What’s the best gun for home defense? That’s a question very often asked (and just as often hotly debated). In this primer, one of our crew provides his answer(s) to the question, and why he feels the way he does. Your opinion, and the next guy’s, and your mileage, will likely all vary — but it’s never a bad thing to research and discuss a topic of this importance, even if you disagree. Civil discourse from dramatically different perspectives is often how learning occurs.
On the subject of pistols.
Generally we1 recommend a modern design polymer frame pistol of quality manufacture. Worthy examples of note are the Glock 17/19/34 series, S&W M&P 2.0, FNH FNX, FNS, and 509, the CZ P-series, the HK VP9, and the various iterations of the SIG P320. The reasons being, they’re proven designs, they function as expected much more often than they fail, and they’re relatively affordable (therefore easy to buy into) even for a beginner.
These specific models are out there in LE/MIL contracts, and commercial sales, in the greatest numbers. Therefore their performance and manufacturing quality are much easier to follow and monitor, and generally speaking, all are known quantities with a positive track record in both rigorous testing and actual field use. An added advantage is that they have the greatest aftermarket support in terms of holsters and accessories.
Comparatively speaking, Springfield XDs and Kimbers (as far as 1911s go) for example are generally understood2 to be on the lower end of the quality spectrum. You can review as many class AARs as you like and what you’ll find will be, with some exceptions, a trend of disproportionate numbers of failures between the “quality manufacture” examples and the Springfield XD and Kimber types. In fact, if you were to pit 100 of either against 100 of any of the earlier named examples and put 5,000 rounds through each, you would find the Springfields and Kimbers experiencing many more malfunctions and breakages.
This is generally a consequence of lesser design and inferior manufacturing quality. This is particularly noticeable in the case of the smaller frame .45ACP 1911s. Conversely, and especially recently, noteworthy examples of 1911 style pistols of quality manufacture that are just as reliable and trustworthy as their polymer framed striker-fired cousins have surfaced in mainstream popularity circuit, to include the Nighthawk Custom, Chambers Custom, and STI (after an internal overhaul and an external facelift) offerings.
While all three have been on the market for some time, their availability in (and combined success in cycling) 9mm has given them a jolt of fanfare that 1911s previously were deprived of as recently as five years ago, which is to say: the 1911 can still hang, provided you’re willing to shell out for a good one. Though the alternative caliber availability may seem trivial at first, both it and the aforementioned manufacturing quality are equal parts important and noteworthy, so keep them in mind. Moving right along…
Concentrating on calibers…
Now, you’ll notice all the good to go options mentioned earlier are chambered in 9mm. There is a reason for that, and that reason is science. If you were to take a modernized defensive JHP type of round in 9mm, .40S&W, and .45ACP, you’d find that speaking in terms of terminal ballistics, the wound channels are virtually indistinguishable from each other.
Stopping power is not a thing, but a perpetual myth.
Pistols generally suck at killing people as it is, vs. long guns anyway, so, if they’re all doing nigh the same damage to the target, why 9mm?
There are a few reasons.
One, you have more rounds per magazine, which means you’re spending more time shooting and less time reloading.
Two (and this goes hand in hand with mag capacity) 9mm costs less per round. This has provides a number of advantages to both the individual and an organization/agency, not least making training/practice less expensive. It’s cheaper to feed.
Three, 9mm recoils the least of those calibers. This means you’re regaining your sight picture and making a faster follow-up shot than you would with .40S&W or .45ACP.
This is certainly not to suggest that using either of those two is a death wish, and true enough if you train appropriately to use a quality handgun effectively, you’ll probably be fine. However, the use of 9mm stacks the deck in your favor by giving you a weapon that has more available rounds and reduced recoil, thus providing a faster and more accurate delivery of said rounds, at a much reduced price, be it with ball ammo for practice or one of the various defensive rounds now available.
So you would be best to ditch the Springfield and Kimber and replace it with one of the higher quality weapons articulated above. I personally recommend a Glock because that is what I have the most experience with. Others will have had different experiences, just as your mileage my vary.
