GC-071 Home Defense Series – Guns and Lights

In Gunfighter Cast episode 071, John and Daniel discuss different firearm choices for the home defense application. Which is best, a pistol, rifle, or shotgun? It is possible for the different types of firearms to complement each other, each particularly suited to certain circumstances. 

They also cover how to use weapon-mounted and hand-held lights during a home defense situation. If used strategically, even a headlamp has its place in your planning for home defense. 

They also discuss ammo choices and what kind of considerations need to be taken to avoid over-penetration.

Gunfighter cast cohosts John McGregor and Daniel Shaw

Co-Hosts: John McGregor and Daniel Shaw

Introduction/Timeline: Stephanie Kimmell


4:12 Vote for Gunfighter Cast in the 2012 Podcast Awards. Find it under Education at podcastawards.com. Even if you don’t like Gunfighter Cast, the gun community needs to be represented, so go there and nominate or vote for all your favorite gun podcasts. 

Lights in Home Defense

Whether you have a handheld light or a weapon mounted light, ensuring you identify your target is absolutely essential in home defense.
Whether you have a handheld light or a weapon mounted light, ensuring you identify your target is absolutely essential in home defense.

Weapon-Mounted Lights

5:48 What are the advantages and disadvantages of weapon-mounted lights on particular weapons systems?

Generally, for a home-defense type scenario, light is very important because we need to identify the target. Recently, a story was circulating about somebody that shot their own son who was wearing a ski mask. All kinds of things have happened throughout the years where the wrong people get shot. But the mounted light, white-light, is one of those things that’s going to help prevent that. 

The subject was touched on in episode 69, in the discussion about home defense. John and Daniel both completely agreed that there should be a light on the weapon as well as a light in your hand, separate from the weapon.

There may be times that you may not have a free hand to run that hand-held light. But you at least have a hand on the gun and you can run that light. It’s better to have both, because you don’t want to go around pointing your gun at your children and other people we don’t want to shoot, just to get good target identification on them. They are not a target! So it’s good to have that light in the off-hand. 

7:07 Having the two lights is a redundant system. In case one of the lights goes down, you’ve got the other light. But remember, a weapon-mounted light is not a flashlight. There’s a bunch of stuff that we can and should do with our flashlight, but the purpose of our weapon-mounted light is to engage a target if we can identify it beforehand.  

3-Gun 2020 Memorial foundation raffle: Staccato P Duo with Leupold Delta Point Pro and SureFire X300U-B
Staccato P Duo with Leupold Delta Point Pro and SureFire X300U-B.

7:30 Daniel just bought an X-300. With it, he can turn all the lights out in the biggest room of his house and shine it on the floor right in front of him. It pretty well illuminates most of the room but he can’t see fine details and face.

The tendency, especially under stress, would be to shine that light and get the best optical clarity possible. The problem is, if you have a light on the weapon, you could point it at the bad guy or maybe it’s your child who came home at an unexpected time.

That’s why they say you should have a light in your off-hand so you have some kind of redundancy. You can use your hand-held light that as your primary searchlight and the one on your weapon for target engagement. 

8:14 Should you put a weaponlight on your pistol?

There are certainly a lot of options out there. Putting a white light on your pistol or long gun used to be much more of an investment than it is now. If all you are interested in is a white light, there are a lot of inexpensive alternatives. So really, there isn’t much of an excuse not to have one. 

8:45 What weapon-mounted light options has John used?

Insight Technology isn’t too far from where John lives and he likes supporting local businesses. They’ve got good products that he likes to use and if he has an issue, he just has to get in the car and they’ll help him out. 

Most of what he runs is Insight Technology stuff, like the M3, M3X, M6, and M6X. Their Procyon is a neat little weapon-mounted light that’s kind of a rail type of feature. It’s not like on a regular M3, M6. Instead of a little cross-bar to pull down, it has something like a latch that pinches it together from left to right on the rail, so it’s very secure.

Weapon mounted light, Insight Technology Procyon.

It doesn’t rock around at all. What’s neat about it is that it runs on AA batteries, so you can usually get your hands on a set of them. It’s basically the same size as the M3 and the M6, with a longer battery compartment for the AAs. The lighting port is shorter, but the overall length remains the same.

Just for reference, the M6 has a laser on it as well. 

10:34 Daniel has a lot of experience with the Streamlight TLR-1 and SureFire lights, from rifle SureFires or the big ones that’ll basically light up the world and burn the skin right off a zombie. 

