Ask Foghorn: Best Firearm for One Handed Home Defense

J.R. writes:

I like your article on the self defense shotgun. Unfortunately I cannot use a pump. I lost my right arm in Iraq in 2006 so I’m now permanently left handed. I keep my M4 handy because I’m so used to it that, even left handed, I can operate it in the dark with one hand. But I like the idea of a shotgun better. I keep my Mossberg turkey gun nearby with buckshot loaded, but the safety is so stiff that I can barely flip it off with my shrapnel mangled left hand. That, and the barrel is way too long. So what do you suggest? Stick with my M4 that I can operate in my sleep? Or do you recommend a certain semi-auto shotgun?

First and most importantly, thank you for your service. And if I may make a suggestion a pistol might be a better option.

The handgun is the perfect firearm for one handed defensive shooting because that’s exactly what it was designed to do. It’s a lightweight firearm that uses ammunition with a large diameter but relatively gentle recoil and is designed to be fired using a single hand. Some modern firearms even have ambidextrous controls, but most at least have a left handed version available for purchase. The compact size and lightweight ammunition also mean the gun is easier to hold and maneuver around the house and won’t tire out your arm from holding up the gun as fast as a rifle or shotgun would.

In terms of specific type of handgun for one handed shooting the best option would be a striker fired handgun like a Glock or a S&W M&P that doesn’t have a safety, or a DA/SA pistol like the Beretta 92FS or Sig P226 where the “safety” is a longer double action pull for the first shot. Single action firearms like the 1911 are great for accurate shooting, but the need to disengage the safety first can get in the way of getting rounds on target quickly, and since you mentioned that disengaging the safety on your shotgun was an issue it might be better just to take manual safeties out of the equation completely.

For you, depending on how much strength you have in your left hand a DA/SA might not be a good idea. Glock or S&W M&P pistols will give you roughly the same trigger weight as a standard M4 but a much lighter overall weight and no external safeties to deal with.

As for caliber, I’ve always been a HUGE fan of the 9mm round. Shot placement trumps all other considerations, and if you’re anticipating some stiff .45ACP recoil then you’re more likely to jerk the shot off target under pressure. Especially when shooting one handed you’re less able to control the recoil of the handgun so a lighter round is a great idea. It also gives you more ammunition in the same space, being able to have double stacked magazines instead of the single stacked .45ACP.

At the end of the day the best option is whatever you feel most comfortable using. If you can handle an M4 better than anything else then stick with it, because under pressure you want to know that you can reliably put rounds on target. But if you’re looking for a better solution to self defense with only one hand then the pistol is probably your best bet.

If you really, really want a shotgun then my recommendation is the Mossberg 930 SPX. The safety is mounted on top of the tang and so easy to disengage either single handed or with either hand, the action is reliable and the weapon is lightweight. Plus, the factory installed ghost rings and fiber optic front sight will make putting rounds on target a breeze. You can remove the magazine extension and cap the gun at 5 rounds for a little extra weight savings as well.

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About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

29 Responses to Ask Foghorn: Best Firearm for One Handed Home Defense

  1. avatarJTB says:

    S&W Judge would be my suggestion.

    • avatarHSR47 says:

      Tarus makes the judge, and S&W makes the governor…

    • avatarRich says:

      I took John Farnam’s defensive rifle course this last weekend at the Sig Academy in NH and during one of the breaks I specifically asked him about the Judge.

      He didn’t think much of it. I got the impression that he thought it was more of a novelty gun.

      For the record, he was carrying something Glock like in 45 and a Kahr PM9 and a S&W 442.

      His recommendation for carry ammo was Corbon DPX. According to him, he has never seen it not expand during his testing.

  2. avatarRalph says:

    For a person with one functional arm or hand, my recommendation would be a revolver, not a pistol. With a revolver, there are no stovepipes or other jams that require two hands to clear, and a revolver cannot be limp-wristed. Loading and unloading a revolver with one hand is quite easy, too.

  3. avatarJT says:

    I use a Mosin for home defense.

