Firearm Skills

Guns of ISG: Your Secondary Weapon, the Rifle

There's a common reference with firearms; your 'primary and secondary', meaning your rifle and pistol. We believe that if you're not at war, this is backwards.

December 30, 2019
ISG Team


Secondary Weapons up and runnin'.

If you've found yourself at ISG, whether this is your first article or you've been here a while, you probably already believe one of our core problems:

Bad things happen to good people without explanation.

This is a fact of life, as normal as the sun rising and setting, and because of it we believe that people need to build a framework to help them with their personal protection. In our view, that goes something like this:

  1. Mental - having good judgment, knowing how to apply awareness, and understanding human behavior.
  2. Physical - being physically fit, resilient, and able to endure hardship.
  3. Tactical - having the knowledge to not only know how to understand tactics, but how to adapt things such as low-light tactics to the citizen's sphere of violence.
  4. Technical - having the hands on experience and proficiency to always be an asset - no matter the situation.

As such, we don't just strive to be really fast in demonstrating skills with guns. We expect a deeper understanding, and a cycle of skill development and skill verification (through force on force or real world encounters) to ensure we're continually evolving. So, why is this important? 

Because it's out of step with most of the self-protection industry.

Whether on social media or war-sport, it's ubiquitous to see guys wearing chest rigs, pistol belts in duty rigs, and sporting long arms. All in support of the old adage:

"The pistol is to fight your way to the rifle you never should have laid down".

That brings us to our point:

"The pistol is not only sufficient for the citizen, it's ideal."

The rifle and chest rig are out of place in daily life. Get good with them, sure. You absolutely should... but your primary focus should be on working that pistol.

Why Rifles then?

While the vast majority of emergencies we run in to during normal times demand the 1st Line/EDC approach to meet the challenges of the Type 1 Emergency (Short duration, high intensity), but we have two very important caveats that will factor in to this...

Understanding Emergencies

To make sure we're on common footing, let's briefly define our "web" of situations. In Understanding Emergencies (the backbone of the ISG philosophy), we can say that violent emergencies occur on a few different timelines:

Type 0: This is the condition at which nothing has happened, but it could. A grudge by a fired employee, sectarian violence, political violence, etc. You may or may not have some advanced warning, but in general, we can say it doesn't matter - in the civilian world your ability to prepare for this by carrying around a longarm is effectively 0 if you're not at home.

Type 1: The type one situation is one of immediate, direct threat to your life that occurs on a timeline of seconds to a few hours. These include home break ins, robbery or assault, shootings, active shooters, etc. They also include non-violent emergencies, such as car wrecks, drowning, fires, etc. This is the handgun's domain - and the vast majority of situations on our "high risk/probability" matrix. Because these kinds of events statistically happen once every few seconds or minutes, we should consider the handgun the primary tool of defense - the pistol is a bridge between helplessness and a fighting chance.

Type 2: The type two disaster is a situation that generally compromises your access to necessary resources, but doesn't directly *target* you - it's a broader emergency impacting a local area or region on a timeline of days to weeks. The LA riots, Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, Superstorm Sandy, etc are all examples of the Type II. It's important to note that during these periods, function of law enforcement and EMS may be overwhelmed, and therefore instances of Type I situations increase. This is where the longarm comes into play - you know the situation's tense and could turn violent, and have time to prepare for it. The Type II happens a few times a year, and they're highly regional. With events like riots, there's often political lead in and areas that are known to be affected, giving us a large degree of control on how we interact with these situations. Because they're relatively uncommon, it's good to have a rifle and be proficient with it, just in case, but it's unlikely to really make a major difference.

Type 3: Where the Type 2 leaves off, the Type 3 picks up. It's the event that disrupts normal life for an indefinite period of time, often due to circumstances that have nothing to do with the citizen and their everyday life. Civil wars, economic collapse, resource scarcity on a national level, or larger natural disasters such as super-volcanos or meteor strikes would all be Type 3 emergencies. The biggest difference between the 2 and 3 is that the Type 3 occurs on an indefinite timeline. There's no end in sight, and as such, they require all the attention of our previous emergencies, with the requirement that you find a way to provide for yourself without infrastructure.

With this out of the way, let's return to "why rifles?"

The Defensive Rifle

Options. You'll hear us say it often: Be able to grab any one and run it like you own it.

For most of my adult life, the rifle has been taught as an offensive tool; bleed-over from the nearly two decades of wars and the men who fought in them. While knowing the tactics involved in offense is important, the rifle's role in defense has been all but eclipsed by bros in tactical gear doing 'combat carbine' courses during a weekend of tactical entertrainement.

