Let’s talk home defense.
First things first: Shotguns are devastatingly powerful. Nothing can compare to the 12 gauge at close range. Even birdshot, which is still one mass of moving lead at close range, will tear a human to shreds.
In my battery I have a Remington 870 and a bandoleer of slugs and buck ready to go for when the SHTF. You don’t lose much with a 20 gauge at close range either, and you gain some agility with a smaller gun, and more family members are likely to respond better to the 20.
The second point I’d like to make is on handguns for home defense: Shoot the biggest cartridge you can handle. That means a .40 S&W, a .45 ACP or a .357 magnum. Ask a doctor in an urban area where shootings are common and you will find these result in the most one-shot kills.
A 9mm? Well, if that’s what you have, use it, but they just can’t compare to the bigger rounds. I’m not a caliber snob myself, but face it: Bigger is better if you can handle the gun. And again, I’m not talking about concealed carry which can dictate a smaller round because you just can’t carry a larger gun at times, but I’m talking about guarding the homestead and your bedside piece.
But what is the best home defense gun? A rifle carbine.
Why? For the most part:
- Carbines handle better than shotguns.
- Carbines have more power than handguns.
- Carbines have a higher magazine capacity than shotguns or handguns.
- Carbines have a longer range than shotguns or handguns.
- Carbines are more accurate than shotguns or handguns.
- Carbines are easier to shoot for family members not so familiar with shotguns and handguns.
- Carbines have minimal recoil which enables them to shoot a lot of rounds fast.
- Handgun rounds in a carbine are much more powerful and offer a two gun, one cartridge option.
Let’s look at some of the carbine choices. These are from my direct experience, most of the guns I own, or I have friends whose opinion that I trust use these for home defense.
My first Mini-14 was purchased when I was on leave as a U.S. Marine. I bought it, went to a field and shot a woodchuck at 75 yards with a 55 grain hollow point. It split the ‘chuck in half. I had experience with the M-16 and the 5.56mm round and I think it is way too small for military use and the ball round is a big part of the problem. But the .223 with that same expanding point round has been proven to stop humans in their tracks at close range.
The muzzle energy is around 1,300 foot-pounds of energy and darn near all of it will be expelled into the target. The Mini-14 has a ton of aftermarket accessories so you can personalize this gun to suit your tastes. This is my choice. I have an aftermarket synthetic stock and my favorite magazine size is 20 rounds because I like the balance. I use the open sights and it usually has a light mounted under the barrel with a pig-tail switch on the forearm.
It’s 37.5” long and about 6.75 lbs. It’s easy to leave the bolt open with a full mag and the safety is fast to release with your trigger finger. It’s light, fast and safe, and as far as accuracy goes, my last three scoped shots were 1” at 100 yards. Not typical, but mine shoots as well as I can hold. You can find a basic model for around $600.
It’s a Mini-14 that shoots a 7.62×39 so all of the above for the 14 applies. You can score cheap ammo for practice and high-quality soft points for home defense. It also doubles as a nice little deer rifle if you keep the range to 100 yards. This round has been killing people for a long time so its effectiveness established. The 123-grain rounds produce 1,500 foot-pounds of energy.
The concern: This round penetrates walls, so if over-penetration is a concern this may not be for you. Mine is an open-sided wood stocked basic model and is my first choice for my corner gun when I’m at the cabin. It costs $650 or so, if you look around.
Winchester 94 Trapper, Puma 92, Marlin 1894
Winchester no longer makes the 94 Trapper in .357 and if you are lucky enough to have one you know this is a great little gun. The barrel is 16”, the overall length is a short 34” and it tips in at 6 lbs. It holds ten .357 rounds and with a 158 grain soft point it will generate 1,000 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.
Mine sports a Weaver 1×3 scope and shoots tight groups out to 75 yards. While it is almost a sin to scope this rifle I find it really helps with accuracy and target acquisition speed. My practice drill is to have four targets at 25 yards and shoot four times in 6 seconds. I can put each round in a 3” circle but the lever does take some practice. There is virtually no recoil, the gun has numerous safety features (although really unnecessary) and, well, I just plain love this gun. It helps to love the gun you shoot because you shoot it more and get better each time. It’s a great little field gun.
On the subject of shooting .38 specials through it — I don’t. I’m sighted in for .357’s and shooting 38’s has a different impact point. Price? If you can find one it will cost ya.
Take a look at the Puma and Marlin carbines. A former colleague of mine had a Puma in .454 Casull. Yeah, it was nice. And it also makes a great brush gun when it’s not near your bed.
M1 Carbine – .30 Carbine
I shot these as a kid and had a ball. This was back when military carbines were cheap and readily available — not anymore, but you can get a civilian version for $500 or so.
At 5.5 lbs it is as light as they come for a rifle, and it’s a handy 35”. While the 110-grain bullet was not much for military use, it is great for home defense at nearly 2,000 feet per second and 1,400 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. There is virtually no recoil and it is easy to keep this gun on target while shooting. Thirty-round magazines provide all the firepower you need without weighing you down. This gun is fast on a target.
This is the least expensive gun on the list with a suggested retail price of $285. You can get them in 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP. The added barrel length, as a rule of thumb, will add 300 feet per second making even a 9mm a good stopper and even better with +P loads.
The specs on this gun make it a good home defense choice: 16.5” barrel, 31” length, and it weighs 6.25 lbs. Now here’s the rub: Some folks flat-out hate these guns. Others love them. I’m indifferent right now because I don’t have a lot of range time to make up my mind, but that will change because my neighbor just got one. He has every known gadget on this critter and it’s all pimped out. So far it has shot well and no malfunctions for this 9mm.
If price is a consideration, then get this gun. For me, I would want a good break-in period before I bet my life on it. All guns need to earn your trust and be reliable.
Ahhhh…. the Black Rifle, the hottest selling thing since Bill Clinton decided that they should be restricted. There are too many brands and configurations to cover in this article and prices range from $650 to as much money as you can muster. If you have one, tell us what you like, what you don’t and what you probably should have bought instead, for the benefit of our shooting community.
So there you have it. Me, I’m a carbine guy for home defense and I stand by my choice. But I am eyeing a Benelli M-2 NFA Tactical with a pistol grip. I like keeping my options open, and that gun is sweet!