gun store counter pistol
Courtesy NSSF
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By Lee Williams

People around the country are increasingly realizing something gun owners have known for decades: You are your own first responder, because when seconds count, police will be there in minutes.

After police officials in several states warned the public that they need to arm themselves because of the coming loss of thousands of officers who will either quit or be fired for refusing vaccinations, many holdouts finally accepted that they may need a firearm for self-defense.

The response from the rich and famous was to hire private security, which can cost thousands of dollars per month, but the rest of the country is figuring out it could be on its own.

Over the past few months, I have received hundreds of emails from new readers asking the same question: What gun should I buy to defend myself and my family?

Here are some options, but to be clear, opinions on defensive firearms tend to differ considerably. None of these opinions are gospel, including mine. Please do your own research.

Your local gun dealer is a good place to start. Before you plunk down your hard-earned cash, ask yourself a few questions: What do you want the firearm for? Do you want a weapon for home defense? Do you want a firearm for concealed carry? Do you want one for both?

For me, telling someone what firearm they should buy is like telling them what shoes they should wear. One size does not fit all.

I strongly recommend purchasing a quality firearm from a quality American manufacturer. Pick a model that fits you best. You will discover that prices will vary considerably, but this is not the time to bargain shop. You’re buying something to depend on to save your life or the lives of your family. How much is that worth?


I prefer a full-size handgun, but I’m big enough to conceal one. Most hold plenty of ammunition, and they’re easier to control. Nowadays, there are a lot of tiny handguns on the market that are extremely easy to conceal…“pocket rockets” you can hide in a pair of gym shorts. The problem is that these small pistols are not as easy to operate even for an experienced shooter.

gun store handgun sales
Adobe Stock

It’s hard — at least for me — to get a good grip on a tiny pistol, so they’re more difficult to control. If you want to carry a concealed handgun, I recommend splitting the difference – finding a pistol small enough to conceal, but one that’s not too small to operate easily and shoot accurately at distance.

Some brands to consider are GLOCK, SIG Sauer, Smith & Wesson, FN, Ruger, Beretta, Walther and Heckler & Koch, but there are many more. Choose a model that fits you the best.

In a defensive situation, shot placement is far more important than caliber, but I steer new shooters toward 9mm. It’s readily available – at least it used to be – and recoil is minimal, making it easier to control.

Some shooters prefer revolvers. While I am not one of them, I would never dissuade someone from purchasing a wheel gun, if that’s what they want. However, capacity is usually only six rounds and reloads are slower and require a lot of practice to master.

I’ve written entire columns on how to best carry a concealed weapon. There are a lot of gimmicks out there, but for new shooters, I recommend a Kydex holster worn on the shooter’s strong side.


The shotgun has been the reigning home-defense king for more than 100 years. While I happen to believe there is a better option, millions of Americans still rely on a shotgun to defend hearth and home. A shotgun offers devastating firepower. One round of 00-buckshot sends nine .32-caliber projectiles downrange at around 1,300 feet per second. At close range, the wound channel this creates is horrific.

While a hunting shotgun will work for home defense, their barrels are usually too long for close-quarters work and they don’t hold enough ammunition. I recommend a tactical shotgun for home defense. Most have increased capacity and an 18-inch barrel. Anything shorter – for a standard shotgun – requires a permission slip from the ATF.

Dispelling all the myths associated with this weapon could fill several columns. Suffice it to say a shotgun still needs to be aimed, despite what’s depicted on TV. It won’t wipe out an entire room with one pull of the trigger, and the ka-chunk of one being racked has probably never scared off any bad guys.

best home defense shotgun
(Warren Wilson for TTAG)

Good brands to consider are Remington, Benelli, Winchester and Mossberg. Again, find one that fits you best.

Shotguns are classified by gauge, which is an old system based on the number of lead balls that can fit in the barrel that together weigh one pound. The smaller the number of balls, the bigger the diameter of the barrel. For example, the 12-gauge – the most common shotgun – is bigger than a 16-gauge or a 20-gauge.

The smallest shotgun, the .410, uses caliber instead of gauge to measure the diameter of the barrel, which I believe was done just to confuse new shooters.

