What is the best firearm for home defense? A comprehensive guide to choosing the best firearm for home defense.
August 30, 2021
What is the best firearm for home defense? Simple question, simple answer – it depends. To begin, we have to consider the basic types of firearms that are suitable for home defense: pistols/revolvers, shotguns, and rifles/carbines. Each has their own strengths, and each has their own weaknesses, which we should consider. Also, there are several personal factors a prospective firearm purchaser should consider before selecting a firearm for home defense. And last, there are what I call environmental factors.
Lets begin with the firearms.
Handguns have the virtue of being “handy.” They are relatively small, and can be manipulated by most people. Being small, they can be kept readily available near your bed where you can easily access it in an emergency. From a self-defense/home defense standpoint, we should pick a firearm that:
- Fits your hand and enables you to control recoil and hit your target. The pistol should be comfortable in your hand, and your trigger finger must comfortably reach the trigger.Your trigger finger should fit the trigger when it covers the first knuckle joint of the finger. This allows for a proper trigger squeeze. Ideally, the line of your second joint should align along the center of the grip. This allows you to point the handgun properly.
- Is heavy enough to dampen recoil and allows you to aim it without excessive “wandering.”Small pocket pistols are not the best choice…remember you are not carrying this all day long, but are only using it in an emergency. A duty size pistol or revolver is probably your best choice here.
- Is of a caliber that will stop an intruder without having to empty the cylinder or magazine, and yet has recoil that you can control.Each year, many people are killed with .22LR cartridges, but this doesn’t mean it is the best self defense choice. I personally recommend either a .380 or 9mm Luger/Parabellum/x19 cartridge. Recoil is manageable by almost anyone, and using modern self defense ammunition, it is a reliable fight stopper. If you choose a revolver, I personally think .38 special with +P ammunition is the best choice. You don’t need the extreme power of a .357 magnum, and you won’t have the muzzle blast and flash, but you do get enough penetration and damage. Barrel should be a 3 or 4 inch. I do not recommend the popular “snub nose” revolvers for this reason. They are too light to shoot comfortably for some shooters, and the barrel is too short for accurate shooting. This makes it easy to manage, and quick to point. For pistols, a 4-5” barrel is also ideal. Along with caliber, you must consider ammunition capacity. If you choose a revolver, you don’t have much choice, its going to have either 5 or 6 rounds of ammunition. Is this enough? I don’t know, but I do know there is no such thing as too much ammo in a firefight. Unless you practice with your revolver, will you be good enough to strike a target under stressful conditions with each round? How many shots will you miss? If you choose a pistol, you will probably start with 10 plus, and top out somewhere around 15 rounds. The additional weight of the ammunition helps off-set recoil, at least at the beginning of the fight. And lastly, always use good quality self defense ammunition that will mushroom in the target, and helps reduce over penetration.
- Has sights good enough to aim properly, or point properly enough to strike the target where we want to hit it.I prefer handguns with night sights. I don’t need them to identify my target, only to help me orient the axis of the barrel. Most homes are not completely dark at night, so I will be able to initially point, then aim the firearm. I therefore don’t want blacked out target sights. White dots, etc. are okay by me if I can see them under low light conditions.
- Has a trigger that can be easily manipulated by the firer.This is the biggest problem with a revolver. Since most of them have “product liability” triggers, at least from the factory, it takes a skilled shooter to consistently shoot them on double action mode. I have trained hundreds of females and older males that simply cannot manipulate the trigger in double action. For those of you who can manipulate them, go for it. But you must be able to do it hurriedly and under stress, and still hit the target.
- Has an action that can be easily manipulated by the firer.This refers to not only revolvers that we just discussed, but primarily to pistols. Although most adults can manipulate the slide on most pistols, there are a significant minority of us who cannot. Fortunately, Smith and
Wesson has produced their excellent line of “EZ Rack Shields” which greatly eliminates the problem. I have yet to see anyone who cannot easily rack the slide on these pistols. They also come in .380 ACP and 9mm.
