Selecting a Home Defense Firearm


The topic of what firearm should I use for home defense is a question that people get a million answers on. Most of the time, your local gun store, unknowledgeable friend or people who have little training experience, will tell you a shotgun because you can’t miss. Sometimes you even get some of these same people telling you never a “high powered rifle round”, mostly referring to 223/5.56mm, it will over penetrate. And yes, always the classic answer of, whatever you feel comfortable with. In most cases all of the above answers are wrong.

When approaching the topic of what firearm you want to use for home defense, you need to be thinking about several things. Most importantly: (1). Your specific home layout. (2). Other people in the home, specifically children. These two important topics will help you answer several questions, on what firearm you are going to choose as your primary home defense weapon. When thinking about these two topics, you can answer specific round selection, accuracy, handling/ease of manipulation, important defensive accessories, (i.e. lights and sights) and accessibility. All of this will point you towards what firearm(s) will need to be selected.

Colt LE6920
Colt LE6920 / AR15

The Clear Choices:

There is no doubt that we are talking about three specific types of firearms here. These firearms are the standard for defense and have a proven track record in Law Enforcement, Military and Civilian use.

(1). A reliable full size semi auto Handgun, (Glock, S&W M&P, H&K, Sig, 1911 and others).

(2). A (Reliable) AR15 type rifle in 223/5.56mm, (i.e. Colt, BCM, Daniel Defense).

(3). A Shotgun ( i.e. Remington 870’s, Mossberg 500’s or Winchester Defender).

Now out of these choices you can probably eliminate one choice, the shotgun, right away in my opinion. I say this because once you start to answer a few of the questions stated earlier, the Shotgun is clearly the bottom of the three. The shotgun is larger, heavy, harder to maneuver in a home and impossible to fire multiple rounds one handed. I could keep going, but you get the idea. Also, racking it does not have the effect people believe it to have. Don’t get me wrong I love a good Remington 870. It’s an awesome weapon and very effective, but it has a specific place/role and you can miss with the 00 buck pellets. Contrary to what most people believe, you still have to aim with a shotgun. Modern Duty buckshot has a tighter pattern than the buckshot of 10 and 15 years ago. You will be accountable for those rounds if you miss because they will enter other rooms. Depending on the number of buckshot, it can range from eight to nine 25 cal. pellets to 32 cal. pellets, flying out of the barrel. They will pass through drywall retaining most of their mass.

Now let’s talk about why the semi-auto handgun and AR15 are arguable the two best choices. As we delve into them further, you will also see more reasons why the shotgun is the last choice, possibly not really a choice at all. My opinion is the handgun and the AR15 would serve most people the best. They are only separated by your particular home needs.

GunVault, Glock, Colt LE6920
GunVault, Glock, Colt LE6920


If you have to grab a firearm in a defensive situation and you have little ones at home, you most likely will need the use of one hand. You may also need a free hand to call for help, open doors, lock doors or pick up a little one. The handgun makes perfect sense in these situations. The handgun is the most compact and maneuverable firearm you can use. Once you rack it and its ready to go, you have the ability to have one hand free if needed.

You can move throughout your home in a high ready position, keeping the firearm close to your body. This will help avoid someone grabbing your firearm or pushing the muzzle down while coming around corners in the home.

One thing to keep in mind about a handgun is the rounds are larger and slower moving than a rifle round. Large slow moving rounds tend to retain more mass when going through barriers in the home, especially drywall. You do not want to be frantically shooting towards a loved one’s room, missing your target. Very good personal defense rounds for handguns (i.e. Federal HST, Winchester Ranger and Speer Gold Dot) are designed to penetrate auto glass, for law enforcement agencies. These are also some of the best rounds for personal defense in handguns. They will retain almost all of their mass, especially when passing through dry wall.

Glock High Ready
Glock 17 High Ready
Colt LE6920 / Negotiating Corners.
Colt LE6920 / Negotiating Corners.

Any good modern firearm will most likely have a integrated rail on the frame. This allows you to attach various weapon lights on the handgun, giving you the ability to identify anyone in the home. You will be able to manipulate the light controls with one hand on the handgun as well. Target identification is paramount in these situations. You do not want to shoot a family member because you could not see them and thought they were the bad guy.

The handgun also allows you to store the firearm in a quick access safe, like a Gunvault safe. This insures others in the home, that you do not want getting a hold of the handgun, cannot access the firearm. A quick access safe can be stored, discreetly, anywhere in your home and gives you the ability to place several handguns in key areas of the home.

With all of these options you can see a reliable full size handgun is a very good choice. I feel it is the number one choice in most cases. I utilize several quick access safe throughout my home.


A reliable AR15 is also a very good choice for a home defense firearm. Keeping in mind those two key topics, the 223/5.56mm round is one of the best rounds you can use for home defense. Terminal performance of the 223/5.56mm round is also going to stop a threat more effectively than a handgun round. It’s a fast moving small round and is more likely not to over penetrate or go through multiple barriers, (with the right round selection). M855 is not a home defense round.

