I am often asked by students which I would recommend as the ideal home protection weapon. A handgun, rifle, or a shotgun. This is not a question that has a cut and dried answer. Each weapon has its own supporters and each weapon has both pros and cons compared to the other. So what do you need to know to make the right choice for your home defense?
The answer to this question is: “It depends” And basically it depends on you. Your living arrangements. Your level of training. Your commitment to being properly trained. Your family situation. Your physical condition and health. All of these factors will affect your choice of a home defense weapon. Since everyone’s individual situation is different, all we can do here is analyze the weapons and you get to make the choice. Keep in mind that we are primarily speaking of modern semi-automatic pistols or Double Action revolvers, and either pump or semi-automatic shotguns. But I want to emphasize a serious point: If you are not willing to spend the appropriate time and finances to be properly trained, it simply doesn’t matter what weapon you choose because you will be incompetent, and perhaps even dangerous to yourself and innocent others, with any firearm.
Revolver or semi-automatic? Both will do for basic home defense. I discuss this in-depth in my article Revolver vs. Automatic, but for our purposes here, they will be considered the same.
Pros: The handgun is handy and relatively light. They are small and easy to carry on your person if your situation dictates being constantly armed. They will fit easily into a bedside drawer, or a biometric lock box next to the bed. They can easily be operated with only one hand, for example, when you have to hold or maneuver a child. Most modern semi-automatic pistols will have rails to allow you to attach a light to the gun, allowing, again, one-handed operation. Many people do not fully appreciate that having a light source for target identification at night is extremely important. Many of these lights will have a strobe feature allowing you to both identify and blind your target. And you better be damned sure of your target before you pull the trigger.
Cons: Regardless of the hype in the popular gun press, pistols are relatively poor defensive weapons compared to a rifle or shotgun. Yes, they do stop fights, and yes there are a large number of modern defensive loads that have increased their effectiveness, and yes I do carry one. It is much more convenient that walking around with my AK strapped on. But compared to a rifle or shotgun they fall short in that all important category of “stop the assailant now”. Pistols are more difficult to use to hit a target under stressful conditions. Therefore, if you are going to rely on one, you need to get sufficient training to be effective.
The Rifle (or carbine)
I am primarily talking about semi-automatic magazine fed firearms such as an AR, AK, or even larger weapon.
Pros: They are a lot more powerful than a handgun. A solid torso hit with a .223 or 7.62 mm round is going to end the issue for the receiver even if they are wearing body armor (ask any police officer who has been shot, even with just a handgun, while wearing body armor, how effective he was after). They can also be mounted with lights. Being magazine fed, they are much quicker to reload than a shotgun. Having better sights than either a pistol or shotgun can be an advantage in rural settings where you might have to engage on your property at some distance.
Cons: Normally requires two hands to operate effectively. Being a longer weapon, it takes more skill to navigate enclosed spaces effectively without it being taken away from you by an intruder. (navigating corners). For an excellent manual on how to clear your home tactically I highly recommend The Tactical Advantage by Gabe Suarez.
I am talking here about a modern pump or semi-automatic shotgun, not Grandpa’s double-barreled shotgun (although they can also be ferocious weapons in their own right in skillful hands).
Pros: Loaded with proper buckshot such as #4 or 00, they are extremely effective stoppers. At short-range, the spread of the buckshot is usually pretty tight. See my article on the Remington 11-87 Police Model for some photographic examples at various ranges. The myth of the “Alley Sweeper” is just that. A myth. They can be a lot less expensive than either a handgun or a rifle. Many quality pump shotguns can be had for about $200.00 in some places.
Cons: Like the rifle, it requires two hands to operate. Shotguns tend to recoil a lot more than rifles slowing down a second shot which could be important dealing with multiple assailants. They are slow to reload compared to a rifle or handgun, with the exception of magazine loaded shotguns like the Saiga. With pump shotguns, there is always the possibility of a “short stroke” malfunction which can be difficult to clear even in good circumstances.
This one has been kicked around the barnyard by the popular gun press for a long time. And yes, it is a consideration. But it should not be your primary consideration when selecting a firearm for home defense. Any firearm that fires a cartridge powerful enough to stop a violent criminal in your home is going to be powerful enough to penetrate thin walls and enter other rooms or even exit your home and enter another. The answer isn’t in selecting a weapon. The answer is you. You need to know the legalities involved where you live, the arrangement of your home and where people will be at night. You need to be sufficiently skilled with whatever weapon you choose in order to hit the target under stress, and you need to be tactically prepared in order to know when to shoot and when not to.
Make your weapon choice for home defense wisely, and then train to learn how to use it legally and effectively. The life you save may be yours or a loved one.