What Is Best For Home Defense Weapons. Pistol, Rifle Or Shotgun?

By Tom McHale
I get asked all the time these days,what's the Home Defense Weapons?

Beretta ARX 100 makes an excellent home defense weapon
A short-barrel carbine like this Beretta ARX 100 makes an excellent home defense weapon. It's compact, yet far more powerful than a handgun.
Tom McHale headshot low-res square
Tom McHale

USA –-(Ammoland.com)- I just had a wonderful opportunity to directly compare pros and cons of different guns (or best home defense weapons systems as my instructors say) for home defense.

You see, I just (barely) graduated from Tactical Pre-School. They were threatening to have me repeat, but I don’t think any of the instructors wanted me back for another session.

My tactical pre-school took place at the Academi training facility in Moyock, North Carolina. The folks at Beretta Defense Technologies hosted the event as a way to give some of us pre-schooler tactical folks proper exposure to a variety of Beretta tactical guns. You might also know Academi as the former Blackwater training site. Sprawled out over 7,000 acres just south of Norfolk, Virginia, it covers all the tactical subjects for pre-schoolers to doctoral studies. With 25 live ranges, an airstrip, multiple offensive and defensive driving tracks, and several explosives ranges, it’s got everything.

Heck, just sitting in the mess hall trying to match uniforms to special forces teams of various allied countries is entertaining, and just a little bit scary.

Anyway, this is all relevant because my tactical arts and crafts training covered four primary tactical disciplines: pistol, carbine, shotgun and long-range precision rifle. All, well most, of these are pretty darn applicable to home defense. Long-range precision rifle might be a stretch unless you have a reciprocal agreement with a neighbor to set up sniper overwatch hides. (My neighbors suck at long range precision shooting, so that plan is out for me as I would have to carry the load.) The class was a great opportunity to spend a couple of days contemplating the relative pros and cons of using a pistol, rifle or shotgun as my primary home defense platform.

To be clear, our abbreviated training focused solely on fighting with these respective platforms. I learned a lot about each, but just as importantly, the quality side-by-side training time got me thinking.

Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of each platform.

Pistols as Home Defense Weapons

As most any tactical trainers will agree, a pistol is a great option if you can't carry a rifle or shotgun.

The big plus is portability. Not only can you fire it effectively with one hand, that same one-hand benefit allows you do to things in a home defense situation like hold a light, child or cell phone – not to mention tasks like opening doors.

Convenience and portability come with a price tag, however. While none of us want to get shot by a handgun, it’s still a relatively weak fight-stopping tool when compared to a rifle or shotgun. From a pure “energy” perspective, as measured in foot-pounds, it’s about ¼ that of a 12 gauge buckshot load and ⅓ that of an AR-type rifle. It’s also hard to fire accurately under stress. The combination of shorter sight radius and a gun that’s usually lighter than the force required to press the trigger makes for a weapon that takes reasonable expertise to use effectively.

Nonetheless, a pistol is convenient and allows for maneuverability. The addition of a light and laser sights makes it a solid option for home defense.

Rifles as Home Defense Weapons

Most of our tactical carbine training at Academi focused on very short range distances – less than 50 yards, with most being in the 10 yard range.

Note the patterns on this 3D target from a range of 10 yards. Federal Premium FliteControl buckshot loads keep patterns tight and predictable.
Note the patterns on this 3D target from a range of 10 yards. Federal Premium FliteControl buckshot loads keep patterns tight and predictable.

While it may seem counter-intuitive, a 5.56mm carbine like the Beretta ARX-100 we used, is a great home defense option. A standard FMJ 5.56mm round tends to tumble and fragment when it hits things like walls inside a home. So contrary to popular assumption, over penetration is less of a concern than with pistols.

Also on the benefits side is the fact that a carbine is far easier to aim accurately under stress. Also, addition of a light and laser is easy with most AR-type rifles available today. In most states (sorry NJ your not one), capacity can be at least 30 rounds, so the idea for a quick end to aggression is a series of rapid-fire shots. With a compact rifle like an AR-15, it’s relatively easy to make accurate hits with speed, much more so than with a handgun.

Shotguns as Home Defense Weapons

My big epiphany was in the tactical shotgun discipline. Rather than just learn how to use one more effectively, we gained a whole new appreciation for the capabilities of the modern shotgun.

The high-speed, low-drag instructors always refer to these things as “weapons platforms” so I’ll start using that too, now that I’m a tactical pre-school graduate and am expected to speak the lingo.

Here’s why this segment of the training program was such an epiphany. Having done plenty of testing with shotguns and loads of all types, I knew that patterns at indoor home-defense distances are surprisingly small. What I didn’t fully appreciate was how small and repeatable those patterns can get when you match the right ammo to the right gun.

In the class, we used stock Beretta 1301 Tactical shotguns. A compact, light, but surprisingly gentle, semi-automatic shotgun, it’s a pure cylinder bore – no chokes. We matched it with Federal Premium 00 Buckshot with FliteControl wads. I hadn’t worked with these much in the past, and boy was I missing out. As a “capability demonstration” our instructor Steve had us shooting from five to 50 yards. From 10 yards in, this buckshot load made single large holes in the target right to the point of aim – every time. From 15 yards or so, about the maximum realistic interior home defense distance, we were getting baseball sized groups, again direct to the point of aim. Just to make his point about how predictable a buckshot load can be, Steve set up two IDPA targets at 50 yards and commenced blasting away at the one on the left for ten rapid-fire shots. With 90 pellets going down range at 50 yards distance, only one stray pellet impacted the target on the right. That was impressive. Next up was a demonstration of “hostage rescue” headshot from 10 to 15 yards. The results were shocking in terms of precision and predictability.

