I much prefer a handgun for most aspects of defending the inside of my home. I certainly acknowledge that long guns offer far better stopping power compared to a handgun, but the reason I prefer a handgun is because it is more practical . . .


Working within the confines of a typical home, the reality of dealing with light switches, doors, and family members often requires that one hand be available for extraneous use while the other operates the firearm. When the subject comes up in my tactical handgun classes, I have each participant in the class handle a shotgun while opening doors, activating light switches in the classroom and guiding family members to the a “safe room.” Inevitably, each student is forced to hold the shotgun with just one hand, usually for an extended time. Each time, often within ten seconds, the person quickly realizes how heavy and awkward it is to handle a shotgun with just one hand.

Let’s look at it from a naysayer’s point of view. “Light switches can be activated by shoulders and elbows while maintaining two hands on the long gun.” That may be true, but under extreme stress that method probably won’t be easy, plus, the instinctive method is to use your hands, and under extreme stress most people revert to what is instinctive. “It only takes a second to use a door knob”. Ok, I agree, that is true.

Some may say that “family members should be trained on what to do in a crisis and should not need to be directed.” Well, let’s be practical. How many of us have actually trained with our family members? Of those who have, do you drill often enough so that every member of the family is completely sure of what to do by instinct and won’t panic if an attack comes? Will your family know how to react if the event occurs differently than planned? Will anyone panic regardless of their training? What do you do if you have small children? In many, if not most cases, a leader must take charge, direct the family members, and ward off the attack.

Let’s say that you have trained yourself to open and close doors quickly, turn lights on and off with extraneous body parts, and you have no one else living with you. Is a handgun still the best choice? In my opinion, again, yes.

In order to not give your position away and to prevent a gun grab when negotiating travelways through the home, a gun should not protrude beyond a corner or through a doorway. To survey around a corner or pass through a doorway, a long gun must be lowered or raised to keep it from view. Due to its length and weight, that’s not easy to do, especially so with just one hand. Additionally, if you are limited to one hand, it’s not easy to get a long gun back on target in a hurry from a raised or lowered position. Whether you have one hand or two on your weapon, it is far easier to negotiate doorways with a handgun.

While a short-barreled rifle or shotgun is most often the weapon of choice for law enforcement entry teams, there is quite a difference between an entry team and a typical homeowner. First off, police are highly trained and practiced. Secondly, they are a team. One officer can operate the doors and deal with innocents while other members make entry and take care of business.

A long gun does have a presence in my home defense plan. In case of a home invasion, my plan consists of getting my handgun, gathering my family and directing them and myself to a “safe room.” This room is the one furthest the from anticipated entry location, one that is the easiest to get to and to defend, and one that has a cell phone and long guns. I plan to use my handgun to get my family safe, then defend my safe room with a long gun.

In reality, there is a lot more to planning a home defense than what is written here and the principles presented have been greatly simplified, but you can see that a handgun, does indeed, have plenty to offer in protecting your family and yourself.

61 Responses to Self-Defense Tip: Use a Handgun for Home Defense

  1. Jeff Cooper once said that if one cannot hold a rifle one handed by the buttstock pointed skyward for longer than 30 second,the piece was too heavy or the user needed to get in shape.Hanging lights,bipods,and gear on a rifle is all well and good,but it exacts a penalty in weight.I have little trouble holding a bare bones AR15 one handed comfortably.For most home invasion scenarios,simply holding the weapon will be enough to deter further agression.While I have no reservations shooting hostile boarders,everyone wins if the bad guys see the business end of a rifle and flee versus spotting a handgun and shooting back.

    • Jeff Cooper once said that if one cannot hold a rifle one handed by the buttstock pointed skyward for longer than 30 second,the piece was too heavy or the user needed to get in shape.

      So someone’s granny 80 year old granny needs to go to the gym and get in shape? We have deified Jeff Cooper, but in many ways he was a pompous a$$shole.

      • The reason guns are so important for self defense is that they are an equalizer. The bullet doesn’t care what the person who pulled the trigger looks like–it just does what physics tell it to.

