According to data from the U.S. Department of Justice, 2.5 million burglaries occur annually, and 7 percent of those can become violent. As such, it’s important not to become too lax in your personal defense at home. A firearm is your best home-defense weapon. And the simplest answer to which firearm and ammo you should use is the one with which you are most comfortable. 

However, while it is ideal to use the gun with which you regularly train and are the most proficient, that is likely your concealed carry gun. When you carry concealed, you’re looking for the best equipment in the smallest package. But handguns are notoriously poor weapons for stopping a fight. A large percentage of people shot with a handgun survive. Many others die hours after being shot because handguns and their relatively small projectiles can be very ineffective at producing a quick stop — in other words, neutralizing the threat.

How to Choose a Home-Defense Gun

Of course, we cannot walk the streets of modern America with a large-caliber rifle like cowboys in the Old West. But in defending our homes, size and concealability don’t matter. There is a lot to consider in choosing the best weapon to secure your home.

First off, make sure that if you are considering a firearm for home defense, you are absolutely willing to take another human life. If you scrutinize yourself and find that you couldn’t under any circumstances take a life to save yourself or a family member, consider another means of defense. A Taser is a great less-lethal option for personal defense.

Get advice from someone you trust. Many years ago, you could get pretty fair advice from law enforcement officers. The average cop today, however, knows very little about the gun he or she carries daily, much less about the numerous other models out there. Gun salesmen, although well-meaning, are so enthused about guns that they only suggest the newest, latest and “greatest.” NRA- or USCCA-certified instructors should be able to offer sound advice. Firearms trainers are likely to be more oriented toward helping an individual find something that meets his or her defensive needs.

Find Home Defense Classes

Consider your personal situation and comfort level. Make sure you test-fire anything anyone suggests before buying. You should like and be totally comfortable with your selection. Any home-defense firearm — long gun or handgun — that you select should be one that you can operate entirely on your own without assistance from anyone else. This includes safely loading and unloading.

Location and Surroundings

When choosing your home-defense gun, remember the old real-estate adage: “Location, location, location.” Where you live will determine which type of firearm and caliber is apt to work best. If you live in a multi-family unit — with shared walls, floor or roof — your own personal safety is not the only concern. You must also consider the safety of your neighbors and the gunfire you could unintentionally be sending in their direction. While you certainly have the right to defend your home against intruders, you also have the responsibility to not injure your neighbors.

Take into consideration the ability of different rounds to penetrate interior and exterior walls. The calculation of which gun and ammo to use varies with each individual’s situation, including everything from where the person lives to the layout of his or her home.

Data such as power factor, which incorporates the round’s weight (grains) and velocity (feet per second), can provide a guide to estimate which rounds may be more or less penetrative. For instance, almost all civilian defensive rounds will likely be stopped by concrete or brick walls — regardless of velocity and weight. However, common interior walls are made of particle board, paneling and sheetrock. None of these building materials are initially going to stop a bullet. And a round may penetrate many such barriers (dependent on the power factor of that round). Thus, if the person is worried about penetrating interior walls in a home-defense situation, he or she can assume that lower-power-factor rounds (less penetration) would be preferred to higher ones (more penetration).

Log in to your USCCA Member Account to read the full penetration results from the October 2021 issue of Concealed Carry Magazine.

You must also keep local laws and regulations in mind regarding the use of home protection weapons. Most states have what is known as the Castle Doctrine, which provides homeowners with the legal entitlement to use force, potentially even the use of deadly force, for self-protection against an intruder in their homes. It’s a fundamental element of home defense. 

Types of Home-Defense Firearms

When it comes to the effectiveness of firearms, larger is usually better. Larger guns have larger bullets — one key to effective stopping power. Bigger bullets make bigger holes, which tend to incapacitate living targets faster. Again, keep your location and the potential for overpenetration in mind.

Additionally, larger firearms will generally have a larger ammunition capacity. While five rounds of .38 Special may be adequate for your average confrontation on the street, there is no reason to limit yourself so drastically in a home-defense weapon. The types of confrontations that can happen at your home (e.g. armed home invasions) have a higher potential for multiple attackers. The immediate availability of more rounds will never be a disadvantage in a gun stored in your home.

