Selecting The Right Home Defense Firearm for You and Your Family


So, you’ve grown up a bit, probably got married or are in a serious relationship; maybe you had some kids and realized, “Oh crap, the world is a dangerous place.  I need to protect my loved ones.  I should buy a gun.”

Depending on the state you live in, you may or may not have went through the massive amounts of red tape involved in purchasing a firearm and now it’s time to pick the gun that may save your life one day.

Your friends are probably brand whores and are telling you which pistol is their favorite and how the SEALs use this one or that one, but wait; how did you decide a pistol was for you?

First time gun owners all have their innate reasons for purchasing a firearm.  Regardless of what they are, you’re there.  How do you select the right firearm for you?

I’m going to walk you through some basics of firearm selection from the perspective of home defense.  I’m not going to factor in concealed carry; that is a totally different topic.  I’m also going to keep this very basic, my intended audience is the prospective new gun owner with no one reliable to guide them.

There are essentially three types of firearms, pistols, shotguns and rifles.  Within those three categories are different types of actions, styles and purposes.  Let’s keep it at 30,000 feet, ok?  The type of firearm you need to protect your home and loved ones depends on several factors, including;


Where you live is going to be important to what style of firearm you select.  For instance, in an urban setting, the chances of you needing to engage a target at 100 yards is lower than in a suburban or rural setting.  Conversely, in a rural setting, you may live in a large swath of property and protecting it will require you to be able to take a shot from longer distances.

Potential threats

This point is absolutely key.  If you’re preparing for every possible scenario, let me cut to the chase, you need all three of these types of firearms and more!  But if you’re planning on being able to tackle the most likely scenario, you’ll need to think about what that is.  Are home invasions or burglaries common in your area?  Are you worried about rioting or protesting on the streets?  Or are cattle poachers a problem and law enforcement is at least 20 minutes away?

Occupancy type

How you live is as important as where you live in that, building construction will heavily impact how far your round travels if it goes through your target (or you miss).  Due to high occupancy, apartments and condos will be a concern in terms of over penetration.  Also, if you have kids in your home and bedrooms spread throughout, you’ll never be able to be certain your background is clear before you fire.

Personal ability

Despite what you see in the movies or on TV, shooting accurately is not easy.  After you’ve had some practice with your new firearm, you can laugh when someone says, “Why didn’t that cop just shoot him in the leg?”  Also, some firearms are much heavier or longer than others; this may also impact your ability to use a weapon effectively.

Now, the meat and potatoes.  The following is not a comprehensive list of all the pros, cons, and features of each firearm.  Nor is it representative of all firearms.  Directionally though, this will help guide you in making a very important decision.



Changes in manufacturing materials have made the modern pistol a formidable weapon.  Light weight polymers took what was once a top and front heavy firearm and made it into a well-balanced, easily held weapon.

That’s not to say you have to go out and buy a polymer frame weapon, ala Glock 19 or Sig Sauer P320.  Both are excellent firearms but the tried and true steel and aluminum pistols are equally good.


Lightweight – a fully loaded polymer semi-automatic pistol will generally weigh in the neighborhood of 30 ounces, fully loaded.  At that weight, male, female, young and old can wield this weapon.

Accuracy at short distances – most fire fights occur well within 20 feet, some studies have put the real number at 3 feet.  At those short distances, a pistol will be accurate, even if the shooter has minimal training.

Capacity – most semi-automatic pistols have a magazine capacity of 13-17 rounds.  Revolvers and “single stack” pistols may hold less (6-8 rounds).  With 13-17 well placed shots, a person defending their home can subdue an attack by more than one assailant. 

Penetration – pistol rounds travel much slower than rifle rounds (for example).  That slower speed translates to less penetration when the round strikes an object.  This reduces the risk of your round going through multiple walls and furniture and potentially striking an innocent person or family member.  Using certain types of ammo will reduce this risk even more.


Accuracy – mastering a pistol is difficult.  Accuracy beyond 20 feet takes commitment to training and practice.  Unless you’re willing to put in the time, a pistol may not be your weapon of choice.

Stress impacts – studies have found that high stress situations do a lot to your body.  A rush of adrenaline is going to give you extreme tunnel vision; acquiring small pistol sights is going to make aiming your weapon difficult.  Studies also show that in high stress situations, dexterity greatly reduces, especially in your fingers.  Manipulating a pistol, in terms of reloading, trigger control and aiming may be impossible for you.