The fight ending power of a 12 gauge buckshot load is well known and well documented.

Think of it as hitting a determined attacker with nine different .380 ACP shots, all fired at the same time, into a two-inch circle on your target. Enough said.

We each have to make our own decisions on the best home defense weapons, but after this session, my Beretta 1301, loaded with Federal Premium buckshot FliteControl wad ammo, is what’s sitting beside my nightstand. The ghost ring sights are excellent, but I’ve found that the Aimpoint Micro T-2 ( http://goo.gl/pNnhmY )  optic adds precision and speed, especially in low-light conditions.

About

Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon. You can also find him on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

  • 27 thoughts on “What Is Best For Home Defense Weapons. Pistol, Rifle Or Shotgun?

    1. I wouldn’t have thought using any gun in a stressful situation such as an intruder endangering you and yours is going to be pleasant.

    2. Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t a shotgun much louder than a handgun or rifle therefore making it less pleasant to use inside if need be? Yes I know little about firearms but I am looking for the best option for me.

    3. @ Jerry , tough question a lot to consider. Largest animal you may encounter at home, for me its brown bear/ moose . Type of neighborhood , close homes etc, you don’t want to shoot them too.Types of crime in your neighborhood , mine has been experiencing 3-5 criminals doing home invasions. Also a weapon that you are comfortable shooting and proficient with , after all missing sucks or may get you killed. Lastly , taking a life or doing bodily harm is not for everyone. Hesitation could kill you confronting a criminal. Safe room may be the answer for some.
      Many opt for shotgun and pistol since you will find there is no one answer.

    4. I am in the beginning process of determining what type of gun would be best for home protection or Home Defense Weapons.

    5. To a hundred yards shotgun with right slug can do the job plus effective on body armor. I like mix of 00 and slugs, Potential problem is wall penetration.

      1. I’m with you Ray, for slug applications I’m a big fan of poly-shock rounds when I can find them. My HD 12ga is loaded with those and the side saddle shell holder is setup with them as well. For backup reloading my shell-holders are topped off with Hornady frangible slugs. Both serve to address over penetration issues as I live in an apartment complex with walls an aggressive sneezing jag might compromise.

        I used to mix slug/shot but ultimately decided that despite the impressive grouping above-mentioned, “skimming” a hostile that’s holding my wife or loved one at 3am with oo is not worth the risk of that one rogue ball, and a wad in the eye just plain sucks as well. I think my better half would concur…

      2. Ray, for slug applications I’m a big fan of poly-shock rounds when I can find them. My HD 12ga is loaded with those and the side saddle shell holder is setup with them as well. For backup reloading my shell-holders are topped off with frangible slugs. Both serve to address over penetration issues as I live in an apartment complex with walls an aggressive sneezing jag might compromise.

        I used to mix slug/shot but ultimately decided that despite the impressive grouping above-mentioned, “skimming” a hostile that’s holding my wife or loved one at 3am with oo is not worth the risk of that one rogue ball, and a wad in the eye just plain sucks as well. I think my better half would concur…

      3. quick correction I meant to say International / ICC frangible slugs NOT Hornady (got a case of Hornady left over from a rifle class across the room from me while I’m writing this) 🙂

        regards

    6. The question is, what can you reliably hit with, what are you really experienced with? Shot Placement is the key. And yes, I have been a Federal LEO Firearms Instructor since 1991. Where I live, a pistol or a shotgun works just fine on intruders. If it is a longer range duel, then its rifle time.
      And large dogs are a GREAT deterrence We don’t have salesmen coming to our door.

      1. I have 3 dogs all of which I beleive would hide behind me to bark at an.intruder.however they will at least wake you up.past that point I wouldn’t rely on a dog that hasn’t been trained as a guard dog to orotect you or your family.Thats what guns are for.

    7. Nothing is better than a short barreled shotgun in close quarters. Even a 44 mag. or FAL .308 won’t deliver the knockdown punch of a 12 ga. I’ve got em all but the shotgun is my go-to weapon of choice in the house.

    8. And the shotgun with a long barrel is a lot safer. Have you ever thought about how difficult it is to shoot yourself with a long gun? Sans your feet, it’s pretty hard. Getting the end of the barrel anywhere near your head or center mass while keeping your finger/hands close to the trigger is really difficult.

      That’s why my wife was ONLY interested in a shotgun next to the bed when I’m out of town.

    9. I was always taught that the Pistols only function was to be used to FIGHT YOUR WAY back to your Shotgun…..And you grab the AR/AK if your going outside.

    10. Probably a shotgun followed by a pistol followed by a rifle. But whatever gun you have in your hand is the best of Home Defense Weapons.

    11. 00 buckshot penetrates a great deal more than .380 hardball, and the pellets are smaller in diameter…so the analogy above doesn’t quite work.

      1. No, .380 hardball penetrates far deeper than 00 buck. Round lead balls used in shot are not all that great at deep penetration – but when moved along at high speed in a tight pattern with 8 or more others, they are very capable.

      2. Like hell it doesn’t. Nine .380’s are much weaker than nine OO inside of 4 inches at any range. BTDTGT-S, and wore it out Stevei…

    12. Flashlight in strobe mode and green laser are an extremely effective combination on the shotgun!
      Easy to aim, even if it cannot be shouldered.
      Flashlight makes it hard for the target to see you. Yet, you can easily give quick and accurate identification of the target!

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