    If anyone breaks in, they’ll be too scared to do anything. Otherwise, they’ll be missing numerous limbs from the shot, or if I miss, too deaf and blind to move.

    Plus, no safety! :D

  4. avatarGS650G says:

    +1 on a pistol, despite the anti revolver bias it’s the best choice for him provided he can manage the trigger pull effectively. If he has little strength in his fingers it might be a problem.

  5. avatarHSR47 says:

    Revolver, or side by side SBS.

    • avatarSteve says:

      +1 on the Side-by-Side short barrel shotgun.

      Either that or one of those fancy 8-shot revolvers from S&W.

  6. avatarTTACer says:

    I keep my Mossberg turkey gun nearby with buckshot loaded, but the safety is so stiff that I can barely flip it off with my shrapnel mangled left hand.

    Fix it. In general shotgun barrels are very easy to swap, and the safety should be fixable as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were people who read this site who would be willing to help out.

  7. avatarsdog says:

    i would say a DA/SA or a SA only pistol or revolver in 9mm or 38. How in the hell are you actually going to be able to place rounds on the target with a shotgun only using one hand?

  8. avatarLC Judas says:

    Heavy double action pulls versus finger strength is always sketchy. I got my grandmother a Glock with that consideration. A revolver, unless he got the double action trigger radically reduced, would offer a much heavier as well as longer travel distance. I put a 3.5 lb trigger on my favorite years ago. It’s a reliable and easily purchased part.

    Can a semi jam? Sure. I’ve managed to limpwrist my Glock once shooting left handed. Common defense ammo helps mitigate limp wrist risks as it is usually loaded hotter than factory target rounds. I always rapid fire a magazine of defense ammo left handed when testing for reliability and haven’t had a brand fail yet.

    Lastly, while his hand may be mangled, he is still hefting his M4 with it. I can’t handle one of those in either hand singly, can you? In your sleep? If he can control that then a 9mm shouldn’t be hard for a veteran like himself to learn.

  9. avatarLeo Atrox says:

    High-capacity pistol. I would avoid a revolver unless you are proficient with reloading it one-handed. It is certainly doable–and you would have to practice reloading the pistol with one hand too–but a revolver would greatly increase the chances that you would have to reload versus the high-capacity pistol.

  10. avatarJustin says:

    A wonder 9 would be a good choice IMO.

    The Springfield XDm 9mm has a capacity of 19+1, which would be an advantage if reloading is difficult (which no offense, I presume is true)

    It also shoots like a laser :)

  11. avatarDaniel says:

    I have an M&P 45c that pulls multi-duty as carry and home defense. It has ambidextrous safety, and can be bought with the mag release on the left side. It is designed to be ambidextrous. It also accepts full-size M&P 45 mags. The .45ACP cartridge is less likely to kill your neighbors when you miss due to its low muzzle velocity (especially when you grab some Hornady Critical Defense JHP, which is designed to rapidly lose its kinetic energy when it hits solid objects), and more likely to stop assailants with one shot up close than most other cartridges. For what it’s worth, I’ve never found the recoil to be a problem, but then I learned how to shoot with a 1911. As for mods, I would suggest you add night sights. You may also consider the Armalaser RSS laser add-on for the M&P, whose actuator hugs the front of the trigger guard and needs only come in contact with your skin to activate. Of course, at night in your home, lasers can alert the bad guys to where you are, so consider that.

    As for the heavy double action talk… If you’re talking home defense, don’t worry about heavy double action, that’s a carry consideration, not a home defense consideration. When you’re talking to the judge, you want to make it abundantly clear that, Yes, your honor, it was my absolute intention to shoot the bastard that broke into my house.

  12. avatar"Dr."Dave says:

    I’m going to think outside the box here and reccomend a Ruger blackhawk or another single action revolver. Remember, the good ‘ol Colt model 1873 was designed for calvlary men. And it was designed to be fired one handed. With a 4 and 3/4 barrel, they are very handy. They point well. They are chambered in a wide variety of powerfull rounds. And for not a whole lot, you can get a handy little Ruger single six in .22 LR that you can plink with and train with all day long with out breaking the bank. And the controls, heft, sights, etc, will be almost identical.

