New Shooter’s Guide: The Best Gun For Home Defense Isn’t a Handgun, Here’s Why

When it comes to the best gun for home defense, the difference between a handgun and a long gun is night and day.


We have many choices for home defense. The widest choice is in handguns. There are single-action, double-action-to-single-action, and double-action-only self-loaders and also revolvers. Glock by itself has a whole ecosystem of handguns. Without a thorough understanding of your circumstances, willingness to train, and firearms background, it’s hard to know if a given shooter can be effective with a handgun.

In home defense, preventing loss of life is a primary concern, but limiting liability is also important. Proficiency is the primary defining criteria in a defensive encounter. You must obtain quality instruction. This training must be followed by practice and repetition. Get the right gun and the right training. Whatever your situation, I will state with certainty that the best firearm for home defense isn’t a handgun. The difference is night and day in effectiveness. A handgun is a reactive instrument we may carry concealed when away from home, ready to address an unforeseen attack.

In the home, we may have a long gun at the ready. The long gun offers far greater hit probability. An average shot with a long gun is more formidable than an expert with a handgun. The long gun allows for a three-part lockup with both hands and cheek weld. This makes for greater control in terms of controlling recoil and in directing fire. When the shooting is a two-way affair, you want every advantage. The ergonomics of a long gun are far superior to the handgun, like comparing a baseball bat to an eggbeater. A shotgun handles primarily by feel. A standard plain-stocked pump shotgun is as good as it gets in home defense. Even the most inexpensive pump-action shotguns are reliable. A shotgun has the greatest propensity to immediately stop a threat with a single shot. While shotguns have substantial recoil, there are techniques to master recoil. A 20-gauge shotgun is a reasonable home-defense choice. You may spend a great deal of money on a shotgun, but it isn’t necessary.

Even an inexpensive Tokarev USA pump makes a good home defender.

A carbine for home defense has great appeal. A pistol-caliber carbine in 9mm Luger has a great advantage in its light recoil. Also, the pistol-caliber carbine offers high hit probability and easy handling. Be certain to use quality expanding-bullet loads, not gimmicky loads, in the carbine. The 9mm carbine is less likely to overpenetrate than a 9mm pistol because the loading used gets a 100-fps to 200-fps upcharge in velocity, creating greater expansion of the projectile. This full powder burn makes for less muzzle signature. And the best way to limit over-penetration is to hit the threat, not miss — which requires training. Practicing with the 9mm carbine to gain skill and confidence with it is easier on the pocketbook than other choices because 9mm ammunition isn’t as inexpensive as it once was, and it is widely available. For most shooters, a 9mm carbine is an ideal home-defense firearm.

A 223 Remington–chambered carbine, such as an AR-pattern rifle, or a KelTec SU-16 or Ruger Mini 14, offers excellent wound potential and the least likelihood of overpenetration. The 55- to 77-grain expanding 223 bullet breaks up quickly. Recoil is modest. The disadvantage is muzzle blast. These rifles have excellent handling and accept red-dot sights easily.

A 223 Rem./5.56mm carbine is a good choice for home defense with proper training. This is a Ruger Mini-14.

If you or your state don’t like AR-15 rifles for some reason, it isn’t difficult to have the same protection with a different style of rifle. If you use an AR recreationally, in competition, or in hunting, then you have your home-defense carbine on hand. The “featureless” KelTec SU-16 may be more acceptable to your jurisdiction while giving up nothing to the AR in a home-defense environment. While a riot-length shotgun with 18- to 20-inch barrel is primarily a home-defense shotgun and the 9mm PCC has little application in the field, a quality 223 Remington–chambered rifle is another matter. For several disciplines in competition and for hunting pests, varmints, and even medium game, the 223 rifle is useful.

After a survey of the last few years in training and most of the beginning shooters I know well, I think that the 9mm carbine is an ideal home-defense firearm. There is a great deal of fun and recreation in these firearms. This makes for frequent practice sessions. Just the same, the seriousness of home defense isn’t a place I like to compromise. The pistol caliber carbine — probably a Ruger PCC — would be my first choice. The handgun just isn’t in the running.

