Ask Foghorn: Shotguns for Home Defense?

Chris asks:

I have a question on the KSG for home defense, based on the length of the shot gun the muzzle blast and noise are a lot closer to your face, obviously based on that would you consider it dangerous based on the noise that would be trapped in a room?

From what I can tell there’s a two part question here; first is the KSG is any more dangerous to the shooter than a normal shotgun and whether a shotgun is the best for home defense. Let me take them one at a time…

First and foremost, in my personal opinion, ANY long gun is less than ideal for a home defense situation.

What you want is something compact, that you can easily control and that is damn near impossible to take away from you. And to me, a handgun fits that bill completely. A long gun just has too much barrel on the front of it and I keep seeing the assailant grabbing it and a subsequent wrestling match over the firearm not ending well for anyone.

With a handgun, I have much more control over the weapon and can keep it close to my body and out of reach of any attacker until I need to use it. Plus, it gives me more options for movement and concealment than a gigantic boomstick would.

Nevertheless, there are some situations where a handgun wouldn’t work. Like if you live in New York or Massachusetts. Or if you’re under 21. Or any other number of reasons. And in those situations, the shotgun is the next best choice thanks to its ability to quickly and efficiently lower organic matter to room temperature through excessive ventilation.

Logically, your question about barrel length makes sense. As my experience in blast modeling tells me, the force of an explosion falls off at the cube of the distance. Or, in English, the further away you are the better you will be. And that works perfectly in an open environment. But when you start throwing walls into the picture things become…complicated. And the upshot is that barrel length and the distance from your face don’t really matter all that much.

No matter if the shotgun muzzle is 18 inches or 24 inches away from your face, you will still be battered by the same reflected sound waves. Sure there might be a slight difference in the perceived intensity, but the overall effect it will have is so nearly identical as to be indistinguishable. Yards of distance between you and the muzzle might make an appreciable difference, but the difference between an 18.5 inch Mossy 500 and a KSG isn’t going to be much if any. Your ears will still be ringing something fierce at the end of the encounter. If you really want a shotgun for home defense here’s my article on which shotgun is the best. And no, its not the KSG.

Then again, your ears will be ringing no matter what gun you pick — rifles more than anything, though. Unless you have  silencer on your gun. Which is another thing I recommend, if only to be able to hear the officer that responds to your unsuccessful home invasion and know that its time to STFU and get a lawyer.

[Email your firearms-related questions to “Ask Foghorn” via guntruth@me.com. Click here to browse previous posts]

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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!

37 Responses to Ask Foghorn: Shotguns for Home Defense?

  1. avatarInternational Jeff says:

    I think the question in a home defense situation is really based less on the dimensions of the firearm and more on how you expect to act. If I thought my house was being broken into, I’d secure my family into our “safe room” and park behind some cover I have set up with a rifle to protect my family. I’m not going hunting because my family needs me more than I need my TV and because people who hunt down robbers are generally the same people who accidentally shoot their 17 year old who snuck out through the window to see their girlfriend. In a static defense, long guns are far better than pistols.

    • avatarJoe Grine says:

      +1. Despite the latest fad of firearms training facilities teaching one-person room clearing techniques, its a dicey proposition at best.

      • avatarI_Like_Pie says:

        +2

        Anyone who hears the bump in the night and goes point to point clearing their downstairs is insane. Bug out in beadroom with your family with your shotgun trained on the vertical casket (door) and the police on the line. A Ma Deuce isn’t as effective as a properly loaded shotgun at across the room range.
        ################################
        SWAT may be the best, but even they aren’t crazy enough to try and clear a house alone.

        Pistol is always a comprimise unless we can invent a star trek style death ray.

        • avatarCarlosT says:

          +3

          I took a class from a guy who’s on King County SWAT, who’s got moves and skills, and he said there’s no way he’s clearing his house alone. The one exception is if he can’t account for a family member. Then and only then will he venture out. Otherwise, the plan is to get everyone in one room and barricade and defend.