To make matters worse, the overcorrection from the "that doesn't make sense" crowd has decided to pick up paring knives and sharpened screwdrivers as an alternative to the SOF-led, military-themed training world. We've written extensively on why context and relevance are crucial in your decision making, so let's talk about the rifle and why you absolutely should have one, and how we should approach learning on it.

Behind door number 1 is the obvious: Rifles are used frequently in defensive roles. From everyone's favorite Roof Koreans, to situations in which people have used AR15s or AK47s to repel multiple people during violent home invasions, rifles have played an important role in defense - even outside of emergencies. As more and more people have embraced the 'general purpose rifle', such as AR15s, more of them are being used in responding to crime and active shooters, such as Stephen Willeford, who stopped an active shooter by engaging him in a gunfight, which broke the attack.

Still, in an era in which rifles - especially do-all, military pattern rifles - are associated with 'bad guys and SWAT' among the general population, there are risks inherent to running around with one in your vehicle or grabbing it in an emergency.

Rifles for Home Defense

Grabbing a rifle during a home invasion has some distinct benefits; not only is it more accurate and stable than a pistol, but you can easily attach a flashlight for target identification, or optics that improve your ability to use the rifle during low light. Often, we see home invasions involve multiple attackers, with 3-5 being pretty normal. While in most cases gunfire sends the invaders scattering, statistics are against you making good hits, under pressure, in low light, against other armed people. Police often miss between 70-80% of the shots they fire in engagements. If you make one hit for every 8 rounds you have, where does that leave you with your pistol? 

Obviously, train more, work force on force, and inoculate yourself against stress through experience if you're able, but don't undersell the importance of being able to stay in a fight.

It's not all good news for the home defense rifle, though.

While over-penetration (the round passing through the intended target or wall) is often discussed as a negative that could injure innocent others, it's not easy to find a documented case of this happening in a civil defensive encounter. However, the risk is huge. As Tom Givens says, there is "liability attached to every bullet", and part of our goal is to minimize the effects of a situation. It doesn't do much good to save your own life if you fire at an angle that strikes your own family members or a neighbor, which lands you in prison leading a pointless existence of guilt and shame.

While everyone has an opinion on this, we'll say the following:

This battle is won in advance through good tactics. Think through where your best defensive spots are in your home, and don't fall victim to the mentality that you need to advance and destroy anyone who breaks into your home. Not only is that a recipe for a "negative outcome", as dubbed by Claude Werner, but by having a drill that involves studying the angles and spaces involved will allow you to consider where bullets are likely to travel *before* you have to fire them. In crowded urban spaces, this may yield an answer of "rifles are too risky." It may require paying special attention to the ammunition you use. Either way, have a plan that secures your family and creates a barrier for invaders.


  1. Higher capacity as an option
  2. Greater control and accuracy
  3. Ability to mount flashlights for target identification
  4. Ability to add optics that allow greater advantages in any lighting


  1. Risk of rounds passing through attackers or walls, creating a risk to neighbors or family above or below
  2. Requires the use of both hands
Truck Guns

One of the next most common places we see rifles is in the back of a vehicle. Given that being caught in an attack while outside the home is pretty rare, the "truck gun" requires some special consideration. Not only is it important how and where you store it in your vehicle, but outside the home, you're not on your own turf. There will be other people who will be poor witnesses. That rifle is going to stand out, and it really won't matter to SWAT or other citizens if it is a AR or something else... all they will know is that there's a person with a rifle and they don't know who you are.

A few years back, the truck gun seemed like a pretty terrible idea, but when a shooter open fired at Louie's Grill in OKC, several people in the ISGOK network were close enough to hear the shots and be affected by the situation. In the end, the shooter was taken down by two men who were at the establishment who recovered weapons from their vehicles.

While the topic can get complicated fast, the Cliff's Notes version goes something like this: Gun free zones make people leave their guns in their cars, which makes them far more likely to be stolen than used in a self-defense situation. As we've discussed in our article on the NPE, give some thoughts to the relative risks.


  1. Having a rifle accessible can extend your effective range if you're met by an active shooter in a public space


  1. Stands out to responders and witnesses as a 'target identifier'
  2. Difficult to maneuver in crowded spaces
  3. More likely to be stolen than used in a self-defense situation at present.

Our final word on vehicle guns?

If you've got rifles while you're out and about, you should probably have friends and security. If you can't justify having someone stay with the car, there's probably not enough of a threat to justify a truck gun.

Rifles in Emergencies
On your own, throttle control is crucial. Time and options.

One of our common points about emergencies is that within the Type 2, the instances of embedded Type 1's increases. That could mean that water over the roadway sweeps you off into some murky floodwater, or it could mean that resource scarcity sends looters to your door to try their luck. Either way, if you're forced to defend your neighborhood during a situation like this, the rifle is the best tool for the job, bar none.

