Sorry…but there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for the best home defense gun.
Throw the notion away that all you need is a shotgun.
Your final decision will come down to a variety of factors such as:
- What you personally shoot best
- Size and location of your home
- Over-penetration risk
- Family members’ location and skills
But don’t worry…we’re going to walk through all the most popular types of guns for home defense: pistol, rifle, and shotgun.
Then go through some other things you might not have considered yet like ammo, flashlights, quick access safes, suppressors, and self-defense insurance.
By the end, you’ll have a good idea of what type of gun is best for your situation and what accessories you might need. Along with our favorite models for each type.
Summary of Our Top Picks
Our favorite general-use AR-15 build.
Table of Contents
Let’s start off with the ole scattergun…
The most popular sub-type of shotgun is a pump-action shotgun. That means you manually manipulate the feeding mechanism to get the next shot.
They’re affordable and very reliable.
And based on your ammo choice…they send down the most amount of lead downrange.
You Don’t Need to Aim (FALSE)
But before we go on…let’s dispel the myth that you can simply not aim the shotgun and expect to hit your target.
The most common load for home defense is 00 buckshot which is nine .38 caliber balls of lead.
Roughly you’ll get a fist-sized group at 10 yards and a human torso-sized group at 20 yards.
You still gotta aim…especially at house hallway distances.
Pros of Shotguns
1. We covered this before…they send a lot of lead downrange (provided you aim).
2. They are affordable (around $300 for a good pump action) and reliable.
3. This is debatable…but the familiar *ka-chunk* sound of racking a pump-action shotgun is the universal “get out of my house.”
Cons of Shotguns
1. They are usually heavy and long-ish. The very popular Mossberg 500 in a shorter 18.5-inches barrel is overall 40 inches long and almost 8 pounds loaded.
If your home has lots of tight corners, this might be a big negative.
2. Recoil is harsh in 12 gauge for smaller-framed shooters. Consider this if other family members might need to use the gun.
3. Capacity is limited.
Most stock versions of popular pump shotguns can hold five rounds in the tube and one in the chamber, giving you six total.
Compare that to an AR-15, which usually gives you 30, and most handguns that will give you 15+.
4. Reloading is more difficult compared to magazine-fed guns.
Unless you train a lot.
5. 00 Buck has the tendency to over-penetrate walls.
If you’re in an apartment or condo with thin walls…you want to consider overpenetration since you are responsible for all projectiles leaving your gun.
Shotgun Ammo in Stock
Even if you’re in a house far from other houses, you want to consider where family members are sleeping inside.
We did an Overpenetration Test with a variety of ammo and interior/exterior walls and found that if it’s a big concern…
You can use #4 Buckshot.
Our Favorite Shotguns
Our favorite pump-action shotgun is the Mossberg 590A1. Built like a tank and with an 8+1 capacity…you’ve got the firepower to get whatever needs getting done.
Our runner-up pump-action shotgun pick is the Remington 870, that’s withstood the test of time.
How about a semi-auto shotgun? Our go-to is the Beretta 1301 (full review).
Another great option for a home defense shottie comes in the form of the Beretta A300 Ultima Patrol. It packs a lot of features into a semi-automatic design…all while keeping prices reasonable.
You can read more in our full review or catch up on the video review below.
More Shotgun Info
Things aren’t looking as rosy for shotguns anymore, right? But really, there are just some more things to consider to see if they are the right gun for you.
Here’s some more info because this is an important decision:
- Best Home Defense Tactical Shotguns
- Best Shotgun Ammo
- Remington 870 vs Mossberg 500 (Our Top 2 Choices)
Let’s take a look at pistols.
Tiny compared to shotguns…but what are some other pros and cons of handguns?
Semi-Automatic Handguns vs Revolvers
But first, let’s get some terminology and sub-types out of the way.
Revolvers are the old-school handgun choice with a revolving cylinder that holds all the ammo.
While semi-automatics are newer and take their ammo in magazines.
We’ll include both kinds of handguns in the pros and cons.
Pros of Handguns
1. They are smaller.
This means you can maneuver around tight corners a lot easier. And conceal them easier…but that’s not the point of this home defense article.
Check out Best Concealed Carry Guns if that’s more your thing.
2. Higher capacity and reload speed.
The most popular handgun is probably the Glock 19 (full review). And its normal magazines are 15 rounds.
Plus, reloads are easy.
But revolvers usually only have a capacity of five to six rounds…so keep that in mind. And forget about quick reloads!
3. Easy to add lights.
For the most part, most modern handguns have it easy to add lights with their included rails. But you’re going to have a hard time with revolvers.
(See which lights we recommend for your pistol.)
4. Large choice of ammo.
For home defense, you’ll likely go with expanding hollowpoint ammo that’s great for stopping power and also limits overpenetration through walls.
Again check out our overpenetration article if that’s a big consideration.
5. Large number of calibers to choose from based on your shooting preference.
If all you can handle is a .22 LR, then that’s all good.
And, of course, there’s always the battle of 9mm vs .45 ACP.
6. Price ranges from $200 to sky is the limit.
Although you probably don’t want to get the cheapest gun for reliability’s sake… there are some decent deals on good guns out there.
7. One hand is free to make an emergency phone call.
Although not optimal…you can have one hand free to make a quick 911 call on your cellphone.
Cons of Handguns
1. They are smaller.
This is back to haunt you sometimes!