He’s got an X300 now and that’s definitely the light that’s replaced the TLR-1. It cost him about $25 more than the TLR-1 and even though the light on it is smaller, it’s quite a bit brighter. He is very impressed with the SureFire X-300. 

11:25 What kind of advances have there been in weapon-mounted lights?

It used to be that you’d have a pistol-mounted light, and for a shotgun, you’d have a lighted forend. They used to have this huge thing on the AR’s forend for weapon-mounted lights. Now, you don’t have to have a light for each specific type of weapons system. Depending on how you’re set up you can have the same light and move it from unit to unit. 

12:16 How does the intended use influence your choice in which weapon-mounted light to purchase?

Daniel says he used to run a TLR-1 on his AR and it worked just fine. He could set it up next to the foregrip and work it with his thumb, or it could be run a remote switch if it was worth the extra money for the remote kit. There are plenty of bright lights to choose from, especially for a home-defense situation. 

However, if he’s out sitting in a turret, or in Afghanistan, or wherever else they’re going to be next time, he wants his big SureFire light. He doesn’t remember how many lumens it has, but it’s crazy bright. He’ll put it on the side of his rifle so he can spotlight things and illuminate the area for himself and everybody else outside. Being outside, he may be shining light on something that’s quite a ways away, so that big light makes sense. 

But for inside a house, that big $250 light is definitely not necessary on an AR.

Go spend $80 on a TLR-1 and that’s going to light up your whole house, no trouble. 


13:12 Does it matter which kind of bulb comes in the light?

Make sure you get LED bulbs. They’re much more resilient to shock, as well as turning on and off. A lot of them have a pulse feature, and they maintain their brightness. Daniel remembers having a SureFire light, that if he accidentally dropped it or set it down too hard, he’d have to go spend $15 on a new bulb. Thankfully we’re past that now with LED bulbs. 

LED bulbs are especially important for a light that’s going to be mounted on a gun because it takes a lot of shock when the gun is fired. 

With the Insight Technology weapon lights, if you happen to have an older one with incandescent bulbs, you can get an LED upgrade kit to replace them. Get the kit, upgrade to LED, and you’ve got a minimal investment for a much more reliable lighting system. 

There is one other benefit to LED lights. They don’t generate as much heat, so it’s not as much of a concern if they happen to accidentally get turned on in the holster. You won’t burst out in flames. 


15:13 Is a head-lamp a good lighting choice in a home defense situation?

Daniel doesn’t think a headlamp is a good idea because it could be very difficult to toggle it on and off. Also, wearing that light on your head, in the dark, is like pinning a target to a very bad spot on your body to get shot. 

Granted, with a weapon-mounted light, the weapon is in front of the body, basically in the center. But you really shouldn’t be using that light too much unless it’s time that you’ve decided that you need to get on your trigger. 

That’s not to say, however, that a head-mounted light doesn’t have it’s uses. There are different techniques that you can use with the headlamp in your off-hand, like holding it out to the side, etc.

And, a headlamp is a good piece of basic survival gear if you need to move around in the dark in a non-tactical situation. But it’s not the piece of gear you want to use if you’re corraling your family into your home’s safe area. If that’s all you have, put it in your non-firing hand. 

Say the invaders are some pretty elaborate bad guys and they cut your power. If someone’s hurt and you need to do first aid with no lights, the headlamp that’s in your hand can become more useful because now you can put it on your head and treat the wound.

Two is One and One is None.

If something does happen and either your flashlight or weapon-light goes down, you can transition your headlamp to your hand and you’ll still be in it. 

Home Defense Firearms

17:22 What kind of guns are we going to put these lights on?

Any that we have. How’s that?

A lot of people ask the question, “What’s the best home-defense weapon?”

If you don’t take into account what home you’re putting it into, your neighborhood, and the people that are around you, it’s impossible to answer that question. Everybody’s got their own unique circumstance so you’re going to have to do some soul searching or just look at your place and your training and determine what’s best for you. It’s not what’s the best home-defense weapon, but maybe what are the advantages and disadvantages of each type of system? 


18:05 What are the advantages and disadvantages of a handgun?

In Daniel’s situation, with a family that includes small children, a pistol is his choice for immediate response. However, in his room where he will be ensconcing, he will have a shotgun and an AR. Whichever one is closest is the one he’ll grab. Those will both work very well.

But for him, the pistol is the initial quick-grab. It’s small and easy to manipulate. He can carry it around while carrying a kid and shoot bad guys with it. As Massad Ayoob says, “The pistol is what you grab right away, and then your shotgun or your rifle is your artillery. That’s what you have in the back where you’re going to actually defend your area.”   