With the longer engagement range and higher capacity, rifles are a swift deterrent when large groups take to the streets. As we saw in the Ferguson Riots, militia actually did have a tranquilizing effect by adding a very real threat of injury for misstep. If we remove all the political elements from the conversation (the white dudes turning a predominately black area into their stomping grounds, militias being largely a bunch of dunces, etc), the fact remains: like the Bundy Ranch Standoff, Roof Koreans during the LA Riots, and the Watts Riots, armed people holding it down make people give consideration to cause and effect, regardless of whether or not we like their cause.

Training with Rifles

We often propose unpopular alternatives to whatever the vogue Instafame crowd is doing, and here's where we say it:

Ditch your plate carriers and multicam. Seriously. Ditch the Punisher patches, or the silly morale stuff. This isn't a comedy club, it's a situation in which you're going to need to consider a few things:

  1. The situation could flash over and cause death. Period. It's lethally serious. If you've got a rifle, you need to be wired tight and on the clock. Not taking selfies, not playing dress up, but paying attention and holding up your end. Often as not, looking serious is enough to send people elsewhere, and in a crisis, that's a good reputation to have.
  2. Stay low key. If you have to move, walking down an urban street strapped up with ammunition on your own or with a small group is just going to make you a target. If you've got a rifle, no one will see you and think "ah, good deal.  A friendo." You'll be suspect and a target until you dislodge the burden of proof that you're not a threat.
  3. Stop saying "train how you fight", and start exercising. The only things that really matter when you grab that rifle is "can you run?" and "Can you hit targets out to 300m?" If you're spending all your carbine time at 25 yards and feeling cool, stop. That's like swimming in the kiddy pool and thinking you're Michael Phelps. This might mean *gasp* spending time zeroing that carbine.
  4. If you're going to go with a warbelt or chest rig, keep in mind that's going to force you into being somewhat overt. A belt pouch for a spare magazine can be worn with your EDC gear, can covered with a regular shirt, and interfaces seamlessly with a backpack and EDC gear. If you still want a chest rig or war belt, get something low profile that can be hidden and train from concealment. If you have a bag for sustainment, train to shoot while wearing it. It will very likely be more important than more ammunition, if you've packed it smart. Discretion and not getting shot are more important than valor and shooting people.
  5. Rifle rounds go a long way if you do your job. Most rifle fire is noise-making. Pistol rounds don't go far. An according plan might be have ammunition and mags stashed in places you might end up if there is ever a significant situation that causes you to get moving.
  6. Remember if you fire that rifle, there's a good chance someone will fire back. If it's a lot of someones, you might not like the result. Don't think like an infantrymen during a collapse... unless you are one.

When you get out on the range, do so under your load. Do sprints. Work from 3 yards out to 300 yards, and make sure you confirm your zero periodically. Take Urban Defense with Paul Howe. Study the layout of your home so that you can determine the best points to defend your family from. Work with others when you train on the rifle, if at all possible. Small teams of rifles used in defensive roles are extremely effective, and can go a long way towards holding down your plot against opportunists, looters, or maniacs.

The rifle isn't your every day tool, but it is necessary and has a place... American history is rife with examples, as seen above.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking the rifle is all shoot, though. The ability to move and communicate with others are critical elements that deserve your time.

The Final Question

Heavyweight boxer Amos Lincoln, aka Big Train, guards the family drug store during rioting in the Watts area of Los Angeles, 1965. (Credit: Express/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Inevitably, all this leads to the question of "which rifle?"

The answer is, unenthusiastically, the one you've got. The military pattern rifles such as the AR and AK are preferable, and argued to death. Both have their pros and cons, and both deserve their own articles discussing how to get the most out of them. With that said, a guy who knows his dope with an SKS is worth ten guys with AR's they never shoot or zero.

Don't get up caught in what you need to buy, unless it's training. Get good enough that you can identify the strengths and weaknesses on your own, and make your own determination.

So, we'll say the following: Not all rifles are built the same. Buy quality, cry one time.

Weigh the benefits of lower maintenance vs the availability of parts. Weight the pros and cons of having slightly more barrier penetration vs having a flatter-shooting cartridge. Those are the debates that occupy maybe 10% of the discussion, but make up 80% of the important considerations. Avoid trends like the "Pistol Brace" rifles, which could backfire on you with a ATF letter written at whim. It's fun to outsmart the law, but eventually the law catches on.

The rifle is an important tool that does nearly everything well. At present, you're going to freak people out if you carry one around, so keep smart, plan around reality, and be cool.


ISG Team

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