- Does not have a manual safety.I realize this is a volatile position, but here is what I tell my students. “I have been shooting 1911 pistols since the Army first handed me one.” Since then, I have always owned a couple. However, unless you are willing to train enough to manipulate the manual safety automatically, under stress, no pistol with a manual safety should be purchased for self defense. No matter how hard you squeeze, if you don’t remember to deactivate the safety, your self defense firearm will not fire. None of my “home defense pistols” have manual safeties. This is the big advantage of a revolver, or a striker fired pistol. If you must have a manual safety, please practice with it using snap caps until you can use it properly. If you must have a manual safety, you still have the option of not using it. This technique does not apply to single action pistols which have a very light trigger pull out of the box. These pistols (like the 1911) always have a manual safety, and you should always use it.
So, what are my choices for handguns? In no particular order, I like the following:
- Sig Sauer P365XL
- Sig Sauer P320 and its variants
- Glock 17, 19, 48, any of the other 9mm variants with the afore mentioned barrel lengths. For people with small hands, like me, I particularly like the 48.
- FN 509 series
- CZ P10 series, or any other striker fired variants. CZ also makes a great line of DA/SA pistols, but you must be able to manipulate the DA system. My single action only CZ 75 is the most accurate pistol I own, but I would not pick it for an emergency use pistol, since it has a manual safety.
- Smith and Wesson M&P series, Smith and Wesson EZ rack series.
Revolvers: These days, we really don’t have much choice. Ruger has been handicapped by the COVID so there is a shortage of their revolvers, at least for the present, and that leaves only Smith and Wesson as a contender for now. Both are great revolvers (my first revolver, and my second were Rugers). But the nod goes to Smith only for availability. Stay away from snubbies, and go for a 3-4 inch barrel. Buy a .357 magnum and load it with .38+P ammunition. With the .357 frame, you get extra strength and a little bit more weight which aids in controlling recoil. I’m not going to mention types, since they are all good. As an aside, if you find that you cannot manipulate the DA trigger easily, any good gunsmith can install a lighter action spring. If you are fortunate enough to own one of the early 50’s Smiths, their triggers are a delight to shoot.
That’s it for handguns, so let’s move on to shotguns.
Some persons will advocate shotguns as the ultimate home defense firearm. I will not dispute the effectiveness of 00 buckshot when it strikes a bad guy. Getting anywhere from 6-9 .32 caliber pellets simultaneously in the torso will dampen the ardor of any attacker.
I have been in some gun shops when I have heard several variations of “you don’t have to aim, just point it and it will clear out the room.” First of all, this is nonsense, shotguns do have to be aimed. A cylinder bore shotgun firing buckshot will have a pattern of about 6-7” diameter at 7 yards. When all of them strike the bad guy, the fight is over. Now, if you consider the longest distance you would have to shoot in a home defense situation, 21 feet may be about right.
Let’s consider the factors of a shotgun:
- It should be a semi-automatic. America invented the pump action, and the semi-automatic shotgun, and both will work. However, to manipulate a pump requires you remember to rack it after each shot. I have been shooting shotguns since my first Winchester Model 12, and when hunting I have from time to time forgotten to rack it after my first shot. Today’s modern semi-autos are reliable when you do your part and use ammunition that will cycle the action. If you don’t want a semi, practice using snap caps on your pump action. Double barreled shotguns “as advocated by our current President” are ultimately reliable, but you only have two shots. Don’t think you will reload, because there won’t be time.
- Load it with 12 gauge, 2 ¾” ammunition. You don’t need a 3” magnum to stop a bad guy. The smaller shell produces less recoil, especially if you load it with reduced recoil shells.
- Keep a round in the chamber, and put the safety “on.” For those that advocate that “shucking a round” will scare off any burglar, I would answer that just gives me an aiming point. Plus, you give up one round in the magazine.
- Recoil is the biggest disadvantage of the shotgun. This is another reason I recommend 2 3/4 “ shells and a semi-automatic action. Now, you don’t have to load buckshot. I load #4 Turkey loads in my self defense shotgun, and at close range, I feel very well protected, and I don’t have the risk of over-penetration. If a 12 gauge still gives you too much recoil, buy a 20 gauge.
- Use a shotgun with a full stock. This not only helps absorb recoil, but makes it easier to manipulate, and it facilitates cycling the semi-automatic action. It also makes it easier to point since you have three points of support.
