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Guns for Home Defense


Guns for Home Defense

By Chuck Hawks

As they say, the first rule of gunfights is to bring a

gun, so any home defense firearm is better than
none. But some guns are better for the purpose than
others. Let's take a look at the most common options.


A .22 caliber hunting or target rifle is better than

nothing, but like any rifle it is unwieldy. And a .22
rimfire rifle is under powered for the purpose of home
defense. Homo Sapiens is much larger than the
game normally shot with .22. Any rifle is fairly easy
for an intruder to grab at close range, and the long
barrel gives a bad guy plenty of leverage to take the
gun away from the homeowner. A violent criminal
may well turn a rifle on the homeowner.

Centerfire rifles are also unwieldy and difficult to

retain in a struggle, but generally have plenty of
power, particularly the ordinary deer rifle. In fact, they
have way too much power, offering an extreme risk of
over penetration in urban and suburban areas. They
thus represent an unacceptable hazard to neighbors
and other innocent bystanders.

If a rifle is the only available firearm, a relatively low

powered, carbine length weapon is probably the best
choice. A Winchester or Marlin lever action carbine
chambered for a pistol cartridge (.357 Magnum, .44
Magnum) would fill the bill, as would a military surplus
M1 Carbine. These would also be satisfactory
choices to defend a neighborhood during a riot or
other civil insurrection. Use bullets designed for quick

Rifles such as a lever action .30-30 or Ruger Ranch

Rifle would be a sensible choice outdoors for
defending farm or ranch property from two or four
legged predators. For defensive use inside the home,
particularly in populated areas, there are better
choices than a rifle.

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Guns for Home Defense


Shotguns, particularly the short barreled type

familiarly known as "riot guns," can be quite effective.
These generally come with 18"-20" barrels. They are
extremely intimidating to an intruder. No sane person
wants to argue with a shotgun.

12 gauge pump guns are probably the most popular

type of riot gun, but an autoloader or double-barreled
"coach gun" will also serve, as will similar guns in 16
or 20 gauge. Small bore 28 and .410 bore guns do
not pack enough payload and should be avoided for
home defense. Good examples of pump action riot
guns are the security versions of the Mossberg
Models 500 and 590, and the Remington Model 870.

Shotgun slug loads involve the same risk of over

penetration as a centerfire rifle, and should be
reserved for use outdoors. Shot and buckshot loads
considerably reduce that risk. However, shot loads
will do substantial and often unacceptable damage to
the home in which they are fired.

Like rifles, shotguns are unwieldy weapons indoors

and are liable to be seized by an intruder. Replacing
the buttstock with a pistol grip makes a shotgun
somewhat handier in tight spaces. I find that
particularly true onboard a boat. Pachmayr makes a
good replacement pistol grip for the most common
brands of shotguns, and some Mossberg security
models come with both standard and pistol grip
buttstocks. Remember that you still have to aim to hit
a target. Do not fire a shotgun from the hip!

A shotgun would seem to be an excellent choice for

sweeping rioters from the front porch steps during a
civil insurrection, but for defense inside the home a
handgun is probably a better choice. However, a riot
gun is a fine back-up weapon if the situation gets out
of control.


A handgun is handy indoors and can be conveniently

concealed almost anywhere in the home, ready for
use. It is the easiest of all guns to retain in a hand to
hand struggle. It can be fired from either hand in an
emergency situation. (This is especially true of
revolvers). Centerfire pistols and revolvers from
approximately 9mm/.38 caliber on up, assuming

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Guns for Home Defense

appropriate ammunition is chosen, offer good

stopping power for indoor home defense without the
extreme risk of over penetration of a deer rifle or
shotgun stuffed with slugs. They are much less likely
to severely damage the home you are trying to
protect than a shotgun. For all of these reasons
handguns are the first choice of the majority of
experts for home defense.