        I believe the point is that a laser on a gun isn’t going to do you any good if you can’t carry it for at least a little while.

      • “So someone’s granny 80 year old granny needs to go to the gym and get in shape?”

        Or get a lighter weapon. Not to be argumentative, but there were two options presented: get in shape, or get a lighter weapon.

    • If you want to play it safe have the barrel cut down to the end of the rail system and shorten the stock all the way down and if using a red dot etc. put the scope mount at the front of the receiver farther from your face. By doing this you have opened up your field of view by having the sight all the way forward and have shortened the bulky stock AR15 to a shortened customized gun. Now you have good tactical movement, stopping power you won’t get with a pistol, and if you can’t hold the gun with one hand you should be in the safe room with the rest of the family.

  2. From the majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller:

    “the American people have considered the handgun to be the quintessential self-defense weapon. There are many reasons that a citizen may prefer a handgun for home defense: It is easier to store in a location that is readily accessible in an emergency; it cannot easily be redirected or wrestled away by an attacker; it is easier to use for those without the upperbody strength to lift and aim a long gun; it can be pointed at a burglar with one hand while the other hand dials the police.”

    I think that Justice Scalia got it right, and so did the rabbi.

  3. I have ZERO problem handling the weight of my HD shotgun. Its still my second choice. It sits, loaded, at my fall back/wait for the police position upstairs. It has its place in my HD strategy as a point defense weapon, but I wont be answering the door with it unless hell is full and the dead walk the earth. Superior terminal ballistics and longer sight radius don’t make it the answer for all SD/HD situations.

  4. I certainly hope you’re not teaching people to go searching through their house looking for that bump-in-the-night. The bump finds you, which if it’s real, should be the last thing they ever find. The only people who ‘search’ a house/building are the cops. Good Grief…

    • That is a subject for another article, but no, I never suggest anyone search their own house for danger. That’s better described as walking into an ambush. I suggest bunkering down in a safe room and defend that space. The exception is if you have a loved one(s) that you are responsible for who is not in the safe room. You may be forced to search the house to find them.

      • +1 I’ve watched a couple of those self-defense TV shows teaching completely asinine “room clearing” techniques. In one particularly retarded episode taught by Gunsite instructor Ed Head, he teaches folks to keep their back facing an uncleared hallway while “pieing” an interior room. Complete OFWG fantasy bull-shit. Even a basic amount of real MOUT and/or CQB training will make you realize that house clearing is – by definition, not a one-person job.

        • You couldn’t be more right. Ed Head and all the other ones on the TV shows showing their “tried and true” techniques are a joke. 99.999% of people aren’t going to practice what they’re showing, so what’s the purpose? I think most of them like to hear the sound of their own voice.

      • I agree that you shouldn’t search the house for a bad guy, but if I have a loved one in another room I’m not going to hide and wait for the cops. I’ve practiced roaming my home with a shotgun, AR15 and my 45, and I’d choice the 45 every time. The Rabbi’s right on target as usual.

    • So you hide under your bed and call 911 with every bump in the night? Cops must be tired of searching your house for you.

      • I agree, I’m going to search my house if I hear a strange noise or even if I know for certain that there are strangers in my house. It is MY house, I know where everything is, I live there and usually don’t even need to turn on a light to navigate my house. I will also use a shot gun, when the adrenaline hits your fine motor skills are going to disappear and accurately aiming a handgun will become much harder. While a shotgun is easy to aim under a high-stress, high adrenaline scenario. As a plus even buck shot will not penetrate too deeply into drywall, minimizing hitting a family member who may still be in an adjoining room.

        • Yup. 4 walls. That is assuming the 4 said walls are back to back. Buckshot deforms and deformed buckshot looses velocity rapidly. So 4 walls is an absolute worse case for buckshot.

          Guess what else penetrates 4 walls? That would be any defensive handgun round that has ever met FBI minimum standards. And since handgun rounds don’t deform on drywall, 4 walls would be the norm, not a worse case.

          The best and only reliable backstop normally found in a home defense situation is the bad guy. Long guns make it much easier to aim thereby making use of the only proper backstop in the home.

