Best Home Defense Gun [Shotgun vs Pistol vs Rifle]

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.

Suppressed Shotgun
Suppressed 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
  • Overpenetration 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.

Benelli M2, CZ75, AR-15 (4)
3-Gun: Benelli M2, CZ75, AR-15

Then go through some other things you might not have considered yet like ammo, flashlights, quick access safes, suppressors, and self-defense insurance.

Best Handgun Safes
Best Handgun Safes

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.

Table of Contents

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Shotguns

Let’s start off with the ole scattergun…

Gun Bed!
Surprise Shotgun!

Intro

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.

12ga Shotgun Shells, Opened (L to R: Bird, Buck, Slug)
12ga Shotgun Shells, Opened (L to R: Bird, Buck, Slug)

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.

HD overpen test buckshot exterior wall

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.

John Woo Wand of Death
LOL…John Woo Wand of Death

Pros of Shotguns

1. We covered this before…they send a lot of lead downrange (provided you aim).

Winchester 12ga 00 Buckshot
Winchester 12ga 00 Buckshot

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″ barrel is overall 40″ long and almost 8 lb loaded.

If your home has lots of tight corners this might be a big negative.

Mossberg 500 with Surefire
Mossberg 500 with Surefire Light

2. Recoil is harsh in 12ga 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 5 rounds in the tube and one in the chamber giving you 6 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.

5.11 Shotgun holder
5.11 Shotgun holder

Unless you train a lot.

shotgun speed reload keanu
Shotgun Quad Load with Keanu

5. 00 Buck has the tendency to overpenetrate 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.

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…

870DM
Shotgun Overpenetration Test

You can use #4 Buckshot.

6
at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

More Shotgun Info

Things aren’t looking as rosy for shotguns anymore right? But really there’s 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:

Let’s take a look at pistols.

Pistols

Tiny compared to shotguns…but what are some other pros and cons of handguns?

Best Beginner Handguns
Best Beginner 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.

S&W 686 Side View
Smith & Wesson 686+

While semi-automatics are newer and take their ammo in magazines.

Glock G43X and G48 and Mags
Glock G43X and G48 and Mags

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.

Glock G19 Broken Down
Glock 19 Field Stripped

But revolvers usually only have a capacity of 5-6 rounds…so keep that in mind. And forget about quick reloads!

Python open
Colt Python 6-Shot Model

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.

Bunch of Pistols and Lights
Bunch of Pistols and Lights

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.

FMJ vs Hollowpoints (9mm and .45 ACP)
FMJ vs Hollowpoints (9mm and .45 ACP)

Again check out our overpenetration article if that’s a big consideration.

Hydra-Shok Tactical (L) vs Hydra-Shok Deep (R)
Hydra-Shok Tactical (L) vs Hydra-Shok Deep (R)

5. Large number of calibers to choose from based on your shooting preference.

Popular Pistol Calibers
Popular Pistol Calibers

If all you can handle is a .22LR 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’s some good deals on good guns out there.

7. One hand is free to make an emergency phonecall.

Although not optimal…you can have one hand free to make a quick 911 call on your cellphone.

pew pew Glock 20
One-Handed Shooting Drills

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.

EMP Front Sight
EMP Front Sight

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.

Stovepipe on G44
Stovepipe on G44

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.

More Pistol Info

Rifles

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.

Pew Pew Upgraded AR-15s
Pew Pew Upgraded AR-15s

Pros of Rifles

1. Higher magazine capacity.

The standard AR-15 magazine capacity is 30 rounds.

Assorted AR Mags
Assorted AR Mags

There’s 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.

3. Upgradeability

AR-15s are adult Legos.

And the rail systems make it super easy to add on lights and lasers to help in home defense.

Tested AR-15 Flashlights
Tested AR-15 Flashlights

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.

Assorted 5.56 Rounds (XM193, XM855, Gold Medal 69gr)
Assorted 5.56 Rounds (XM193, XM855, Gold Medal 69gr)

And now all the rage…you have Pistol Caliber Carbines.

AR-15 and other rifles that take pistol magazines and rounds. If you already have a pistol you can now share everything.

