After the high-profile self-defense case in Oklahoma this week (see our piece on it, here: https://www.gunsamerica.com/blog/multiple-teen-burglars-shot-dead-by-homeowners-son-with-ar-15/), in which the homeowner used an AR-15 to defend himself, the question again arises … should we be worried about shoot through inside of our homes, and are pistols or shotguns a better choice than rifles? Basically, is a 5.56mm AR too much for home defense, or is it the right choice?
Among the many pieces of “common wisdom,” a certain segment of the shooting community believes that a 5.56 round will penetrate less against interior walls than a pistol. The belief is that 5.56 is moving so fast, it will start to fragment as soon as it hits drywall. Other people think this is a terrible belief, and pistols will stop sooner since they are moving so much slower. Still, others think a shotgun is the weapon of choice and offers the best trade-off of lethal force, and keeping your own people safe in case of a miss. So what is the correct answer? The truth is I have no idea. I am not sure I buy the rifle theory because 5.56 is a much more reliable penetrator on vehicles than any pistol. So there is only one thing to do.
For our test, we were concerned with interior walls only. Exterior walls offer so many varieties of construction it would be very difficult to give them a fair assessment. A brick home may stop more bullets than aluminum siding, and it may not. Then we need fake adobe, cedar siding, cinder blocks, and a construction crew. Fortunately, interior walls are fairly predictable. Our set up was for drywall only, for a couple of reasons. You may ask what happens if I hit 2×4, electrical boxes, or any of the other stuff that our sheetrock actually hides. My thought on this is that we are the good guys, we don’t blind fire through walls generally speaking. Sheetrock alone offers our worst case scenario, we missed and now something on the other side of that is in the line of fire. I left insulation out of the equation for ease of cleanup at my shooting range and the fact it would likely make little difference in stopping the round.
Our sheetrock box had a maximum stack of 11 half-inch sheets, which represents a lot more walls than most of our homes have. They were spaced using 2x4s turned the long direction, consistent with construction. I made my sheets 18 inches square because bullets do unpredictable things when they hit obstacles. In other testing, I have seen some very strange deflections.
Let’s begin with what I personally think is the worst choice. I have been pretty vocal in that I generally think of shotguns as a bad choice in home defense. To each his own, but it’s not my weapon of choice. For our test, I only used one shotgun round, a Winchester turkey load. What I discovered is that if you think shotguns do less on interior walls, you are mistaken. The turkey load smoked through seven sheets without stopping for a sandwich. We finally started getting some lone pellets stuck in the sheet rock on sheet six, but the majority of the load stayed together and stayed moving long past our last sheet.
Rifle vs. Pistol
With shotgun out of the mix, let’s look at a rifle versus a pistol in a home. I was pretty surprised by how this test went. I wish I had some magical answer for you, but 11 sheets weren’t enough to stop a mouse fart it turned out. Pistol rounds went 11 deep and out the back, both hardball and hollow points. Both 9mm and 45 ACP. Rifle rounds did the same. The rifle rounds in both 5.56 and 300 AAC started tumbling around the sixth sheet, but they still flew straight through. For 300, that includes both subsonic and supersonic. I tested two hunting-style rounds for the 5.56mm, Federal Power-Shok 64 grain soft points, and Hornady VMax 53 grain. Both of these yielded impressive fragmenting within four sheets, but the lead core still flew straight through the back of the stack. Even frangible ammunition in both 5.56 and .40 S&W, which I had high hopes for, didn’t miss a beat on its way through the stack.
The Meat of the Matter
Since we are talking about home defense, I wanted to know the answer on over penetration as it relates to a shoot through as well. There is no perfect answer on replicating a bad guy, to include ballistics gel. But for this testing, I wanted to at least give us the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say a perfect scenario, shooting into the upper torso, and we make every shot a hit. To replicate this, I used a rack of baby back ribs with a pork roast behind it. Not perfect, but the best we are going to do for bad guy simulation out of the grocery store. In retrospect, I would have put another rack of ribs in the back, but that one is on me.
This part needs some more testing, but I was happy with our initial results. I chose the Sig 147 grain V Crown hollow point as the pistol round. It achieved full meat penetration (insert joke here) and stopped in the fourth sheet of drywall. It actually left an impression on the paper of the fourth sheet, which was pretty cool.
The big surprise of the day was the Hornady 53 grain VMax. This is a varmint-specific round, which I thought might lead to less drywall penetration in the first place. It is designed to open up in targets the size of prairie dogs, which is a pretty impressive feat. It penetrated all 11 sheets in the first test, just like everything else. But when some tissue was introduced, prepare to defend your morale! First off, the wound channel through the meat stack was way impressive. It actually hit so hard, it slammed the pork roast through the first sheet of drywall. And while we didn’t find the bullet, it only penetrated the first 2 layers of drywall. The 3rd sheet was unharmed, which to me is a damn fine result. This it also a pretty good indicator that our bullet used all its energy in the bad guy, which is what we want. This particular round needs some more lethality study since it was built for varmints, to make sure it’s a good round for defense. But initial impressions are that it is a winner.
So, what is the overall takeaway? So far, I am going with a rifle, loaded with VMax. And it’s easier said than done, but don’t miss in your house. Oh, and don’t ever miss, anywhere. Easy enough, right?