Another advantage to the pistol, depending on how your residence is set up, is that you can have a nice little pistol box real close. Sometimes it’s a little harder to find something to lock up a rifle or shotgun into that’s as convenient as a pistol box. 

Considering the need for one-handed operation, it’s not just whether or not you’ll need to drag kids around to get them to the safe area. You’ll need to be able to put a hand on the phone. And, as discussed before, you’ll also need that hand for searching with your light. It’s not super easy to be running a long gun in one hand and a flashlight in the other and then transition to a weapon light if something does happen. It’s a little easier to run those two lights separately with a handgun. 

As always, a lot depends on your level of training. If you do all of your training with a pistol and you never run the shotgun or the rifle, you may find some complications that you didn’t anticipate that you’re not going to want to work through under that stress. 

Faster draw

Pistol Ammunition

21:20 What about the different types of ammunition?

If you’re in a very thin-skinned apartment, you probably want to go with something that doesn’t penetrate very well. There is a variety of ammo out there that doesn’t penetrate as well as others. Try and do some testing or at least some research.

There is a theory of using frangible ammunition for self-defense, but the problem with it is that if you shoot somebody, it’s basically like a full metal jacket. It’s not supposed to break up unless it hits something of significant strength, like a steel target. John’s understanding is that if it hits sheetrock, it’s going to act like a full metal jacket and just keep on going because the sheetrock isn’t going to be hard enough to break it up. 

Daniel says it’s the same thing with a lot of hollow points. As it enters that first wound, the hollow point (in a lot of cases) actually gets filled with material. Then it becomes basically hard-ball ammunition. 

This can be a disadvantage to the pistol. You actually get more over-penetration with a pistol than you might think, especially with some of the faster pistol rounds. The 9mm is a very fast round that’s going to penetrate quite a bit, especially through objects like sheetrock. 


23:36 So what’s Daniel’s second choice firearm for home defense?

That depends on where he is living. If he’s in a single-family brick house on an acre and a half of land with no houses around, Daniel says he’s definitely shooting his rifle with little concern about the rounds leaving his house and hurting someone else.

The shotgun is also a good option, too. Daniel says he’s been thinking about getting his wife a 20-gauge. Ballistically, it’s not a whole lot less than a 12-gauge would be at close range in a house, but it definitely has some advantages. It’s a lot lighter, easier to run than a 12-gauge for her. For himself, he’s going to grab an AR because he knows how to run with his eyes shut and one arm missing. 

Daniel Shaw showing off a carbine build.

Rifle Ammunition

24:52 With a rifle, should we be concerned with over-penetration?

Daniel says it depends on the caliber. If using an AR-15, there shouldn’t be too much concern with overpenetration if you actually hitting the target. However, it is a concern if you miss the target and hit sheetrock and other things instead.

It used to be that the SWAT long gun was an MP5 running a 9mm pistol cartridge. They found that there was more overpenetration with that 9mm cartridge because of the weight of the cartridge as compared to something like an M4. The M4 has a lighter projectile that tends to dump it’s energy pretty quickly with less overpenetration. 

The 5.56 especially, and even something like the 5.45 x 39—these rounds were designed from the get-go to leave all the energy in the body and cause ballistic devastation at the terminal level so that the threat becomes incapacitated.

When we talk about long guns, we tend to think of the M4, the AR, maybe an AK. But if all you’ve got is a hunting rifle— lever action, bolt action—those can be viable self-defense choices. Depending on the cartridge, overpenetration does become more of an issue but if you’ve got a good backstop or if you’re a long distance from your neighbors, those are good options. And, it doesn’t hurt that they’re inexpensive. You can pick up a lever-action or bolt action fairly inexpensively and if that’s all you’ve got, that’s all you’ve got. It’s preferable to have some kind of quick-repeating action, and it’s possible to put a rail and a light on some of the lever actions out there.

29:06 How can you test for over-penetration?

If you really want to do your research, go to Lowe’s or Home Depot, and get a couple of pieces of sheetrock. Put them next to each other, with a little space between, and shoot them. You’ll be able to test pretty much every gun you have and every type of ammunition you have on those two pieces of sheetrock. When you’re done, clean up your mess and take your sheetrock with you. Don’t just leave it on the range. 

If you really want to get high-speed and test your rounds, google Knox gelatin. Put it together, take it out to the range, and shoot it. Make sure you get a video of it! Put it up on YouTube and send us a link. 


30:00 What are the advantages of a shotgun?