Since they are smaller, you have less of a sight radius (distance from the rear sight to the front sight), so it’s a little harder to aim and be accurate.
Also, since they are smaller, you might have increased recoil based on your caliber.
That CAN be overcome with proper grip and training, though (for all family members that might need to use it)
2. Reliability and Failures
It depends on the gun…but I’ve definitely had more failures overall on handguns compared to pump shotguns.
And with a semi-auto, you’ll have to practice failure drills to get the next shot.
Revolvers get a little boost here since if one shot fails to fire…all you have to do is pull the trigger again for the cylinder to rotate to the next round.
However…revolvers are not some mythical reliability machine. They can still fail.
Our Favorite Pistols & Revolvers
Our go-to pick and the gold standard of reliability is the Glock 19.
Check out our full review of the Glock 19 to do it justice.
How about a gun with the nicest out-of-the-box trigger…and that’s ready for a pistol red dot? Check out our full review of the Walther PDP.
We can’t forget a wheelgun. Our favorite is the Smith & Wesson 686+ which brings 7 rounds of either .38 Special or .357 Magnum.
More Pistol Info
- Best Beginner Handguns for Home Defense
- Handgun Caliber Guide
- Best 9mm Ammo
- Best Handgun Flashlights
- How to Shoot Handguns More Accurately
We’re a little partial to AR-15s since they are America’s rifle and with plenty of other perks.
We’re focusing on them, but most of these pros/cons can mostly hold for other semi-auto rifles.
Pros of Rifles
1. Higher magazine capacity.
The standard AR-15 magazine capacity is 30 rounds.
There are higher capacity ones, but mostly you trade off a little reliability. I’d stick with 30-rounders for home defense purposes.
2. Easier to shoot well.
It’s a combination of the AR-15 ergonomics, caliber, and a rifle in general.
With a rifle, you get a lot more contact points to your body, which makes it easier to control.
The .223 or 5.56 caliber of the standard AR-15 is also very soft shooting.
Long sight radius and ease of adding a red dot sight make it even easier for most to get shots on target.
AR-15s are adult Legos.
And the rail systems make it super easy to add lights and lasers to help in home defense.
4. Lots of ammunition loads.
Got overpenetration concerns…there’s ammo for that.
Want cheap rounds for training/plinking/long-range? There’s tons of that too.
Cons of Rifles
A lot less of a concern now because of affordable but still reliable manufacturers like Palmetto State Armory (full review), but ARs can be pricey, depending on what you’re after.
2. Longer length.
It’s a rifle…so there are some laws regarding its length. If you have very tight corners, keep this in mind.
BUT… there are such things as AR-15 pistols that don’t have a traditional buttstock…but instead a brace.
That said, the ATF has added some rules regarding braces, so you might want to check out our article on the ATF and Braces to get caught up.
Our Favorite Rifles
Need an entry-level AR that will always go boom? Check out the Palmetto State Armory series (full review).
Prices accurate at time of writing
Prices accurate at time of writing
Want something a little higher-end? Our best bang-for-the-buck AR-15 pick is Aero Precision.
How about our recommendation for high-end AR? That one goes to the Daniel Defense DDM4V7.
More Rifle Info
We couldn’t come up with more negatives to AR-15 rifles, so if any of the myriads of options fit your specific end-use…go for it!
Here’s a bunch more info for you to read over:
- Best AR-15s [Complete Buyer’s Guide]
- Best AR-15 Ammo
- Best AR-15 Magazines
- Best Rifle Flashlights
- Best Pistol Caliber Carbines
- Best AR-15 Pistols
5.56 and .223 Ammo in Stock
You probably want to secure your gun a little…even if you’re living alone.
And even hidden and biometric ones.
Guns are loud…so if you’re at the range, make sure you have one of our Best Hearing Protection on.
Chances are you won’t have time to put on something in a home defense situation.
In that case, you’ll likely wish you had a suppressor.
However, they are expensive, annoying to get, and take some time.
Fingers crossed that you never have to actually use a firearm in a home defense situation…but it can still happen.
That’s why you’re preparing by reading this article.
And sometimes, the aftermath of the police and court system can be even worse.
That’s why there are memberships like the USCCA that give you tons of education to:
- Not get into bad situations in the first place
- Know what to do when you’re needing to protect yourself or others
- What to do afterwards
Plus, all memberships come with personal liability insurance as a perk that’s commonly (wrongly) known as “concealed carry insurance.”
I’ve been a paid member since 2017, and here’s my full review of everything they offer and a free gift from me.
There’s a lot of stuff to digest…and a lot of questions to ask yourself about your particular home defense situation.
You found that shotguns are not the be-all-end-all of home defense…they have some cons, such as length, recoil, and capacity. Plus, you’ve actually got to aim!
If you and your family members have the training and can benefit from a smaller firearm…pistols might be the way to go.
AR-15s and other rifles are starting to have a big advantage with the advent of pistol caliber carbines and AR-15 pistols. These lower the cons of length and ammo considerations. Plus, now there are a lot of affordable yet reliable manufacturers.
If you are looking for a rundown on the best rifles you can buy in general, we have a whole list dedicated to long guns.
What’s your particular situation, and which type of firearm did you go with? Any pros/cons that we missed? If you’ve chosen a platform, do you know the best place to store it? If not, check How To Stage Guns for Home Defense.