  2. avatarDaniel says:

    I’m guessing that with the adrenaline replacing much of the blood in your system, your ears could be bleeding and you wouldn’t know it until the action was over.

    • avatarMatt in FL says:

      I’m going with what Daniel said. In the event of having to defend yourself inside of the home, adrenaline is going to negate any perceived difference in the amount of sound generated.

  3. avatarjwm says:

    why the statement about pistols in ca? we can own and use them in ca. my home defense setup is to pocket carry a j frame and a mossberg 500 with 18.5 barrel in the bedroom as backup/primary depending on the situation.

    • I suppose Massachusetts would have been the better option. I was thinking about places where it was difficult if not impossible to get a handgun.

      • avatarjwm says:

        it’s actually not hard to get a handgun in ca. we have extra steps in the process and have that 1 gun a month thing. mag limits etc. getting a cc permit is the hard part.

      • avatarZealot says:

        It’s not difficult at all to get a handgun in MA. Now MA is a MAY issue state, so depending on the slant of your local Chief, you may not be able to get a license to carry (though even the difficulty in obtaining that is, on balance, overstated), but getting a license for any available handgun for home use is generally no big deal.

        Now we are limited to 10 round magazine capacity; but only for Post Ban magazines. There are still plenty of full capacity, Pre Ban Glock mags available for sale in the land of the Minute Men.

    • avatarGS650G says:

      Boston has limits on capacity, I think 4 is the max but I could be wrong.

  4. avatarGS650G says:

    Shotguns are better suited to your backyard than living room. Defending the grass in the yard may not be an option in some states.

  5. avatarAnon says:

    Instead of asking some random blogger what to do to defend your life, how about asking an experienced instructor? A handgun for home defense? Really? What terrible advise. Don’t listen to Nick.

  6. avatarScott says:

    I’ll give my .02. Foghorn’s mental modeling of someone grabbing the barrel of your weapon can be matched by proper technique and a sling. Your odds of hitting in a panic situation go up with a long gun. 2 points of contact is better than 1. Bad holds can really complicate using a pistol close to your body (unless you’re using a revolver). You can still get in a grappling match over a handgun, leverage works in your favor with a long gun and against you with a handgun.

    Then, from info found here: http://keepandbeararms.com/information/XcIBViewItem.asp?ID=2052

    12 guage-18 ” barrel 161.50dB

    .223, 55GR. Commercial load 18 ” barrel 155.5dB

    9mm 159.8 dB
    .357 Magnum 164.3 dB

    All of these are WELL over the SPL required to cause hearing loss, even with only 1 exposure. Therefore, my considered opinion is: get yourself armed, get yourself trained, use what you feel most comfortable with and realize that if you’re defending yourself in your home- your life is on the line, worry about hearing loss at the range.

    • avatarMichael C says:

      If you plan on using a long gun for home defense and are concerned with possible hearing loss, an obvious solution seems to me to be to keep a pair of shooting mutts hooked on the stock of your long gun and, if the situation permits, simply put them on when you grab your gun.

    • avatarMichael C says:

      If you plan on using a long gun for home defense and are concerned with possible hearing loss, an obvious solution seems to me to be to keep a pair of shooting muffs hooked on the stock of your long gun and, if the situation permits, simply put them on when you grab your gun.

  7. avatarI_Like_Pie says:

    For what it is worth….It is not against federal law for someone under 21 and over 18 to own a handgun. It is just not legal for them to purchase one from a FFL.

    Oft overlooked and misunderstood how the law is written.

  8. avataruncommon_sense says:

    Like I just posted in the carbine article yesterday, I strongly recommend a pistol caliber carbine for “noise control”. The carbine roughly doubles the distance of the muzzle away from your ears in a close quarters combat situation. So a carbine would create about 1/8 th of the sound pressure level at your ears compared to a handgun according to Mr. Leghorn. (He stated that sound pressure decreases as the cube of the distance.)