          If I could only have one gun, it would be a handgun simply because I can carry a handgun. But if I had no intention of ever carrying a gun, a handgun is just a waste IMO. Maybe if you had limitations, but I don’t. Long guns take training to wield indoors, but handguns take a lot more training to aim correctly. Point being if you won’t train to either then neither is the correct option. If you took some super duper handgun course and then find a long gun difficult indoors, then maybe, just maybe you might want to take a long gun course that teaches how to maneuver indoors.

          I’ve gotten tired of hearing about how long guns are clumsy indoors from the same people who know darn well that handguns take serious training to aim adequately yet couldn’t imagine that maneuvering a long gun indoors just might benefit from some training.

  5. My experience has been that events justifying defensive presentation of a firearm outdoors (patios, driveway, gardens) very strongly favor a shotgun (3 events in 28 years each ending well) while the logic of indoor defense (zero events in the last 28 years) supports the rabbi’s views and the constraints assumed relevant in Heller. I have no non-military indoor defense experience. If limited to one gun, a handgun seems the sensible choice. I’m afraid securing the wife first might depend on how much nagging I’d been subjected to that week….not sure. Anyway, she’ll probably beat me to the secure room and slide the bolt before I get there. The indoor stuff seems theoretical to me, just a fancy version of a street encounter except I have many advantages over an intruder (unless he comes with a full backpack of evil means). Has anyone had an indoor intruder? I’m interested to hear how it went.

    • One of my nehibors 17 year old kids broke into my house because he was drunk and/or high and knew that I had a good stockpile of beer. My car was in the shop, at the time, so it appeared I was not home.

      I lit him up with my weapons light, and, thankfully, recognized him and saw he was no lethal threat.

      The kitchen (And, hence, the beer.) are at the end of a long hallway that leads to the master bedroom. I heard him opening the door, set down my book, grabbed my Mossberg, sliced the pie around the door looking down the hallway, and saw some one or some thing moving in the kitchen/dining room area.

      I pointed the shotgun a little bit short of him, triggered the attached weapons light, and ID’ed the threat.

      Tragedy averted.

      And, oh, damn, did we have some words. Hes been apologetic ever since, and since the situation occurred, I haven’t had to worry about doing any yard work.

  6. I prefer a pistol for home defense myself as well. Primarily because its easier to handle one handed, and there are too many tight corners to handle that would make maneuvering a shotgun or rifle a lot more difficult.

    Am I the only one that finds it interesting that everyone refers to it as home defense. Isn’t it more accurately personal (and perhaps family) defense within the home? To me home defense more logically is defending the home itself (which seems more suited to a long gun).

    • clearing a corner with a shortened AR or other weapons of that category is not difficult at all, don’t slowly creep around the corner, get aggressive. Right when you come to the corner step straight back to the wall behind you and swiftly step around the corner. By stepping away from the corner there is no one close enough to grab your muzzle before lighting him up, and there’s something called aggressive fire so if you miss welllll don’t stop shooting!

  7. I have a safe room with egress to the outside which is not apparent from the street. I may stay and defend the room but if warranted I can get my family out of the house. I have to uphold the castle doctrine but that doesn’t necessarily mean my family has to be in the situation as well.
    There is always the option of leaving the house as well. I’d rather see the cops go in and duke it out with them than me. Remember, armed doesn’t mean you get to play cops and robbers necessarily.

    • “I have to uphold the castle doctrine but that doesn’t necessarily mean my family has to be in the situation as well.”
      “There is always the option of leaving the house as well.”

      Please choose the second option, unless you truly have something at home to defend that is more valuable to your family than you are.

      • Turning your back on an unknown threat on open ground? Why do people always think this is an intelligent suggestion? If you’ve been woken up in the middle of the night by unknown(s) smashing into your house, your first choice is really to run out into the pitch black in your skivvies? The people coming in know their numbers and intentions, you do not, other than that they involve endangering your life or they would not have chosen to enter in the first place.

