosive projectile are considered to be "destructive devices" subject to considerable  federal regulation, oversight and taxation.  Hence, the gun ban really only focused on ergonomic features like stocks and grips, and the innocuous flash suppressor.  Modern combat doesn't lend itself to bayonet use, and the AR platform isn't particularly suited to thrusting, yet the inoffensive bayonet lug was also restricted.  In most civilian applications, the bayonet lug serves as a handy accessory mounting point for attaching tactical lights, lasers or bipods.

To reiterate and emphasize, civilian "assault rifles" were never select fire or full auto, a category of firearm regulated to military use.  In terms of its operation, the semiautomatic action of these so-called "assault rifles" is identical to the action of other countless, and legal, self loading handguns, rifles, and shotguns.  Nevertheless, because of their "scary" military look, many fine rifles were outlawed.

"Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear.  Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair.  So Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn't fuzzy was he?"

The portion of the Clinton Gun Ban which demonized military style semiautomatic firearms passed into law subject to a "sunset" provision which was to become effective in a decade, unless the law was reenacted.  On September 13, 2004, this truly pathetic piece of legislation expired.  No evidence was ever produced which demonstrated that the ban contributed anything at all toward the reduction of crime.  Of course, that was never its intent.  It was really the "camel's nose in the tent" with regard to firearm confiscation.   

With the sunset of the Clinton Gun Ban, the  exact same civilian rifle as a pre-ban "assault rifle" can now be purchased new and legally owned.  Yes, if you so desire, it will even possesses the "intimidating" cosmetic features that Slick Willie and the liberals and progressives in congress found to be so frightening!  Of course, this freedom is restricted in the Peoples' Republic of California and the "usual suspect" Eastern Bloc states.

Existing "post-ban" rifles purchased between 1994 and 2004 may also be legally retrofitted with the collapsible stock option, the bayonet lug, and the flash suppressor, while still retaining the handy pistol grip.  

Some feel that deletion of the flash suppressor mandated by the 1994 "Clinton Gun Ban" actually improved the overall accuracy of the AR rifle.  However, for those wishing this particular component, the flash suppressor can be purchased with a new rifle, or as a retrofit to a rifle purchased during the "post-ban" period.  

It is also legal to install a "muzzle break" or a "compensator" to the barrel of the rifle should the shooter desire to reduce either, respectively,  perceived recoil or barrel jump.  These devices look somewhat akin to a flash suppressor, but function differently, based on the location and orientation of ports.

Americans are looking for crime control with substance.  What they got in the Clinton Gun Ban of 1994 was a charade which did nothing to inhibit the lawless.  This travesty was rather only another  infringement upon the liberties of the law abiding.  With dedicated attention by an informed citizenry, hopefully any future debacle regarding "assault rifle" prohibition can be avoided.


Malfunctions can and do occur with autoloaders such as an AR.  The most common are failure to feed and failure to eject.  The opportunity for problems increases dramatically in physical environments that are unfriendly to mechanical objects.  These include dirt, sand, mud and salt as well as water, rain, snow and ice.  Heat and cold also affect moving parts, cartridges and lubricants.  

When it comes to AR manufacturers and their products, shooters have their favorites.  Experiences vary greatly, and loyalty or disdain for a particular brand can be intense.  It usually boils down to whether or not a particular carbine/rifle is an accurate and reliable specimen that allows the shooter to do his or her job.  This means that it doesn't jam and it doesn't break.  It isn't persnickety, and will cycle appropriate ammunition from all sources: domestic manufacture, foreign manufacture or military surplus.  

Objective factors affecting shooter sentiment and satisfaction include fit, finish, features, accessories and warranty.  Subjective factors include intangibles such as perceived product value, reputation, feel and balance.

But what's inside the AR carbine/rifle?  What's it made of?  Were the materials produced and parts manufactured properly?  Were the parts finished and assembled correctly and with attention to detail?  Is quality control practiced at the factory, or is the customer the "inspector" of final recourse and that's why a warranty is really offered?  Compared to its competitors, how does a particular manufacturer's quality rate?  How can a person tell?