    The longer barrel of a pistol caliber carbine is, to a degree, also an integrated suppressor compared to a handgun. Because it is four times longer than a typical handgun barrel, it has four times the volume. So whatever pressure would be blasting out the end of a handgun barrel would be about four times lower coming out the end of a pistol caliber carbine and traveling at a lower velocity. That is exactly what a suppressor does: decrease the pressure and velocity of escaping gas from the muzzle of a firearm.

    When you combine those two effects, the sound pressure level at your ears due to a carbine should be something like 32 times lower than the sound pressure level at your ears due to a handgun. That is a significant reduction in sound — although not quite as dramatic as it seems because of the way our hearing works. Our ears might tell us that the carbine is something like 1/3 as loud as the pistol.

    Less noise is always a good thing. And we all know that a shotgun is even louder than a handgun. Plus the carbine is fairly short and compact which is good for maneuverability … and it minimizes the chances of a home invader grabbing it. I am happy with my carbine for home defense and I have never looked back at my shotgun.

    • avatarZealot says:

      I too believe the pistol caliber carbine to be an excellent fit for defense within the home for all of the reasons you provided and a few others: Longer sight radius means easier to aim accurately plus longer burn time for powder, increasing velocity while decreasing muzzle flash and blast. A lever gun chambered in .38/.357 brings the reliability of the manual action with the versatility of the that caliber family. Plus, the Marlin 1894 is a very small, light, handy carbine perfect for shooters of any stature. Finally, if for whatever reason, the fight should lawfully spill outdoors, it’s capable of accurately making shots at (relatively) greater ranges without swapping what’s already in the chamber.

    • avatar838 says:

      That assumes you hold the handgun very close to your face.

    • avatarBeninMA says:

      Like 838 says, aiming a handgun will place the muzzle (and ejection port) farther from your ears than is the case with most carbines.

      • avatarBeninMA says:

        Having said that, I can’t imagine that distance from face will matter in an enclosed space, so the PCC seems to make sense (What, specifically, would you recommend?).

        • avatarZealot says:

          I took uncommon sense’s point about noise reduction to have more to do with the increased burn time of the longer barrel reducing blast than proximity of the muzzle to the face.

          My recommendation, FWIW, is more or less what I mentioned in my post; a lever action carbine in .38/.357 or .44sp/.44mag. A pre-merger Marlin is my first choice. Pair one with a matching revolver and you’re certainly not under gunned.

  9. avatarAharon says:

    IMO, a good first step might be to first define a person’s home and living situation before discussing the best gun for self defense. For example, is the defender a single adult living in a secluded house by himself or is the defender a parent with a few young kids living in an apartment building where lots of other children live separated only by dry wall.

    • avatarAharon says:

      Also, the type of ammo within the same caliber might be another issue to discuss since different results may or will occur upon impact.

  10. avatarSanchanim says:

    Quick BAN NICK’s ACCOUNT! He is blocking 3/4 of his face, oh wait this isn’t match.com lmao!!!!!

    I think the KSG is a fine weapon. There are good things about buckshot, like not having it go through several walls and kill someone else. Also your effective range is also longer lets say you are shooting at something down the hall etc and you are not totally focused, you can be sloppy with a shotgun.

    I am not saying shooting a gun while half asleep is a good thing, but an intruder isn’t going to wait for you to have a cup of joe and wake up a bit.

    My personal preference is to have a hand gun as primary and a shotgun as secondary. The KSG is shorter than most which allows you to handle it in a confined space. Options are good!

  11. avatarإبليس says:

    As an admittedly bad shot with a pistol, let me chime in. My home defense strategy is simple…hole up behind concealment with a Mossberg 500. There’s no family to “round-up” (just my girlfriend if she’s over) and no need to tactically clear my small house.

  12. I think you should look at the layout of your home and what your plan of action is to decide what gun to use for home defense.
    I’ve got no need to go clear my house, to do so without good reason is idiotic. I’m just going to hole up in my room with the long-gun of my choice in my hands.
    If I had to move to someone else in the house I might consider a pistol more, but my house is very open and a barrel poking around a corner isn’t really a big concern for me.

