Personal self defense typically focuses on the needs of private citizens who choose to lawfully carry concealed weapons as they go about their normal life. As such, we often focus on finding the best guns and equipment in the smallest packages — guns and accessories that we can reasonably conceal on our person. For this reason, I think a lot of us can lose focus of the fact that handguns are notoriously poor weapons for stopping a fight. When we are forced to utilize a firearm on another living thing, it is solely for the purpose of getting the threat to cease its hostile action as quickly as possible. A large percentage of people shot with a handgun survive, and many others die hours after being shot, because handguns and their relatively small projectiles can be very ineffective at producing a quick stop — in other words, neutralizing the threat. Legendary New York cop and modern day gunfighter Jim Cirillo, veteran of over 250 armed encounters before passing away in 2007, shared many real world stories of suspects who absorbed multiple handgun rounds without being taken out of the fight.
Of course, we cannot walk the streets of modern America with a large caliber rifle like cowboys in the Old West. For concealed carry, handguns — and even compact handguns — are the norm. However, how many of us get so focused on our latest concealed carry gun that we rely on that same gun for defending our homes — where size and concealability doesn’t matter. I am afraid many people who read this magazine are content to have their designated home defense weapon be a Smith & Wesson Model 60 snub-nose, or a Kahr PM-9, or a similar sub-compact pistol. I believe this because there was a point in time when I did the same thing. Much of the topic of choosing a home defense weapon is beyond the scope of this magazine, but my hope in this article is to get all of you thinking about the proper weapons for defense of your home and family.
Larger is Usually Better
When it comes to the effectiveness of firearms, larger is usually better. Larger guns have larger bullets — one key to effective stopping power. Big bullets make bigger holes, which tend to incapacitate living targets faster. While there certainly can be overkill on this issue, and you need to be mindful of over-penetration issues in an urban environment, there is no reason to have a home defense weapon of a minor caliber.
Additionally, larger firearms will generally have a larger ammunition capacity. While five rounds of .38 Special may be adequate for your average confrontation on the street, there is no reason to limit yourself on a home defense weapon. The types of confrontations that can happen at your home have a higher potential for multiple attackers — i.e., armed home invasions, or post-disaster riot conditions and the like. The immediate availability of more rounds will never be a disadvantage in a gun stored in your home — when the chips are down, 16 rounds available in your Glock 22 will always be more comforting than 6 rounds in your Kahr PM-40. Larger firearms are (unless we are talking about very large caliber rifles with significant recoil) easier to shoot. Larger guns weigh more, which absorbs more of the perceived recoil. Larger guns also distribute the recoil better, and are easier to hang onto under recoil. Plus, longer barrels (even on handguns) create a larger sighting radius between the front and rear sights, making slight errors in the sight picture far less important. And, larger guns tend tend to be able to shooter longer distances with greater accuracy, which can be important depending upon where you live and what types of threats you may face.
At a minimum, you should consider having a full-size handgun of a larger caliber (preferably a .40 S&W or .45 ACP, although a 9mm would do) available for home defense purposes. Since the sunset of the Assault Weapon Ban of 1994, high-capacity guns make a good choice, and are readily available. A full size gun like a Glock 24, or better yet, a Glock 35, with 16 rounds of .40 S&W on tap, may be hard to carry concealed, but makes for a decent home defense gun.
While I am not necessarily a huge fan of weapon mounted lights on carry guns, I do like them on full-size home defense handguns. It is easy to store your home defense gun with a light attached, and the ability to have a free hand to open doors, flip light switches, dial 911 and similar actions is a real plus. Of course, I would still keep a regular flashlight handy for those times when you don’t want to point your gun at the same thing you want to illuminate. The new styles of weapon lights from SureFire, Insight, and other companies also offer the option of integrated lasers, which can be a useful tool in a home defense situation. Regardless of what you chose, however, a full-size handgun will still not offer the advantages of the long guns discussed below.
A carbine is a light, short-barreled semi-automatic rifle that is often referred to in the popular media as an “assault weapon.” That term, of course, has developed some very negative connotations, and I think that “home defense carbine” sounds a lot better and is a more accurate description. There are a wide variety of carbines from which to choose, from pistol-caliber carbines like the Beretta Storm to more traditional carbines like the AR-15 or AK-47.
Carbines offer a lot of versatility over a handgun for home defense purposes. Carbines are available in serious rifle calibers like .223 or .308 that provide far superior stopping power compared to pistol rounds. Furthermore, carbines are long guns that are capable of far more accuracy and greater useable range. While realistic pistol ranges may top out at 25 to 50 yards, carbines can be easily used at 100+ yards or more, depending on your sighting system. Carbines also tend to have larger magazine capacity, with magazines of 30 or more rounds being fairly commonplace. Of course, if a carbine is your home defense weapon of choice, it might be a good idea to start stocking up on high-capacity magazines, given the threat of pending legislation in the U.S. Congress to limit “large capacity feeding devices.”