There’s always been a lot of talk about the recoil or kick of a shotgun. You’ll feel it, but I’ve never met a new shooter who couldn’t handle it.


I prefer a carbine for home defense over a shotgun. It’s much faster to reload than a shotgun, weighs half as much and holds 30 rounds, as opposed to six or eight shells. An AR is a precision weapon, which is important when there are family members at home. Because a carbine is more ergonomic, I find it easier to maneuver during CQB than a shotgun. It’s also easier for female shooters to operate.

One good feature about a carbine is its ability to accept accessories, namely lights and electronic sights.

gun store sales
(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Nowadays, there are hundreds of good AR manufacturers to consider. A partial list includes: Daniel Defense, Smith & Wesson, Colt, Bravo Company USA, Noveske and Special Op’s Tactical.

Defensive Ammunition

A defensive firearm requires defensive ammunition, which is designed to expand upon impact. Target ammunition does not expand, which can lead to over-penetration concerns. In other words, don’t use target ammunition for defensive work because it can go through your assailant and into the next room.

Defensive ammunition is about twice the price of target ammunition, but it is worth the added cost since it is more reliable and less likely to over penetrate.

Personal Defense Ammunition hollow points
Do you have enough ammo? (Photo credit: Kat Ainsworth)

I shoot up all of my defensive ammunition every year and buy new. This is extremely important in areas that have high humidity, since ammunition can degrade over time and become unreliable. Make sure you inspect your defensive ammunition regularly, too.


I strongly recommend lights on tactical weapons, especially handguns. Most defensive encounters occur at night, so you will need a light to identify the threat before you pull the trigger. There are several brands to consider, but I’ve found that Surefire and Streamlight are the most reliable. Here’s a tip: Buy a light for your handgun before you order a holster, since most holster manufacturers have models available for handguns with mounted lights.

I recommend red-dot sights on tactical carbines. A red-dot sight is infinitely faster than standard iron sights. It allows you to focus on the threat, rather than aligning the sights to the target. In my humble opinion, this is as important a purchase as your carbine, so don’t skimp. Cheap red-dots will fail when you need them most.

EOTECH holographic weapon sight
Dan Z. for TTAG

Aimpoint, EOTech and Trijicon have models that are proven in combat, but be careful. The market has been flooded with Chinese counterfeit sights. You don’t want to pay a lot of money for a fake Chinese sight. Order from the manufacturer or a trusted retailer, not Amazon.


Keep in mind that once you’ve purchased a defensive firearm, you’re only half done. You need to be trained by a professional firearms instructor.

Fortunately, we live in the golden age of firearms instruction. Never before have we had such a knowledgeable and professional instructor cadre. It’s never been easier for a beginner to learn how to shoot the right way, or for a seasoned shooter to improve their skills.

GunMag Training
Courtesy GunMag Training

Choosing the right instructor is crucial. If you don’t, you can risk being turned off to the sport, and you’ll likely have wasted hundreds of dollars. Here are some tips for choosing the right instructor.


I train every day – dry firing at home – and it doesn’t cost a dime. Dry firing at home is crucial to maintaining your skills. It allows you to practice what you learn from your instructor at the range in the privacy of your own home.

Always make sure you observe the fundamentals of firearms safety with no live ammunition anywhere near you. Your instructor can assist you in planning safe and effective dry-firing sessions.

Be safe

Welcome aboard! As a new shooter, you will find that most seasoned shooters are welcoming and quick to offer help. That’s one of our strengths. If you have questions, just ask.

Safety is paramount when firearms are involved. The best shooters are the safest shooters. Learn and practice safe gun handling, which over time will become standard practice, and please don’t hesitate to send me an email if you have any questions.


The Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Project wouldn’t be possible without you. Click here to make a tax deductible donation to support pro-gun stories like this.

This story is part of the Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Project and is published here with their permission.



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  1. A new gun owner that simply wants a firearm to protect themselves with may not become a POTG. They may have no desire to ever own more than one or two guns. They may load their gun and then leave it for years before it is needed. For these people I still say the K frame revolver in .38 is the best choice

    Many years ago in WV I kept a dual purpose shotgun. I hunted with it and then used it at the house as a house gun. I had 2 small kids and a wife. In those days nobody had gun safes. The handgun that I owned I kept locked in tool box. The shotgun was kept, chamber empty, inside and above the bedroom closet door. It was a mossberg 500 pump gun.