- Barrel length should be 18” or 20” to facilitate ease of maneuvering in a home.
- Choke tubes are a nice feature if you want to use your gun for short range hunting. Otherwise, it will be choked in Cylinder bore.
- Mossberg 930 series with 18-20” barrel in semi. For pumps, either the 500, 590, or 88 Maverick work well.
- Older Remington’s (at the time of this writing, the future of the Remington line is unknown). But if you have a model 870, you have made a good choice in a pump.
- CZ 712 Utility is one of my personal favorites, and is my turkey gun of choice. It comes with 5 choke tubes, and can be of value equally for home defense or hunting.
- At this time, there are many shotguns coming out of Turkey, which appear to be well made. I recommend you look into these also.
- Stoeger and Benelli also make great shotguns. I own a Stoeger and have it to be very reliable and accurate.
Rifles and Carbines are the last category. Let’s examine their characteristics:
- Like shotguns, these have the advantage of having three points of support.
- They should be semi-automatic for the same reasons you should choose a semi shotgun. All you have to do is take off the safety and squeeze. In these days of “evil black rifles” an alternative could be a lever action carbine. I have a model 92 Winchester clone that is chambered in .357 magnum. It holds 9 rounds and I can work the action very quickly. If 9 rounds of .357 won’t stop a fight, nothing will. However, if you choose a lever gun, you must practice until the action is smooth, and you can work it quickly. These may have a side benefit of being politically “acceptable.”
- They have the capability to utilize a removable magazine holding up to 30 rounds.
- They can be chambered in either pistol or rifle calibers. Choose a 9mm in pistol, or a 5.56mm/7.62×39 in a semi-automatic AR or AK platform. These calibers have the advantage of being relatively cheap in ammo cost, especially when using FMJ rounds for practice. You will switch to defensive ammo for actual home defense use, which will help reduce overpenetration. While there are other calibers out there, ammo availability is an issue.
- Recoil is very light. I have a Ruger 9mm carbine and I hardly notice the recoil.
- Muzzle blast. 9mm carbines are not very loud indoors, 5.56mm carbines are. Short barreled carbines/pistols also may have a large muzzle flash which may ruin your night vision after the first shot. Any way you cut it, a .357 anything is very loud indoors. My 9mm Ruger which has an 18” barrel does not have a large muzzle flash.
- Barrel Length: Here we have a problem. Although I like the new “pistols” based on using a pistol brace, the ATF appears to be desirous of eliminating that option. No one knows yet, but that makes me lean to a fixed stock something.
- Smith and Wesson M&P 15
- Ruger AR 5.56
- Springfield Armory Saint
- Daniel Defense
- CZ Scorpion
- IWI Galil
- The US Army M1 carbine and its variants. This is what I reach for when Monsters are beating at my door. The design dates back to WWII, it is absolutely reliable, has a 15 round magazine, is easy to manipulate, very light recoil, and its cartridge is comparable to a .357 magnum. I keep soft point ammunition in the mag and feel very well protected. There are several manufacturers of M1s today, and if you can get an original, you’re even better.
- And many others…this is a very prolific area of firearms today.
Environmental factors. I define these are the physical limitations and restrictions of your home and property. Consider how far will I really have to shoot. Defending yourself within the confines of your residence, and engaging bad guys in the front yard are two different things from a legal standpoint. You may have a small apartment or a big home with multiple stories, which may affect your choice of firearms. Are your walls brick or concrete, or are they simple siding. These have an effect on over penetration, etc. Do you have narrow hallways? These factors could limit the effective size/length of your firearm.
So, this is it. If you thought I was going to pick a specific firearm, I won’t. There are just too many factors to consider, and we come in all sizes, shapes, weights, and abilities. So, visit your local gun store, explain your needs and thoughts and pick out the gun/guns that work best for you and your circumstances. Stick to common readily available calibers so you can afford to practice. Most important, once you purchase a firearm, invest your time in training in its use, and breaking it in. This allows you to become adjusted to the recoil, etc. If anyone is considering accessories, I personally don’t recommend going too elaborate at first. Learn to shoot the rifle just as it is, without having to remember to turn on flashlights, lasers, etc. while you are still trying to figure out what’s happening at the front door. Keep it simple.