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One of the great debates of the firearm community is the AR vs. AK debate. There is no denying that both platforms are excellent in their own right.
Both of them are the creation of legendary firearms designers (Eugene Stoner and Mikhail Kalashnikov). Although they have been modernized and updated, each platform has remained the standard infantry rifle platform of their respective countries since their adoption.
But for an American civilian looking for a home defense rifle, which of the two platforms is the better choice? Learn the pros and cons of the AR-15 and AK-47 platforms as home defense rifles, and find out which you should get.
Why a Rifle for Home Defense?
There are many reasons to opt for a rifle instead of a shotgun or a handgun for home defense.
Although the handgun is typically smaller and lighter, it tends to lack stopping power. The shotgun is the undisputed king of close quarters, but it typically features low capacity, and it may be challenging to reload under stress.
Rifles, especially light rifles and carbines chambered in intermediate calibers, are a popular choice for home defense and personal protection. They are easy to use and operate, produce low amounts of recoil, and standard magazines are higher-capacity than handguns and shotguns.
The rifle is not without its drawbacks; like all long guns, they can be heavy and challenging to maneuver comfortably through a close-quarters environment such as a typical home. Many gun owners believe that the rifle’s advantages far outweigh the potential disadvantages, and they can indeed serve as an excellent home defense weapon.
What the AR-15 and the AK-47 Offer
If you believe that a rifle is the best home defense gun for you but haven’t yet decided which model to purchase, you’ve likely come across “AR-15 vs. AK-47 for home defense” threads or discussions.
Before deciding which platform is the best for you, find out what each platform offers and what features you should expect.
The AR-15 platform comprises firearms based on Eugene Stoner’s original 1956 rifle, most well-known for its adoption by the U.S. military in 1964 as the M16 rifle.
Although today’s incarnations of both the military weapons and their civilian equivalents have gone through multiple iterations and modernization processes, the core mechanism of today’s average AR-15 is virtually unchanged from the 1956 design.
Today, rifles and carbines belonging to the AR-15 family are the most popular centerfire rifle platform in the United States.
AR-15s are well-known for their modularity, allowing end-users to install a myriad of modifications and attachments.
With the right parts, little to no tools, and a bit of time, AR-15 users can assemble virtually infinite combinations, making it relatively easy to build an AR for any situation, up to and including building entire rifles from parts kits.
Virtually every shooter category possible use ARs extensively: competition shooters, hunters, law enforcement, security, military, special forces. It is America’s rifle, and for a good reason.
A typical AR-15 features the following traits:
- Chambering: 5.56x45mm, which also allows the shooter to use .223 Remington rounds.
- Weight: Approximately 6.5 pounds with an empty magazine
- Barrel length: Varies, but the most common are 16” and 20”.
- Standard magazine capacity: 30 rounds, although a wide array of magazine capacities exist.
- Muzzle velocity: Around 2800 ft/s (when loaded with M855 or equivalent mil-spec 62-grain ball ammunition)
- Effective range: Around 500 yards (M855)
- Accuracy: Around 2 to 3 MOA (M855)
- Average cost: $700-$800. Prices vary considerably, with entry-level AR-15s starting at approximately $500 and very high-end rifles costing multiple thousands.
Check the full article on AR-15's maximum effective range.
The AK platform comprises firearms based on the original AK (popularly known as the AK-47), as designed by Soviet firearms engineer Mikhail Kalashnikov.
Like the AR-15 and military M16s, AK rifles have gone through multiple iterations, generations, and modernization processes.
Still, the core action remains unchanged: all AKs possess the legendarily reliable long-stroke piston system and relatively loose tolerances, allowing it to function adequately even under the most adverse conditions.
Although AKs are nominally highly durable and reliable, an individual AK rifle is only as good as the factory that produced it.
Many countries have produced AK rifles, besides Russia. Former Warsaw Pact satellite states and Soviet allies such as Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Poland, China, and many more have produced and exported AKs into the US civilian market. There are even a few American manufacturers, ensuring a 100% US-made build.
Unfortunately, quality control is far from being a guarantee, forcing civilians looking for an AK to do extensive research on which brands, factories, and models are the most trustworthy.
If you find a low-cost AK, beware! Specific manufacturers are renowned for long-standing critical quality control issues, and certain rifles may even be unsafe for the user to shoot.
A typical civilian AK features the following traits:
- Chambering: 7.62x39mm. Some models may be based on the later AK-74 and shoot 5.45x39mm. Others may be chambered in 5.56x45mm.
- Weight: Approximately 7.3 pounds with an empty magazine
- Barrel length: Typically 16.3”.
- Standard magazine capacity: 30 rounds
- Muzzle velocity: Around 2300 ft/s (when loaded with military surplus 123-grain ball ammunition)
- Effective range: Around 300 yards (123-grain ball)
- Accuracy: Varies considerably depending on build quality. Quality rifles can do 2 to 3 MOA (123-grain ball), although poorly-built rifles may be as inaccurate as 4-6 MOA out of the box.
- Average cost: Varies considerably depending on the manufacturer or importer and the build quality. An imported rifle made in Serbia, Bulgaria, or Romania costs $1,000-$1,200 on average.
- Due to import bans, Russian and Chinese models are more desirable and may run anywhere between $1,200 and $3,000.
- American-made AKs range from $700 to over $3,000, depending on the manufacturer.
Which Should I Use for Home Defense?
Assuming a quality rifle made by a reputable manufacturer, both rifle platforms are adequate for home defense. When comparing the AR-15 vs. the AK-47 for home defense, neither truly is a wrong choice. Both shoot intermediate cartridges with decades of proven effectiveness, both accept 30-round magazines, and both produce less recoil than a shotgun.
Provided you use quality ammunition and mind the dangers of overpenetration, both the AR and the AK will serve your home defense needs. The one deciding factor for most civilians is typically cost.
As things currently stand on the US civilian market, you need to spend at least $1,000 (typically more) if you want a quality AK-platform rifle. Comparatively, you can purchase a complete AR-15 for less than $800, and you can even save a little bit of money by building your own. Either option gives you a firearm that offers more accuracy and modularity than the AK.
If you are primarily concerned with getting value for your money, you should go for an AR-15. Dollar for dollar, AR-15s tend to offer better build quality, accuracy, and consistency.
Now that you've chosen AR-15, there's no better way to start things than learn how it works. If you want to know more about how AR-15 works, check out our complete beginner's guide.