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Home Defense Guns: Handgun, Shotgun, or AR15?

A group of guns including handgun, shotgun and AR15

When it comes to home defense, there are so many choices of guns. That’s a good thing. In this article, we look at three major categories of guns:  handguns, shotguns, and AR15-style guns, and what considerations might go into selecting one or more as a tool for defending self and family from uninvited company. 

It’s nice to have choices, and nicer to know that, if you delegate resources to this topic, those choices are virtually unlimited. The factors involved in selecting your ideal home defense gun aren’t limited to what’s presented here; most people also have a personal preference or other reasons for making their pick. Whatever you select, use it with regard to the rules of firearm safety, and store it in a manner that protects it from theft and from being handled by anyone in the home who isn’t trusted and/or supervised by a responsible gun handler. 

Which of these three is the best choice is a personal decision. Here are a few common considerations that come up when choosing a home defense firearm. They’re certainly not the only ones, but a way to start thinking about your new or next gun. 

A gun

Home Construction

Home Construction is among the most important factors. Many people reside in manufactured housing including mobile homes, RVs, and campers. Even in a site-built home, materials like windows and some garage doors offer little bullet resistance. Between interior rooms, drywall has a negligible effect on bullet speed and trajectory. Solid bullets, especially rifle-caliber bullets, buckshot, and of course slugs have high potential for so-called over-penetration. The potential for unintended outcomes on the part of the gun owner is great. Slower-moving and less robust projectiles are appropriate when over-penetration is of concern, and it usually is. Consider a handgun, pistol-caliber carbine, or shotgun loaded with birdshot if penetrable walls are present. Also consider frangible ammunition if you want the most robust insurance against over-penetration while retaining firepower. Sinterfire and Telos are manufacturers of defensive-purpose frangible ammo for pistols and AR15s. There’s also at least one frangible shotgun slug on the market, though I personally have never tried it. And, though it isn’t any company’s official protocol, I advise against frangible ammunition in revolvers. Please see my previous article on frangible ammunition for more information on this ammunition which I feel is a real problem-solver for civilian defense.

Since I’ve raised the topic of birdshot, I’d like to also address concerns of it not being appropriate for home defense inasmuch as it delivers dozens or hundreds of stinging wounds rather than a single wallop. There’s probably a story out there where some drug-crazed offender continued to attack despite taking a load or two of birdshot, but I’ve not yet seen it. I do know of many cases in which offenders survived but fled in short order after being hit with birdshot. This ammunition is on the light end of the lethal force spectrum, and much safer in terms of serious risk to bystanders and structures. 

a shotgun

Anticipated Distance 

Anticipated Distance of threat engagement can vary from literally on top of you to up to yards away in the event a home is in a rural area and your needs include defense of livestock against four-legged varmints. Of course, a rifle is the best choice if longer distance shots are likely, and there are thousands of choices in the AR15 arena. If you want to make the most of or simplify your ammo shopping, consider pairing Keltec’s PMR and CMR, a handgun/carbine pair that use the same magazine, chambered in 22 Magnum, or Ruger’s LC Carbine and 57 pistol, chambered in 5.7x28mm, for a house-to-farm combination that’s compact and low-recoil, and thus handy for any family member who needs them.

Physical Ability/Willingness to Train

Physical Ability/Willingness to Train is a consideration for selecting a home defense gun that might be picked up by Grandma or a trained nine-year old (and yes, nine-year olds have a track record of successful gun defense when safe gun handling rules have been established by parents who must be absent for an hour or two). To adapt a saying from SEAL Teams, you’re only as fast as your slowest family member. “Slow” in this case means that person’s level of expertise in safe handling and use of a home defense gun, as well as their physical ability to handle it. Narrow your available choices around this factor if necessary. A small-statured family member might like a shotgun, but need a semi-auto in order to not have a pump action that’s too long to operate. In the handgun category, there are more people who are comfortable operating a semi-auto than a double action revolver, especially as age affects the ability to pull the trigger. Most untrained or weak people are best off avoiding an AR in favor of easier-to-manipulate choices, but if they understand and can independently, safely operate one, a short-barreled rifle or AR pistol might offer a handy option, though recoil will be greater. 

An AR15

Safe and Effective Gun Handling

Safe and Effective Gun Handling beats loyalty to a particular platform anytime. The smallest person can make the biggest gun work for them if they are motivated and have at least the basics down. This article might run a bit biased in favor of shotguns for home defense, but that’s a generalist perspective. What’s “best” is what you train on most. If your means permit you to do so, own and know how to use all three!

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