The AR15 is a compact shoulder fired weapon and is going to be more accurate than a handgun. You will find that a handgun at full extension comes close to the extended muzzle of a 16″ AR15. With some training and practice you can move throughout a home very effectively. The AR15 is going to have a larger ammunition capacity than either the handgun or shotgun. You have the ability to use the support hand for brief periods of time, opening doors, moving something or dialing for emergency help. But, when it comes to firing rounds you will need both hands on the rifle. Also you will need to use the support hand to activate your light.

Colt LE6920, Aimpoint, Streamlight
Colt LE6920, Aimpoint, Streamlight TLR-1
Handgun at Extention
Handgun at Extention

With the AR15 you will be able to add accessories to mount, a weapon light and a red dot optic, (i.e. Aimpoint, Eotech or other). This will allow you to identify your target and get fast accurate shot placement.


I took no pictures with a shotgun for this article because I currently do not have a shotgun. I sold my 870 and my Mossburg 590 long ago. I feel the shotgun does not have the advantages of a handgun or AR15 in the home, especially when you need to think about your family response plan. I currently use both an AR15 and handguns throughout my home, in the previously mentioned quick access safes. As my young ones grow older the rifle will slowly be fazed out and locked away.

Think long and hard about what role you, your wife or others my play in a home defense incident. Things are different when mom and dad are home, vs. only mom is home. Look at the layout of your home, are your kids upstairs or are they down the hall from you? Choosing the right firearm to move quickly to their rooms needs to be considered as well as possible scenarios, you may have to hold a child in one arm. Look at the support gear you will need, lights, optics and ammunition selection. Don’t buy something because the guy at the local guns store said it was the best or your buddy uses a particular firearm. Your needs and family makeup may be very different.

Either way, once you choose your dedicated home defense firearm(s), training and planning for your family will be key to an effective home defense. In the end, the only rounds that count are the rounds on target.



  1. Duncan,

    Good point about the handgun at full extension being comparable to the AR-15 length. I had never considered that.

    With regards to your shotgun vs AR-15 arguments:

    A shotgun with an 18″ barrel is no less wieldy than an AR – two inches in the grand scheme is not a game-breaker. Both are shoulder-mounted, but a shotgun can be configured to different lengths and stock options.
    Shotguns can now accept any useful attachment that an AR can.
    A pump shotgun produces less noise in the direction of the shooter, because the breech stays closed. The effect is far less risk of damaging or incapacitating hearing.
    The Remington 870 Express Tactical weighs 7.0 lbs. The S&W M&P 15 Sport weighs 6.45 lbs.

    Also, you claim that they are impossible to use one-handed but then state that an AR requires two hands to operate. I dare say that the only thing a defender can do one-handed with an AR that they can’t with a shotgun is: follow-up shots. I’ve broken clay one-handed with an 18″ barreled 12-gauge while on the cell phone…dispatching an intruder should not be out of reach for an average person.

    I’m not a shotgun advocate, per se. I just would like to see more data to support the argument against them. Calling them “large, heavy, and hard to maneuver” is – frankly – not a good enough reason to discredit them. Not when we’re talking about an indoor, short-range, fast skirmish (and in most cases: one-sided).

    Finally: “role”, not “roll”.

    • Jim,

      While I did not go into lengthy detail, I never discredited the Shotgun. I’m simply saying it should not be the number one choice. I clearly stated we are talking about three (3) firearms here, the shotgun being one (1) of them. At close range the Shotgun is devastating. This article is more about thinking about a family plan or your home environment. Each family will have different needs.

      The balance of weight is the clear factor in the Shotgun vs AR15 as well as recoil. All of the weight of the shotgun is in the barrel, far more forward than the AR15. The majority of the AR15 weight is in the receiver magazine area, closer to your body. The AR15 has a more balanced weight and is easier to maneuver and shoot, one handed if needed. I have had to shoot an M16 Commando one handed, with multiple rounds fired. This simply cannot be done with a Shotgun. Maybe I did not explain this fully in the article but most get the point. I’m not talking about experience shooters here. I’m talking to a large section of people and a family plan. A well trained person with a Shotgun is an awesome foe, but lets face it, most people do not train with their Shotguns. This is due to the myth that it is the best and you can not miss.

      I cannot shoot a Shotgun one handed, if you can that’s great. The Colt 6720 is right at 6 lbs. With an Aimpoint T1 and light around 7 pounds. A Shotgun with a light and optic just is not going to beat an AR in weight, period. One or Two pounds does make a difference.

      The 223/5.56 ballistics have better terminal effect than Shotgun pellets and if you miss (one) round will be less lethal after hitting a barrier, unlike the 8 or 9 pellets of Shotgun pellets, if you miss. At the end of the day can you cover down on a door, hallway or room with a child next to you and dial 911 with a Shotgun. I don’t think so Jim, not the average scared person or wife. Now let’s throw in two or three attackers.

      Also, thank you for pointing out the spelling errors. Sometimes I miss them here and there, trying to get the info out to everyone.

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