Article and photos by Gun Tests Contributing Editor Robert Campbell

A pistol-caliber carbine in 9mm Luger has a great advantage in its light recoil. Also, the pistol-caliber carbine offers high hit probability and easy handling.


  1. Shotguns are the kings at settling interpersonal disputes at conversational distances, and rifles are much more powerful than pistols (or PCCs) but handguns allow you to move around your house with a flashlight or free hand to open doors, etc. When you get up in the middle of the night to check on a sound, a pistol or revolver is much handier.

    ANY weapon will require training, pump action shotties especially, so I can’t say that’s a mark against handguns.

    If you suspect a fight is coming, a long gun is better. If not, a pistol still has a role. In fact you can upgrade to heavier steel pistols or larger calibers if the handgun is going to be in a nightstand instead of on your hip.

  2. I generally agree with you BUT when using a shotgun or carbine you MUST remember to keep the barrel vertical or semi vertical when going thru narrow doorways. YOU DO NOT WANT THE BARREL TO GO THROUGH THE DOORWAY HORIZONTAL WHEN YOU CANNOT SEE WHAT IS ON EITHER SIDE OF THE DOOR, as an intruder can grab the barrel, which can be a huge problem.

  3. Interesting article but I’m not sure if I agree on a lot of points. Really after shooting an AR-15 in an indoor range the blast and concussion even to a seasoned shooter is tremendous. Plus in a confided space you would have permanent hearing loss. Try clearing your house with an AR or shotgun, going around stairs, opening doors it’s much much harder with a rifle or shotgun. A pistol allows much greater flexibility and is easier to maneuver with plus you can use one handed. Also I’d argue time differences at living room ranges from say a low ready with either would be close. I think people overall are more likely to buy a pistol for home defense just because it’s easier to store, clean, use, lighter.

    • I also prefer double action revolvers, such as a Smith model 10 or 15. Just point and shoot. A no brainer in scarey situations. A 686P even holds 7 rounds of 357, but I would stick to 38 special.

  4. The best gun for home defense is the one that is close enough to get your hands on it. This is just like the best place to strike someone hand to hand is the place that is available; also applies to the best place to shoot an adversary.

  5. Have to agree with all the prior comments . While like others I have an AR and shotgun a handgun is what I keep at hand and will use if needed . The reasons already mentioned are enough .

  6. I agree that the best gun is the one to get your hands on in an emergency. That said, IF there was time, I’d go for my Winchester 12ga Pump, IF I had time.

  7. If one is laying in bed asleep and awakened by someone breaking in, it is much easier to bring a Taurus Judge loaded with 5 or 6 rounds of .410 to bear than it would be to swing an 870 or equivalent towards the bedroom door in many cases. Having the Taurus handy may be what allows time to grab the 870 , especially if there are multiple intruders. Hornady makes some pretty efficient loads for stopping a threat.

  8. I was taught that the best use of a handgun for self-defense is getting to your shotgun, rifle or AR/AK pistol which I notice wasn’t mentioned here. An AR pistol gives you the maneuverability of a handgun with the firepower of a rifle. If you don’t have a silencer, you can attach a blast diverter which will also reduce the sound level coming back to your ears. A 9mm handgun is louder than an AR pistol with a 10.5″ barrel fitted with a blast diverter. I also disagree with advice on new shooters using a shotgun for HD. Of all the firearms, it is the hardest to master because a lot of new users will short stroke it – which in a home invasion scenario with multiple perps is a recipe for disaster.

  9. I’m cross dominant and am comfortable shooting a handgun but not a long gun. I have astigmatism in the non dominant eye also . I will never be as proficient with it as I am with a handgun and I need to be when it counts.

  10. Along with the proficient use of one of the guns mentioned I would add a good sized, snarling canine, if possible, to put the pause on most of these cowards. They’d most likely reconsider they’re choice of house or apt before getting to the window or door.


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