Handguns, Sub-Guns, and Rifles: Do You Need One of Each?

When people talk about getting a gun for self-defense, a handgun is the most common type of firearm. With so many states passing CCW laws, the market for small, compact handguns has exploded. But is a small, compact gun the best option for self-defense?

The answer is no. Handguns are more convenient and often more practical, but new and experienced shooters are more accurate with longer weapons. Longer barrels provide better accuracy and velocity, but that’s not the only difference with other types of weapons. How stable the gun is in the hands of the shooter plays a big role as well. When you hold a compact gun with a 3-inch barrel in one hand and shoot, the slightest movement of that barrel changes the directory of the bullet a lot.

Sub-gun-style weapons.
Sub-gun size weapons work great for vehicle and home defense. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
When the entire weapon is longer and you hold it with two hands, you become more accurate. When it’s long enough to use your shoulder for support, you have the most control of the weapon and the bullet’s trajectory. This means a rifle is more accurate than a handgun. But the problem is you can’t pack a rifle around with you all the time. You may keep one in the car, but you’re probably not going shopping with your AR-15 slung over your shoulder. This leads us back to handguns that can be concealed. So is a handgun all you need then? Or is there a place for a sub-gun, rifle, or all three?

Benefits of Handguns

As I mentioned above, handguns are used because they are more convenient and practical in many cases. If you want to carry a concealed weapon all the time, you will end up looking for something that is comfortable to carry. The size of the handgun you choose may depend on the way you dress and how you plan to carry the weapon.

Even though compact handguns tend to be the least accurate gun you will own, they are often the most used. I have several compact guns that I use on a regular basis. If you’re at the store buying your grandma a birthday card and an incident takes place, a handgun is the best option at that moment.

Multiple handguns: Semi Auto and Revolver
There is no perfect size when it comes to handguns. Each type of gun and different barrel lengths have their purpose. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
This makes selecting a handgun very important. It’s fun to go shopping for guns, but finding the right gun that is small enough to conceal yet large enough to shoot safely is harder than it sounds. And then there is caliber and ammo capacity too. For some people, this process is more frustrating than it is fun. But when you do find that perfect gun to carry, heading to the range and becoming familiar with it is a blast. A handgun is easy to conceal and carry so it becomes the most used item in our self-defense arsenal.

Benefits of Sub-Guns

Sub-guns are just cool looking. These are the compact guns that fall in between rifles and handguns. The term originally came from submachinegun, which is a light machine gun that fires low-energy rounds. They are often fired from the hip or shoulder in automatic mode. Today, the term sub-gun describes a wide variety of weapons that are not submachine guns. A compact rifle, PCC, or submachine gun converted to semi-auto falls within that sub-gun category. Some people don’t like the idea of using a sub-gun for self-defense and view them as novelty guns only. I think some sub-guns could still be useful in the self-defense world though.

Sub-gun-style weapons.
Sub-gun size weapons work great for vehicle and home defense. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
But I think there are some benefits for sub-guns when used in the right setting. One place I use them the most is vehicles. When a sub-gun has a sling, you can still gain more accuracy than a handgun will give you. While arm braces are still up in the air on legality, a sub-gun with no brace or stock can be pushed against the sling when shooting. This makes it stable enough to have good muzzle control and use whatever sight system you have on the weapon.

Besides added accuracy, most sub-guns have higher capacity mags than handguns. My B&T for example uses a 30-round mag. Your hands are further apart on a sub-gun which gives you better control of the weapon as well. You can mount a light, laser, optic, or combination of accessories to a sub-gun just like a rifle.

Benefits of a Rifle

It’s not hard to explain the benefits of a rifle over any other type of gun. They are light, portable, and hold plenty of powerful ammunition. Depending on the caliber you choose, a rifle can do just about anything you need it to. The only problem is rifles are hard to conceal. This makes them great for home defense and sometimes they work in vehicles, but not so much when running errands around town.

A lot of people keep a rife for self-defense just in case there is a major catastrophe that requires more than a handgun to defend your home. This is one of those things we hope never happens, but the world is full of unpredictable occurrences. Some rifles like the AR-15 provide excellent protection at close ranges but still have the capability to shoot long distances if needed.

Shooting the Diamondback DB15.
The AR-15 is one of the best multi-purpose rifles on the market. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
You can also hunt with an AR-15, making it a great multi-purpose rifle. If you want a little bigger bullet there is the .300 Blackout, or you can go big and buy an AR-10 which shoots the legendary .308 round. Rifles provide the most accuracy and if you know you need to defend yourself, a rifle is the best option.

With an AR-15 you have lots of magazine capacity options that range from 20-round mags to 100-round drums. 30-round mags are the standard and companies like ATI make the 60-round casket mag that offers a lot of ammo in a regular magazine setup. Other rifles also work great for self-defense like the AK-47 and of course bolt-action rifles for long-distance shooting.

Which one should you own?

If you are limited to buying one of these three types of guns, I would recommend starting with a handgun that can be carried concealed. While a handgun is not the best gun for a self-defense incident, it provides the most self-defense coverage because you can wear it all the time. If you feel inclined to buy multiple guns, buy all three. They are fun to shoot but offer different benefits in different environments.

While a shotgun or rifle is ideal for home defense in many cases, a sub-gun size weapon may be preferred for some people. Some of it will depend on what you are comfortable shooting and for some, there could be physical restraints. I always say any type of protection is better than none.

So don’t think there is a specific gun that must have or the world will end. Find what works for you and go with it. Just make sure you train and are familiar with the gun or guns you choose. Some people are not comfortable having a high-powered rifle in their home and that’s fine. A handgun provides a lot more protection than no gun. But if you really want to mix it up and give yourself plenty of options, just buy one of each… or two or three.

Sheriff Jason Mosher is a law enforcement generalist instructor as well as a firearms and tactical weapons trainer. Jason graduated from the FBI-LEEDA (Law Enforcement Executive Development Association) and serves as a Sheriff for his day job. When he’s not working, he’s on the range, eating steak, or watching Yellowstone.

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