New Frontier C-9 Carbine
New Frontier C-9 Carbine

Cons of Rifles

1. Price

A lot less of a concern now because of affordable but still reliable manufacturers like Palmetto State Armory (3-rifle full review) can get you a rifle for around $400.

PSA 5.56 & .223 Wylde
PSA 5.56 & .223 Wylde

2. Longer length.

It’s a rifle…so there’s some laws regarding its length. If you have very tight corners keep this in mind.

BUT…there’s now such things as AR-15 pistols that don’t have a traditional buttstock…but instead a brace.

Three AR-Pistols
Three AR-Pistols

It’s going to be stupid loud but you get AR-15 power in a much shorter package.

More Rifle Info

We couldn’t come up with more negatives to AR-15 rifles so if any of the myriad of options fit your specific end use…go for it!

Here’s a bunch more info for you to read over:

Other Considerations

Gun Safes

You probably want to secure your gun a little…even if you’re living alone.

Best Handgun Safes
Best Handgun Safes

We’ve tested a bunch of safes from quick-access pistol safes to larger long-gun safes.

Liberty Centurion 24, Open
Liberty Centurion 24, Open

And even hidden and biometric ones.

Suppressors

Guns are loud…so if you’re at the range make sure you have one of our Best Hearing Protection on.

Circle of Shooting Ear Protection
Circle of Shooting Ear Protection

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.

SilencerCo Suppressors
SilencerCo Suppressors

However, they are expensive, annoying to get, and take some time.

But if you have the means and patience…check out our Best 9mm Suppressors and Best AR-15 Suppressors.

Insurance

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’s things like the USCCA which covers your butt for things like bail, attorney costs, lost wages, and more.

USCCA Membership
USCCA Membership

I’ve been a paid member since 2017 and here’s my full review of everything they offer.

Conclusion

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’s a lot of affordable yet reliable manufacturers.

What’s your particular situation and which type of firearm did you go with? Any pros/cons that we missed?

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43 Leave a Reply

  • John

    The gun safe in the bottom left of the picture has the worst back up lock. It can be picked with a paperclip, don’t believe me look up lockpick lawyer on YouTube

    4 weeks ago
  • Mo Better

    00 is .33 caliber, not .38. #0000 buck is .38. Most may not know the difference, or even care, but in the interests of credibility it is always better to provide accurate information.

    1 month ago
  • Scott

    Purchased a Saint Blackout. Had jam issues - back to Springfield. While waiting for a new one I came across a Sig M400 5.56. Very nice and easy to use. Would be one go to with a 45 in my back pocket for backup!

    2 months ago
  • J J N A

    Whatever weapon you shoot best is your defense weapon. Home invaders are wearing kevlar vests so... you must use the weapon you master in order to place your shot properly. Caliber? Give a 45 RMJ. Pistol? Without a doubt Make? Glock 21 Mag load? 13, 2 extra mags *Be sure you are going to shoot the intruder (s) or you will be eliminated with your own gun. Paper targets don’t shoot back. Etc etc

    2 months ago
  • Elliott

    I'm not quite on Keanu's level, but I've found that I'm better with shotguns than anything else, so that's my first line of defense. Bonus: if you like the pistol-caliber AR/AR pistol vibe and don't care as much about fancy sights and other attachments, try a WW2-vintage .30 M1 carbine. Super light, super compact, modest recoil, limited overpenetration with HP rounds, has 30-round mags.

    3 months ago
  • Milo Hernandez LEO

    Wow. That was interesting reading and very helpful. Thanks much

    3 months ago
  • Keith

    flamethrower good?

    4 months ago
  • maddog

    i disagree with your input about revolvers. 'if you have a misfire just go to the next shot'. obviously you have never had the bullet of the misfire move forward just enough to hang up in the forcing cone. you are dead in the water and need tools. the cylinder cannot be opened or rotated.

    4 months ago
  • Joseph J

    Going even further with this line of thinking, why would you “go hunting” in your own home? If they steal the flatscreen who cares, insurance will buy you a new one. Home defense is about preserving your and your families safety/life. Sneaking around in the dark hunting is wreck less to your own well-being. Come down the hall towards the bedrooms, it’s game over and legitimately self-defense.

