Home Defense: Pistols vs. Shotguns vs. Rifles

posted on February 22, 2018

If you’re a gun owner, there will come a time when you’ll hear someone tell you to “just get yourself a shotgun for home defense.” The fact is, though, that pistols and rifles can be handy to have in a home-defense situation, just as much as shotgun is. The trick is knowing what each gun does well and what it doesn’t do well. For instance, pistols are good for moving about and other tasks where a free hand is needed, like opening doors, leading people to safety and/or holding a flashlight. However, pistols are lacking in firepower compared to a shotgun or a rifle. A shotgun or a rifle needs two hands to use effectively, and they are longer in length compared to a pistol, making them harder to move around inside a house. Shotguns and rifles do have two distinct advantages over a pistol in a home defense environment, though.

A 12-gauge shotgun firing 00 buckshot throws 12 .33-caliber lead pellets at one time into its target. Ouch. A 55-grain .223 bullet weighs significantly less than a buckshot load, but that bullet is traveling at a tremendous speed which allows it to impart a lot of force to the target, far more than common handgun calibers. In short, when it comes to firepower, pistols are pistols, and long guns are long guns.

2. Distance 
An AR-15 rifle in the hands of a semi-competent marksman is more than capable of delivering shots on-target out to 100 yards and beyond, and a shotgun with slugs can hit targets out beyond 50 yards. Both of those distances are considered extreme distances for even the most competent of pistol shooters.

So which is better for personal defense, a handgun, a rifle or a shotgun? In my opinion, they all have a role to play in keeping you and your loved ones safe. Let’s compare the advantages and disadvantages of each of type of firearm and how that might affect your choice:


Advantages: Compact, easy to carry, can be shot with one hand; 
Disadvantages: Not much ammo compared to rifles, low-powered compared to long guns.


Advantages: Devastating amount of power per round, flexible ammunition types; 
Disadvantages: Hard to maneuver in tight spots, needs two hands to operate, (relatively) low ammunition capacity.


Advantages: Powerful rounds. Higher capacity. Great for long-distance work; 
Disadvantages: Needs two hands to use. Harder to maneuver in tight spots. Some locales have magazine capacity limitations.

I use all three, inside and outside the house. Inside our home, we have a designated safe room, a place that the entire family knows is our “rally point,” the place we all go to if someone enters our home with evil intent. Inside that safe room is a first-aid kit, flashlight, cell phone to use for emergency calls, a handgun and a spare magazine. Next to that is a Mossberg 500 pump-action shotgun loaded with buckshot, which also has a half-dozen more shells and a couple of deer slugs ready for fast reloads. Our safe room is meant to be the place where the entire family holes up and stays until help arrives, because aside from my family, nothing in my house is worth the risk of defending.

Outside the home, I have a concealed defensive handgun on me everywhere I can legally carry one with me. You’ve probably heard that cliche that “A .22 on you is better than a .45 in the truck"? There’s a lot of truth there, so carry your guns accordingly.

Is a handgun good for home defense? Yes, absolutely. Is a rifle better? Maybe, and maybe a shotgun is preferable for you. For me, I see a pistol as my primary gun outside the home and secondary inside the home. The pump-action shotgun is my primary home defensive weapon inside the home.

Your life and your circumstances will probably be different than mine: Think about where and how you live your life, then plan accordingly. If you live in a rural area, the extra distance that a rifle gives you is something to consider when making a choice in a defensive gun. If you live in a more densely-packed areas, #4 buckshot penetrates building walls less than #00 shot. Naturally, your local laws will also determine how you choose to arm yourself as well.

Whatever you chose, commit to training with your gun and teach the responsible parties inside your house where your defensive guns are and how they are meant to be used. Having a plan, even having safe room with a sturdy locking door and a flashlight will put you far ahead of the rest of America. Your plan doesn't have to be perfect, you just need to have one.


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