Of the various types of handguns, only revolvers and

autoloading pistols should be considered for home
defense. Service type handguns are the typical, and
best, choices. These usually come with better sights
and are easier to shoot accurately than the smaller,
lighter handguns designed primarily for concealed

Autoloading pistols

Modern examples of service style autoloaders include

the Beretta M92 series, Ruger P series, SIG P229
and P239, and the Full-Size and Compact Glock
pistols. All of these are double action or safe action
pistols that can be safely stored with the chamber
loaded and the safety (if present) off. If the whistle
blows it is not necessary to manually cycle the action
or manipulate a safety, just pull the trigger and the
gun will fire. In this they are much like a double action

Autoloaders hold more cartridges than the ordinary

revolver, typically about 10 rounds, and are faster to
reload if a pre-loaded magazine is handy. However,
autoloaders are very slow to reload from a box of
loose cartridges--the situation that usually pertains if
a homeowner shoots his or her pistol empty. An
autoloader can deliver very rapid fire, but remember
that you can't miss fast enough to win a gunfight.

Autoloading pistols are more likely to jam than a

revolver, particularly if fired through cloth, say from
under a bathrobe in a sudden emergency, from an
unusual orientation (upside down for instance), or
with a "limp wrist" (insecure hold). They have one
other very significant drawback: they are magazine
fed and the spring in a loaded magazine is tightly
compressed. Magazines should be rotated regularly.
The spring in a loaded magazine left unattended for
an extended period of time may take a "set" and then
lack the pressure to reliably feed cartridges, causing
a jam.

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If I used an autoloading pistol for home defense I

would choose one chambered for the 9mm Luger
(9x19) cartridge. Given proper ammunition, the 9x19
offers excellent stopping power with less muzzle flash
and recoil that the popular big bore pistol cartridges
(.40 S&W and .45 ACP).

A high quality autoloader, owned and maintained by

an experienced shooter, is a very good home defense
weapon. It is perhaps not so good for the casual user
who is not a recreational shooter.


My top choice for a home defense gun is a revolver.

Revolvers usually hold six cartridges, but some hold
more. Revolvers are ambidextrous. Perhaps best of
all, they can sit fully loaded and untouched for
decades, as all springs are normally at rest, and still
be ready to go into service at a moment's notice. Just
grab the gun and commence firing should the need

Medium size revolvers, the kind I usually favor for

home defense, come in two action styles, single
action and double action. The difference is that the
single action (SA) revolver must be manually cocked
before the trigger will fire the weapon. These are the
traditional "western" style guns, such as the Colt
Single Action Army and Ruger Blackhawk and
Vaquero models. Such guns are slow to reload, but
powerful, accurate and deadly.

Somewhat like autoloading pistols, I regard single

action revolvers as an entirely satisfactory choice for
home defense, particularly for experienced shooters,
but not the best choice for the casual user.

The all-around best choice among firearms for home

defense is the double action (DA) revolver. These are
the typical "police" style revolvers, such as the Colt
Python, Ruger GP100, or the Smith and Wesson
Model 10 Military and Police. Double action revolvers
may be thumb cocked, just like a single action
revolver, and then fired by a light pressure on the
trigger. This is generally referred to as shooting
"single action," and it is the most accurate way to
deliver aimed fire. They may also be fired by a single
long pull on the trigger, which first cocks and then
releases the hammer (trigger cocking or "double
action" shooting).

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Guns for Home Defense

Trigger cocking requires a longer and much heavier

trigger pull, but it is fast. Shots can be delivered as
rapidly as from an autoloading pistol. It is sufficiently
accurate for close range shooting (out to perhaps 7
yards) in trained hands.

Double action revolvers are very safe, simple to

operate, relatively easy to shoot accurately, very
reliable, and extremely difficult to jam. They can be
reloaded quickly if a speed loader is employed, and
are very easy to reload from a box of loose cartridges
should that become necessary. For the average
homeowner as well as the expert pistolero, a DA
revolver is hard to beat for home defense.

I consider a 4" barrel the best compromise for a home

defense handgun. The shortest barrel I would
recommend for a revolver is 2.5", and the longest 6".

I prefer the .38 Special over the smaller revolver

cartridges due to its superior stopping power, and to
larger cartridges, such as the various Magnums,
because it produces less muzzle blast and flash, an
important consideration indoors and in dim light.


Whatever gun is chosen for home defense, become

familiar with it. Make it a point to practice at
reasonable intervals. A firearm can potentially save
your life and the lives of your family. But it isn't the
firearm per-se that gets the job done, it is the person
behind it. Skill and determination, reinforced by
regular practice, will carry the day. Remember that,
as Bill Jordan pointed out, there is no second place
winner in a gunfight.

Back to the General Firearms & Shooting Page

Copyright 2004, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.


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