Just about everywhere you look on Facebook or Instagram, there’s an AR-15, usually accompanied by some form of full kit. By some estimates, there are over 8 million ARs in the U.S. The American public has an infatuation with the AR due to its association with the military, and especially portrayals of special operations units, but there are also very practical reasons for its popularity (stick with me AK guys – I still love you but I’m making a point). The AR is probably the easiest to build and accessorize of any rifle on the market today. Ammo is plentiful, as is aftermarket support. The AR is accurate and maneuverable, and provides an extra bit of “umph” and reach for police officers that need to respond to heavier threats, such as an active shooter, or for a homeowner who needs to defend against predators of the four or two-legged variety. Realistically, the AR is superior in almost every way to a pistol.
With that said, the humble pistol holds primacy in the majority of self-defense instances, due almost entirely to one reason – you can carry it. Very few locales allow you to carry your carbine when you go out for lunch. In the few that do, actually walking into a restaurant/store with your rifle is still a great way to set yourself up for panicked looks, a call to police, and a flurry of calls to ban guns. In today’s world, it may also be a great way to get a “red flag” issued on you.
Fortunately, though, more and more localities are moving toward allowing concealed carry. Some are going willingly, and some are kicking and screaming as the Supreme Court pushes them, but they are moving. Unless I am somewhere that prohibits concealed carry, I have a pistol on me. I do know people that keep ARs in their cars as a secondary for retrieval in case of a prolonged scenario, but once they leave their cars, their pistol is their primary form of self-defense. So why does this matter? Because each of us has to make a decision about where we dedicate our finite amounts of training time and money.
The vast majority of my practice time is devoted to the pistol (anywhere from 75-100% of my ammo budget in a given month). There are two main reasons behind this: 1) pistol skills are harder to maintain than rifle, and 2) as mentioned above, probably greater than 75% of the time I may need a firearm, I’ll have a pistol on me, not a rifle. I base reason (1) on my own personal observations as well as discussions with professional trainers (both the NRA kind and the special operations kind). A rifle absorbs recoil better, is more controllable, has a higher capacity, and is inherently more accurate than a pistol. I have a pretty solid foundation in the fundamentals, and I have found that my rifle skills degrade significantly slower than my pistol. I can go for months without taking my rifle to the range and still get myself back up to speed with about a day or two’s worth of practice. I contrast that with my pistol skills, which noticeably degrade after about a month off the gun. Also, if you’ve ever been through specialized firearm training that involves both pistol and rifle, they usually start with pistol and once you have a good foundation, they move you on to rifle. The pistol is simply less forgiving and harder to run effectively (for most people) than a rifle, given the same amount of practice. Therefore, I choose to practice with what I will most likely employ.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t practice with your rifle. A rifle is a very useful tool in the right scenario, and I think every responsible armed citizen should be proficient with one. I just happen to believe that for your average concealed carrier, emphasis should be put on training in pistol techniques (especially those specifically dealing with concealed carry), pre and post-usage legal issues, use of force scenarios, conflict resolution, and medical skills (not necessarily in that order) over rifle work.
Now, for that ever famous internet quote:
The only reason for my pistol is to get to my rifle!
This saying needs to die. It really does. I’ve already covered some of the reasons above, but let me amplify a bit. In the vast majority of self-defense scenarios, your pistol will be what you have. It will be a quick fight, and whether you win or lose will be decided in a matter of seconds. There won’t be a climactic Heat gunfight where you’re shooting and moving. Even in an active shooter scenario, you probably have your pistol on you and your rifle out in your vehicle. The time you spend running out to get your rifle is time that a) you could have been moving to the shooter with your pistol to prevent more loss of life and b) law enforcement will be responding, only to possibly find you running into a building with a rifle. Even if you don’t get shot right away, you will get handcuffed and held, which makes you useless.
A rifle in your vehicle can also be impractical due to security concerns. In a previous job, I had to park over a half mile from my building in a parking lot directly across from one of the highest-crime neighborhoods in Virginia. Leaving a rifle in my car was an invitation to have someone steal it (there were regular break-ins in the lot and it was very poorly patrolled).
There are some exceptions to this. If you do have a rifle that you can actually conceal and carry with you regularly, then maybe none of this applies to you. I would challenge someone to prove to me that they have a rifle on them as frequently and as easily as they do a pistol, but it’s possible. Specialty scenarios, like a dedicated facility security team may be an exception, as some do have rifles stored in the building for use. And of course, for a true SHTF scenario, then yes, there will definitely be a need for a rifle. However, these are exceptions to the rule of everyday self-defense needs.
Please don’t take this as a slam against rifles. Rifles will always have a place in every American home, and I believe that every American should be skilled with a rifle. BUT, in everyday life, the pistol will remain the primary weapon to protect body, home, and fellow citizens, and your training should reflect that.
My $.02, feel free to disregard.