So, you’ve been watching the crime-filled news. You’ve probably heard stories from neighbors or friends about home break-ins. Maybe you’ve even been the victim of a home invasion. And you’ve finally decided to purchase a firearm. Great!
You are one step closer to being safer in your home. But now you have to decide which weapon you should purchase: handgun, assault rifle, or shotgun. Everybody you ask will have an opinion. But the choice must be yours and yours only.
This is an important task, and you can’t just walk into a gun store and ask the guy behind the counter what he recommends. You need to research on your own and learn a few key facts before entering a gun shop and buying one or more firearms for home defense.
Which weapon system you choose could determine whether you and your family survive. Literally. Each has advantages and disadvantages in a home environment. Let’s look into this before you settle on a specific firearm.
Accessibility of firearms for home defense
For a firearm to protect you, it must be readily available. Handguns are the easiest of the three weapons systems to have on you or available to you when a lethal encounter occurs. You can store your fully-loaded handgun in a lockbox on your nightstand or anywhere in your home where it will be ready at a moment’s notice.
A loaded rifle or shotgun, on the other hand, is usually stored in a safe. You would need time to acquire it – time that you may not have. Besides, either of the long guns would be cumbersome and unsafe to tote around your house during your daily routine.
Family members would probably freak out if you tried. But, a handgun can easily be carried on your person. It can even be concealed behind your back when you answer your front door. And because many home break-ins start with the homeowner opening the door for an assailant… Well, you get the picture.
Likewise, carrying extra ammunition with you is less of a problem with handguns because of the size of the rounds they shoot and their magazines’ size. You will probably need to carry more ammunition with a handgun than you will for an assault rifle.
A handgun’s magazine capacity is fairly limited, whereas most assault rifles have more than adequate magazine capacity (approximately 30 rounds), except in some restrictive states that normally allow only 10-round magazines. However, reloading an assault rifle can be burdensome in some states due to “bullet button” requirements.
Shotgun rounds are heavy and bulky, although they can throw many projectiles per trigger pull, depending on what they are loaded with (more on that later). Shotguns have limited magazine capacity, approximately six rounds, as well. And they are time-consuming to load.
Accessibility isn’t limited to the simple ability to access your weapon. It also encompasses user-friendliness. Because we are talking about weapons for protection in a home environment, you should consider the other people who live there.
When you aren’t at home, perhaps one of your family members will be in charge of protecting the family. Family members come in all sizes and can vary greatly in terms of strength and physical abilities.
Because they are the smallest and lightest of the three firearms for home defense, handguns are more readily accessible to family members who have a slight build or who are less physical in their daily lives. This may make them a better choice for sharing between spouses or family members who have different body types, for example.
Of course, there is the added risk that comes with children in the home. All weapons should be locked up when not with you.
Maneuverability and functionality of firearms for home defense
Being the smallest and lightest of the three weapons systems also makes handguns the easiest to maneuver within a home environment. Small-sized rooms, doors and doorways, tight corners, hallways, nooks, furniture, and staircases all present problems. The handgun is the easiest of the three firearms for home defense to wield in these situations.
It is also easier to “retract” a handgun to prevent a gun-grab than it is to retract a long gun. And, handguns only require the use of one hand to operate. This is a big advantage since it leaves your other hand free for opening doors, for carrying a tactical flashlight, for dialing 911, or for assisting family members.
Also, should one of your arms become injured, you would still be able to operate a handgun. Not so with an assault rifle or a shotgun. Sighting a handgun on an opponent at close range can be easier than sighting a rifle or a shotgun. But rifles are more accurate than handguns when there is any distance involved.
Training can cure some of this. Although, even with training, some optics installed on assault rifles inhibit the ability to quickly sight the rifle at close range, like within a room. Shotguns have the best “hit potential” when it comes to moving opponents or low-light conditions. They can require nominal sighting ability if you are firing a round that throws a spray.
Shotguns are very difficult to maneuver in small areas, too heavy for many people, and have a prohibitive recoil impulse. The shot spray can also vary greatly depending on the load and the distance between you and your opponent. At close range, the shot spray can be the size of a fist. The spray can be wider than your opponent at long range – possibly resulting in either an insufficient number of pellets hitting your opponent to incapacitate him or pellets hitting innocent bystanders.
That said, let’s consider the recoil impulse and the blast of each weapons system. When wisely selected, the recoil impulse and blast from a handgun is easily manageable by most. With rifles and shotguns, these can present problems.
For example, the blast from a rifle or a shotgun, when fired indoors, can stun and disorient family members who are in the room when you fire. Also, the larger the blast, the more likely you are to give your location away to your opponent and hamper your night vision at a critical time.
The stopping power and the intimidation factor of firearms for home defense
Home invasions often involve multiple opponents. Stopping multiple opponents is more difficult with a handgun than with a rifle or a shotgun.