Both the fun and the “danger” of carbines is in the wealth of accessories available, some of which can be quite expensive. I would recommend that any long gun used for home defense be equipped with some type of weapon-mounted light. While this is optional with handguns, there is just no good way to operate a long gun and hold a flashlight. Since nighttime encounters are likely with a home defense gun, some type of weapon light should be considered as required equipment.
Carbines are also great platforms to mount optics because the rifles are generally capable of much better accuracy than the average shooter can wring out of iron sights. Also, the newest generation of no-magnification red-dot type optics is fantastic for getting the type of quick sight picture that is well suited to a close-quarters home defense gun. The types and varieties of illuminated reticle optics on the market are well beyond the scope of this article, but remember to shop for an optic that is designed for close quarters work and that is illuminated in a way that it won’t fail at the moment you need it most. Your sighting system shouldn’t depend upon a $3 battery.
One criticism of carbines is that they can be expensive — although they don’t have to be. A very adequate AK-47 of reasonable quality can be purchased and outfitted with a weapon light for around $500. A well-equipped AR-15, like the one pictured in this article, can easily top $2,000. My AR shown in this article is a Smith & Wesson M&P-15A with a SureFire Picatinny Forend, a SureFire Vertical Foregrip Weaponlight, and a Trijicon TriPower self-illuminated sight. I have been very happy with this set-up. The SureFire light also serves as a vertical foregrip, which is excellent for handling the rifle in close quarters, and the light itself has two levels of illumination: low-level LEDs for navigation, and a high-powered xenon/halogen light to illuminate potential threats. The Trijicon has three sources of illumination for the red-dot reticle: a light gathering fiber-optic, a back-up tritium light source, and batteries for the primary illumination. With three sources of power, you can be pretty sure that when you pick up your rifle to confront a threat, an illuminated reticle will be there. However, there are many other carbines and options out there to suit your needs and your budget for a home defense carbine.
Over time, I have come to the conclusion that a shotgun is the quintessential home defense weapon. First, shotguns are extremely versatile. There is a wide variety of ammo available, from bird shot, to buck shot, to slugs. Ammo choices can be tailored for use inside a home, where over penetration of walls can be an issue, or for much longer ranges. Shotguns can throw a brutally effective shot pattern at ten feet, or can be deadly accurate with slugs at 100 yards or more. Other types of specialty loads can fit most every need in between those ranges. New loads are even available that greatly reduce felt recoil, even with serious defensive loads.
The right shotgun is also very reliable. Pump shotguns in particular have a very simple manual of arms, are easy to operate, and are not prone to failure, even with minimal maintenance and lack of regular cleaning (not recommended, but it happens).
Pump action shotguns are quite inexpensive, and are readily available. The classic pump shotgun is the Remington 870 series, either in the Wingmaster configuration, or the less expensive Express model. I often see police trade-in 870s for sale at gun shows for $200 or less. They usually have scratches and cosmetic issues, but rarely show any serious wear. Even a new 870 can be had for under $300 in many configurations. For home defense I would recommend an 18 or 20 inch barrel, for ease of handling in tight spaces. While the common bead front sight will do, you may want to consider holding out for, or upgrading to, a barrel with actual rifle sights. Eighteen inch replacement barrels with rifle sights are available from several sources, and most shotgun barrels are easily interchangeable by the user. Many other accessories can be added, like replacement stocks, extended (high-capacity) magazine tubes, and more. For a weapon mounted light, I recommend the SureFire lights that replace the forend stock and are easily activated with the support hand. You may also want to consider adding the proper hardware for mounting a sling, which can be very useful if you have to transition to a handgun or otherwise free up your hands.
This article briefly touches on some of the more popular options for home defense, but is hardly a comprehensive guide to this vast topic. Entire books have been written on this subject, and I recommend further research on any of these topics that interest you, because a detailed treatment is beyond both the scope of my expertise and the focus of this magazine. Most importantly, I recommend that you take your home defense weapon as seriously as your carry weapon, and that you obtain professional training, and practice regularly. Any number of reputable schools provide training in the use of carbines or shotguns that will allow you to obtain the maximum benefit from whichever system you choose.
Each of our needs for home defense is different, based upon where we live and the threats we face. Someone living in the deserts of Arizona faces different threats than someone living in Miami, Florida. But we all need to give serious consideration to how we will protect our homes in a variety of extreme circumstances, whether it be for defense from home invasions, or defense of life and property following a riot or natural disaster, or even defense against foreign enemies on American soil. Your home is your castle, and it should be well-protected! I hope this article will inspire you to put as much thought into your home defense as you do your personal defense.
This article comes from our friends at the United States Concealed Carry Association. Their job is to keep you safe. Click here to stay informed on concealed carry tactics.
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