Fortunately, a standard exists in this regard.  It's the military specification, or mil-spec.  Uncle Sam has already done the homework for you to ascertain how an assault carbine/rifle should be made.  In true Department of Defense protocol, the process was methodical and laborious.  Testing was rigorous and extreme.

Take advantage of the tremendous research and investment that the military has conducted to equip our troops.  Equip yourself with an AR that comes as close to mil-spec as you can afford. 

As you undertake the process of comparison shopping AR's, you will find that not all makes of AR platform carbines/rifles are created equal.  Quality varies considerably among manufacturers.  If particular price points were associated directly with levels of quality, the selection process would be relatively easy.  A customer could assess product value in terms of what they were willing to spend.  Unfortunately, that isn't necessarily the case.  Some average makes may command some of the higher prices.   

Manufacturers vary greatly in their candor regarding the standards and specifications of their products.  Some are very forthcoming.  Others are cautious and defensive.  Some are not cooperative at all, citing "proprietary" intellectual properties.  Some claim that they have invented "better" alternatives to mil-spec.  Perhaps they have.  If so, let them convince you by thoughtful marketing descriptions and informative comparisons.  Some claim to be  mil-spec, but aren't consistently so.  Some may selectively ignore the mil-spec and substitute "substandard" parts.  Some may not test or inspect every part, just a few from a batch.  

The following enumeration, while not all inclusive, will give you an idea of some of the components, processes and features that comprise a M4 configured mil-spec AR-15.



Receiver Machined From Aluminum Forgings 7075-T6;

Receiver Hard Coat Anodize Per Mil-A-8625F, Type III, Class 2;

M4 Feed Ramp Flat Top Upper Receiver, T-Marked.



USGI 16-Inch M4 Contour;

USGI 1:7 Twist Rate; 

Mil-Spec 11595E Barrel Steel, Independently Certified ;

High Pressure Test (HPT) Per Mil-Spec;

Magnetic Particle Inspected (MPI) Per Mil-Spec;

M4 Feed Ramp Barrel Extension;

USGI 5.56mm NATO Chamber;

Chrome Lined Bore and Chamber;

Manganese Phosphate Barrel Finish On Entire Barrel, Including Under Front Sight Base; 

Mil-Spec F-Marked Forged Front Sight;

Taper Pinned Front Sight Base;

Double Heat Shielded Hand Guard.



Bolt Machined From Mil-Spec Carpenter No. 158 Steel;

High Pressure Test (HPT) Per Mil-Spec;

Magnetic Particle Inspected (MPI) Per Mil-Spec;

Shot Peened Bolt;

Chrome Lined Carrier (AUTO);

Chrome Lined Gas Key, Hardened To USGI Mil-Spec;

Gas Key Hardened To USGI Mil-Spec;

Grade 8 Hardened Fasteners For Key;

Key Staked Per Mil-Spec;

USGI Mil-Spec Extractor, Shot Peened;

Black Extractor Insert;

5-Coil Extractor Spring;

Mil-Spec O-Ring.



Receiver Machined From Aluminum Forgings 7075-T6;

Receiver Hard Coat Anodize Per Mil-A-8625F, Type III, Class 2;

Mil-Spec Size 7075-T6 Receiver Extension;

USGI "H" Buffer;

USGI M4 Stock Assembly;

M4 Castle Type Lock Nut, Staked Per Mil-Spec.


On-line resources are available which will describe the foregoing parameters and attempt to explain their importance should you wish to further investigate these matters.

Supposedly, any company can produce a "lemon".  The truly exceptional firms, such as Colt's Manufacturing Company and Bravo Company Manufacturing (BCM), incorporate measures that focus on eliminating this potential.  Materials, production processes, parts assembly and quality control are held to rigorous and consistent standards.  The Colt SP6920 is based on the same standards and specifications as U.S. government military issue.  It is as close to the M4 carbine used by the Armed Forces as a civilian can get.  BCM's MOD 0, MOD 1 and MOD 2 are nearly identical to the USGI M4, with a few sound improvements.           