As far as .380 goes…meh.
Unless your wrists are noodles, you’re elderly to the point of near frailty, or for some other reason you need something you can handle with relative ease, there’s really no point to take a .380 over a 9mm loaded with modern defensive ammo.
The .380 is the Diet 9mm. It offers nothing in terms of terminal ballistics over 9mm. Consider those who carry firearms professionally and shoot at people for a living. What do they carry? You won’t find many (at least among the informed) who use a .380. This can be contextual and situational, obviously – the .380 is easier to shoot and to conceal, but beyond that .380 need not apply.
The gospel of the gauge.
As far as your home defense shotgun goes, there are two schools of thought:
1) Use it. Nothin’ better than a shotgun for home defense. You can deliver a lot of destructive force per trigger pull, especially in such a confined space. However, this comes with the trade off of limited ammo capacity, awkward malfunction drills, greater recoil, greater time between shots (especially in the case of a pump action,) and greater likelihood of barrier penetration3 if you miss. Of course there’s also decreased range but you’re taking home defense, not outside use.
Note: a misunderstanding of barrier penetration (or what is often referred to as over-penetration) is the most significant cause of the “pistols are better than rifles for home defense” fallacy. And it is a fallacy.
2.) Don’t use it. Use a carbine. The carbine, specifically the AR, is where it’s at for CQB. Aside from the lesser barrier penetration risk, they recoil much more lightly, they shoot pretty much where you point them at home defense distances (if you account for height over bore, or “mechanical offset”), and they can be employed effectively, more quickly.
More on rifles.
There are other advantages to be had with a rifle, though not everyone agrees to the extent they outweigh those of the shotgun. For instance, you will usually also have more rounds available in a rifle vs. pistol magazine (this will depend on local legality), and when you do reload, that is faster too. There is also the carbine’s ease of maneuverability and signature suppression to consider too (again, in comparison to the shotgun).
There is a reason CQB experts the world over turn to a rifle cartridge carbine for the job, and it has nothing to do with looking cool.
Personally, I subscribe to the latter perspective – my go-to is a carbine, but there are many SMEs who could convincingly articulate why the choice of a shotgun is superior. Chuck Pressburg (Presscheck Consulting) and Rob Haught (Symtac Consulting, LLC) are two such experts. They are on opposite sides of the rifle vs. shotgun argument. Both are willing and able to explain in great detail as to why they make their choice.
Pistol Caliber Carbines
PCCs (Pistol Caliber Carbines) will inevitably come into question here, especially under the context of home defense use. It is the opinion of this author that, while fun as a range toy and useful for cheaply fed familiarization or practice fire, PCCs are not the best choice for defensive use. This is particularly true when comparing them to other options available.
Why? They have the same weight and size penalty of a rifle cartridge carbine, with no greater terminal ballistic capability than that of a pistol. LE & Mil users have figured this out, evidenced by their moving away from the venerable MP5 and towards rifle caliber SBRs and suppressors for the same roles, especially with ammo technology coming as far as it has. Between subsonic and supersonic rifle ammo choices, you can have one long arm that can handle roles that each ammo is best tailored for, or you can pick a PCC that’s okay at one thing and not really that good at the rest.
“But the industry keeps making new PCCs!” you say?
Yeah, well, you’ve either got LE or Foreign Mil that are still of the mindset that SMG = CQB gun, or are locked into that capability via their budget, and then there’s everybody else the industry knows will buy them cause it’s a new shiny.
“But my wife likes the PCC better than rifles, they scare her.”
Conditioning via practice will help with that.
Talking accessories and furniture.
The same logic that defines our preferred pistol choices applies to ARs and optics as well. In fact, it applies to pretty much everything.