        • Because those people a dumb asses and don’t know what they’re doing. There is a way to clear a T intersection of halls, rooms, etc. You just have to look it up and with it being YOUR house you know where the most space is when approaching an area and when there are dead ends.

  8. The Rabbi makes excellent points.

    What I believe must be stated at this point is that everyone’s needs are different, since all of us live in different places. Some of us live in Condos, some live in rural properties that are larger than a city block, and some of us live in apartments smaller than Bill Murray’s bathroom. A handgun probably isn’t the best choice for someone who has a large house on a large property in the sticks, just as much as a long barrel shotgun isn’t a wise choice for a New York City studio apartment dweller.

    As far as house clearing goes its also an individual decision. In an urban location holing up and waiting for the cavalry makes sense.Out here in some parts of rural America the police are so spread out dialing 911 is just a legal formality. Under those circumstances clearing the home and confronting the scumbags head on is the only option besides leaving entirely, as either way the fight will begin, transpire, and end long before law enforcement will arrive to arrest the felons.

    It must be stated here that just because one lives in a city it doesn’t follow that response times are necessarily good. If research indicates that police response times in your city are longer than you’d like, practicing clearing your home might be a wise idea.

  9. Can’t argue with the logic presented, and in my current living situation i’d have to agree with it. I’m curious though as to how penetration factors into the rabbi and everyone else’s firearm, ammunition and general strategy in a “bump-in-the-night” situation.

    According to this “study” http://how-i-did-it.org/drywall/results.html it would appear that FMJ and Jacketed HPs penetrate drywall with more energy than soft point .223 rounds — which may be an argument to use the AR for some…

  10. For one, the FN 57 is a horrible handgun for home defense in most situations. It penetrates too well. Its going to zip through the target, and what lies beyond it.

    The same thing applies with most rifles.

    Arguments about being disarmed with a long gun actually don’t ring very true with me. Handgun retention techniques are considerably harder than long gun retention techniques. You get two very good striking points, or more, with a long gun, and you can use leverage to very efficentley retain your weapon. In my opinion, unless they’re wearing a sling on said long gun, its much easier to take a handgun away from some one than a long gun. If the weapon is slung, it makes the wearer easier to pull and push around and take to the ground, but having a sling also completely negates the issues of being able to do things with your off hand.

    Some one a lot smarter than me once said “Use your handgun to fight your way to your long gun.” and that seems like a good idea.

    I feel much more comfortable with 30 rounds of 5.56mm in a magazine or 8 rounds of 00 buckshot than I do with the 9 rounds in my .45 or the 20 rounds in my GLOCK 17.

    But even then, not comfortable enough to ‘clear’ my house. I’ve done room clearing and so on and so forth for real. It is very easy to get killed doing that, even when you have grenades and lots of friends with long guns. Its suicidal to try and do it alone.

    • I’m fortunate to have experienced that danger during some night training with airsoft. The better solution to our training scenerio was to hide, yell out “I have a gun and I called 911” and then wait and watch. Should the bad guy come into view he’d be the one getting ambushed.

      Instead I chose to try to clear the house by myself to see what that would be like. After only a few minutes I got shot in the back! I now know from experience, versus just speculation, how dangerous it is.

    • The one advantage the FiveSeven (stupid name, but “.22 Magnum” was taken) has is a large magazine and low-to-no recoil. With the 40gr hollowpoint loading, it’s probably closer to the .223 in terms of fragmenting on building material than a 9mm HP. It is also not a particularly heavy pistol.

      My wife has dibs on the Beretta 92 if the flag goes up, she’s a pretty good shot with it and since she actually expressed a preference, that’s her gun. But if her 86 year-old grandmother with little to no shooting experience wanted a handgun, the FN isn’t an atrocious choice for her. Rule 1 of a gunfight is “Have a gun”, Nanny isn’t going to beat anyone down but a massive muzzle flash and super-loud report coming from the FiveSeven will tend to discourage any uninvited boarders.

      The only time that particular weapon was used in a mass shooting that I am aware of is at Fort Hood. MPS that happen with 9mms tend to see 35-40% fatalities, the FiveSeven managed 25%. It is clearly inferior to the 9mm in lethality, but not everyone can handle a 9mm with confidence.

