It is commonly said that the first rule of gunfights is to bring your gun, so any home defense firearm is much better than none. But some guns are better for the gun fight purpose than others. Following is a an examination and guide to selecting the best gun for self and home defense for you.
A .22 caliber target or hunting rifle is better than nothing, but like any rifle the weapon is unwieldy. And most .22 rimfire rifles are under powered for the purpose of home and personal defense. Human beings are much larger than the game generally shot with a .22. Any rifle is somewhat easy for an intruder to grab at a close range, and the long barrel of a rifle gives an intruder plenty of leverage to take the gun away from the defender and homeowner. A violent criminal will readily turn a rifle on the homeowner.
Centerfire rifles are also generally unwieldy and difficult to retain in a struggle with an intruder. These weapons generally have plenty of power, particularly the common deer rifle. In fact, the weapons have way too much power and offer an extreme risk of over penetration in suburban and urban areas. The weapons thus represent an unacceptable hazard to innocent bystanders and neighbors.
If a rifle is the only available firearm for your situation, a relatively low powered, carbine length rifle is probably the best choice. A Winchester or Marlin lever action carbine weapon chambered for a pistol cartridge (.357 Magnum, .44 Magnum) would fit well, as would a military surplus M1 Carbine. These weapons would also be satisfactory choices to defend a neighborhood during a small riot or other civil insurrection. Use bullets manufactured for quick expansion.
Rifles such as a lever action .30-30 rifle or Ruger Ranch Rifle would be a sensible choice weapon outdoors for defending farm or ranch property from two or four legged predatory animals. For defensive use inside the home, particularly in populated areas, there are much better choices than a rifle.
Shotguns, in particular the short barreled type familiarly known as "riot guns," can be quite effective for home defense. These shotguns generally come with 18"-20" barrels. The firearms are extremely intimidating to an intruder. No sane individual wants to argue with a shotgun.
12 gauge pump guns are generally the most popular type of riot gun, but a double-barreled "coach gun" or autoloader will also serve the purpose, as will similar guns in 16 or 20 gauge range. Small bore 28 and .410 bore guns do not pack enough power and should be avoided for home defense. Good examples of pump action short barreled riot guns are the security versions of the popular Mossberg Models 500 and 590, and the Remington Model 870.
Shotgun slug loads involve the same risk of extreme over penetration as a centerfire rifle, and should be reserved for use outdoors when possible. Shot and buckshot loads considerably reduce that risk of over penetration. However, shot loads will do substantial and often unacceptable damage inside the home in which they are fired.
Similar to rifles, shotguns are unwieldy weapons indoors and are may be seized by an intruder. Replacing the buttstock with a pistol grip makes a shotgun more easy to handle in tight spaces. It has been found that particularly true onboard a boat. Pachmayr makes a solid replacement pistol grip for the most common brands of shotguns, and many Mossberg security models come with both pistol grip and standard buttstocks. Remember that you still have to aim carefully to hit a target. Never fire a shotgun from the hip!
A shotgun would seem to be an exceptional choice for sweeping rioters from the front porch steps throughout a civil insurrection, but for defense within the home a handgun is probably a better choice. However, a riot gun is a solid back-up weapon if the situation gets out of control.
A handgun is extremely userful indoors and can be conveniently concealed almost anywhere within the home, ready for use. A handgun is the easiest of all guns to hold onto during a struggle with an intruder. The handgun can be fired from either hand in an emergency situation easily. (This is especially true of revolvers). Revolvers and Centrefire pistols from approximately 9mm/.38 caliber on up, assuming correct ammunition is chosen, offer solid stopping power for indoor home defense without the high risk of over penetration of a shotgun stuffed with slugs or deer rifle. They are much less likely to severely damage the home you are trying to protect than a shotgun. For all of these significant reasons handguns are the first and ideal choice of the majority of experts for home defense.
Of the various types of handguns on the market, only revolvers and autoloading pistols should be considered for home and personal defense. Service type handguns are the typical, and first or best, choices. These usually come equipped with better sights and are easier to shoot much more accurately than the smaller, lighter handguns specifically designed primarily for concealed carry.
Modern examples of service style autoloaders good for home defense include the the Ruger P series, Beretta M92 series, SIG P229 and P239, and the Compact and Full-Sized Glock pistols. All of these weapons are double action or safe action pistols that can be easily and safely stored with the chamber loaded and the safety (if present) conveniently off. If the whistle blows it is not necessary to manually cycle the action or manipulate a safety on the weapon, just pull the trigger and the gun will fire almost without fail. In this the weapons are much like a double action revolver.