    4 months ago
  • Joseph J

    Interesting read though a bit short sighted. All things equal, a pistol puts a hole in you, a 5.56 through you and a shotgun sprays you on the wall behind you. A shotgun with simple mods can have less recoil than a 5.56. Try a VangComp barrel on the old Remington, you’ll be impressed. Couple the equipment with training and your putting more lead down range in fewer shots than a 9 MM or 5.56.

    4 months ago
  • Dennis

    If you worry about shooting through walls, AR's are not the gun for you. Hell you may shoot through your neighbor's walls as well........My Remington with 00# will clear things up just fine.

    4 months ago
    • Robert

      You should really research that ..You couldn’t possibly be more incorrect. Due to the speed of a 55 grain full metal jacket or 69 Grain Hollow point from an A.R. 15 ...tends to break up in sheet rock. However buck shot from a shotgun will go through numerous walls. Don’t believe me,Look it up yourself, plenty of YouTube videos to support this

      4 months ago
  • Yuan Kuai

    Hey Eric, Great works! May I ask, what’s that AR style semi-shotgun‘s name? Which one loaded with Mag.

    6 months ago
  • Boris

    I live in the Republic of Panama, and recently the new government has lifted a stupid ban on the import, sale, transfer and carrying of weapons that lasted 10 years, although the justice system recognizes legitimate defense. Another good news is that a little more than a month ago, the Congress passed a new law that criminally exempts the home defense, and states that it can be done "by whatever means," so we do not need insurance of any kind. What is a problem here are the low commercial volume of the gun shops, taxes and speculation, which make the price of a gun up to 3 times that of the U.S. , for example, a CZ P07 is in the vecinity of $1,000.00 or more.

    6 months ago
    • jarmo rally koski

      I like more info moving there

      4 months ago
  • Sean

    Eric Nicely written article, well thought out and explained. Home defense has more flavors than Baskin Robbins and no two people can agree on just one flavor. Who manufactures the suppressed shotgun in the cover picture of the article? I can't zoom in close enough to see the logo?

    6 months ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      CMMG, I'm not sure if it is in production though -- we got to shoot it at TriggrCon 2018.

      6 months ago
  • Richard

    Yeah, I just love it. Someone threatens my family, myself, in my house with a deadly weapon, and I shoot them, I need insurance. What a joke. Is USSAC insurance available in California? California has the worse gun laws in the U.S. So, I am probably In need of self defense insurance. What options do I have? Oh by the way, enjoyed your article. I am not a beginner by any means, but very good advice for people who are.

    6 months ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      AFAIK almost all of the major CCW insurance is available in California, you can take a look at our Best Concealed Carry Insurance article for a ton more info!

      6 months ago
  • Mike

    I think a Pistol Caliber Carbine (PCC) pistol is the perfect choice for home protection. 9mm with some Glock mags - pin point precision, low recoil, and if you have the time - get a silencer to protect your ears. Winner.

    6 months ago
  • Bob

    Don't like the opening click on the Sentry Safe...would prefer silent operation...

    6 months ago
  • Neil

    USCCA Self Defense insurance is no longer available in Washington State. Our Insurance Commissioner stopped that for now. Hopefully will change in the future. USCCA is working on that. Until that happens there are very limited options for this kind of insurance in Washington, unfortunately.

    6 months ago
    • Eric Hung

      Unfortunately there's a few states where it's not longer available. I try to keep the review article up to date!

      6 months ago
  • LAWRENCE HARPER

    Only one slight suggestion. Spell it out; nine .38 caliber balls of lead. I wasted my day trying to figure out 9.38 caliber.

    6 months ago
    • Jason

      Understandable mistake with the 3000 different calibers! I am afraid that your question will give some manufacturers the idea that “Hay, let’s come out with the new 9.38 round!!” 12-Gauge/.22LR/9mm/5.56(.233) all that I will ever get!

      6 months ago
    • Eric Hung

      Good rec...fixed!

      6 months ago
  • Greg

    Any recommendations on a flashlight/laser combo for a s&w sd9ve?

    1 year ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      I have a Streamlight TLR-1 on my SD9VE, fits well and works great - but it is just a light, no laser.