Big guns weigh more, which absorbs more of the perceived recoil. And larger guns distribute the recoil better and are easier to hang onto under recoil. Plus, longer barrels (even on handguns) create a larger sighting radius between the front and rear sights, making slight errors in the sight picture far less important. And larger guns tend to be able to shoot at longer distances with greater accuracy, which can be important depending on where you live and what types of threats you may face.

Full-Sized Home-Defense Handguns

At a minimum, you should consider having a full-sized handgun of a larger caliber (preferably a .40 S&W or .45 ACP, although a 9mm would do) available for home defense. A full-sized gun like a Glock 24 (or better yet, a Glock 35) with 16 rounds of .40 S&W on tap may be hard to carry concealed but makes for a decent home-defense gun.

Weapon-mounted lights make sense on a home-defense gun more so than on a gun for concealed carry. It is easy to store your home-defense gun with a light attached. And the ability to have a free hand to open doors, flip light switches and dial 911 is a real plus. You should still keep a regular flashlight handy as part of your home-defense plan.

Home-Defense Carbines

A carbine is a light, short-barreled semi-automatic rifle that is often referred to in the popular media as an “assault weapon.” There are a wide variety of carbines from which to choose, from pistol-caliber carbines like the Beretta Storm to more traditional carbines like the AR-15 or AK-47.

Carbines offer a lot of versatility over a handgun for home defense. Carbines are available in serious rifle calibers like .223 or .308 which provide far superior stopping power compared to pistol rounds. Furthermore, carbines are long guns that are capable of far more accuracy and greater usable range. While realistic pistol ranges may top out at 25 to 50 yards, carbines can be easily used at 100+ yards or more, depending on your sighting system.

Carbines also tend to have a larger magazine capacity, with magazines of 30 or more rounds being fairly commonplace. Of course, if a carbine is your home-defense weapon of choice, it might be a good idea to start stocking up on high-capacity magazines.

Any long gun used for home defense should be equipped with some type of weapon-mounted light. While this is optional with a handgun, there is just no good way to operate a long gun and hold a flashlight. Since nighttime encounters are likely with a home-defense gun, some type of weapon light should be considered as required equipment. Carbines are also great platforms on which to mount optics because the rifles are generally capable of much better accuracy than the average shooter can wring out of iron sights.

Shotguns for Home Defense

Shotguns may just be the quintessential home-defense weapon. First, shotguns are extremely versatile. There is a wide variety of ammo available, from bird shot to buckshot to slugs. Ammo choices can be tailored for use inside a home, where overpenetration of walls can be an issue, or for much longer ranges.

Shotguns can throw a brutally effective shot pattern at 10 feet or be deadly accurate with slugs at 100 yards or more. Other types of specialty loads can fit most every need in between those ranges. New loads are even available that greatly reduce felt recoil, even with serious defensive loads.

The right shotgun is also very reliable. Pump shotguns in particular have a very simple manual of arms, are easy to operate and are not prone to failure, even with minimal maintenance and lack of regular cleaning (not recommended, but it happens).

Pump-action shotguns are quite inexpensive and are readily available. The classic pump shotgun is the Remington 870 series. An 18- or 20-inch barrel is recommended for home defense for ease of handling in tight spaces.

While the common bead front sight will do, you may want to consider holding out for or upgrading to a barrel with actual rifle sights. Eighteen-inch replacement barrels with rifle sights are available from several sources, and most shotgun barrels are easily interchangeable by the user. Many other accessories can be added, like replacement stocks, extended (high-capacity) magazine tubes and more. 

Which Home-Defense Firearm Is Best?

This article briefly touches on some of the more popular options for home defense but is hardly a comprehensive guide to this vast topic. Most importantly, take your home-defense weapon as seriously as your carry weapon and obtain professional home-defense training and practice regularly. Once you have settled on your home-defense firearm, practice working with it in your home — unloaded, of course. If you don’t feel like it works for you, it might be time to reconsider your choice. There is no shame in learning. It’s better to know before you need it.

Each of our needs for home defense is different based upon where we live and the threats we face. Give serious consideration to how you will protect your home in a variety of extreme circumstances, whether it be for defense from a home invasion or defense of life and property following a riot or natural disaster. Your home is your castle. It should be well-protected!

This article is a compilation of previous blog posts authored by Bob Campbell, Scott W. Wagner, Duane A. Daiker, Joel T. Nadler and Kevin Michalowski.