One of the oldest and most passionate debates of the gun community is what to choose for home defense. Should you get a handgun? A rifle? A shotgun?
Every firearm category has its fans with no shortage of arguments about why their favorite weapon is the best. But what works best for one person may not necessarily work well for you.
You’ve probably heard expressions like, “Just get a Glock” or “Just buy a 12 gauge,” sometimes without further explanation. Learn the pros and cons of each type of firearm for home defense and determine which type is the best solution for you.
Handguns: Pistols and Revolvers
Handguns of all types are perhaps the most common type of firearm owned by Americans today.
The handgun category comprises semi-automatic pistols and revolvers.
Although revolvers were once the quintessential American handgun until far into the 1980s, the advent of newer, more reliable, high-capacity semi-automatics has resulted in pistols supplanting revolvers as America’s favorite handguns.
The main advantage of handguns compared to rifles and shotguns are their compactness. Handguns are the only category of firearm you can reliably carry concealed. However, this advantage is not relevant for home defense; you don’t need a license to carry in your own home, nor is there a need to conceal your firearm from the public.
So, what advantages do handguns offer for home defense? More than you might think at first glance.
- Handguns are smaller and lighter than rifles and shotguns. You can navigate and maneuver around your house with a pointed handgun more easily than with a long gun. They are also easier to store safely.
- There are plenty of self-defense ammo brands for virtually every popular handgun cartridge on the market.
- Handguns are designed for use with one hand. If you have to use your other hand for something else during a home invasion, such as opening doors or using a smartphone, you can still use your handgun effectively. (Remember to practice shooting one-handed)
- Semi-automatic pistols generally have the advantage of relatively high capacity. The most popular pistol in America, the Glock 19, can hold 15+1 rounds of 9x19mm.
- Revolvers are available in more powerful cartridges, such as .357 Magnum or .44 Magnum. These revolvers can typically also accept a shorter, less powerful Special cartridge, making them dead reliable and very durable.
- The compactness of a handgun is a double-edged sword; the short sight radius means it’s more challenging to aim accurately compared to a shotgun or a rifle.
- The lack of a shoulder stock makes handguns harder to stabilize without a rock-solid grip.
- If you don’t grip your semi-automatic pistol high and tight, you run the risk of limp-wristing, which can cause jams.
- Revolvers have a relatively low capacity (5-8 rounds, with 6 being the most common), and the double-action trigger pull may be difficult to operate for some people.
- Older handguns may not tolerate modern self-defense ammunition. Research the brands and projectiles your handgun can safely fire and cycle.
When it comes to home defense rifles, the most common choice for American citizens will be some type of semi-automatic centerfire rifle, such as the AR-15 or the AK-47.
Although many other rifles exist, such as manually operated bolt- or lever-action rifles or rimfire rifles, such as the .22 Long Rifle, they are generally not used for home defense out of practicality concerns.
Most defensive rifles shoot a relatively low-recoiling, easy-to-control intermediate cartridge. Examples include .223 Remington, .300 Blackout, 5.45x39mm, or 7.62x39mm. Some examples may shoot more powerful cartridges, like the .308 Winchester, although these rifles are intended more for hunting than defense.
- Like all long guns, rifles are intended for two-handed usage and possess a shoulder stock, making them naturally more stable than handguns.
- Rifles feature a longer sight radius and are the easiest type of firearm to shoot accurately.
- Defensive rifles – especially the AR-15 – are highly customizable and accept a wide variety of attachments and modifications.
- The standard capacity of a defensive rifle is typically 30 rounds, higher than any other type of firearm.
- All commonly available centerfire rifle cartridges are naturally powerful enough for personal defense.
- Although defensive rifles run the full spectrum of prices, models at the cheaper end of the spectrum have the most quality control issues. Reliable, dependable defensive rifles are more expensive than any other type of firearm ($800-$1,000 on average).
- In general, rifle-caliber bullets are the most likely to experience overpenetration, potentially causing safety concerns for home defense, especially if you have a family.
- Due to their relative bulk, defensive rifles require more specific safe storage solutions than handguns or even shotguns.
- All firearms are loud, but rifles are the loudest, especially those with carbine-length barrels.
Shotguns are the classic home defense firearm and for good reason. Virtually all industry experts and firearms specialists agree that in close-quarters, the shotgun is king. Home defense is the most likely type of close-quarters combat situation an average civilian may find themselves in.
Defensive shotguns in the United States are typically pump-action or semi-automatic, although the classic double-barrel still has a presence on the market.
12 gauge is, by far, the most common shotgun cartridge, although 20 gauge has a place for defensive applications as well, particularly for shooters who find 12 gauge recoil too high.
Contrary to popular belief, aiming is not a suggestion with a shotgun. Within typical home defense distances, the pellet spread will not be large enough to account for potential aiming errors.
- Quality defensive shotguns are inexpensive, going for as low as $200.
- Shotguns may accept a wide variety of loads and projectiles. You can change the role and application of your shotgun simply by switching ammunition.
- There is a wide selection of buckshot and slug loads in both 12 gauge and 20 gauge for home defense. Their stopping power is unrivaled by any other firearm; you can reliably expect one-stop shots with a shotgun.
- Double-barrels and pump-actions can fire and cycle virtually any shell without issues, making them highly versatile.
- The limited effective range of a shotgun works in your favor in home defense, as the typical engagement distances rarely exceed 25 feet.
- Shotguns have a relatively low capacity (typically ranging between 2 and 9 shells).
- Shotguns usually come with imprecise bead sights, which may make aiming more challenging.
- Commonly available shotguns require shooters to load individual shells one at a time, which is relatively slow, requires practice, and may present a significant challenge under stress.
- Typical 12 gauge shells produce a lot of recoil.
- Semi-automatic shotguns are sensitive to your ammunition’s power, requiring a sufficiently heavy load to cycle the action, without which they will jam.
Which is Best?
Outside of the pros and cons of each category, factors such as price, ammo availability, and shooting proficiency play a significant role in your decision. Regardless of your choice, practice with it! A home defense firearm is only as efficient as the person behind the trigger.