Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Firearms for Personal Protection and Home Defense

A reader wrote in today asking about recommendations for firearms for the new shooter that can be used for personal protection and home defense. Here's a long and rambling answer (bulleted--no pun intended--to make it easier to digest):
  • I would never recommend any particular firearm for a few reasons. First I am far from being an expert on firearms, I only use what I have found to work best for my needs. Second, like asking techno-geeks about the best computer, jocks about the best tennis shoes, or any other niche about the "best" items to be had in the field--if you ask five people you will get five different answers. Third, each person will have a different "ideal" firearm based on their needs, skills, and experience.
  • People with little or no firearms experience should start off with a good firearms class to cover the basics. These classes will usually let you shoot a variety of weapons so you will get a feel for each type (handgun, shotgun, rifle) and various brands among each type (Glock, Sig, HK).
  • If you learn from a friend, make sure they are a good teacher. Some of the best shooters are not necessarily the best teachers and some of the best teachers are not necessarily the best shooters.
  • Safety is paramount. Always use eye and ear protection when shooting and shoot in a safe location (in many areas this does not include the back 40 anymore as new housing developments are popping up everywhere these days).
  • Use a variety of firearms before you make your first purchase so you will get an idea of what you want to buy instead of buying a firearm and then trying to talk yourself into liking it (ie: buying a .45 semi-auto pistol for a tiny woman who is a new shooter so she can protect herself isn't a good idea--the recoil from her first shot will probably turn her off from firearms all together. Better to get her a sturdy .380 to start with--after she has had a chance to try some of these out).
  • The cost of your first firearms (a rifle, shotgun, and handgun) shouldn't break the bank. Save the custom-made, several thousand dollar pistol for when you are advancing in the competitive shooting field. On the other hand, you also don't want an old, worn out cheapie gun that someone is trying to get rid of. Most recreational shooters (or those who will use a firearm for practice and defense) will not be able to tell the difference between a basic, lower priced firearm and a very expensive, high end firearm. A good quality, mid-range priced firearm will probably be your best bet.
  • What you should be most concerned with when purchasing firearms are their accuracy, durability, reliability, fit (people with smaller hands tend to find double stack pistols difficult to use, for example), and ease of use.
  • Fit the firearms to your needs and to the person who will be using it. A Desert Eagle .50 may be able to stop a charging buffalo but for basic concealed carry, it wouldn't make sense. Get something along the lines of a 9mm. I would also recommend a good 20 gauge or 12 gauge shotgun over a 10 gauge shotgun; in this case all family members would be able to pick up and use a 20 gauge in a defense situation whereas a 10 gauge may be too much for some smaller family members to use.
  • After you have finished up with the basic firearms class, consider taking more advanced classes. Classes that teach you specifically about home defense will clue you in on things you should take into consideration that you otherwise may not know (ie: a shotgun may be better for home defense instead of a rifle that will shoot through the perpetrator, the wall, and the neighbor's wall as well). When you are dealing with a life or death situation, there is no better way to acquire information than from experts who have "been there, done that". Save the "school of hard knocks" lessons for something that won't risk life and limb.
  • Remember you aren't stuck with the first firearm you purchase. As you learn more about the various firearms available and try other's guns, you may want to switch to something else, fortunately firearms tend to hold their value so it isn't like you are investing in a new car which drops dramatically in value as soon as you purchase it.
  • Consider ammo. You will want to practice as much as possible with your firearms so taking the cost of ammo into consideration is important. The reason kids and new shooters practice a lot with .22s in part is because the ammo is cheap so you can shoot a lot at little expense. Purchasing a firearm that requires expensive or exotic ammo may deter you from practicing as much as you should.
  • After you become more skilled and knowledgeable about firearms, consider some extras. Regular pistol sites are fine but laser sites are a nice addition. A variety of holsters to meet your needs, pistol grips, scopes, etc. are also some nice additions to have.
  • Consider reloading. Reloading your own ammo isn't rocket science. This is a skill that can be learned and can save you a lot of cash depending on how much and what you shoot.
  • In some instances, having a firearm on hand may not be a good option. While it seems imperative that "everyone" should have a firearm in order to protect themselves, there are situations where I would recommend against it. In a home where there are children (from curious toddlers to wanna-be gang banger teens) a whole lot more effort needs to be taken to keep them safe. If there are any doubts about the adult's ability to do this, it may be unwise to have firearms easily accessible. Ditto if there are suicidal family members, a history of domestic violence, mental illness, or other volatile situations where having a gun on hand may cause more problems than it would solve.
  • FYI, my personal firearms consist of: KelTec P3AT .380, a Sig Sauer P239 9mm, Smith & Wesson SW 1911 .45, Winchester .22 rifle, Savage .270, and Mossberg 12 gauge pump shotgun. As I said, I am no expert on firearms and there are plenty of firearms that are much nicer/more popular/more expensive than what I have, but for my basic needs (concealed carry mostly and basic home defense) these work for me. I am looking at adding to my rifle and shotgun collection as having more of these types of firearms on hand WTSHTF will be good for both defense as well as for bartering if the need arises.


  1. Excellent article and one everyone who is considering arming themselves should read.

    I agree with much of what you write. For home defense, in my opinion a good shotgun ranks #1. A .22lr is excellent for target practice and putting a great deal of food on the table in the form of small game. Then something in a hunting type rifle, often in the 30 caliber range. Add a good handgun and with these four basic weapons you have most of the bases covered.

  2. 12 gauge shotgun is the number one for personal defense in the home.


  3. Thanks for answering the question. Some also say that WTSHTF one might want to consider having a few good air guns on hand, especially as one can dispatch small game without drawing any attention. I become increasingly concerned that TSWHTF sometime in the not so distant future.

  4. You all have interesting points. For me the question has been, "What's it for?" After I have answered that question, weeding out all other guns and weapons is easy (er). As for a 12 ga. shotgun, the coach gun with exposed hammers is easy for many types of people to operate, handles a variety of loads, and can be stored over the door when loaded with no setting of the springs. Personally, I have practiced with sub-sonic .22 loads and find them much more effective and no louder than an air rifle or pellet gun for small game. Have fun.