  11. “do you drill often enough”

    No, I do not drill at home or practice shooting at a range often enough. Fortunately, I do not have others dependent on me to defend. I have myself to protect and possibly my property too depending on the situation. I agree that a handgun is the better tool for most people to go with than a long gun. Since I do not drill or practice shooting enough I have more specifically chosen the revolver as my HD gun. It is simpler. I’m wide awake and focused after I’ve had my morning coffee and breakfast following a full night of sleep. Being awoken in the middle of the night under stress is questionable matter. Semi-auto handguns are great yet they do require more practice and have a somewhat more involved learning demand.

    • I disagree, I think this revolvers being easier than a semi-auto is a myth. It is easier under a very limited set of assumptions, the biggest of which is that you finish the fight with the limited capacity of the revolver. Most semi-auto pistols are almost as reliable but open the capacity up significantly. If you are concerned with the difficulty of a reload when you are under pressure you can put it off even further.

      If you need to reload that revolver its going to take a lot more practice to get good at that than reloading a semi-auto pistol.

      • As I understand HD shootings, the vast majority as in about 98+% are completed within one or two shots. Those that go beyond about five shots are often shootings between gang bangers. I find revolvers simple in that I can keep it loaded without worrying about the magazine springs taking on a memory. A FtF is almost always nothing more simple to solve than a second pull on the trigger. I don’t have to worry about racking the slide or removing a safety. Revolvers work for me.

        • I’ll concede that it is easier to clear a malfunction with a revolver, but if my semi-auto malfunctions at a rate of something like 1 in 5000 rounds then the likelihood of a malfunction is less than your likelihood that you can stop the fight within the ammunition capacity of your revolver.

          If you can’t invest at least a few hours a year to maintain a base level proficiency with a weapon should you really even be considering using it? If you can’t fix a malfunction under stress can you really hit the target too?

  12. Getting back to the actual article. I totally agree with all your points Rabbi. I switched from using a Mossberg 500 with an 18″ barrel to a 1911 about six months ago when I came home with the garage door open and had to clear my house.

    The first thing I noticed was it was hard as hell to open doors and sweep rooms with that shotgun. Yes I know you can do it but FOR ME it was awkward and I felt even if I could the time it takes to get it open and re shoulder and point the weapon was to long.

    So now I have a load 1911 instead of a shotgun. Yes I know people will disagree with me and that you can do it with training (Da Special Forces Dun Do It!) but as stated above, The Firearm is an equalizer and for my skills and capabilities I feel most comfortable with a pistol.

    • In practice I agree with your result, but I just want to point out that for those relying on a shotgun, having a stock with a pistol grip makes an enormous difference in a combat or defensive shotgun for retaining it, for shooting over or around barriers, and for one-handed control when necessary. The grips aren’t for show.

    • You have to remember though there is a saying “don’t rush to your death, approach it quietly and stealthily.” if you come to a door take your time and when you open it step away with your muzzle back to the shooting position but step away so you don’t get hot through the door.

  13. Overall, I agree, but only for those who aren’t well trained.

    However, I’d much rather be holding a 12 gauge or my trusty AR with a weapon light against multiple attackers, or an intruder with a firearm. Long guns have much more stopping power and intimidation, and they’re my go to choice for entering a gunfight. Long guns also make much better impact weapons than handguns.

    I’ve only got to dial 3 numbers with my weak hand while holding my firearm, and I’ve not much need for flipping light switches because my gun already has one. It’s easier for me to bash a light switch in the dark with my weak hand forearm than poke it with my weak hand finger. I’ve navigated more obstacles hunting, in general, than when indoors. Although I’ve searched a fair amount of rooms and buildings, so prefer the punch of long guns.

    Which would you, if you were a bad guy, fear the most?

    Learn to use your gear well, or it will only be a liability in an emergency.

