Down at the range, I see a lot of AR-15 and other defensive carbines with all sorts of stuff on them. Like, A LOT of stuff.
All this stuff on the upper receiver and forend makes the rifle (or pistol) heavy and difficult to handle. Also… You probably don’t need all of that stuff on your defensive gun.
I have a theory for why I see so many people with so much stuff on their gun. And—as you probably expected—there’s a way to set up your rifle that I think is best for civilian defense.
Here’s my theory and what to do instead.
Why People Put Too Much Gear On Their Guns
If I had a dollar for every video or article with a headline like, “How a Navy SEAL sets up his rifle” or “Green Beret talks rifle setups,” and so on.
Most of the time, the expert is an operator who does indeed know what they’re talking about. The problem isn’t ignorance.
The problem is that they almost always talk about how they have (or had) their rifle setup for operating as a member of a military team.
Their rifle setup often involves gear like this:
- An optic
- A laser
- An infrared laser
- An infrared illuminator
- A light
- Some sort of backup sights
- Magnification (either a magnifier or magnified optic)
- Medical gear strapped to the carbine
Sometimes there are other attachments. And, if you’re operating as part of a conventional or special operations team, you probably need all of that equipment.
But the reality is that 99.9% of us out here in civilian land are not operators. And we don’t operate. Therefore, we don’t need our guns to be set up for doing operations.
We don’t need to paint targets for air strikes. Civilians don’t wear night vision whenever they go out at night. And typical defensive shooting distances are much shorter than most military engagement distances.
In short, civilians just don’t need that much gear on their gun. The demands of civilian defensive gun use are simply different than the demands of military operation.
Here’s all you need for a good civilian defensive carbine setup:
How to Set Up a Civilian Defensive Rifle
Another big difference between a civilian carbine and a military carbine is who paid for all the stuff on the gun.
Civilians have to buy all their own stuff. So I’ll put these recommendations in order of importance. That way you can get the most valuable stuff first, if your budget only allows for one purchase at a time.
As a civilian, you MUST be able to see your target and identify it before you start shooting. Otherwise you might shoot somebody who you really didn’t want to shoot. And that could turn into a legal catastrophe.
Self-defense incidents can occur at night. And you need to be able to see what you’re shooting at, even in the dark hours. A light solves that problem for you.
If you want proven reliability and performance, the SureFire Mini Scout is an excellent long gun light. It’s a bit pricey, though.
If you need something more cost efficient, the Streamlight PROTAC Rail Mount 2 is durable enough for a civilian carbine. And it’s impressively bright.
Either way, it’s super difficult to shoot a carbine one-handed (it’s possible. But it sucks). So a rail-mounted light is necessary.
A Sighting System
It’s totally reasonable to say that sights are more important than a light. But I had to put one of them first. And you can shoot a carbine without sights, if you need. You cannot engage without seeing your target, though.
So I put the light first, even though I don’t recommend using a rifle without some sort of sighting system. Whether you use an optic or iron sights, you need some sort of sighting system on your rifle.
If you feel most comfortable with primary and backup sights, that’s totally reasonable.
However, modern, quality optics are reliable and have enough battery life that you can use an optic without backup sights, and probably never have an issue. As long as you have some sort of sights on your rifle, you’ll be okay.
I already mentioned that going without sights isn’t really a viable option. But there’s another option which isn’t great either:
A magnified optic or an optic with a magnifier.
I understand why people are compelled to put magnification on their rifles. It’s an effort to build a rifle that’s capable of doing everything from shooting inside a house to engaging at long distances.
However, the most likely scenario in civilian defense is that you’ll be engaging at short ranges, roughly talking distance. At that distance, the magnification is not helpful.
It’s better to use some sort of unmagnified sighting system that works best for quick, intuitive shooting.
Something like the Holosun HS503CU Micro Red Dot Sight works great on a defensive rifle. The Vortex Optics Sparc AR II is an excellent option if you have a more limited budget. If you have the budget to pay for proven reliability, there’s always the EOTech holographic sights.
If you only trust metal sights, the Samson Manufacturing Flip-Up Sights are relatively affordable and they’re solid sights.
No matter what you choose, adding magnification to your rifle makes it heavier, harder to handle, and you most likely will never need to use it for civilian defense.
One last note for clarity: this advice applies strictly to defensive rifles. Competition and recreational rifles might be better with a magnified optic.
Other than that, though, save yourself money and weight. Just get a standard 1x optic or iron sights.
A sling is another piece of gear that many regard as a necessity for using a long gun for defense. But, again, I had to put these things in some order. And I used the same logic to place the sling at number three: you could use a carbine for defense without a sling, it’s just a bad idea.
Regardless of how I sorted everything out, a sling is super handy for just carrying your carbine, if you need to walk around with it. However, a sling does something else that’s very important for self-defense: it helps you retain your carbine if somebody tries to take it from you.
If your carbine is properly slung, you don’t need to have your hands on your rifle to retain it. It’s tied to your body. You may want to keep your hands on the gun, depending on the situation. But a sling gives you more options for using your hands without dropping your long gun.
There are a ton of sling options out there. But the Blue Force Gear Vickers 2-to-1 Sling is a solid sling which works well in most situations. The Magpul MS4 Multi-Mission Sling is a more affordable option that works just as well.
Use any sling you want, though. As long as you have a sling, you’re cool.
As far as stuff that you need to attach to your rifle, that’s all you really need. If you have these three things on your defensive carbine, it’s good enough for civilian work.
However, there are a few things that are often added to military rifles, which you could put on your defensive rifle. And you might actually use them. Feel free to throw these things on your rifle, if you’ve met the minimum requirements:
A tourniquet. It’s fairly common for military team members to strap a tourniquet to their rifle buttstocks. If you have to use your rifle to defend yourself, you may get injured during the fight. A tourniquet can improve your survivability. There’s nothing wrong with having one.
However, you can also keep your tourniquet somewhere near your rifle, and you’ll still probably have access to it when you need it.
A spare magazine. It’s unlikely that you’ll need to reload during a self-defense incident, especially if you have a 30-round magazine. But better to have it and not need it, as they say.
Some people like to use magazine couplers or fix a spare magazine to their rifle buttstock. Just like the tourniquet on the buttstock, there’s nothing wrong with these magazine carrying options. But they do add some bulk to your carbine. And you’ll most likely have access to your spare magazine if you simply keep it close to your defensive rifle.
Some sling management. Since you have a sling on your rifle, there’s nothing wrong with also having some way to stow said sling. Most operators use sling stowage to make it easier to run their rifles inside vehicles and other confined spaces.
For a civilian defensive rifle, good sling management can make it easier to deploy your sling and get your rifle slung when you retrieve it from staging. It might not be necessary, but faster sling deployment is a good thing.
Ultimately, the configuration for a civilian defensive rifle is much simpler than the ideal military setup.
If you don’t need all the gear for running military operations, don’t put all that stuff on your rifle. You’ll end up with a carbine that’s much easier to handle. And you’ll be more likely to deploy it successfully, if you ever need it.