There are a lot of misconceptions about the shotgun out there. Daniel hates to hear people say, “You point a shotgun. You don’t aim it.”

He doesn’t agree with that, saying you definitely need to aim. There are multiple pellets coming out of the barrel, and you need to have the center of your pattern in the center of the target. If you don’t, you’re going to have multiple strays. Multiple strays are worse than one stray. You want the pellets going into your desired location, not somewhere else. 

He also doesn’t like when people say they choose a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun for home defense because it goes “Cha-ching” and that’s the international sound of “Get the heck out!”

Even if the sound decreases a person’s will to fight because they heard you rack that shotgun and they know that you’re armed—if your choice of firearm for home defense is solely based on the fact that it makes a scary loud noise—then you haven’t looked at all the things that we just talked about.

I don’t have a shotgun to scare people. I have a shotgun to shoot people that need to be shot.

Another misconception about the shotgun is that there’s no way you can miss your target because there’s this huge cone of stuff coming out of the barrel when you shoot. Unfortunately, at the typical room distance that you’re going to encounter in your house, inside of seven yards, your shot pattern is probably going to be measured in an inch or two. It’s not going to have all that large of a shot pattern. You still have to hit the target and it’s easy to miss if all you plan to do is close your eyes and pull the trigger. 

A shotgun for home defense needs to have two things: a light and some type of sights. Worst-case scenario and you can’t afford that, get a 12-gauge that has the regular bead-dot front sight on it. If that’s all you’ve got, great. Use what you’ve got. 

32:35 Disclaimer: when John and Daniel talk about aiming and pointing shotguns they’re not talking about shooting clay pigeons and other hunting applications. They’re talking about the tactical application where speed never beats accuracy. Take the extra split second to find the sights because you have to have a balance between speed and accuracy. Only hits count.

Shotgun Ammunition

33:26 If you’re going to choose a shotgun for home defense, what ammo do you use?

Daniels says 12-gauge buckshot. He’d also like to have some slugs in a side-saddle for a select-load or select shell procedures. But in the gun? 12-gauge buckshot. 00 if his shotgun is capable, and 3-inch shells. However, for his wife, 3-inch shells probably wouldn’t work so he’d probably choose something with a little less recoil. 

There are a couple of differences between the different types of buckshot out there. Some people say that birdshot is a good alternative because of the lack of over-penetration. Although that’s true, it also may not penetrate enough into the bad guy to stop him from what he’s doing. This can be especially true in cold weather when he’s going to be dressed in thicker layers. 

Home Defense Firearms: First, Second, and Third Choice

35:37 So if John and Daniel were to rank their choices of firearms for home defense, what would it be?

A pistol is the first go-to because of familiarity and all the things you can do with it. Then, based on ballistics, the AR is the second choice. The shotgun, though a valid choice, comes in third as a home defense weapon. 

36:01 What does a home defense system look like?

Here’s how Daniel describes it:

His wife is next to him or slightly dispersed from him, so the bad guy can’t quickly transition from target to target. She’s running her 20-gauge, he’s running the AR, and they’re wearing the body armor that was discussed in the last episode. Daniel is the primary defensive shooter, and his wife is the primary communicator with dispatch and emergency services. She’s got a gun in case Daniel goes down. 

With his pistol, he went to retrieve his child and brought him back to the safe room. Once there, he holstered his pistol on the chest rig/body armor. Now, he’s aiming at the door, giving commands, ready to lay into somebody that comes in through the door.

If his rifle goes down for stoppage or whatever reason, he can quickly transition to the pistol that is on his chest and continue to fight. His wife continues to do what she’s doing. 

Request for Listener Feedback

37:28 What do you think? 

Do you have any thoughts about buckshot vs birdshot vs slugs? 

Do you have any topic suggestions for future podcasts? 

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Remember to vote for Gunfighter Cast in the 2012 Podcast Awards under the People’s Choice and Education categories. 

Gunmag Training's Chief Instructor Daniel Shaw is a retired US Marine Infantry Unit Leader with multiple combat tours and instructor titles.  Since retirement from the Marine Corps, Daniel teaches Armed Citizens and Law Enforcement Officers weapons, tactics and use of force. Daniel takes his life of training and combat experience and develops as well as presents curriculum to help Law Enforcement, US Military and Responsible Armed Citizens prepare for a deadly force encounter.  When he isn't directing marketing for Gunmag Warehouse, Daniel travels the US teaching and training under Gunmag Training, and discusses all things hoplological and self-defense related on The MagLife Podcast.

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