In the last several years, gun sales have skyrocketed, and statistics have shown that the vast majority of people list personal protection as the reason for their purchases. While the police are only a phone call away, it's an unpleasant reality that even with an optimal response time of five minutes they may arrive much too late, and that is much faster than the majority of the country. A home defense gun is a wise purchase that you hope you never have to use for its intended purposes much like an insurance policy. So now that you have decided to make that investment, how do you decide what to get?
Your First Consideration
The first decision that you truly have to make is your budget. You can find reliable guns for a few hundred dollars or easily let your imagination run away with you and end up spending more than your mortgage payment. While you might have a high-speed piece of equipment, home defense becomes a bit of a moot point if you're living in a cardboard box down by the river after getting evicted. You also can't go bargain shopping and buy the cheapest thing you can find. A minimum budget should be $500-$800, and this will get you quality and reliability without breaking the bank.
What Options Are Out There?
Whether you are a first time gun owner or a seasoned veteran, it's always good to take a step back and look at things from a fresh perspective. For a home defense weapon, the most popular choices are a handgun, a semiautomatic rifle, a shotgun, or a pistol caliber carbine. They each have pros and cons, and we'll break them down next.
Baseball Bat or Baton
Firearms should never be your first choice when it comes to weapons that you can use to defend your home against invaders. Instead, consider non-lethals like a baseball bat, baton, knife or even a cast iron frying pan. Unfortunately the biggest disadvantage of these items is range and they also require physical strength to wield properly. However, if you are extremely strong and live in an area where firearms are difficult to legally operate ... these items are a good choice. Unfortunately holding a bat when your opponent has a gun pointed at your head is generally a losing proposition.
Like with a baseball bat or other club-type home defense weapon, the notion of seeking a non-lethal weapon is admirable. Nobody should approach the discussion of home defense from the perspective of how to kill someone. Your objective is to defend yourself and your property long enough for police to arrive. The problem is that handheld pepper sprays are usually designed to distract and temporarily immobilize your attacker so that you can run away. This is a different situation than having someone inside your home threatening your family. There are products available though that can be built into your ceiling and walls that will unleash a tremendous amount of spray when triggered. These release pepper spray when someone breaks into your home and can disorient the intruder but is more of an accessory for your home security system than something that will stop a determined intruder.
Pistols are probably one of the most popular choices for home defense but arguably not the best. They are easier to store, ammo is cheaper and less prone to shortages, and many people think of them as the least scary option to own. The truth is that without significant training time you will not be proficient enough to be accurate with a handgun especially under stress. Even trained law enforcement average around a 10% hit rate in real world encounters.
The beauty is that the age old myth of needing a large caliber handgun to stop a threat has finally been put to bed. Modern ballistic science has developed handgun rounds that are effective at 1-2 hit stoppages from 9mm up to .45 caliber. The days of needing a Dirty Harry style .44 Magnum revolver are over.
Semiautomatic rifles like the AR-15 and its cousins are also extremely common. For home defense purposes, you should not be using a rifle chambered in anything larger than .223/5.56. Over penetration is a serious concern above that caliber, and since we're talking about home defense, it's your own family that you would be putting in danger. These guns are accurate, easy to use, and reliable. That's why they are a favorite of militaries around the world, but of the guns we're talking about, these rifles are the absolute last thing that the general person would want to use for home defense.
If you have ever fired a rifle inside an enclosed environment in the dark without hearing protection, then you will understand exactly why I advise against them. They are deafeningly loud to the point where the sound reflection alone can be disorienting, and the muzzle flash is blinding. In many areas around the country, suppressors are either illegal or exceedingly difficult to obtain. For the record, I'm not advocating against owning a semiautomatic rifle. I think they're fantastic weapons with a purpose in many arenas, but for the average suburban or urban home owner, they are not ideal for home defense. Save those puppies for the outdoors.
The best part of a shotgun for home defense is the deterrent factor of the sound of the action cycling. Anyone who says that distinctive noise wouldn't be ominous if you are on the other end of it isn't being truthful. Shotguns are also easy to use, simple to aim, and devastating to your target at close quarters. Recoil is the most substantial for this category and can negatively impact follow up shots if they are needed. The major downside is again related to the environment of the potential engagement.
If you're using 12 gauge slugs, over penetration is again going to rear its ugly head and in an even more dangerous fashion. Even with a choke, buck shot is going to have a spread pattern that you don't have much control over, and bird shot may not be substantial enough to end the threat. Going up in projectile size is only going to magnify over penetration or spread risk, and going down will increase the risk of failing to stop the threat.
Pistol Caliber Carbines
For those who are not familiar, pistol caliber carbines are shorter barreled rifles that are chambered in common pistol calibers. These guns date back to the 1800s, and they have seen a marked increase in popularity recently. They have substantially less recoil than even the pistols we talked about, and they don't suffer from the negatives seen in the rifles like the deafening muzzle blast and intense flash.
The longer barrel when compared to a handgun allows increased accuracy, higher exit velocity, and increased stopping power from the exact same round. Frequently, magazines are even interchangeable with pistols if you own the same caliber. You do have to be careful with some of the high grain +P loads as the increased exit velocity could cause some over penetration at close range.
So What Do You Choose?
That's a lot of information, and it seems like no category is without a potential negative. While that is true, it brings us back to the most important part of this entire conversation. Purchase what you are comfortable handling, training with, and will properly maintain. You can make a home defense gun out of any of these weapons, but the critical aspect is the knowledge and proficiency of the person behind the trigger. Whatever you do decide on, make sure that it is stored safely and everyone that lives with you is properly educated on firearms safety.
Ultimately, this is a topic that requires very close consideration of a number of variables and should never be decided emotionally. Many first time gun owners seek a home defense weapon as a direct result of the fear and sense of violation that they feel following a home invasion. This is understandable but weapons - especially guns and other firearms - should never be purchased without proper training.
After reading this article, we suggest that your next step should be to contact your local police station for their advice, as well as talk with a range operator in your area that offers firearm safety training. This will be a good way for you to try a variety of different weapons and talk with other gun owners to determine the best choice for your home defense needs.