Home Defense Debate: Handgun or Shotgun?

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Home Defense Debate: Handgun or Shotgun?
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Home Defense Debate: Handgun or Shotgun?
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Should you use a handgun or a shotgun as your primary home defensive firearm? Short answer: Both, if you can. Just have a shotgun under your bed and a pistol on your nightstand.

But if you don’t own any firearms yet and don’t have the budget to buy both, you will have to choose between one or the other. To help you decide, we will cover the pros and cons of pistols and shotguns and suggest some various makes and models.

Pros and Cons of Pistols For Home Defense

Pistols aren’t commonly thought of as ‘home defense weapons’, but the truth is they can still be very effective. Here are the pros:

  • Small and easy to wield in tight conditions.
  • Easy to reload.
  • Large magazine capacity (depending on the model).
  • Only requires one handed operation.
  • Easier to hide than a long gun.

At the same time, there are several cons of a handgun for home defense:

  • Pistol calibers are inherently underpowered in comparison to rifles and shotguns, so you may have to fire multiple shots to stop an intruder.
  • Not as intimidating as a shotgun.

Pros and Cons of Shotguns For Home Defense

Even people who aren’t very familiar with guns associate pump action shotguns with home defense. It’s gotten to the point that the capabilities of shotguns have been blown out of proportion, and while there’s no question that a shotgun can be a highly effective home defense weapon, they also have some drawbacks.

For example, many people believe shotguns are largely point-and-shoot weapons and that you can always hit your target, but this is far from accurate.

Pros of a shotgun for home defense include:

  • It’s hugely intimidating to intruders.
  • Buckshot home defense loads are highly effective.
  • It’s inherently reliable (pump actions will feed pretty much anything you give them).

Cons of a shotgun for home defense include:

  • Large muzzle blast can temporarily disorient you in the darkness.
  • Heavy recoil.
  • Requires a two handed operation, and is not very nimble.
  • Harder to hide than a handgun.
  • Minimal ammo capacity.

The Three Best Pistols For Home Defense

The best handgun to use for home defense will is a full-size semi-automatic pistol with a large magazine capacity. It’s also a good idea for this pistol to have a rail that will allow you to mount a light as well. While you could just hold a flashlight in your other hand, it’s also important for you to have your support hand free.

Examples of pistols that will be good for home defense include, in alphabetical order:

1. Beretta 92A1 9mm Luger (or 96A1 in .40 S&W)

The Beretta 92A1 is an all-metal, full-size service pistol with a capacity of 15, 17, 18, or 20 rounds depending on the magazine you use. It features a tactical rail that makes it easy to mount lights and other accessories in contrast to the more traditional 92FS/M9. What makes the Beretta a good home defense weapon is not just its large capacity, but its weight that helps tame recoil and makes follow up shots faster and more accurate. The 96A1 in .40 S&W is also an option.

2. Glock 21 .45 ACP (or Glock 17/19 in 9mm Luger or 22/23 in .40 S&W)

The Glock 21 is a full-size polymer framed, striker fired pistol that holds an impressive 13+1 rounds of .45 ACP ammunition. .45 ACP is a more powerful round than 9mm which may make it more attractive for home defense, though recoil is also greater and the grip is larger. As an alternative, you could go with a 9mm Glock 17 or 19, or a .40 S&W with a 22 or 23.

3. Heckler & Koch USP .45 ACP (or 9mm Luger or .40 S&W)

The HK USP is a pistol that was designed for tactical special forces use and naturally lends itself to home defense thanks to its hefty size that tames recoil, large and easy-to-access controls, and the ability to mount a flashlight. It’s an impressive and proven pistol in its own right and utilizes a DA/SA hammer fired operation, which means it may be a safer option than a Glock if this is your first home defense gun. The USP is available in 9mm, .40 S&W, or .45 ACP, and mid-sized ‘Compact’ models are available as well.

The Three Best Shotguns For Home Defense

The best shotgun for home defense will be a pump action model (due to its inherent reliability) and preferably with a capacity of at least 6 rounds.

Examples of high-quality pump action shotguns include:

1. Mossberg 500/590

The Mossberg 500 is the second most popular pump shotgun in existence. Its popularity can be attested to its ambidextrous safety and controls, its inherent durability and reliability, and the fact that the 590A1 model, in particular, is the only pump action shotgun to pass the U.S military’s torture test. Spare parts and accessories are widely available.

2. Remington 870

The Remington 870 is the most popular pump action shotgun ever made, with a multitude of different models available and a devoted following. While the controls are not ambidextrous, the 870 is still noted for its durable build which some believe is superior to the 500. Spare parts and accessories are also widely available.

3. Winchester SXP

An alternative option to the 500 or 870 would be the Winchester SXP, which is a development of their previous 1300 model. While it’s not nearly as common as the 500 or the 870, it’s still offered at an affordable price and a good way to go if you want something ‘different.’


Again, having both a shotgun and pistol for home defense is the best option, but if you have to choose between one or the other, hopefully the arguments presented here will help you decide what is best for you.

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