  13. avatarRalph says:

    Nevertheless, there are some situations where a handgun wouldn’t work. Like if you live in New York or Massachusetts.

    Most people in MA can get a LTC-B, which is a home permit for low-cap pistols, revolvers and long guns. It’s really not a problem to obtain, even in Boston. Others can get a restricted LTC-A, enabling them to use and own (for target, sport and hunting, but not for carry on the street) hi-caps. Those who live in towns with rational chief LEOs (such as my town) have no problem getting a full LTC-A with no restrictions.

    Other than that quibble, I agree with Nick. Your home defense protector of choice is a handgun. But I still keep a shotty handy for those special occasions when nothing will do but the very best.

  14. avatarMatt Gregg says:

    I’d much rather have my AR-15 than any pistol or shotgun when it comes to home defense. 60 rounds in the mag, easy precision accuracy at such close ranges, and more than enough power. Handguns are handier but I think they are easier to rip out of someone’s hands and I don’t plan on clearing rooms anyways.

  15. avatarfrankgon4 says:

    Not sure why the author is so against shotguns for home defense. Despite all the conclusions he comes to, the history of shotguns used in home defense speak for themselves. The Real World facts of shotguns defending homes speaks volumes on the shotgun as a good choice for home defense.

  16. avatarhunterusp says:

    I live in the country and have almost every type of weapon made and my go to home defense weapon is my Keltec KSG with 7 shells of high brass #4 birdshot in the right tube and 7 shells of #4 buck in the left tube, my KSG has two pistol grips and when snugged to the shoulder you can easily walk around corners with confidence. I keep a #4 birdshot the chamber so the only noise a invader will hear is the muzzle blast. Always keep the element of suprise on your side.

  17. avatarMatthew says:

    I would take the writer’s comment a bit further by saying that rifles and shotguns are completely unsuitable for the overwhelming majority of people. Rifles and shotguns simply produce too much muzzle blast, which can disorient you and put you at a serious disadvantage if you miss an attacker with the first shot or there are more than one. It might be fine using a shotgun if you’re a cop and regularly do live fire exercises in close quarters and get used to being rattled by the blast, but civilians usually can’t do this.
    Get a handgun and professional training in defensive shooting and practice until you can consistently make t-zone shots at 50ft from any position. I know, most self defense shootings occur within 20 ft, but don’t forget about the fact you will be scared and pumping adrenaline if you’re ever attacked. That’s why you should practice at a greater distance.
    Stay away from magnum calibers and .45 autos, as they produce severe muzzle blast. A 9mm is quite sufficient, but even a .22 will work if you can shoot it well. Don’t make the mistake of choosing ‘more power’. I’m 6’5″ and 280 lb and I wouldn’t do it.
    What if your attacker is wearing body armor and you have to make a head shot? You want the gun you can shoot most accurately.
    If you want to be extra safe from a legal perspective, buy the exact same pistol and ammo used by your local police.

  18. avatarAries says:

    I believe that a pistol is certainly not the best firearm for home defense. Compared to a 12 or 20-gauge shotgun, AR15, M1 carbine or similar rifle, the pistol is much less effective at stopping a lethal force situation. The risk of over-penetration from pistol calibers is usually higher, in part because a pistol round usually has more mass, and thus momentum, than an individual shotgun pellet or average rifle round, and many .30 Carbine self-defense rounds. It is harder to hit with a pistol. Additionally, a shotgun is not the best, because pumps require two hands to operate and many shotguns have less than adequate sights, low capacity, are very easy to short-stroke while under stress, and usually (not always) lack rails or lugs for attaching REQUIRED accessories… like a light source. Furthermore, if one is going to argue that the aggressor is close enough to grab a rifle barrel, they would be just as close to grasp the slide of an outstretched pistol slide. Effectively leaving you with a one shot weapon that they now have control over. Furthermore, the leverage you have with a longer lever (barrel) works to your advantage with a long gun. Look up Clint Smith and other expert’s opinions on the matter. For these reasons and more, I would say the best home defense weapon would be an AR15.

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