Lever-Actions for Personal Defense

posted on March 26, 2018

Top: Mossberg 464 SPX

Let me make something very clear: I have nothing at all against AR-15s. They are fine rifles and many people enjoy owning and shooting them, which—in a free society—is just as it should be.

However, there are those who live in parts of the country where this type of rifle is banned or restricted. There are also those who simply don’t feel that a semi-automatic rifle meets their needs. Regardless, we know that a person who can get his hands on a long gun during a criminal attack has a far better chance of successfully dealing with the situation. Fortunately, there are other solutions, and one of them is to consider the lever-action carbine.

We almost always shoot best, and most effectively, with guns with which we are most familiar. A person who has grown up hunting with a lever-action doesn’t have to give conscious thought to how to get it into action quickly or get it loaded while keeping his eyes on more important stuff.

The same can be said for those who enjoy cowboy-action shooting. Competition in this discipline has already taught them to handle the carbine quickly and effectively. They can run the action while swinging to different targets and, in short, the carbine is an old, familiar friend. This comfortable familiarity allows them to manage the gun while their primary focus is on the threat and determining how to deal with it.

Besides being relatively short and easy to handle, the lever-action can also be topped off with ammunition quite easily if it is a Winchester, Marlin, or one of the Winchester copies. During any sort of lull in the fight, extra ammo can be fed into the gun’s magazine via the loading gate on the receiver. With a bit of practice, the reload can even be done without removing the carbine from the shoulder.

Winchester Model 1892

Marlin 1895 GSBL

Henry Big Boy

Browning BLR

Mossberg 464

A check of the gun companies shows about a dozen outfits that offer lever-action carbines and rifles. Besides the reliable .30-30, lever-actions are available in calibers from .38 Spl. right on up to .45-70, with the .308 and .358 somewhere in between. Carbines chambered for the various pistol cartridges might be a very good choice for a home-defense gun, while the more powerful cartridges are indicated if protecting your home also might include dealing with wild animals such as bears and mountain lions.

During the time that I was the county sheriff in Southwest Texas, I got my hands on a Browning Model 92 carbine in .44 Magnum (Model 92 owner's manual shown right). Wanting something that would be handy in and out of a car, I had my gunsmith cut the barrel and magazine tube to 16 inches. While he was at it, I had him also install a Williams Foolproof peep sight. This shorty carbine holds nine rounds of .44 Mag. 240 gr. hollow points, and is an altogether quick and accurate little proposition to shoot. Besides being a very effective defensive tool, this carbine was just the sort of thing that my citizens expected to see their Texas sheriff packing.

Once you have decided on which gun and caliber will fit your needs, have your gunsmith remove the conventional rear sight and, instead, mount a ghost-ring sight on the rear of the receiver. This setup allows for very quick target acquisition and is quite accurate.

In addition, it would be a good idea to obtain a butt cuff (Galco shown, Barranti Leather, and many other holster makers) with cartridge loops to hold extra ammunition. And, while you are at it, have a carrying sling installed for those times when you quickly need to get your hands free.

None other than Col. Jeff Cooper was a big fan of using a lever-action carbine for personal defense. He called it the Urban Assault Rifle and, while I don’t like the word “assault” applied to any defensive rifle, I understand his intention.

Just because you can’t own an AR-15 or you don’t feel comfortable with the platform doesn’t mean that you can’t be armed with a repeating rifle that will save your life in a pinch. Lever-action rifles and carbines were originally designed as fighting guns and they still serve that purpose very well.




Smith Wesson Csx Rifleman Review 4
Smith Wesson Csx Rifleman Review 4

Rifleman Review: Smith & Wesson CSX

Smith & Wesson's CSX is a different take on the micro-compact 9 mm Luger-chambered pistol concept, one that will appeal to fans of more traditionally built and styled handguns.

New For 2023: Ruger LC Charger

Ruger's expanded its 5.7x28 mm-chambered firearm lineup with its new LC Charger, a large-format pistol based on the company's earlier LC Carbine.

The Rifleman Report: Free Market Innovations

Our country’s innovations in arms design and manufacturing have been key to individual liberty from the earliest days of the Republic. In the modern era, the informal title “America’s rifle” has almost exclusively been applied to the AR-15—and for good reason.

Review: Weatherby Mark V Backcountry 2.0

Roy Weatherby’s timeless Mark V design seems to have only improved with age, even nearly 70 years after its introduction, it remains one of the strongest bolt-actions on the market.

Editor’s Choice: Burris Veracity PH

Burris spent years developing the technology behind its Veracity PH riflescope, and now that it’s out for 2023, the innovative Programmable Elevation Knob system promises to make it easier than ever to get on target at distance.

Rifleman Q&A: Restoring A Krag

I have a sporterized rifle found in my late grandfather’s basement made from what I have determined is a Norwegian Krag-Jorgensen. It has a date of 1924 stamped on it.


Get the best of American Rifleman delivered to your inbox.