Thinking about a home defense gun? Here are five solid choices for folks who are are new to shooting, but who are serious about personal protection inside the home…
5. The Mossberg 500 in .20 gauge. Generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of long-guns for home defense. If you find yourself in a situation where you have to move through your home (e.g. to retrieve your kids after hearing someone break in), clearing rooms with a long gun can make an already dangerous job tougher. You have to be careful approaching every corner because it is all too easy for an attacker to grab the barrel and wrest the weapon from your grip. Moreover, using a cell phone and/or a flashlight can be difficult when you’re wielding a firearm that is by defintion a two-handed weapon. That said, there is a role for shotguns and even rifles in home defense. The folks at the Pro Arms Podcast noted that shotguns should be regarded as the “artillery” of home defense. You don’t want to go running around the house with one, but if you are able to just stay in your room and wait for the police to show up, a shotgun is an awesome weapon to have. To put things in perspective, your standard #3 buck gives you 20 pellets, each one being .25 caliber. That’s an enormous amount of power in a single shot. I’ve read that it is the ballistic equivalent of hitting a target with two .44 magnum rounds simultaneously.
Another advantage of a long-gun is that it’s easier to shoot than a handgun. That said, it’s a myth that one doesn’t need to aim a shotgun. Even shooting a shotgun without a choke (chokes are used to control the pattern) will not give you a massive spread at the sort of distances you will find in a regular single family home. Expect the pattern at 21 feet to be around six inches. At room distances, a shotgun will produce even tighter patterns. In other words, you still have to aim, just like you would with a handgun.
I chose the Mossberg 500 for my list because it is affordable (less than $300) and extremely reliable. I chose 20 gauge instead of 12, because it provides more than enough power to deal with a violent attacker, but without all the undesirable recoil of a 12 gauge. A 20 gauge puts 75% of the lead downrange that a 12 gauge does, but with 40 to 50% less recoil. The folks at the Massad Ayoob Group are big proponents of the 20 gauge, which is a pretty powerful endorsement.
4. Springfield XD9. What can I say about the XD except that it rocks. I’ve owned an XD9 for about a year and it has been a great purchase. I’ve put thousands of rounds through my XD and have not had a single malfunction. Not one! Even my Glock 34 has had a falure to feed. Moreover, the XD is extremely safe. The gun is loaded with simple, but useful safety features, including a grip safety. I know some folks out there don’t like the idea of a grip safety, but I’m not one of them. I’ve fired a lot of rounds in my time and I’ve never, ever had a gun not go boom when I wanted it to because of a grip safety. I realize that there are some potential situations in which it might prove to be a liability, but those seem like extremely low probability events. Accidental discharges do happen, even with experienced shooters. In my humble opinion your average shooter is more likely to need that grip safety to prevent an accident than they are to face a situation in which they need to fire their weapon using a jacked-up grip.
I chose the 9mm chambering for several reasons: 1) 9mm ammunition is relatively cheap and plentiful compared to some other cartridges; 2) It is a fairly soft shooting round, which is helpful for new shooters and recoil sensitive shooters; 3) Despite some misguided criticsm, it is actually a very effective cartridge when it comes to defensive use. Just as an FYI, the XD9 is what I now use as my home defense gun and I don’t feel the least bit underarmed.
3. The Glock 17. I recently told a friend of mine that if I were roaming a post-apocalyptic world and I could choose only one firearm to take with me it would be the Glock 17. Simply put, Glock is the benchmark for reliability in the handgun world. The Glock 17 in particular is an insanely reliable gun. Ranges that rent firearms have reported Glock 17 round counts in excess of… wait for it…. wait for it… one MILLION rounds. It isn’t uncommon for popular range guns to have over a thousand rounds put through them in a day. That’s more than your average person will ever put through any gun they own. Private owners of Glocks have reported round counts in excess of 100,000 with no breakages. All this means, if you want a gun that will go boom every time you press the trigger you can’t go wrong with a Glock 17.
I chose the 9mm chambering for the same reasons I cited above for the XD9m.
2) The Ruger GP100 in .327 Federal Magnum. Although I tend to prefer autloaders, there is a special place in my heart for revolvers. Revolvers are the simplest of all handguns to operate and they are often easier for people with arthritis or poor hand strength to load. I’ve been an NRA Instructor for a while now and I have found that most women have real difficulty using autoloaders because they lack the hand strength to load the magazines and in some cases cannot effectively manipulate the slide. Elderly people face a similar challenge. For these people, I recommend a full-size revolver chambered in something manageable like .38 Special or .327 Federal Magnum. There are certainly more powerful cartridges out there, but in my view the .327 Federal is probably the best choice for most people. It has half the felt recoil of the .357 Magnum; holds more rounds; but still has respectable stopping power. The Ruger GP100 is a great choice for a gun chambered in .327 because, like all Rugers, it’s built like a tank and can be purchased for considerably less than a S&W.
1) The Smith & Wesson M&P in .357 SIG. If you want the perfect home defense gun then look no further than the M&P in .357 SIG. The M&P has quickly become one of the most popular autoloaders in the country thanks to its outstanding reliability (five hundred rounds through mine and no malfunctions to report yet), superior ergonomics, customizability, terrific accuracy, and great looks. As I’ve mentioned before, I love my M&P 9mm compact and plan to purchase another M&P soon — probably in .357 SIG. If you hold an M&P in your hand you will simply feel the difference. S&W did its homework by conducting an extensive ergonomics study before releasing the M&P and the fruits of that research are apparent when you pick up an M&P. The bore axis is low, which maximizes controlability in rapid fire. The tang allows you to assume a high grip on the pistol, which further enhances your control of the gun. When I try to assume the same grip with my Glock I get slide bite (sporting a nice case of it right now in fact).
I chose the .357 SIG cartridge for the M&P for a few reasons: 1) It is fast becoming a legendary man stopper and is now one of the most popular law enforcement calibers in the United States; 2) It is a bottleneck cartridge, which improves reliability by reducing the potential for misfeeds; 3) The low bore axis and terrific ergonomics of the M&P should make the snappier recoil of the .357 SIG manageable for even inexperienced shooters.
So there you go. There are other great guns out there for home defense, but the ones I’ve listed above are pretty universally accepted as awesome, and for good reason. They combine firepower, with controlability and reliability to make any home defender a force to be reckoned with.