Page through any of the many popular gun magazines and you will likely see some discussion about which gun is best for armed defense at home. But while considering what type of gun to have on hand is reasonable, it is vitally important to remember that your goal is (or should be) defending human life in the home, not protecting the structure itself.

Even the most gun-friendly laws clearly require an immediate threat to human life. And regardless of what a particular statute says, research has shown that juries are far more likely to be sympathetic if you used lethal force only to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Handgun, Shotgun, Something Else?

Arguing about which gun is best for defense in the home used to be the “handgun versus shotgun” debate. But more recently, rifles — specifically the various AR models and similar military-style firearms — have come into the conversation.

This should come as no surprise, as modern sporting rifles (MSRs) have become wildly popular. There are reasons, not the least of which is the relatively mild recoil, making them easier to control by both men and women.

Practice ammunition for MSRs (whether 5.56/.223 or 7.62×39) is very modestly priced and available just about anywhere. You can afford to hone your skills without emptying your bank account.

Ammo Issues in General

Defensive ammo is also widely available for MSRs. However, many of these rounds have been purposely designed (at the request of law enforcement and/or the military) to be what ballistics experts call “barrier blind.” This means they will still give good terminal performance (expansion and penetration) even after punching right through auto glass, car doors and drywall.

Even many handgun bullets (especially full metal jacket target rounds) will penetrate significant layers of drywall and other building materials. Shotgun rounds, especially slugs and even some buckshot loads, can also penetrate multiple layers of typical materials.

Personal Note

Full disclosure: While I own a lot of guns of every type, I generally do not recommend long guns for defense at home. For a number of reasons, my go-to gun for armed defense in the home is a handgun.

A handgun is almost always likely to be close at hand, while rifles and shotguns are often tucked away somewhere. Also, a handgun makes maneuvering in tight spaces easier and faster.

Whatever your gun of choice for defense in the home, choose loads that are least likely to penetrate walls. The last thing you need is to successfully defend yourself but end up facing a jury because one of your rounds wounded or killed a neighbor.

Before You Shoot

Storage protocols will vary based on who shares your home. A house with young children will require different procedures than one with only adults. Use common sense, then make sure everyone follows the procedures.

I always recommend having a bright flashlight handy — either attached to the gun or on a nightstand. Wildly blasting away in the dark has led to some truly horrific tragedies. People have shot their own children (often teenagers coming home late). If you have children, establish clear rules for entering the home — especially at night.

Finally, for a much more expanded examination of this subject, I highly recommend you check out this excellent article by defensive expert Jeffery Denning.

Be smart. Be safe.

About John Caile

John Caile, contributing writer for USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine, has more than 35 years of experience in concealed carry training and practical handgun shooting skills. As communications director for the Minnesota Gun Owners Political Action Committee, John was instrumental in passing Minnesota’s landmark concealed carry permit law. Certified through the NRA as an instructor of Pistol, Rifle, Shotgun, Home Firearm Safety and Personal Protection in the Home, John continues his lifelong activism for gun owners and their rights in Palm Coast, Florida. He has appeared on national talk radio and network and public television and is frequently published in the press.

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