I will elaborate on my personal rule when it comes to optics, lasers, tactical gear, and fuck it…anything gun-related. But first, allow me a moment to put on my MAGA hat and George Washington firing UZIs while riding a raptor that is surfing an Abrams shirt…
Okay. Here it is. Nothing Chinese, Russian, or Middle Eastern. Ever. If it’s not made in or used by the US .mil or their European ally counterparts, I’m not interested. I don’t care how many companies source their parts from the same overseas factories, it’s no different than quality ARs vs. shit ARs OEMing their parts and receivers from those same factories. A knock off is still a knock off, even if the largest derp-hives have bought into them. I don’t care who is using them, be it layman, SWAT officer, competitive GM, or a secret squirrel spook handing out dirt naps in a third world country. I don’t care if Jesus came down on a golden cloud and told me whatever it was, was good to go. I would say “Fuckouttahere with that garbage, Jesus.” I don’t fuck with it and I won’t.
[Sidebar: I can already hear the Holosun fans wailing now, and they’re no stranger to my position in regard to a company once known for its Airsoft quality knockoffs, so let me say this: It is the understanding of this author that the majority of the people pushing heavy for Holosun optics are either trying to make a buck or save a buck. You’re either sitting on a bunch of inventory cause you already bought the stuff and trying to make a profit, or you just don’t want to spend the money or you’ve been led to believe that the pistol mounted red dot realm has a more costly than reasonable buy-in.
Regardless of which group you fall into, the PLA thanks you for your continued funding of its Night Vision R&D and T&E budgets. When the time comes to recoup those costs in the form of selling night vision on the cheap in the domestic market via a Chinese owned company that copied the homework of companies that actually got US & EU LE & Mil contracts with their innovations, it will be interesting to see who all that swear by Harris/L3 tubes now bend the knee to their Chinese overlords later. Buy American, and if that isn’t an option, then support America’s military allies.
The aphorisms you get what you pay for, and buy once, cry once, may sound trite, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t true. A little research will help you sort this. For instance, when it comes to optics, you have several choices that cross a wide range of type and cost: Aimpoint, Leupold, Trijicon, Vortex (Razor & UH-1,) Night Force, Steiner, Schmidt & Bender, and Kahles…they’re all solid choices within their respective price brackets. This isn’t limited to optics either; the same thing goes for weapon lights (Surefire, Modlite,) IR lasers (shout out to B.E. Meyers,) Night Vision (if TNVC is selling it, it’s good to go,) suppressors, magazines, tactical gear, body armor…anything you can spend your money on that stacks the odds of surviving (and winning) a life or death encounter (or multiples thereof) that attaches to you or your weapons are susceptible to the aforementioned aphorisms.
How much is your life worth?
Buy the best quality you can within your financial means, as long as you have the option. If you stick with this, you eliminate a swath of bargain bin junk from the selection pool. This will save you lots of potential headaches when it comes to equipment upon which you trust your life. The money is not, in fact, burning a hole in your pocket, and nobody has a gun to your head telling you to buy now. With patience and discipline, you can buy quality hardware that grants you both piece of mind for its dependability, and perhaps maybe even a moment of being proud of yourself that you saved up and dished out for the Gucci stuff. Flexing is way more fun than lying to yourself and trying to justify a shit quality purchase, after all. If you’ve been around long enough, you’ve done both, you know the difference, and you know I’m right.
You have to back that flexing up with training and practice though, otherwise it’s all for naught. More on that in a separate piece.
1 Meaning specifically me and my peer group, with the acknowledgment that other professionals might disagree)
2Within my circles and within others like mine.
3 Penetration is easy to describe like this: Larger, heavier bullets (namely pistol and shotgun rounds) move slower and retain more of their kinetic energy when their introduced to a barrier (in this case the walls in a residential home,) and will plow right through them. Rifle rounds, on the other hand, being smaller, will despite moving much faster dump their kinetic energy when they meet a barrier, and either fragment or yaw off course. They’ll still penetrate, but they’re much more likely to be stopped depending on the material and bounce or ricochet off course, and at much less likely to be fatal speeds.