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15 December 2007

Choose a Firearm for Personal or Home Defense

Note: The article below was posted at 1523 (3:230 p.m.) Friday, 14 December 2007, from the Pacific Time Zone (NOT on Shabbat)

From the Blogmaster: This information is posted as a follow-up to the preceding article on Domestic Terrorism and my recommendation that you buy and learn how to use a firearm. It provides excellent, basic information that will assist you in selecting the proper weapon for your defense.

Choose a Firearm for Personal or Home Defense

Selecting a weapon for personal and home defense is a crucial decision for any prepared person. The available selection of firearms is staggering and many less-experienced firearms owners, or people looking to buy their first firearm for such a purpose, may need some guidelines to find the weapon to fit their purposes. There are two major types of firearms which are intended for two completely different types of use. The two types are handguns and long guns. Handguns are designed to be held with one hand, are small and portable, but they lack most of the stopping power of the second category, long guns. Long guns include anything from shotguns to rifles to submachine guns. Depending on your intended use, you will need to first choose which of the two major types you need.


There is an inherent problem with handguns, their size, weight, and general design forces them to use relatively weak cartridges to allow the user to be able to fire the weapon repeatedly, with relative ease for follow-up shots. The pistol's size, weight, and design also makes them the most common choice for personal defense as they can be carried on your person with minimal discomfort or exposure.

The concealability of handguns lends them to be the most used weapon for gunfight. If you aren't expecting trouble, you bring something easy to manage.

Caliber selection in pistols is a hot subject for most tactics-minded handgun users. While the general stopping power of a pistol is measurably low compared to almost any long gun, you want to make a choice to give you the best advantage.

Small calibers generally allow for fast follow-up shots, higher capacity magazines (or smaller guns), and higher velocity bullets.

Large calibers mean slower bullets but with much greater frontal area. The heavier bullets and generally high muzzle energies mean slower follow-up shots and the diameter of the cartridge means lower capacity magazines.

An analogy of the choice is: would you rather get hit by a small sedan at 120MPH (9mm) or a dually pickup truck at 80MPH (.45)?


Reliability is the number one aspect to look at when selecting a personal or home defense weapon.

In the past 20 years reliability of semi-automatic handguns has come an incredible distance. But no handgun is perfect.

For personal conceal (or open) carry defense, a light polymer framed firearm is often preferred as the weight of the firearm can become burdensome over time. Smaller handguns are also handy as they can be hid in more location on your person.

For home defense it makes sense to have the largest pistol you can practically use. You want a large caliber for a better advantage, but a large, heavy pistol gives you better control and better stopping power than a small concealable weapon.

Semi-automatic handguns have a couple big advantages over revolvers.
They are magazine fed, which means that after you have depleted anywhere between 5 and 33 rounds, you can quickly change magazines and get back into the fight.

Additionally, the recoil reduction from the slide operating on the firearm makes them much more desirable for multiple-shot encounters as follow-up shots are quicker and more accurate.


Revolvers have been the handgun of choice since they were invented. They allow you to fire between four and eight rounds in succession without reloading. If a round fails to fire, all you must do (on a double-action revolver) is pull the trigger again and a different round is loaded into the chamber.

is the most attractive feature of a revolver. A standard shooter would have a hard time making a spurless (hammerless), double-action revolver not shoot when the trigger is pulled. The design is simple, and the use is even simpler: pick up the gun, pull the trigger, and it will fire (if loaded).

Revolvers also generally are chambered in more powerful calibers than their semi-automatic counterparts. .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum revolvers are extremely popular and pack a great deal of energy when fired.

Reloading a revolver is a very dexterous operation and it may take some time. Even speed loaders take much practice and still are not as fast as a magazine reload.

Handgun Conclusion

For first time handgun owners revolvers are the ticket as they can be easily learned in minutes and maintenance and reliability are never a problem under normal conditions.
For slightly more experienced users a semi-automatic handgun makes more sense as more rounds can be lobbed downrange in less time. Operation takes a bit more learning and a bit more practice, but there is a good reason why the vast majority of all law enforcement and military personnel carry semi-automatic handguns instead of revolvers.
When hunting a large personal defense revolver may still be recommended as many dangerous game have tough skin and muscles which require a higher power cartridge to penetrate to vital organs, and many lower-power cartridges may only make many shallow holes.

Long Guns

It has been said, "You always have your handgun on you for unexpected confrontations, but if you know you are going to end up in a gunfight, without question, grab a bigger gun!" The inherent problem with handguns is their lack of power. To give you an idea, a high-end .44 Magnum from a pistol will produce about 1,000 ft/lb of muzzle energy; a traditional "varmint" caliber, the .223 will produce about 50% more energy, and it only goes up from from there (a high-end rifle cartridge can produce over 10,000 ft/lb)!
Long guns' main advantages are power and accuracy. While a beginner can pick up a handgun and reliably hit a stationary man-sized target at 5-yards, and beginner could pick up a long gun and hit a stationary man-sized target at 20-yards. With a little bit of practice both those distances could be 10x higher.