      1 year ago
  • Sean

    Hollow points don't matter one iota or do any better than ball when going through drywall or other hard barriers. Pistol caliber rounds and all useful shotgun shot bb's penetrate much further through walls than non-M855 5.56 rounds. Light, high speed .223/5.56 break apart and stop much quicker than common pistol and shotgun rounds. (demonstrated, proven, documented, repeated and easy to find) Rifles are easier to shoot more accurately than handguns. A shotgun's recoil greatly and adversely affects follow up shots. Shotguns are more unwieldy and stockless shotguns are almost useless novelty items, especially for novices. Weapon lights are not easily mounted to revolvers. Revolvers typically have much heavier, harder, longer trigger pulls, even in no stress situations than semi-autos. A revolver in single action condition during an unknown or a tense rapidly developing shoot/don't shoot situation is a horrible idea. Jams should not be an issue for any modern semi-auto firearm from a reputable manufacturer mated with modern ammo from a reputable manufacturer, especially when you have already tested that firearm/ammo combination as any sensible gun own would do.

    1 year ago
    • JB

      Thanks. Getting my 1st gun. Think I'll like this.

      1 year ago
      • Eric Hung

        Glad we could help...tons more stuff here too!

        1 year ago
  • Thomas F. F. Joyce

    I alternate a .410 she’ll and a Long colt .45 so if one isn’t enough, the following chamber will definitely do the job. We can agree to disagree

    2 years ago
  • Chris C

    I love how you've spelled this out and organized information. Perhaps it is worth mentioning the conditions in which a pistol would jam rather than leaving it to be imagined by the reader to be random chance. (1) when something interferes with the movement of the slide, such as someone grabbing the pistol, or someone holding it incorrectly (eg with thumb behind the slide.) (2) when the barrel is pressed firmly against something, the slide may be pushed back a fraction of an inch, just enough to disconnect things internally so it won't fire properly. (3) when you limp-wrist because of terrible grip and the gun doesn't have enough energy to cycle the next round in. (4) low quality ammunition that may not be compatible with pistol or magazine (over time, too). For example, cheap lacquered steel cased rounds may 'stick' to the walls in the magazine after a year or two, causing the follower not to push up rounds as expected. (basically, it jams the magazine) Anyway, keep up the good work.

    2 years ago
  • Thomas F. F. Joyce

    How do you feel about a Taurus ‘Judge’ for Home defense.

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      I personally wouldn't use it...410 isn't that great for self-defense.

      2 years ago
      • epickett

        What are your reasons for not liking a .410?

        2 years ago
  • arthur

    thankyou for to share all these magnificent information, great for begginers like me.

    3 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      You're so welcome, Brian!

      3 years ago
  • Jeffrey Liekhus

    I live in the mountains of western Washington. Lately there have been cougar and bobcat sightings close by. I have even seen cougar tracks in the snow 50 yards from my front door. I hike, bike and XC ski a lot in the surrounding foothills of Mt Rainier. While I always have several knives on me when I'm out and about, a knife fight with a 150 pound cougar seems like a no-win situation. So, what kind of pistol should I get for protection on my outdoor adventures?

    3 years ago
    • Richard B

      You may want to consider something along the lines of a stainless steel or alloy revolver. I'm assuming that you are in an area with a fair degree of humidity; additionally, condensation will tend to form as you encounter temperature swings by simply coming indoors. Perhaps a double-action, for fast follow-up shot capability, in .357mag and a 3" to 4" barrel would be reasonable to carry on a regular basis. Alloy to keep the weight down. Maybe a 5-shot to keep the width a touch slimmer ... Just make sure your gloved trigger finger is able to get into the trigger guard. And your gloves allow for a solid grip in general. Depending on your carry solution, as you will be covering some distance on uneven terrain, you may also want to consider adding a lanyard. It sucks to have to backtrack for something you've dropped. :-)

      3 years ago
  • JRI

    You are mixing up the terms "handgun" and "pistol". Both revolvers and pistols are handguns. Other than that, good article.

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Thanks! I tend to use them interchangeably but you are right. For the technicality inclined: Pistols are handguns with only one chamber. Revolvers have multiple chambers.

      3 years ago
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