How To Select The Best Gun For Home Defense

Choosing between a shotgun, a handgun and an AR to defend your home.


When it comes to determining the best gun for home defense, there is no one-answer solution. In fact, if you were to ask 10 people their opinion, you’d likely receive 10 different answers, each founded by circumstances specific either to that person’s home or personal preferences.

What someone else deems as the best gun for home defense might not work for you at all … even if that person is a seasoned shooter with a pile of reasons to solidify their opinion.

Everyone is different, but the key factors to consider include what type of gun you personally shoot best, layout and size of your home, and your family dynamic (other family members living within your home).

As is the case with concealed carry handguns, personal preference and fit are paramount to finding the best home defense gun for you … and then training with it.

The Defensive Shotgun

When it comes to home defense guns, the shotgun seems to be what many people instantly think of … and much of that can be attributed to Hollywood. There’s something about a big bore and the unmistakable “cha-chunk” that gives confidence to the individual holding it, and simultaneously strikes fear into anyone on the muzzle end of it.

In the real world, a shotgun is quite worthy of a seat at the table of the best guns for home defense. Still, there’s a lot of misconceptions about using a shotgun inside the home, and a lot of considerations that must be addressed before deciding that it’s the one for you.

The Good

Shotguns have a massive payload, meaning they have the ability to send a lot of home-defending lead downrange at once. This fact is also bolstered by the large and diverse selection of ammunition a shotgun will accept. Whether that’s one single-projectile slug or a pattern of buckshot, options abound with a smoothbore shotgun.

A shotgun, whether it’s a classic slide-action (pump) or a semi-auto, is quite simple to operate. You still need to aim (don’t let the shoot-from-the-hip cinematics dictate how a shotgun should be properly used), but the functions of loading, cycling and shooting a shotgun make it one of the best guns for home defense because it’s largely intuitive.

The Bad

For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction, right? Well, the tradeoff of sending a large amount of lead downrange is recoil … and most shotguns have plenty of it. The good news is that a fully loaded shotgun is heavy, which helps tame the recoil at least a little bit.

But the bad news is also that a fully loaded shotgun is heavy, which can make it slower to shoulder and more difficult to navigate around the house … especially in the dark. Shotguns are also long, especially compared to a handgun. Even the most popular defensive shotguns measure about 40 inches in overall length.

Shotguns also have a limited capacity, usually 5 total rounds when the chamber and tube magazine are both full.

Is any of this a deterrent? Well, that’s your call … but there’s not much out there that hits harder than a shotgun, especially when it comes to home defense firearms.

The Handgun

The strongest overall contender for the best gun for home defense is the handgun, at least in regard to popularity. As a means of convenience, many people with a concealed-carry weapons permit simply use their carry gun as their home defense gun. And, because they are likely very comfortable and proficient with that gun, it makes a lot of sense.

The Good

When considering the knockdown power of a handgun as compared to its physical size, the handgun is the best gun for home defense. Period. It’s small, easy to store securely and, as previously mentioned, can oftentimes be the same gun that’s used for concealed carry.

A handgun’s small size also makes it much easier to maneuver within the home, such as around corners and in stairways. Plus, overall capacity can be as much as triple that of a shotgun, and reloading a handgun with a full magazine is much more time efficient than loading shotshells into a shotgun, one by one.

The Bad

As with the shotgun, the size of the gun can be as much a drawback as a benefit. While a handgun is much easier to maneuver, the short sight radius (distance between the front sight and the rear sight) makes it that much harder to shoot accurately.

Handguns are also more prone to reliability failures than a shotgun or a revolver … but again, they hold a whole lot more ammunition as well. But when a handgun is well maintained, it’s difficult to argue against a handgun being the best gun for home defense.

The AR-15

Is the AR-15 worth consideration as the best gun for home defense? Absolutely. More than any other platform, the AR-15 has the ability to be easily modified not only to home-defense tasks, but also to the user. Do you remember the old “have it your way” Burger King Whopper commercials? Well, that mantra is equally as applicable to the AR-15. You can customize and build them out nearly any way you can imagine.

The Good

In the capacity category, the AR-15 is the clear winner. The most common AR-15 magazine holds 30 rounds, which is double that of today’s highest-capacity handguns. If lots of ammo is paramount in your quest for the best gun for home defense, then there are no other contenders.

Also, the AR-15 is most commonly chambered in 5.56 NATO (similar to .223 Remington), which is extremely light on recoil. That matters not only for shooting comfort, but it allows the shooter to get back on target quickly for follow-up shots if necessary.

The Bad

Generally, the AR-15 is going to cost you a lot more up front than a handgun or a shotgun, and even more so once you begin to customize that rifle to fit your needs and wants. And, like the shotgun, an AR-15 is going to be much longer than a diminutive pistol, which means it’s more challenging to store securely and more difficult to navigate throughout your home in the dark.

Choose and Train

If you’ve read through this and have more questions, that’s a good thing: The best gun for home defense is the one that works best for you, and learning to ask yourself the right questions is the best place to start.

But you don’t need to answer those questions alone. Stock & Barrel offers a very large selection of personal preparedness and firearms training courses, including “Surviving a Home Invasion.” Your level of readiness, mindset and training are just as important as the firearm you feel is the best gun for home defense.

Learn more and find the next upcoming course at Eagan or Chanhassen.

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