Why “High Powered” 5.56 NATO/.223 AR-15 Ammo is Safer For Home Defense (FBI overpenetration testing)


If you listen to the mainstream media, then the standard 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington cartridges the AR-15 shoots are “high powered assault weapon” rounds that have no place in civilian hands.

(I hope you are catching the sarcasm as I’m pouring it on)

Yet, as we’ve discussed previously, the AR-15 is a GREAT choice for Home Defense.


And what’s even more amazing, is that it may be one of the “safest” bullets you can shoot from a gun in a home when it comes to overpenetration concerns.

Home Defense and The Risks of Over-Penetration

The truth is that almost everyone, once they start thinking about home defense, starts to think about overpenetration.

In other words: what if I miss the bad guy? Where will the bullet go? Is it going to go through a wall and hit other members of my family?

That’s what they call “over penetration”.

The truth is: almost any round that will penetrate deeply enough to hit vital organs in the human body (and stop an attacker) will penetrate typical interior home walls.

That’s because most walls are made up of little more than a couple 2×4 wood studs and drywall on each side. And maybe some insulation depending on the part of the country.

Although this fact remains, that ANY adequate self-defense round will penetrate a wall because you need it to penetrate human flesh, we still want to limit our penetration as much as possible.

Shotgun VS Pistol VS Rifle Home Defense Penetration

Your typical choices for home defense weapons are a pistol, the shotgun, or a rifle.

Now, when most people think of overpenetration risks they assume that pistol bullets would penetrate less than the rifle or shotgun.

That’s actually dead wrong.

Pistol bullets consistently penetrate the most.

Shotgun is next.

And rifles, at least the so-called “high powered assault weapon” AR-15 in 5.56 NATO/.223 Rem penetrates the LEAST.

FBI and Independent Testing Has Consistently Shown .223/5.56 NATO Fired From AR-15’s Do Not Over Penetrate More Than Pistol/Shotgun

First up is this older article by R.K. Taubert, a retired FBI agent with over 20 years experience who conducted extensive counter-terrorism and weapons research while with the Bureau.

To quote Mr Taubert, (emphasis mine) ” … As a result of renewed law enforcement interest in the .223 round and in the newer weapons systems developed around it, the FBI recently subjected several various .223 caliber projectiles to 13 different ballistic tests and compared their performance to that of SMG-fired hollow point pistol bullets in 9mm, 10mm, and .40 S&W calibers.

“Bottom Line: In every test, with the exception of soft body armor, which none of the SMG fired rounds defeated, the .223 penetrated less on average than any of the pistol bullets.”


And again on this page, there is testing by Gunsite Training Center Staff which found in a comparison of handgun calibers (9mm, .40 S&W, .22 LR, .45 ACP), and rifle caliber .223 (5.56) that:

“The only calibers which did NOT exit the “house” were .223 (5.56) soft point and hollow point loaded bullets.”


Then there are the “Box O’ Truth” tests with great pictures where they found, “… Common pistol rounds easily penetrated all 4 walls spaced out at room distances … The 12 gauge shotgun went through 4 walls like they were not there … The 5.56 rounds deviated greatly from the original flight path once they started tumbling. This occurred after the second wall.”


And this drywall testing concluded, “Moving away from rifle rounds takes us from fascinating discoveries into the realm of mythbusting. Handgun rounds, for instance, may penetrate less than rifle rounds–but only if the rifle rounds in question are full-power ball ammo. The relatively slow speed and heavy weight of handgun bullets make them a poor choice for limiting interior wall penetration, which is why professional door-kicker types have abandoned pistol-caliber submachineguns in favor of .223 carbines.


And this interesting test at outdoorub found “The pistol rounds were seemingly unaffected by the drywall and/or wood barriers. There was no observable deviation or fragmentation of the 9mm projectiles. You’d be safe counting on a pistol round to keep going, and going, and going … Even though the .223 rounds start with a lot more energy, they tend to lose it quickly when encountering the barriers in this test … Moral of the story? Don’t trust the mainstream media. Those high-powered, so called “assault weapons” may be safer than your average pistol for inside-the-home defense.”

(NOTE: many of the rounds tested at outdoohub are found on the “approved list” of AR-15 self-defense ammo here.)

When It Comes To Home Defense, The AR-15 Rifle Ammo Is Less Likely To Over-Penetrate

The truth is that AR-15 ammo is less likely to overpenetrate. Yet it is highly effective at stopping threats. Sounds like a good choice for Home Defense to me.

Please Note: that all this “rifle vs shotgun vs pistol” testing is comparing the AR-15 in standard 5.56/.223 to the pistols and shotguns …

That means that “other rifles” such as AK-47’s in 7.62×39, .308 hunting rifles or AR-10 style semi-autos, etc are not included in these tests. THOSE rifle bullets would most likely penetrate much, much further because they are bigger, heavier bullets (though I’m not aware of much actual testing).

The bottom line to remember in all of this though is to still be aware of your target and what is around/beyond it because ALL bullets that will penetrate deep enough to stop an attacker will still penetrate at least one interior wall. And even a bullet, like the .223 that tends to lose steam and deviate after a wall or two can still be deadly to your family/innocents.

Check out these other articles for more on excellent performing 5.56 NATO/.223 ammo:

– The “Approved List” Of 5.56 NATO/.223 Rem Self-Defense/Duty Ammo

– The Best Home Defense Ammo For Your AR-15?

