It’s an age-old question that you could go around in circles for hours — what kind of gun should you have for home defense? The most common options are between an AR-15 rifle, a shotgun or a handgun. Short answer; why not all? But if you don’t have Mr. and Mrs. Smith kind of money or their lifestyle we’ll go over the pros and cons of each choice to help you make a decision. 

What to Consider When Selecting a Home Defense Firearm

Every weapon has its advantages and disadvantages for home defense. Before you run out and buy a new gun, consider the following factors if your primary goal is home defense.

  1. Space — Every home has confined spaces, like hallways, that will affect how you manipulate a weapon and aim indoors. Consider the length of your firearm.
  2. Experience — How experienced are you with each type of firearm? How often do you visit the range or train with your weapon? How often do you clean your gun and how reliable is it?
  3. Stopping Power — Are you concerned about stopping power? Consider which platform and caliber would be more suited to your shooting ability and that caliber’s ability to stop a home invader. Each platform and their respective calibers have their limitations and considerable impacts worth thinking about before making your purchase.
  4. Recoil — If your goal is to stop an intruder from doing you or your family harm, you want to be able to get multiple shots off if necessary. Strong recoil makes that harder. So choose carefully, or, go train some more!
  5. Family Safety — The whole point of home defense is to protect your home and family. Full metal jacket bullets and high velocity rounds can pass through people and multiple walls or objects before finally stopping. Consider which caliber is going to make the most amount of sense for your home situation so that you don’t accidentally harm your own family or even your neighbors.

Pros and Cons for AR-15 Rifles

There are a few great reasons why homeowners opt for an AR-15 for home defense instead of the usual pistol or pump-action shotguns of old.

  • Magazine Capacity — In most states, the standard magazine capacity of an AR-15 is 30 rounds. For states without restriction, you can buy extended magazines or even drum mags capable of housing 60 rounds. The point of having higher capacity is to reduce the need to reload which have proven to be lethal in home defense situations. 
  • Customizable — Overall, the AR-15 is one of the easiest, simplest firearms to learn and master. It offers fantastic ergonomics, controllable calibers, and a wide variety of aftermarket parts or accessories to improve comfort, accuracy, and usability.
  • Accuracy — Whether you’ve got iron sights or a red dot sight, the AR-15 is a highly accurate platform. The chances of missing are much less than when using a handgun because the recoil is more manageable with the AR-15.
  • Weight — Depending on how you set up your AR-15 rifle it can be pretty heavy if you have a lot of attachments on it or if you bought a cheaper model. If you’re groggy and at home it could be difficult to pick up a heavy gun and use it properly. 
  • Price —To enjoy a lightweight and high quality product, it will cost a significantly higher price than the average AR-15. Especially in these Covid times, prices of AR-15s have all increased by 20 to 30% of what they normally used to. 

Legality should also be considered when choosing an AR-15. There are always federal and state laws regulating the length of AR-15s because they can have barrels as short as 9” and as long as 18”. Anything less than 16” in length is considered an SBR (short-barreled rifle) which not all states allow citizens to own. 

Because we are discussing home defense, length is a big issue here. If you have too long of an AR-15, it will make moving around a home, hallways, and getting through doors much more difficult. If your life is on the line you don’t want to be bumping around door frames and not be able to aim properly. For buyers wanting shorter AR-15s and to stay compliant with your state laws, consider an AR Pistol

Pros and Cons for Shotguns

home defense shotgun
  • Magazine Capacity — Depending on the model you buy, most pump action shotguns will vary between 3 to 9 shell capacity. If you ever are in a situation where you need to use a shotgun in self-defense, you’ll have to make each shot count. 
  • Customizable — While there is always something you can do to customize your gun. Shotguns have far less aftermarket support compared to AR-15s and handguns. That being said, you can still replace grips, butt stocks, and add optics, sights, or even attach flash lights if desired.
  • Accuracy — Unless you’re using slugs, birdshot and buckshot will have a large spread in the direction you fire. Great for scaring away people and self-defense, not so great for your home in the aftermath. The benefit is that you won’t have to aim much. (They don’t call it a scatter gun for nothing) 
  • Ease of Use — For those concerned about gun familiarity the shotgun stands to be the easiest to use. Pump it, point, pull the trigger. Need to shoot again? Repeat the process. 
  • Stopping Power — At close ranges in a home, shotguns are highly effective no matter what caliber you use. It’s got destructive power and it won’t easily go through multiple barriers or objects which makes it a safer option for those who live in smaller homes or apartments. 
  • Weight — Some models will be heavier than others. For older folks, they might not have the strength to pump a shotgun under duress. Some older folks are also incredibly fit so it’s all relative to your needs.  
  • Price — Covid prices notwithstanding, shotguns are great because of their affordability. Some of our favorites for home defense include the Remington 870, Mossberg 500, and KelTec KSG-12

Pros and Cons for Handguns

home defense handgun
A student participates in a civilian active shooter response course for concealed weapons permit holders on March 24 in Longmont, Colo
  • Magazine Capacity — Due to the difference of state laws and caliber types the range of capacity for handguns can range from 8 to 21 rounds. The most common capacities are 10, 15, or 17. For states that don’t have mag cap restrictions, you can buy extended stick mags and even drum mags if you so desire. 
  • Customizable — Handguns are right up there with AR-15s in terms of customizability. Whether it’s internal or external parts, everything can be changed out to improve the user’s ergonomics and performance. 
  • Accuracy — Here lies the rub. If you don’t train with a handgun there’s a good chance you could miss a home intruder even just 10 feet away. Handguns require the highest amount of training and skill compared to AR-15s or shotguns and to be used effectively in a home defense situation. We cannot emphasize training, range time, and even classes enough. 
  • Ease of Use — With a handgun you won’t need to worry about bumping into doorways or feeling cramped in a narrow hallway. The handgun will give you the most amount of maneuverability in home defense.
  • Weight — One of the many benefits of the handgun is its lightweight and your ability to basically put it anywhere in your home without it getting in the way. For the lightest options, consider the .22LR or .380 models. For those who can handle the weight they should buy 9mm models. With our current market, .40 and .45 ACP is not a bad option either though the recoil will be significantly higher. 
  • Price — Price varies a lot for handguns. Used to be that you could snag a Walther PPQ .22LR for only $250 but with such a small caliber it loses stopping power even when an intruder is wearing a thick jacket. Then there are really nice Sig Sauers that almost always go for about $1000. If they’re available to you we recommend Glocks, CZ’s, Smith and Wessons, and Walther handguns for their fantastic price points of around $500 to $600 or performance-enhancing ergonomics.

Home Defense Done Well

If you intend to purchase a firearm for home defense purposes, always remember to safely secure your weapon at all times. It is especially important to store your firearms properly if you have children in the home.

There are several options today between digital code locks and even biometric locking safes that will scan your fingerprint(s) to give you quick access to your firearm. 

If you’ve got a tight budget, an excellent option would be to build your own AR-15 using an 80% lower receiver. We also have 80% pistols you can completely build out and customize. Check out our guides if you need any help, we have all you need to get started!