    It all depends on the individual, though. With sufficent training, you can learn to clear malfunctions, reload, and shoot pretty well one handed. If the person is willing to do that, and train well, a modern pistol, especially with a light slung under the barrel might be a very good choice.

    But if the individual doesnt want to learn a whole new manual of arms (Horrible pun not intended) for shooting a semi auto one handed, a revolver might be a good choice.

    • avatarVigilantis says:

      +1 on the single action. I have some pretty extensive nerve damage that precludes the possibility of double action triggers, but single actions revolvers are very usable for me. They’re also powerful and accurate. They don’t hold many rounds, and the reloads are slow, but if you’re worried about it buy two. Nice blackhawks are less than $500, often considerably less.

  13. avatarsdog says:

    @dr. dave
    this is a very valid point, i think the black hawk model that has two cylinders and shoots 38 357 and 9mm would be an awesome choice for single handed HD and as a possible survival gun.

    • avatar"Dr."Dave says:

      Yeah. I just ordered one of those for a customer a few days ago. Pretty neat having three of the most popular handgun calibers all in one revolver.

  14. avatarJoe nobody says:

    Well the guy asking seems to want a shotgun. While a handgun might be better, it might not be what he wants. I think the no brainer option would be a saiga semi auto. It sounds like he can use his hand to support and a saiga can be charged with the right hand. by the way j.r. Thank you for your service.

  15. avatarSamuel says:

    I’d definitely recommend a glock, more specifically the 17. High capacity, heavy enough to mitigate barrel flip, and the squared of slide is very well suited for racking the slide off of the edge of say, a nightstand, table, shelf, or really anything with an edge on it. I’ve practiced racking the slide one-handed with my glock often and its very simple and easy to become proficient at. Not to mention the reliability inherent in the glock design helps to prevent malfunctions in the first place.

  16. avatarAharon says:

    A DA/SA revolver in 357/38 is my first suggestion. After it has been broken in a good gun smith can make it even smoother and easier to shoot. If going with a pistol go with a 9mm along with ambidextrous safety, decocker, and magazine release controls. You might also like to consider the Stoeger SxS break-action shotgun as a greeter gun (to be backed up with a handgun!) if it would be comfortable and controllable for you. If so, buy a model with double-triggers as the single trigger models are not as reliable.

  17. avatarPatrick says:

    M4′s going to be easier to operate, fire, and keep stable, maintain accuracy and reload than anything else, on top of having a higher capacity (hopefully negating reloading). Only thing I can think of that would be easier is a PS-90.

  18. avatarDallen says:

    First off, thanks for your service. Second, I would recommend a revolver, preferably SA. Despite being slower, the reduced trigger pull should help with an injured hand. A side-by-side SBS sounds pretty good as does the fully-ambidextrous PS90 (also fairly light). If all else fails you could fashion/buy a spear (sword, spiked club, etc.) for a more… eh… “primitive” defense system. Personally, I would keep my Five-seveN, cocked and locked, in a gun box. The ambidextrous safety is light enough to be undone with a finger and the 20-round mag precludes the need to reload (for most defense situations).

  19. avatarjimf says:

    Although I really like my Springfield XDm 9…I would first determine which is easier to reload.. a revolver or pistol… if a pistol still can be reloaded one handed…buy a couple of extra mags and keep them loaded…and per a previous commentator .. 19+1 is very handy.

  20. avatarMOG says:

    A hi cap magazine in a pistol, provided you have extra magazines on hand, should work. Racking the slide should be no problem, swap mags before empty, or fire till the slide locks (do make sure the slide locks). A good well maintained pistol, with brand ammo, pre-fired for compatibility should be reliably jam free. Give yourself all the edge you can, get a left handed pistol. Being able to handle the M4 is great primary/secondary. I realize you may know more about firearms than I do, but I know from experience, (long past), being a member of the military often does not include handgun training. As always, a Salute to those of you who have served, and are serving in the US Military.

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