    Late one night we awoke to the sound of shattering glass down stairs. By the time I took position at the top of the stairs Their was quite obviously some one in my home. I racked a double ought into the chamber. Ka-chunk.

    Whoever was downstairs left in a big hurry. I waited for the police to show before going down stairs. My job was to protect my kids. Not chase bad guys.

    Nobody wants to face a shotgun. Nobody.

    • So the shotgun sound scenario actually does work, at least sometimes. A lady told me she got a gun, took the class and got her carry permit, then promptly stored the gun in a safe years ago.

      • There seems to be this rumor? myth? circulating about the webs that all bad guys are well trained, well armed teams of pros. That if you hope to have a chance of survival you will get all the coolest gadgets and all the latest training from former seals. SF’s marine recon, Delta force operators.

        I think those rumors are all spread by the folks that sell gadgets and training.

    • jwm,

      “For these people I still say the K frame revolver in .38 [Special] is the best choice.”

      I agree completely and could not have stated your sentiment any better myself.

      My only question is whether or not they would be better served with that K-frame revolver in a 4-inch barrel or a 6-inch barrel. I am leaning toward a 6-inch barrel for its longer sight-radius and slightly higher muzzle velocity (which should nominally translate to slightly better “stopping power”).

      • Actually I lean toward the model 10 with a 3 inch barrel. I have the standard 4 inch on mine but my brother has two. One in a 2 inch barrell, too short and one that is a 3 incher. I kinda like that 3 inch tube.

        If it was just a house gun I would like a 6 inch barrel. Modern +P loadings give the .38 plenty of bite.

  2. Lee, that was some good no frills advice. When I taught CCW classes I recommended a medium frame handgun as a great place to start. Revolver or semi-auto. They can be concealed and much easier to shoot than a sub-compact. I also am not a big fan of the shotgun. Except for bird hunting. I’m shooting quail tomorrow in Georgia. I’ll use a shotgun. Kick in my door tonight and you’ll get shot with a handgun or rifle. Shotguns do cause terrible wounds. Ask me how I know. But, their limitations are just too great. At least for me. I owned/carried a Scattergun Technoligies 870 for years because my employer required an 870 in every patrol car. I sold it as soon as I retired.

  3. So yer carbine weighs half what yer shotgun weighs? Mine weighs about the same. Maybe more with the crap hanging on my AR. Other than THAT a pretty good overview…

  4. I advise new owners not to have a light installed on their bedside insurance policy. In an emergency situation, it’s all too possible for a newbie to confuse the on switch with the bang switch and light up somebody that they only intended to light up (so to speak). It’s been done before and it will happen again.

    Just get a regular flashlight. You can’t accidentally shoot anyone with a regular flashlight. Sure, a regular old flashlight doesn’t look cool, but accidentally shooting someone also doesn’t look cool.

    • plus you can use it to read comics under the sheet-tent in your bed and not shoot your self.

    • While I have never heard of the situation which Ralph described, I second his point based on simple logic alone.

  5. IMO…No one buys their way in. Newbees who are not mechanically inclined generally need more training than those such as Electrians who are accustomed to thinking ahead of the curve and foresee the results of making a mistake.

    A total novice needs trigger time with a .22 single shot rife. Next rifle 10/22. Onto a .22 Handgun and to a 9mm to .45 to 10mm. Back to rifles in .223, .308, etc. And all along the way understanding the legalities and penalities associated with firearm misuse.

    A firearm is a tool for survival. It is used to put food on the table or end an attack on your life while your feet are planted well within the bounds of the law. The stakes are very high.

    • Debbie W.,

      What you described is a commonly accepted ideal training scenario. (I support such a scenario myself.)

      Please note that many people will not have such an ideal training regimen available to them.

  6. According to dacian, flea markets and bars are a great place for a beginner to get a gun with wink and a nod.

    According to dacians numbers of the number of guns sold at flea markets and bars with a nod and a wink, statistically, they sell more guns at flea markets and bars than have been manufactured.