Penetration – pistol rounds travel much slower than rifle rounds (for example).  The force exerted by a pistol round is less than a rifle round and will create less damage to the assailant when it strikes him or her.  Translation, it may take several pistol rounds to stop a threat.


remington-870Shotgun (12 Gauge w/ 00 Buck)

Pump action shotguns have been used reliably by police and military for over a century with few modifications made since its creation.


Accuracy – When a shot shell is fired from a shotgun, the pellets leave the barrel and begin to spread or scatter. The farther the pellets travel, the greater the spread of shot.  This makes striking a target at 15-20 yards, very easy for a novice shooter.

Pucker factor – Some have said there are few sounds known to man that are more intimidating than that of a shotgun cycling a shell into the chamber.  I would tend to agree.  I’m not sure if it’s enough to send a would-be criminal away, but it might be.

Ammo Options – Shotguns are versatile in that the ammunition choices are as broad as the imagination.  From less than lethal rubber balls and sand bags to solid slugs and birdshot, shotgun ammo comes in all shapes and sizes.


Lethality – Accuracy and lethality begin to diminish with the shotgun beyond 25 yards.  A 00 Buck shot shell is commonly loaded with 9 pellets.  As the pellets travel, they spread further apart.  Beyond 25 yards, an assailant is less likely to be hit by all 9 pellets, reducing efficacy.  That’s not to say he/she won’t be fatally injured, they may be.  Some have estimated 00 buck to be lethal up to 50 yards, but I wouldn’t roll the dice beyond 25-30 yards.

Recoil – Recoil is the backward momentum of a firearm after a round is expelled from the barrel.  The recoil of a shotgun depends on the type of ammo you are using, but as a general rule, you should expect a lot of recoil. There will plenty of gun guys who will line up to call me a sissy for saying that.  Well, I can shoot the heck out of a shotgun and have for years, but to the novice shooter..  be warned, the recoil sucks.  Expect a tender spot on your chest/shoulder in the morning.

Reloading – Pump action shotguns do not automatically cycle their shells.  Note: There are semi-auto shotguns.  But we’re talking pump action here.  Operating a pump action shotgun quickly can be challenging.  Novice, female and young shooters will struggle here.


bcm-arRifle (Semi-Auto)


Versatility – the modern sporting rifle (AR-15 or variant) has more options, upgrades and accessories than any other firearm.  Lots of shooting enthusiasts call the AR, Barbie’s for men. 

Accuracy – you will be hard pressed to find a firearm more accurate at any range.  Most off the shelf AR-15’s will shoot 3” (or less) groupings at 100 yards, right out of the box.  The effective range of the AR-15 goes out well beyond 300 yards.  A trained shooter will be effective with this rifle at 400-600 yards.

Magazine – the standard capacity for an AR-15 magazine is 30 rounds (depending on your state laws).  The magazines are large and do not require an extreme amount of dexterity to  handle in high stress situations.

Recoil – let’s be honest, there is none.  AR’s are loud and scary sounding, but bite like a mosquito.


Decibels – AR’s and their variants are loud, I mean really loud.  Most AR’s are going to fire in the range of 160-170 db’s.  That means, if you fire one of these in your home, you will lose your hearing immediately (after the ringing stops).  Also, you’re likely not to get that hearing back for quite a while.  Deploying an AR in any situation generally requires the use of hearing protection of some type, so be prepared to keep those bedside.

Penetration – the .223 or 5.56 round travels at somewhere around 3,000 feet per second.  That’s a lot of force!  Penetration is a real concern in heavily populated areas.  Some say the AR-15 is the best weapon for when you want to kill an intruder, at your neighbor’s house, behind the refrigerator.


I just gave you quite a bit of information to process, but I hope it helped.  One thing is certain, there is no one firearm for all situations.

Novice shooters will find the shotgun to be a very simple platform to learn and use well.

If you’re willing to put in the time and effort to learn how to shoot properly, a pistol is an excellent home defense weapon.  Caution, shooting is a perishable skill.  If you’re going to own a pistol, you’ll need to train to stay proficient.  In my world, the pistol is the perfect weapon to get you to your rifle.

The AR-15 is the most versatile shooting platform on Earth, I encourage everyone to own one.  That said, depending on your situation, and AR may not be the right choice for you.

Once you’ve decided on the platform, you’re only half way there.  Brands and styles are important from a reliability perspective, lean on your friends with experience for this one.  If that’s not an option, email me.  I’m happy to help.

What do I use?  All of the above.

James D'Arcy

James D'Arcy

Jim is a senior executive for a private security contractor. He has been responsible for, among things, the protection of assets, people and property for several multi-billion dollar companies. Jim can be reached at

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