  14. I have avoided the decision on which firearm is best for home defense by taking a few practical steps. 1) I dug a moat around the entire perimeter of my house. It does add a little time to my commute (especially when my remote does not get the drawbridge down and I have to crank it by hand). 2) I have two large dogs working security between the moat and the house. I did have trouble keeping dogs on security until I had an epiphany. By getting rid of the alligators in the moat, I seemed to keep dogs longer. 3) I have a panic button by my bed that sends an alert to a squad of ninjas who live in my attic. I have to admit this is the hardest feature to maintain. I think my daughter is forgetting to feed them and they get too weak to perform adequately.

    But still, I don’t have to have one of those aweful guns in my home…. except for the one that I use to fend off starving ninjas. It is a Glock G21.

  15. All jokes aside, dogs are a better accessory for home defense than most firearms are.

    Dogs are very good at keeping you from waking up with an intruder in your bedroom.

    • Yeah, I have a big Collie-Husky mix dog I picked up at the pound for that very reason. He just goes spaz if somone or something is near the house.

    • Dogs bark, which is good, because it raises an alarm. But if you’re counting on a dog to help keep you safe, you must return the favor by keeping the dog safe.

      The easy way for a BG to get around a dog is to toss it some poisoned bait, wait until the dog is unconscious or dead, and then return to finish the job. I trained dogs for (among other things) household and perimeter defense for several years, and poison-proofing was a key element of training.

      So, poison-proof your canine pal.

        • I have five dogs, and if they don’t make enough of a ruckus to wake me, I am sure the gun fire of some meth head trying to neutralize them will wake the whole neighborhood. And they work 24/7 for just kibbles a day! I’ll be well armed and wide awake before I have a face off with any intruder. Handguns are the weapon of choice. My wife is afraid of guns, and handguns are easily concealed to be readily available–out of sight, out of mind.

      • Our dog will not eat anything that is not in his bowl unless we appear to bite it first.
        We did not train him to do this.

      • Ralph,

        Perimeter lighting, an alarm system, and my border-collie/German shepherd mix are all parts of my family defense system.

        I would love to know more about poison-proofing my dog. Can you recommend a good information source or can you be talked into making a TTAG post about it?

        Many thanks in advance.

  16. The pictured weapon is one of the worst for home defense you could pick. One thing you’re forgetting: noise. Yes, in a pinch, I’d rather take hearing damage than death, but if you’re preparing in advance, would you choose to touch off a magnum round in a small, enclosed hallway with hard surfaces that are going to contain and reflect the blast right into your delicate, shell-like ears? Do you keep electronic hearing protection by the bed? Are you going to have time to put them on and turn them on? What about the other members of your family, who may be in the same bedroom? If you have to shoot indoors without hearing protection, low-pressure weapons that fire a subsonic round and have the longest barrel possible are the order of the day. That means shotguns with reduced-recoil (“tactical”) loads, or pistol carbines. As a bonus, you get better recoil control from having a stock, additional power, and it’s relatively easy to mount lights and red dots.

    That’s not to mention that you probably shouldn’t be indulging in house clearing to begin with. But if the situation is serious enough to mandate it, then I sure as hell want every advantage I can get.

  17. I don’t think that write-up was as well thought as it could have been, but it puts great points forward such as the proficiency of the household, and the ease of use a handgun offers.

    Shotguns are easy enough to keep in hand if you actually try it and think… but it’s not like I’m clearing rooms if I don’t have to.

  18. First of all, any article that starts off including the term “stopping power” is already faulty. For the guy who is whining about ear protection, you think our troops go into firefights with sh*t stuck in their ears so they can’t hear johnny jihad and his friends in the next room? Nah. Second of all, a pistol is the absolute WORST firearm out there. Small, compact, yes, but also small and lacking delivered inertia. If you can’t manuever a carbine length weapon in your own home, you need to seriously rethink your competence behind a weapon. Dogs are great yeah but they are an indirect means of dealing withthe problem, unless you have a remote control dog that you can remotely command to bite someone’s jugular. Nah, break into my house, you get 5.56. It’s only fair, don’t cheat the bad guys.

  19. Short sight radius, crappy ergonomics, and piss poor incapacitation…

    Yup, lets trade all that just because running through the house with a handgun is marginally easier. Whatever…

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