October 1, 2015: Self-Defense Rifle

In the early morning hours of September 8, an 18 year old came to the aid of his mother and fatally shot an intruder with his rifle. When the story first broke from St. Petersburg, the fact that he used a rifle was not part of the breaking news. I recall wondering how much trouble the 18 year old was going to be in if he was in possession of a handgun. It turns out he had a rifle and he knew how to use it.  

The physiological impact of the young man having to shot another human being in defense of himself and his mother is compounded by the fact that the intruder was his father. He did not know that at the time because the intruder was wearing a ski mask. The restraining order against John Heisler did not stop him from threatening his ex-girlfriend with a gun. The gun turned out to be a BB gun, but that fact is indeterminable in a high stress situation when dealing with an assailant.

I have demonstrated this in class by laying an M&P 9 next to the BB version and with only a couple of seconds to decide. There are not enough visual clues to differentiate them. Limited time and distance mandate that you interpret the intruder’s intent for what it is, an attack. I’m no lawyer and this is not legal advice.

In an interview after the shooting, Malachi Heisler is quoted as stating “He had his pistol and I had my rifle. A bullet is a bullet, one shot, you’re dead.” He succinctly stated the essence of an armed attacker/ armed defender scenario.

Details have not been released about the rifle that was used, type of ammunition, distance, angle, etc. What is known is that the young man stopped the threat to his family with one shot. There is no report of anyone else being hurt (no collateral damage).

In Florida, a person must be 18 years of age to purchase a long gun. It doesn’t matter what gauge of shotgun or what caliber of rifle. A .22LR is treated the same as a .338 Lapua Magnum.   Thus it is possible for Floridians to use a firearm for self-defense before they reach the age of 21 and can purchase a handgun. (http://www.fdle.state.fl.us/Content/Firearm-Purchase-Program/FAQs2.aspx)

In planning personal protection inside the home, consideration of a firearm usually focuses on handguns, semi-automatics versus revolvers. If a long gun is the firearm of choice, it is usually a short barreled security or tactical model shotgun with an 18” to 20” barrel. The shorter barrels improve maneuverability inside a home compared to longer barreled, and lower capacity hunting shotguns. Semi-automatic versus pump is also a consideration.

The arguments against using rifles for inside the home defense are: too much power, lack of maneuverability, and the manual of arms. Rifle ammunition will more easily over-penetrate when compared to a handgun caliber, this can lead to collateral damage.   Hunting rifles tend to have long barrels, fixed stocks, and bolt actions. Lever action rifles are usually more compact than traditional bolt action hunting rifles and could be considered for inside the home defense. In any case the scope used for hunting should be removed for self-defense inside the home.

There are proponents for using rifles for self-defense and they will make the valid point that a familiar firearm is an effective firearm. If considering a modern sporting rifle (MSR) or a traditional rifle used for hunting, the MSR has the advantage of maneuverability because of a shorter barrel, adjustable stock, and rails for attaching lights, lasers, and open sights.



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