Autoloaders hold more cartridges than the common revolver, typically about 10 rounds, and are much faster to reload if a pre-loaded magazine is handy. However, autoloaders are generally very slow to reload from a box of loose cartridges--the situation if present that usually pertains if a homeowner shoots his or her pistol completely empty. An autoloader can deliver very precise rapid fire, but remember that you can never miss fast enough to win a gunfight.
Autoloading pistols are more likely however not common to jam than a revolver, particularly if fired through some type of cloth, say from under a bathrobe in a quick and sudden emergency, from an unusual orientation (upside down for instance), or with a shocked "limp wrist" (insecure hold). The autoloader has one other very significant drawback: the weapon is magazine fed and the spring within a loaded magazine is tightly compressed. Magazines should be rotated regularly and often. The spring in a loaded magazine left unattended for a long period of time may take a "set" position and then lack the pressure to reliably feed cartridges to the pistol, causing a jam.
If an autoloading pistol is used for home defense we would choose one chambered for the 9mm Luger (9x19) cartridge. Given proper ammunition, the weapon firing the 9x19 offers excellent stopping power with low muzzle flash and recoil compared to that of the popular big bore pistol cartridges (.40 S&W and .45 ACP).
A high quality autoloader in this caliber, owned and maintained by an experienced shooter, is an excellent good home defense weapon. It is perhaps not so good for the general user who is not a recreational shooter.
One of the top choices for a home defense gun is a revolver. Revolvers usually hold six cartridges, but some can hold more. Revolvers are ambidextrous to shoot. Perhaps best of all, the revolver can sit fully loaded and untouched for decades, as all springs are normally at rest, and still be ready to be fired or to go into service at a moment's notice. Just grab the gun and commence firing should any need arise.
Medium size revolvers, this type is generally favored for home defense, and come in two action styles, double action and single action. The difference is that the single action (SA) revolver must be manually cocked by the user before the trigger will fire the weapon. These are the traditional and first "western" style guns, such as the Colt Single Action Army and Ruger Blackhawk and Vaquero model revolvers. Such guns are slow to reload, but extremely powerful, accurate and deadly.
Somewhat like autoloading pistols, single action revolvers are regarded as an entirely satisfactory choice for home defense, particularly for experienced shooters of weapons, but not the best choice for the casual user.
The all-around premier choice among firearms for home defense is the double action (DA) revolver. These weapons are the typical "police" style revolvers, such as the popular Colt Python, Ruger GP100, or the Smith and Wesson Model 10 (M&P) Military and Police. Double action revolvers may be thumb cocked at a moments notice, just like a single action revolver, and then fired by a light pressure on the light trigger. This is generally referred to as shooting a double action in "single action," and it is the most accurate way to deliver aimed fire at an intruder. They may also be fired by a single long pull on the heavier trigger, which first cocks and then releases the weapon's hammer (trigger cocking or "double action" shooting).
Trigger cocking of the revolver requires a longer and much heavier trigger pull, but it is quick and fast. Shots from this weapon can be delivered as rapidly as from most autoloading pistol. The weapon is sufficiently accurate for close range shooting of an intruder (out to perhaps 7 yards) in trained hands.
Double action revolvers are very reliable, safe, simple to operate, relatively easy to shoot accurately, and extremely difficult to jam. The weapons can be reloaded very quickly if a speed loader is employed, and are extremely easy to reload from a box of loose cartridges should that become necessary in the heat of the moment. For the average homeowner as well as the expert gun shooter, a DA revolver is hard to beat for home and self defense.
The 4" barrel on the revolver is generally the best compromise for a home defense handgun. The shortest barrel recommended for a home defense revolver is 2.5", and the longest 6".
The .38 Special is preferred over the smaller revolver cartridges due to the weapons superior stopping power, and to much larger cartridges, such as the various Magnums on the market, because it produces less flash and muzzle blast, an important consideration in dim light and indoors.
Whatever gun is chosen for home and self defense, take the time to become familiar with the weapon. Make it a point to practice with the weapon at reasonable intervals. A firearm can potentially save your life and the lives of your precious family. But the firearm per-se that gets the job done, it is the experience and confidence of the person behind it. Determination and skill, reinforced by regular practice, will prove very valuable. Remember the quote of Bill Jordan, "there is no second place winner in a gunfight."