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.
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.
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