Gun Guy demonstrating proper grip for a student.

Which gun should I buy for home defense?

It is an indisputable fact that long before guns were invented, someone invented opinions.   And since the invention of the gun, opinions about guns have been popping up all over the place.  So much so, that while not everyone owns a gun, just about everyone has an opinion about them.  So, it’s no surprise that opinions fly in every direction when someone asks the age old question, “Which gun should I buy for home defense?”

I went around the range one day and ask a bunch of folks this very question.  What I got was opinions that fall within a few loosely defined groups: the shotgun crowd, the inevitable 1911 group, the Glock worshippers, the Tupperware pistol gang (These are polymer framed, striker fired pistols like the Springfield XD, Glock and S&W M&P), the AR-15 aficionados and one or two old guys who swore by the revolver.  When asked about home defense calibers, the shotgun folks said, “12 gauge” and the pistol people retorted, “Never take a gun to a fight with a caliber that doesn’t start with a 4.”  So, if these folks are to be believed, only full sized pistols in .40 Smith & Wesson or larger are acceptable and only a 12 gauge or larger shotgun will get the job done.

My father, a long time Deputy Sheriff and lifelong shooter, had a somewhat different opinion.  He was a large and jovial, but soft spoken man who tended to look at firearms from a more pragmatic point of view.  He felt strongly that people cannot defend themselves adequately with firearms that they never shoot.  Consequently, he always advised selecting a gun that you enjoy shooting.  “If you like shooting it”, he used to say, “then you’ll actually practice with it once in a while.”

Last year, my wife announced to me that she wanted a pistol of her own.  She is not a long time shooter and had no idea what she wanted.  Following dad’s sage advice, I took her to the range and had her pick up just about every pistol they had for rent and try each one on for size.  When she had selected five guns that felt comfortable in her hands, we rented them one at a time.  After about thirty minutes on the pistol range, she had narrowed the choices to two.  We went back to the clerk and asked if we could rent both of the chosen pistols at the same time.  The clerk agreed and we took both guns back to the firing line.  My wife compared them side by side, shooting one after another.  Finally, she settled upon the Smith & Wesson M&P in 9mm.  She absolutely loves that pistol.  As a result, it is a pistol that she will actually practice with once in a while.  I have used this same approach with many of my students.  It has always yielded a wonderful result.

When it came to self defense calibers and gauges, my dad felt strongly that a Peace Officer should carry nothing smaller than a .38 Special and preferably a .357 Magnum handgun and that the Remington 870 in 12 gauge was best because, “Mr. Remington ALWAYS gets respect!”  If he were alive and working as a Peace Officer today, he would likely agree that a .40 Smith & Wesson would work just fine and that every officer on patrol should have a carbine.  However, when it came to calibers and gauges for civilians to use in defense of their homes, dad had two simple rules.  1) Always select a home defense gun in a caliber or gauge that you can actually hit something with.  He always said, “A solid hit with a .22 is better than a loud miss with a .44 Magnum.”  2) Buy a quality, reliable firearm that will ALWAYS go bang.  “After all”, he would say, “the loudest sound in a gun fight is ‘click’.”

In my experience (and my father’s), when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of defending your life, the best gun to have is the one that you know inside and out and that you can use effectively.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a .22 rifle, a 410 shotgun, a .380 pocket pistol or a rock-n-roll $3,000 AR-15 with every bell and whistle known to man.  Caliber, gauge, manual of arms, type and style really don’t matter if you don’t know how the gun works or can’t hit the broad side of a barn with it.  So, bag all the hype and select a gun that is comfortable, reliable and that you like to shoot.  Then take it to the range and shoot it.  That way, if you ever need it in a pinch, you’ll have something that you know you can count on.


  1. Joel, your father was a wise man. I firmly believe it is not my ego that will defend me but my accuracy when firing. “A solid hit with a .22 is better than a loud miss with a .44 Magnum.” Very sage advice.

  2. Good advice Joel. Where I live, Ireland, you cannot have a gun for self or home defence. For sporting purposes, if you are registered with a gun club, you can get a .22 rifle, (mag 10 rounds only, 5 for a .22 pistol) or a shotgun (3 rounds) and the police, (after reference checks, medical, crime record checks) will issue you with a licence and put you on a database. You are limited as to the amount of ammo you can have in your home.
    A small amount of higher calibre rifle licenses are issued for deer hunting. With a few exceptions, you generally cannot own a pistol with a calibre higher then .22LR.

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