Anyways, I hope this clears up some misconceptions when it comes to choosing home defense ammo (or a gun) that will be least likely to penetrate.

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Caleb Lee is the #1 best-selling author of "Concealed Carry 101" and founder of PreparedGunOwners.com. He is a civilian (no law enforcement or military experience) who shares information about self-defense and becoming more self-reliant. He's a 1st degree black belt in Taekwondo, NRA Certified Basic Pistol & Personal Protection Inside The Home Instructor, Concealed Carry Academy Instructor certified & also a graduate of the Rangermaster firearms instructor course. He's also the author of numerous online courses including the UndergroundAssaultRifle.com course.


  1. My favorite home defends gun is a 28 gauge shot gun or a 12 gauge pump shotgun. The sound
    of a round being racked is enough to make all but the most ignorant depart for an easier
    target. I also have pistols and rifles of various calibers that are quite effective if the necessity
    should arise, but they are not first choice. I would rather have the criminal depart my property
    than have to have a dead one removed by the police.
    As far as the moronic mindless and ignorant Democrat Socialist liberals are concerned they
    are scared out of their pants by a POP Tart pistol full of jam. They make statements that
    are so ignorant it makes you fear for their safety if they have a fork, spoon or heaven forbid
    a knife in their hands, they are liable to run thru the house with a pair of round tip sissors
    and harm themselves or worse a sharp stick.

  2. I live in NYS (it may be intentional or not), but it is illegal to now purchase the less-penetrating SA mag-fed “most popular rifle now sold.” If only politicians would get some facts, instead of hysteria, to make their legislation, I’d be able to sell and leave this fear-driven state.

  3. FBI data shows that the number of people killed in 2014 by rifles (including semi-auto – ?assault weapons? – was 278. Knives were used to kill 1576 or 5 times the number killed by rifles. 3565 died from drowning (CDC). Yet they would love to ban ?assault weapons?. There are probably over 50,000,000 semi-automatic rifles owned by law biding citizens in this country and we are suppose to give them up because 278 people were killed?????????? Yet they refuse to accept the fact that over 2,000,000 times a year guns are used in self defense.

  4. ASSAULT WEAPON ! OOOOOOOO ! SCARY ! Quick ! Get under the bed !

    Another liberal , progressive, anti gun buzz word made to frighten old maid spinsters, and gullible, stupid, lemming like, idiots. There are a helluva lot more of them than there are old maid spinsters. Anyhow, the word spinsters should apply to one who spins. That would be anyone and everyone in the anti gun pile.
    Buzz words and phrases: Saturday Night Special : An inexpensive revolver
    that was named that to conjure up images of drunken revelers and crooks.
    Assault Weapon: A semi-automatic rifle without the shiny wood work that classic hunting arms have used. NOT automatic and will not “spray bullets”.
    Extreme or extremeist : Any idea, object, statement, or point of view not agreeing totally with liberals.
    Loophole: a non existent detour from the law used by less than honest lawyers, con men, and anyone attending or promoting a gun show.
    Gun Nut: Anyone who owns, hopes to own, carries or fires a firearm of any type from naval cannon to cap pistols.
    Gun Free Zone: A place so named because of the prohibition of any device of self protection which allows the uninhibited and random slaughter of people contained there.

    These are just a few of the liberal, anti gun, Oooooo scary, and idiotic terms used to attempt to stampede the public into becoming a mass of victims. Look at them as they really are. In short, there ain’t no big, hairy, clawing, fire breathing monsters in the dark or under your bed.
    The use of just a modicum of intelligence will scare them off.

  5. What load were the shotguns firing? Slugs and buckshot will significantly out penetrate light bird shot.

  6. Someplace I have a copy of the Seattle Police Dept. Tests Video comparing standard issue ammo verses walls and bricks. I was surprised when .223 ammo disintegrated like it did with out over penetrating. Still seems weird.

  7. I have seen studies where OO buck shot will out penetrate just about any standard handgun round by a lot, same with a dry wall test, look up Concealed Carry magazine for the article. Green tips travel how far if you miss? It depends what the objective is and your accuracy. And then if the miss is clean.

  8. I agree with the article straight away but for one part. The article talks about 556 the same way it talks about 223 and they are not the same. Yes both can be fired from a rifle marked Wylde or 556 NATO but the same is not reversible. If the rifle is marked 223 it won’t handle the extra charge of a 556 round. The typical green tipped “military” round will penetrate much further then its 223 or non-steel cored brethren. If one is unfamiliar with the various rounds the green tipped M855 is a different product then the other non-cored ammo products and needs to be used in accord. I am not a fan of the green tipped as it tends to over penetrate and is more useful for distance and accuracy shooting then CQB type self defense use. It is NOT armor piercing as some have alleged BUT it is not valuable for close work as it tend to enter and exit. I can fix entry and exit wounds what I can’t fix well is entry and internal devastation wounds. The kind that go in and mushroom and wreak havoc usually end up with DOA or DOS designations. If the goal is to stop the bad guy then I absolutely agree the AR platform over handguns and surely over shotguns. Just remember the old Army line
    “Side arms are used until one can safely get to his rifle”
    Dr D

  9. […] Caleb Lee (NRA Certified Basic Pistol & Personal Protection Inside The Home Instructor)Why “High Powered” 5.56 NATO/.223 AR-15 Ammo is Safer For Home Defense (FBI overpenetrat…"Since all of the 5.56 mm/.223 bullets fired through the interior wall had significantly less […]

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