Unless you have a real need for the abundant "tactical" wiz bangs and gizmos that flood the market and aftermarket, beware of AR companies that allow you to configure your own weapon.  The Armory is aware of some real "boat anchors" that unsuspecting shooters ordered from manufacturers on-line.  These customers were extremely disappointed when their "dream" carbine/rifle arrived at their local FFL weighing a ton and incredibly front heavy.  In most self defense situations, light weight and balance trump SWAT type accessories.

Another problem with upgrading or "tricking out" a base model carbine or rifle from the manufacturer is that you will likely be able to recapture little if any of your investment in the extras when it comes time to resell.  Upgrade options typically involve choices for different hand guards, grips, butt stocks, front sight/gas blocks, charging handles, safety selectors, triggers, barrel steel, chrome lining options, muzzle devices and trigger guards.  Financially, it is better to select a standard model that has most of the features you desire instead of adding a bunch of options to a base model.   

Some manufacturers have recently introduced "California compliant" ARs.  These adulterated models have to dodge the discredited Clinton Gun Ban "assault rifle" criteria that is still on the books in the Golden State.  To do this, "compliant" carbines and rifles have to be made so that they are not capable of accepting conventional, detachable AR magazines.  By doing so, the guns avoid being classified as "assault weapons".  Some  "compliant" models rather feature an attached 9- or 10-round magazine that requires a "tool" for removal, using the so-called "bullet button" mechanism.  Really?  This farce is pretty much the equivalent of a young man not being able to get a real girlfriend, and settling for a life-size blow up doll instead!  As an alternative to "bullet button", think "ballot box".

"Cowboy" carbines, which are essentially short-barreled rifles, are a viable home defense weapon.  Such a firearm will possess a lever action, an exposed hammer, a barrel length from 16- to 20-inches, a tubular magazine, and a cartridge chambered in .357 Magnum or .44 Magnum.

A cowboy-type carbine is less maneuverable in tight quarters than a handgun.  It is also more susceptible to capture should an intruder successfully come within arms reach and attempt to grapple for the weapon.

"Getting the hang" of a cowboy carbine is easier than mastering a  handgun.  The cowboy carbine hits harder and recoils less.  

When compared to a long barreled rifle, cowboy carbines which chamber a handgun round do not exhibit the propensity to over penetrate.  Neighbors and innocent bystanders are less likely to be inadvertently shot.

The tubular magazine of a cowboy carbine holds numerous rounds.  A practiced individual can sustain a comforting rate of fire.  In fact, tests have shown that target acquisition and accurate fire from a cowboy carbine nearly matches that from an AR-15.  The superiority of the autoloader is evident when it comes time to reload.  The benefit of a preloaded magazine enables the AR-15 to be brought back quickly into play.    

Keep in mind that cowboy carbines lack a magazine cutoff.  Hence, cartridges must be cycled through the action in order to unload them.  The presence of a cross bolt safety, placed in the "safe" position,  makes the unloading operation far less hazardous than otherwise would be the case without it.  Engaging the cross bolt safety also reduces the chance of an accidental discharge when standing down after a high stress confrontation.

In this age of political correctness in America, inanimate firearms and law abiding members of the gun community are under legislative assault at the national, state and local levels.  In contrast, career criminals and habitual offenders cycle without significant punitive accountability through a legal system which mocks the concept of justice.  

With the perverted logic of the times in perspective, consider that the benign appearance and innocuous name of the cowboy carbine suggest memories of affable cowhands and the camaraderie of the campfire.  Thus, the cowboy carbine is less likely to be regulated into oblivion when compared to its "scary looking" counterparts which possess a somewhat military bearing.  

This said, however, never underestimate the ultimate intentions of the gun grabbing fanatics who infest the courts and our national and state capitols: usurping your freedom of choice for personal protection by the confiscation of all firearms from private ownership.  

Despite its non-threatening image, rest assured that the cowboy carbine is an efficient, potent and decisive firearm for self defense purposes.

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