How to Choose a Home Defense Gun for Beginners

This is a guest post by Andrew Bettschoosing a home defense gun

If you are new to firearms, or new to the defensive use of firearms, and you wish to purchase a firearm for the defense of your home, you likely have a lot of questions and no shortage of people happy to give you some advice. They all mean well, and some of them have good advice to give, but much of the advice is contradictory. Take the greasy hillbilly who hangs out in the gun shop and advises people to use a shotgun loaded with birdshot or rock salt (as if that’s something you can buy at Walmart) because it “won’t go through a wall.” If it can’t get through two layers of gypsum how could it reliably stop a person from hurting you? Okay, maybe it is obvious that his advice is unreliable, but how do you pick through the rest of the advice given by friends and salesmen?

Let us begin by identifying the question. You are seeking to purchase a firearm for the defense of your home. That means that you want a tool that you can use within the confines of your home to cause potentially lethal harm to another human being. It is worth pausing here to underscore this point. The only dependable way to stop a bad guy is to cause physical incapacitation and the only dependable way to physically incapacitate a person is to cause gross damage to their circulatory and/or nervous systems. This damage has a high probability of being fatal. If you are not comfortable with the prospect that you may kill a person, you should not purchase a defensive firearm.

The second component we need to examine is the fact that a home defense gun does not need to be carried on the person. If you wish to purchase a carry gun, that is an entirely different set of requirements. Handguns are portable but not powerful and they are more difficult to shoot quickly and accurately. They are a necessary compromise for carry, but they are a poor choice for home defense. Let us take a quick look at what a handgun can do, versus a rifle and shotgun:







It is clear that the pistol does not produce anywhere near the degree of gross physical damage that was mentioned above. To be clear, the pistol can be conveniently carried and there is no reason that you should not also carry a handgun around the home. This article will focus on just your primary home defense gun, though. If you could only buy one gun and you do plan to carry, that gun should obviously be a handgun. If you could only buy one gun and you do not plan to carry or if you already own a carry gun, your primary home defense gun should not be a pistol.

That leaves a rifle or shotgun as your primary home defense gun. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages but either is a solid choice. You will hear a great deal of debate about which is the best choice but in reality, either is a good choice. The differences in suitability between the two are fairly minor. At least, the real differences. Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions and oft repeated myths about both.


One of the common misconceptions about rifles is that they’ll “blast through the bad guy and kill your neighbors.” SBRThe truth is that any projectile that is capable of penetrating deeply enough into a bad guy to reliably incapacitate him is also capable of passing through a lot of common building materials. That said, well designed lightweight bullets like the 5.56x45mm Sierra TMK above, or Hornady’s 5.45x39mm 60 gr V-max tend to penetrate less hard material than heavier pistol bullets and buckshot. No matter what you choose, you absolutely must be conscious of the direction in which you fire because any cartridge that is capable of reliably stopping a bad guy is also capable of passing through multiple interior and exterior walls.

Rifles are much more powerful than handguns and they are more precise than shotguns. When chambered in an intermediate cartridge such as .223/5.56mm or 7.62x39mm, they have low recoil and can hold enough ammunition to get through a fight. This is an important facet.

A home defense gun is a tool for a fight that you did not choose. It might come in the morning after you are dressed and had your coffee or the fight might come to you at oh dark thirty while you drool on your pillow in your tightie whities. Depending on the layout of your property and your home, and depending on where your loved ones sleep, you may not have time to don a plate carrier with lots of extra ammo. You may need to grab a gun and go. Having twice as many rounds as a typical pistol or four times as many as a typical shotgun is something for which you might find yourself very grateful.

You may hear people argue that six or eight rounds is plenty. It certainly is… until it isn’t. No one has ever complained after a firefight that they had too much ammunition and a fight can move quickly. Unfortunately, many people have a static idea of what conditions will exist if they need a gun. They may imagine a lone intruder who freezes at the sight of the home owner, draws a pistol, and a single round puts them down. You could imagine any number of other scenarios, but it is important to understand that your predictions could easily be wrong. If you need a gun, you might face more than one person. Home invasions have been known to involve as many as five assailants. They may give up or flee when confronted or they may immediately begin to shoot. If it develops into a real fight, they will be moving quickly and utilizing cover and concealment and you will miss. Will six or eight rounds be enough? It certainly could be, but you will not regret having more available.


Clint Smith is famous for saying that at close range, shotguns can remove meat and bone. This is a fantastically colorful way of expressing the raw power that shotguns possess. No weapon exists that is not crew served and CIMG9651regulated by the NFA that can destroy tissue in the way a shotgun can.

Rifles are powerful too and do substantially more damage than handguns but there is nothing like a shotgun loaded with buckshot to achieve a quick stop. Shotguns are also versatile. They can fire less lethal munitions, though that can be legally questionable for a private citizen, depending on your locale. They can even fire a variety of different shot sizes or slugs, depending on the purpose to which you intend to put the weapon. If the need arises to shoot at 20 yards or more, one can switch to a slug to extend the effective range of the shotgun. Pump action shotguns also tend to be quite affordable.

Like any tool, shotguns have their disadvantages. They are less precise when loaded with shot. They carry less ammunition than rifles. They are more complicated to load, unload, and shoot. They cannot penetrate soft armor. Depending on the shotgun and the user, they can be less reliable. Self-loading shotguns can be finicky and pump shotguns can be short stroked by the user. Even experienced shooters occasionally short stroke a pump shotgun during competition.

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of the shotgun is that the heavy recoil makes it take longer to fire the next shot. A .223 rifle can generally engage three attackers more quickly than a 12 gauge shotgun. You see, the myth that a shotgun doesn’t need to be aimed is also untrue. With an 18” cylinder bore (they type of barrel one would use for home defense), shot spreads at approximately 1” for every ten feet of distance. Even if you have a straight line distance of 50 feet in your home, the shot pattern would only be about 5” in diameter at that distance.

Still, shotguns, especially in pump action flavors, tend to be more affordable than rifles. One can often find a used Mossberg 500 series or Remington 870 for $200-$300, which is a fraction of what one would expect to pay for a decent defensive rifle. The lower cost puts them within reach for many families.


Pistol caliber carbines are, technically, rifles but they are chambered in a pistol caliber such as 9mm or .40 S&W. PCCs are obviously much less powerful than carbines chambered in an intermediate rifle cartridge like .223 Rem, but they can eek a little more performance out of a pistol cartridge due to the longer barrel. Here is a comparison of the same .40 S&W load fired from a pistol and from a rifle.

Because they are less powerful than “real” rifles, PCCs might not be the best choice for home defense, but they do offer a couple distinct advantages. PCCs tend to recoil slightly less and they are much quieter. Both of those factors do matter in a fight, but they are even more important in training a novice and/or someone who is frail or slight of frame. The low recoil and reduced muzzle blast makes the PCC less intimidating and more enjoyable to train with, which means that the user will put more rounds down range.

Ultimately, putting rounds down range is the most important factor. Not just self-directed practice, either. The saying that practice makes perfect is completely untrue. Practice makes permanent. Practicing bad habits only makes it more difficult to learn correct techniques. No matter what weapon you choose to defend your homestead, you have a responsibility to participate in defense oriented training from a qualified professional instructor.


Andrew Betts served with the Arizona National Guard for over 12 years, including a tour to Afghanistan. Visit his YouTube Channel for more great shooting information.

Photo Credit – Andrew Betts

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