By Miguel C. Gil
Does your handy .22 carbine make for a viable home defense tool?
This seems to be a fair question in view of the fact that they are arguably among the most common firearms in civilian hands. They can be found in the closets of both the casual shooter and the serious gun enthusiast alike.
For the purpose of this article, we will focus on semi-automatic rifles and carbines that chamber the highly-popular and easily attainable .22 Long Rifle or “.22 LR” ammunition. We will zero-in further only on those that feed from detachable box magazines.
In recent years, semi-auto rifles chambering the more powerful .22 Magnum (.22 WMR) have come out on the market—but the shooting public’s acceptance has been lukewarm. Also, rifles that shoot all three classic .22 rim fire cartridges (.22 Short, .22 Long and .22 LR) have continuously been made for over a century—but they feed from non-removable tubular magazines. We will leave these guns out of this article.
If home invasion is imminent, a semi-automatic AR15-pattern carbine (now euphemistically known as the Modern Sporting Rifle) will surely give the tactically-oriented home defender a confidence boost. Such a weapon, chambered for the 5.56 NATO, .300 BLK, 6.8 SPC or any of the newer AR cartridges, will make a formidable home defense implement indeed! But does the typical household really have such weapons?
The simple truth is, you cannot use what you do not have. And it so happens that many homes, even those not inhabited by gun enthusiasts, have some sort of .22 rifle or carbine. We know many people who inherited theirs from Grandpa! Our point being, many home owners already have them within arm’s reach, should they suddenly be needed to fight off an intruder.
Cheap and Plentiful
Most gun manufacturers offer at least one .22 semi-auto carbine. They are often marketed as entry level or “Youth” rifles, sometimes also referred to as “Plinkers” because of their suitability for recreational shooting assignments. They are often very affordable.
Companies like Ruger, Marlin and Armscor, owe their status as today’s most prolific gun makers to the market success of their .22 caliber carbines. Millions of such carbines have rolled out of the production lines of these three manufacturers alone over the last half century!
It can be argued that the classic Ruger 10/22 is the quintessential product in this genre. While Bill Ruger’s basic design was fairly simple and straightforward, the carbine’s popularity led to the introduction of a myriad of aftermarket parts and accessories. The 10/22, like the M-1911 pistol and the AR-15 rifle, is imminently upgradable! Perhaps the most sought-after aftermarket accessories are high-capacity magazines—some of which can take up to 50 rounds! The 10/22 has been rolling out of Ruger’s factory since 1964, and by all accounts, it remains just as popular today as it has ever been.
Attack of the Undead
A pet peeve for many, including this writer, the “Zombie” craze is annoyingly very much alive in the shooting community! “Prepping” for the day when hordes of the undead storm our communities seeking human flesh is weird enough as it is. The fact that this apparent stroke of marketing brilliance seems to be influencing the design of firearms and related accessories is even weirder!
But what makes a good anti-Zombie carbine? Many would opt for a fast-shooting semi-auto in .22 LR because ammunition is readily available—a plus when one has to forage for extra ammo in Zombie-infested city ruins! Also, the lack of recoil generated by the .22 makes it ideal for women and children survivors!
A good Zombie carbine must feed from high capacity detachable magazines because it is common knowledge that the walking dead attack by the dozens if not by the hundreds! Ammunition is light and so a lot of spares can be carried, allowing one to single-handedly engage and dispatch an army of the undead.
Red-dot optics is a must because everyone knows that only a head shot will put a Zombie down for good! Also, a gun-mounted light is necessary because reanimated corpses attack day and night. Of course, these accessories necessitate that your Zombie carbine have the picatinny rails on which to attach them.
But wait! The above-mentioned features seem just as desirable in a .22 carbine intended for protection against living, breathing home intruders!
Armscor, under its earlier name Squires Bingham Manila (Squibman), has been manufacturing .22 semi-auto carbines loosely patterned after the M-16 and AK-47 battle rifles since the 1970’s. Christened the M-1600 and the AK-22, they were by no means replicas, but they certainly had “the look!” Both carbines were initially billed as low-cost training rifles, although in truth, they bore little operational resemblance to the real deal. Nonetheless, either gun, with their 15-round magazines, would make serviceable home defense tools. The M-1600 and the AK-22 remain in the company’s product line to this day.
Today, major arms manufacturers like Carl Walther, Smith & Wesson, Mossberg, Sig Sauer, to name a few, produce .22 caliber carbines closely resembling popular military rifles and sub-machineguns. Some of their products are so like the original that they can be considered scaled-down versions. Because of this operational similarity, they can serve as low-cost trainers for troops as well as civilians seeking tactical training.
If home defense is the intended application, the prudent homeowner would be better served by today’s military-styled .22 carbines versus those designed for hunting or casual plinking. This is because they are already designed to accept tactically-enhancing optics, lights and high-capacity magazines.
The truth is, the .22 LR is not very powerful, so it is always a good idea to acquire accessories that can enhance your weapon’s efficiency in other areas. Naturally, absolute reliability is always king!
This brings us to the issue of stopping power. Or perhaps we should say the lack of it?!
There is no question that the .22 LR will prove rather anemic downrange. But we also have to consider that most home defense confrontations only take place within across-the-room distances. We are confident that at closer ranges the lowly .22 carbine can get the job done.
Selecting the right ammunition can significantly enhance the .22 LR’s terminal effectiveness. This means using modern Hyper Velocity ammunition. Fired from rifle-length barrels, they reportedly generate a velocity of 1,500+ fps—or around 300+ fps faster than the more common High Velocity ammo.
Leading the pack of today’s Hyper Velocity .22 LR fodder are the CCI Stinger and the Remington Yellow Jacket. Both products feature proprietary hollow-point projectiles that were designed to violently expand at supersonic velocities. This can undoubtedly cause serious damage to soft tissue while mitigating penetration.
Because Hyper Velocity ammo uses projectiles that are substantially lighter than those used in High Velocity and Standard Velocity ammo, they probably loose speed and energy quicker. But that is immaterial at close quarters. Somewhat limiting the range and penetration of ammunition that may be used for residential defense could even be preferable.
It should be noted that the .22 LR completely burns out its propellant powder after passing through 12 to 14 inches of barrel, according to ballistics laboratory testing. This is all the rifling needed to make the .22 LR reach optimum velocity. When fired from the shorter barrel of a handgun, peak velocity cannot be attained. When fired from old school rifles with 22 to 24-inch barrels, that extra rifling could actually produce a drag effect that may also cause the bullet to slow down.
What this tells us is that the 16 to 18 inches of barrel found in today’s popular .22 semi-auto carbines will probably produce the best ballistic results.
The .22 caliber carbine has a lot going for it in jurisdictions that tolerate but do not encourage civilian gun ownership. In the Philippines today, police regulators are clearly discouraging (to say the least) the average law-abiding citizen from purchasing .223 and .308 chambered semi-auto rifles, even if there are no legal impediments to such purchases! Those seeking to buy a “low powered” .22 caliber are not likely to be met with such bureaucratic oppression. Of course, this is not to say that Filipinos and other free men of this world should not vigorously assert their right to acquire any legally obtainable firearm that they deem appropriate for their defensive, recreational and sporting needs!
Yes, we would prefer a bigger gun should we need to face violent intruders. But we will always maintain that every home must have at least one very reliable general-purpose .22 LR semi-auto carbine. And every member of the family who is old enough and responsible enough to shoot must be trained in the proper operation of this particular weapon!
Let us remember that proper mindset coupled with good marksmanship can compensate for the small caliber—but a big caliber can never make up for a loser attitude and poor shooting!!