Precision with a long gun comes much easier as long guns require less dexterity and the longer sight radius allow for better accuracy.


The biggest benefit of shotguns is their ability to shoot pellets (and just about anything else). Pellets (or "shot" as it is better known) allows a larger area to be hit with each trigger pull reducing the requirement for precision shooting.

Shotguns also have the ability to shoot bullet-type projectiles (known as "slugs"). This allows them to have the characteristics of a rifles, but also the option to use shot depending on the specific use and situation.

Shotgun analogy would be: would you rather get hit by hundreds of small rocks, 10 boulders, or one semi-truck?

Shotguns are also very customizable and very versatile. Most modern shotguns can be outfitted with different length barrels, different stocks, different fore ends, different sights, and an mass of other accessories to fit your every need.

Another benefit or problem of shooting shot from a shotgun, is the inherent lack of penetration. For home protection it is a welcome idea as the shot will likely become less than lethal once it goes through a couple layers of drywall.


Rifles still require a good deal of precision, but the dexterity of the use of a pistol is not necessary, and stopping power is much improved.

To continue the analogy: would you rather be hit by a golf cart at 340MPH (5.56mm NATO), a pick-up truck at 260MPH (7.62mm NATO), or a bus at 300MPH (.50 BMG)?

As with any long gun, maneuverability it greatly reduced due to the overall length of the weapon. Some home defense situation may require you to place the stock below your shoulder which will reduce your accuracy, but also reduce the chance of someone being able to grab the rifle.

A rifle is not a common choice for home defense because while a shotgun has some of the problems inherent with any long gun, it has many benefits that the rifle does not have.

Rifles are also known (rightly so) for "over penetration". This is where the bullet hits an object and continues through and past it. 5.56 rounds, and to an even greater extent 7.62 rounds can penetrate light earthworks (1-2 bricks, a cinder block, etc), not to mention drywall and 2x4s and still be quite dangerous, risking injury to other people in the home.

5.56mm NATO and .223 Remington rounds (all the same dimensions, but different pressure specifications) have a bullet which is weighted heavily at the rear. This causes problems when a round is fired through an object as it tends to tumble after it exits and make the round much less deadly. But in a residential setting this may be desired.
Semi-automatic, carbine (shorter), magazine-fed rifles would be the optimal choice, as it allows many shots, and retain some maneuverability.

Submachine Guns

Submachine guns are (in some states) very hard to come by, and when they aren't hard to come by, they are very expensive. Ultimately though, they are one of the best close-quarters weapons you can have.

Submachine guns are questionably labeled as a "long gun" only because they are not handguns, but the majority of submachine guns are more similar to a pistol than anything else.

Take H&K's MP5 for example: MP stands for "Machine Pistol" (or it's German counterpart).

Submachine guns are essentially longer, semi-automatic or fully-automatic pistol that are fed with high-capacity magazines.

This hybrid firearms are great for personal defense as they are compact (compared to shotguns for rifles), light, and many use common pistol rounds such as the 9mm or .45.
You must choose between getting hit by lots of small sedans at 170MPH (9mm) or lots of dually pickup trucks at 120MPH (.45) in succession.


Choosing a long gun is difficult, but the effectiveness of the bullets fired is much greater, which means that compared to handguns, almost any long gun would be better. But you must also take into account the size of the weapon and it's portability.

A weapon which doesn't over penetrate is more preferred than it's alternative, and powerful rounds that don't over penetrate are easily available. Shot from a shotgun will not go through more than a few sheets of drywall, and is very unlikely to go through a person (even if it does go through either one, the potential lethality is greatly reduced).
Submachine guns are very versatile and carry many of the benefits of the handy pistol, and much of the stopping power of a rifle or shotgun, but they come at a great price (if they are available at all).

The decision is difficult and there is no single best answer else everyone would have the same firearm. You must evaluate your needs and decide for yourself which type of firearm suites you, then find the right brand and model.


The correct firearm is the one that works perfectly for you. Even if other people may not like it, the best firearm you can use, is your firearm.


Safety first! Firearms are very dangerous. Only use a pistol or other firearm if you are an experienced shooter or have a very experienced shooter directly supervising you.

Any firearm should only be shot in a safe and legal location. Be aware of state and local laws on use and transportation of a firearm and follow them carefully. Laws change drastically between states and can change between counties or even cities.

All practicing should be done at the shooting range obeying all safety rules, or in a legal and private location with an unloaded gun (or you can replace the rounds with snap-caps).

Related wikiHows
How to Handle a Firearm Safely
How to Clear a Building With a Firearm
How to Read the Color Code of the Tactical (Combat) Mindset
How to Become a Marksman (Snipe) With a Pistol
How to Do a Tactical Quickdraw With a Pistol
How to Reload a Pistol and Clear Malfunctions

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