If you’re a gun owner, there will come a time when you’ll hear someone tell you that “You don’t need a pistol or an ‘assault rifle,’ just get yourself a shotgun for home defense.” Chances are the person offering that advice won’t be the current Vice President of the United States, but nevertheless, a shotgun or a rifle brings two things to the table that a defensive handgun just can’t.
1. Firepower. A 12 gauge shotgun firing 00 buckshot throws twelve .33 caliber lead pellets at one time into its unfortunate target. Ouch. A 55 grain .223 bullet weighs significantly less than a buckshot load, but it’s traveling at a tremendous speed that allows it to impart a lot of force on-target, far more than common handgun calibers. In short, when it comes to firepower, pistols are pistols, and long guns are long guns.
2. Distance. An AR-15 rifle in the hands of a semi-competent marksman is more than capable of delivering shots on-target out to 100 yards and beyond, and a shotgun with slugs can hit targets out beyond 50 yards. Both of those distances are considered extreme distances for even the most competent of pistol shooters, so a long gun allows you to extend the fight to distances your pistol can’t reach.
Which is better for personal defense, a handgun, a rifle or a shotgun? In my opinion, they all have a role to play in keeping you and your loved ones safe. Let’s compare the advantages and disadvantages of each of type of firearm and how that might affect your choice:
Advantages: Compact, easy to carry, can be shot with one hand;
Disadvantages: Not much ammo compared to rifles, low-powered compared to long guns.
Advantages: Devastating amount of power per round, flexible ammunition types;
Disadvantages: Hard to maneuver in tight spots, needs two hands to operate, low ammunition capacity.
Advantages: Powerful rounds. Higher capacity. Great for long-distance work;
Disadvantages: Needs two hands to use. Harder to maneuver in tight spots. Some locales have magazine capacity limitations.
I use all three, inside and outside the house. Inside our home, we have a designated safe room, a place that the entire family knows is our “rally point,” the place we all go to if someone enters our home with evil intent. Inside that safe room is a first-aid kit, flashlight, cell phone* and a quick-access safe that contains a handgun and a spare magazine. Next to that safe, higher up on the wall to keep it safer from prying hands, is a Mossberg 500 pump-action shotgun, cruiser-ready, loaded with buckshot, which also has a half-dozen more shells and a couple of deer slugs ready for fast reloads. Our safe room is meant to be the place where the entire family holes up and stays until help arrives. I’m not a SWAT cop and have no desire to move from room to room clearing my house of any bad guys. I’m going to try to wait it out, because aside from my family, there is nothing in my house worth dying (or killing) for. I have no need to creep through my house looking for bad guys unless one of my family’s lives might be on the line
Outside the home, I have my concealed defensive handgun on me and a rifle in the trunk. Yes, there is a danger that if my car gets stolen, my rifle will go along with it into criminal hands; however, I drive a seriously uncool car that’s devoid of NRA stickers and whatnot, so it will be a mighty desperate car thief who choses to steal my car rather than others in the parking lot. The rifle is there not to deal with active shooters, but because my family likes to travel, and I don’t want to repeat what my family went through when we decided to visit St. Louis last year.
Is a handgun good for home defense? Yes, absolutely. Is a rifle better? Maybe, and maybe a shotgun is preferable for you. For me, I see a pistol as my primary weapon outside the home and secondary inside the home. The pump-action shotgun is my primary home defensive weapon inside the home (because BOOM) and a rifle is, a best, a tertiary weapon for me.
Your life and your circumstances will probably be different than mine, so think about where and how you live, then plan accordingly. If you live in a rural area, the extra distance that a rifle gives you is something to think about. If you live in a more densely-packed areas, #4 buckshot penetrates building walls less than #00 shot, and I’ve seen studies that show that the fast, unstable bullet fired from an AR-15 will shed its energy faster than even a pistol round will.
Local laws can affect your choices: If you can’t own the standard-capacity 30 round magazine for an AR-15 or live in an area where scary black rifles might bring unwanted attention from a prosecutor, a lever-action rifle is an excellent choice for self-defense inside the home or as a trunk gun outside of the house.
Whatever you chose, commit to training with your gun and teach the responsible parties inside your house where your defensive guns are and how they are meant to be used. Having a plan, even having safe room with a sturdy locking door and a flashlight will put you far ahead of the rest of America. You don’t have to be perfect, you just need to have a plan.
* Any working cell phone can dial 911, no matter if it has a current mobile service plan or not. Mighty useful for people like me who don’t have a land line and tend to leave our smartphones lying around the home.