When I teach home-defense courses, I’m always asked, “What is the best gun for home defense?” And I always answer with a definitive “That all depends.”
This vagueness belies the truism that there really is no perfect home-defense gun. While there are three firearm platforms that most would argue are “standard” home-defense firearms — the AR-15 style rifle, the handgun, and the modern pump or semi-auto shotgun — could any be considered perfect? I would argue that, while each platform has its own distinct advantages, they also have detriments in a firefight on your home turf.
The AR-15 Personal Defense Weapon (PDW)
Many gun guys and gals strongly advocate the AR-15 PDW for home defense, and indeed it presents a strong argument for being used as such. Why? Because it has superior stopping power, high magazine capacity in the event of multiple intruders, and the standard 5.56mm/.223 caliber round has excellent penetration in case you have to engage a bad guy through a wall or some other structure or barrier within the home. The 5.56mm/.223 caliber round also allows the shooter to get accurate shots at relatively long distances if you have to mount a defense across 50, 75, or even 300 yards.
However, some of these advantages could be considered arguments against using the AR-15 as a home-defense firearm. While penetration through walls could be a necessity in some home-defense scenarios, if you live in suburbia or other locales where houses are close together, that penetration could upset your neighbor if, while defending your home, you start putting bullets in his home! The long-range capabilities of most ARs, with rounds leaving the barrel at 2350 to 3700 fps, also mean increased danger in suburban environments in the event of a shot going astray.
The high-capacity magazine also increases the weight of the firearm, and the increased magazine length could make it more awkward to handle, especially in tight spaces.
I live in a rural area and the potential to defend over a fairly long distance is something I have to consider, along with long police response times. These make the AR platform a top contender in my home-defense plan, along with its long-range firepower and high-capacity magazine to hold off multiple assailants until the cavalry can arrive and arrest the bad guy.
If the AR-15 is too bulky, too heavy or has too much penetration, one could consider a small, lightweight handgun. Today’s handguns have high-capacity magazines capable of holding 15, 17 or more rounds. The typical handgun round will still penetrate through most walls and other barriers found in the home. Most modern self-defense ammunition retains enough energy and expands reliably after penetration through light barriers to stop a threat from doing you any further harm.
This poses a strong argument for the handgun as the perfect home-defense weapon. However, handguns aren’t as easy to use as other firearms. While training is not mandatory to use one, it’s still strongly recommended that you become educated on its manipulation and use, cleaning, and how to correct malfunctions.
Speaking of malfunctions, while modern semi-auto handguns are very reliable, they are still finely tuned tools and can easily malfunction if not held properly or if allowed to make contact with a person, clothing, or any other objects while shooting. This must be taken into account when considering a handgun as a potential home-defense firearm.
Handguns, while at the low end of the power spectrum in the 850 to 1500 fps range, still pose a risk of over-penetration. In suburban environments, most handgun rounds could pose a risk to loved ones in your home or to your neighbors. Consider appropriate fields of fire within the home and safe areas where a firearm may or, more importantly, may not be used during a home-defense scenario.
I prefer a handgun to a long gun in the event I have to move within my home or on my property. A bump in the night is often a raccoon after a garbage can or a coyote (the four-legged kind) venturing onto my property. These situations don’t warrant a call to the sheriffs department and the requisite 45- to 60-minute wait for them to show up and tell me, “It was probably just a coyote.” Often a simple “shoo” or noise from me will accomplish what I need. But I know I have the handgun by my side in the event the critter turns out to be more nefarious, such as a burglar who means to do me or my family harm.
Because of its high-capacity magazine, light weight, small size, and portability in case I need to move around, I keep a 9mm Glock 19 close at hand. Its modern 9mm ammunition retains good to excellent stopping power if I have to engage a bad guy through a door or wall, and it provides enough power to stop a threat at short to intermediate ranges (3 to 50 feet). At longer distances, past 30 feet or so, practice is a necessity to gain combat-accurate hits on a threat.
Many people may not be able to afford an AR-15 PDW or a modern handgun. They often cost $500 and up and can be very expensive to equip and shoot. Also, in light of recent political actions, ammunition for many ARs and most modern handguns is virtually non-existent on sporting-goods and gun store shelves. This brings us to the modern shotgun as a potential perfect home-defense weapon.
Nowadays shotgun ammunition is about the only ammunition that is plentiful, and I use that word loosely. The modern pump-action or semi-auto shotgun also provides a great platform for home defense for several other reasons. Shotguns are inexpensive compared to many other firearms, less likely to jam, simple to shoot, and can often be aimed with something as basic as a flashlight attached to the gun that approximates the same spread pattern of the buckshot that’s shot out of it.
With the right selection of ammunition, the issue of over-penetration can be minimized, although never really eliminated. And even simple, inexpensive #6 or #8 buckshot provides a formidable wall of lead to help change the mind of a bad guy intent on doing you harm. While most modern pump-action or semi-auto shotguns hold only five to eight rounds, this will normally be enough to hold off a threat until the police arrive on the scene.
Many shotguns have saddles installed, or they can be purchased and installed. These saddles hold a wide array of shotgun ammunition, which can vary from short-range-use buckshot to project a spray pattern of buckshot, to a one-ounce shotgun slug with enough stopping power to drop a large animal at 50 to 100 yards.
Considering the wide array of ammunition, ammunition availability, relative lack of over-penetration, and lower-than-average firearm cost, the shotgun may be the perfect home defense firearm. Personally, the Mossberg 500 pump-action shotgun is a top choice for my home-defense plan.
However, one must consider the weight, recoil and unwieldy nature of the shotgun itself. In order to be a legal firearm, the shotgun barrel must be a minimum of 18 inches. With the addition of the receiver and stock, the shotgun can become an unwieldy firearm in the close quarters of a house.
When it comes to the perfect home-defense firearm, each person, each home, and each person’s bank account play a part in determining which firearm is best.
Other factors that must be considered are a firearm’s relative capability to stop a threat (stopping power), magazine or shell capacity, penetration or over-penetration possibilities, and combat-accurate distance capability. Each firearm platform will have its own distinct advantages and disadvantages.
Personally, my perfect home-defense firearm is all three! I keep an AR-15 PDW on hand in case I need to counter a threat across a long distance or penetrate a barrier. My Glock 19 handgun is close at hand in the event I need to move throughout my home or land. And I have my Mossberg 500 shotgun, equipped with flashlight and five-shot saddle, if I need to defend my loved ones or myself within a confined area. Your situation will determine your perfect home-defense firearm.