Lever Guns: Great For Self Defense

The Winchester Model 1894: A Classic American Rifle. Sheriff Jim Wilson

Some of the big news this week is Ruger’s acquisition of Marlin since the previous owner, Remington, is folding up. And that got me thinking about lever guns as defensive firearms.

My first fighting lever action was a Marlin. In the early 1970s, I got a Marlin 1894 in .44 Magnum and cut it down to Trapper size. Even with the 16-inch barrel, it held nine rounds of 240-grain hollow points and was just a handy little carbine. But I’m not the only one who likes lever actions because, checking the 2021 Gun Digest Annual, some 10 to 12 companies are building the guns. And I think there are several reasons to consider the lever-action carbine for personal defense.

The first would be that many models are chambered for standard handgun cartridges. The shooter who carries a revolver may very well find that a carbine chambered in the same caliber is mighty handy, if for no other reason than the fact that only one kind of ammo needs to be carried and stocked. Carbines in pistol calibers will undoubtedly take care of business to 100 yards, possibly beyond. And folks who live where dangerous four-legged game are known to roam can just select a gun chambered for .308 Win., .444 Marlin, .45-70 Govt. and others. Lever guns come in calibers that will handle all the ornery critters one might have to deal with.

Another reason for choosing the lever gun is if a person is involved in Cowboy Action Shooting. We will do our best with the gun and caliber we practice with most. A serious CAS competitor who is putting a lot of ammo down-range in practice might be wise to select the same weapon to protect his home and family. I’d pull those light cowboy loads, though, and load with something a bit more substantial.

Others may live in areas where AR-15- or AK-47-style guns are outlawed. The lever guns might be a good substitute for them. With a full magazine and a butt-cuff carrying a full reload, a person can discourage a lot of crooks if attention is paid to the sights and trigger squeeze.

Finally, some have grown up shooting lever-action carbines. The guns feel natural, and the shooter understands them. There is no reason to switch to something else. A .30-30, which has essentially the same performance as the 7.62×39 mm, will do as good a job protecting home and family as it does bringing in the venison. 

The lever-action carbine, in one form or another, has been around since the 1860s, and it is still around because it gets the job done. I’m not, by any means, suggesting that everyone should switch to a lever gun. Just be sure that you don’t overlook it when selecting that personal-defense carbine.

A version of this article appeared in Shooting Illustrated.

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