There are more of them than there are of you, they are at varying distances, they are moving, they already have their weapons on-line, and their intentions are set. They usually have the element of surprise, as well. That’s a huge tactical advantage for your opponent.
It’s not easily countered by one person firing a handgun – unless he or she is well trained. One of the reasons rifles and shotguns are better suited for a home invasion situation is because of what’s called “stopping power,” or the round’s reliability to stop the opponent.
Even if you are fast and accurate with your handgun, it can still take you several shots to stop somebody. Shot placement, barriers, body armor, drugs, and many other factors come into play.
With a rifle, the round is going through most obstacles, including people, and it’s doing damage. The armies of the world fight with rifles, and for a good reason.
There is, however, the issue of “over penetration” to consider with rifles. While handgun rounds will penetrate most interior doors, rifle rounds (depending on the round fired) can shoot through your opponent, through walls within your home, and even through common walls between apartments.
This may not be what you intended. For example, if you fire your assault rifle on an opponent and he dodges, your rifle round might penetrate into the kid’s room. Shotguns are unique in terms of stopping power. With a handgun or a rifle, you are firing one round at a time. With a shotgun, a trained shooter can select the load he needs for the scenario confronting him or her.
For example, a shotgun loaded with 00 Buck will fire nine .38 caliber pellets with each trigger pull. But the effective range is shorter than that of a handgun or an assault rifle. You can extend the effective range of your shot by using the “select slug” technique. This requires training, though.
For this same reason, when loaded with 00 Buck, a shotgun can rapidly engage head, groin, or knee targets when body armor is an issue. Even poor hits with a shotgun are more likely to be incapacitating due to the severity of the wound inflicted with each shot. But there are shot spray issues (as discussed above).
The stopping power of a shotgun at close range is best with 12-gauge buckshot. That round has the heaviest recoil impulse. Most statistics show that a shotgun round loses 65 to 70 percent of its effectiveness at about 30 yards (depending on the barrel and the round).
Long-range is an issue if you don’t train to be able to “select slug” when the need arises. But maybe you don’t want to shoot another human being, no matter how evil his intentions. Seriously. I don’t personally approve of this mindset and caution people with regard to it; however, it does exist.
When presented to an opponent professionally, all firearms for home defense can intimidate. Rifles and shotguns have the edge over handguns here. The mere “racking” of a shotgun can deter a would-be attacker. And nobody wants to be shot with a rifle.
Don’t discount the handgun’s ability to intimidate, though. While it isn’t as visually intimidating as either of the long guns, how you present it can have a big impact. Criminals can tell whether you’ve drawn your gun ten times or a thousand times. Train with your weapon to become good with your weapon and so that maybe you won’t have to use it.
The cost of firearms
Unfortunately, price is a factor for many people when choosing which firearms for home defense to buy. Handguns are the least expensive option. Like a Glock or a Smith & Wesson, a good quality handgun can be purchased for $500 to $800. A shotgun or a rifle will be considerably more expensive. A good quality shotgun runs in the range of $600 to $1,200. And a good quality assault rifle starts at about $1,000.
Notice I said, “good quality” with each firearm for home defense. Choosing a weapon for home protection is like buying insurance. It’s not the time to cheap out.
Do your research and buy the best quality weapon you can afford. Then seek training to be proficient and safe with it.
Amount of training required with firearms for home defense
Handguns require less training than the other firearms for home defense. Period. They are easy to operate, and most people can become fairly smooth and accurate with them after only a minimal amount of practice.
While rifles are relatively easy to aim and fire, they are more complicated when it comes to learning the system as a whole.
Shotguns are the most complicated of the three firearms for home defense. They require serious training to reach the weapon’s full potential for speed, accuracy, and power. Most people think they can just buy a shotgun, keep it loaded and shoot it when the need arises. This is not true.
Besides the issue of “select slug,” as discussed above, the shotgun system itself is more complex to learn, and malfunctions are likely if you are not trained. Also, rifles and shotguns require more training to handle the problem areas created by a home environment because of their size. And shotguns have the added weight and recoil issues. Plus, in a sustained gunfight, reloading techniques will become paramount.
A final word
If you’re thinking that choosing one or more firearms for home defense is more complex than you had imagined, then I’ve done my job. This isn’t a decision to take lightly. Buying all three weapons systems – even if you can afford to – won’t help. You’ve still got to decide which weapon to grab when your alarm goes off or when your front door bursts open.
I can’t make these decisions for you. But I can tell you what I do: I keep a loaded handgun, and two extra loaded magazines staged on my nightstand when I am in my bedroom. This handgun goes with me throughout my house and will get me to my safe in an emergency.
In my safe, I keep a loaded rifle and a loaded shotgun with extra ammunition for both. Then I train with all three weapons systems the same way I train at the gym – with determination. It’s not a perfect solution. But it works for me while minimizing the trauma to my family members.
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