  7. After reading the article I scrolled down to read the comments, the ad for Strikeman appears 134 times. As I read most all TTAG articles I find this happens often where a ad repeats over and over. Dan you should look into this, amongst other things it’s annoying.

    • What is this “ads” thing of which you speak? I never see anything like that on websites…

  8. “You are your own first responder, because when seconds count …”

    … your 911 Call Center may not even answer the phone.

    • I have made a 911 call and been put on hold. No shit. And don’t get me started on the number of times I’ve had a really bad time with 911 dispatchers. Worked in a town with 5 high schools. 5. Found 2 abandoned children, small kids at one. Called the 911 operator to report this. She got stuck on stupid. I told her the name of the school. It was dark and near 11. She asked for the schools address. I wasn’t in a position to get it and was dealing with 2 very scared kids. She kept insisting that I get the street address.

      Finally I told her that if any cop or dispatcher in a town could not find the high school by name they needed to be fired. It took nearly 30 minutes for the first cop to show up.

      • jwm,

        Not sure if you are referring to a past event or a recent event.

        I watched a news story this morning on the Lamestream media which stated that recent 911 Call Center staffing shortages have led to several unanswered 911 calls at several areas of our nation.

  9. One thing I would ad: how much a new gun owner is willing to practice should be a major factor in what they purchase. I would always advocate for training and practice, and in a perfect world any new gun owner would do as much of that as possible. Unfortunately, that will frequently not be the case. For a new gun owner who wants a solid home defense weapon that they won’t practice much (or at all) with, a 20 gauge shotgun or a pistol caliber carbine will be the best option. I personally tend to be a little leery of recommending handguns for new gun owners because they are inherently harder to shoot accurately. I’ve taught quite a few people how to shoot, and newbies are nearly always surprised at how easy it is to miss with a pistol, even at close range. If the weapon will be staying at home, a long gun is a far better bet. A 20 gauge or PCC will be a lot more forgiving for a newbie to use under stress.

    Sometimes I think we POTG tend to take for granted that a gun owner, especially a brand new one and maybe one who is not necessarily pro gun, will automatically be just as passionate as we are and I think we tend to forget just how complicated and daunting the subject of guns/shooting can be

    • If you go the 20 ga route do not make the same mistake that I made. My wife is a solid 5 feet tall in her Birkies. After we married she wanted to learn to shoot and have her own gun. Thinking I was smart I bought her a youth model 20 ga. With anything but light target loads that little brute kicks like a mule.

      My wife is actualy more comfortable with my maverick 88 12 ga. At least for practice.

    • The Issue/problem with the “need to train” pitch is that we are missing at least 90% of the ranges needed. Despite the Feds collecting nearly a Billion $ a year (certainly way more for 2020 and 2001). How many new public ranges have you heard ago?

      WHERE is the $1B going? Dated report but apparently to the tree/bambi huggers.

  10. “After police officials in several states warned the public that they need to arm themselves because of the coming loss of thousands of officers who will either quit or be fired for refusing vaccinations …”

    Sources? I have not seen nor heard of any such “friendly suggestions” from law enforcement.


  12. “After police officials in several states warned the public that they need to arm themselves because of the coming loss of thousands of officers …”

    What is the reference source for this?

    This article was written by Lee Williams. Lee Williams is the chief editor of SAF’s Investigative Journalism Project. He should be able to provide a reference source for the above comments.

  13. Why no pistol caliber carbine? I live in a suburban area and the extra range a 5.56 offers isn’t really necessary. Got a nice Ruger carbine in 9mm. PROS: soft shooter, great 9mm velocity, slightly lighter weight than my AR, has a light mounted, way less muzzle blast/flash/noise and takes Glock 30 round mags.

    Might be nicer in. 45, but 9mm bullet designs are fairly on par with .45 these days.

  14. Whatever you decide to buy as a “new gun owner”, DON’T BUY A POCEKT ROCKET .380 AUTO! It is waste of your hard earned money and has no penetration power or More like a bee sting. At a minimum, you need either a .38 Spc, or a 9 MM. Personally I carry a .40S&W cal (GLCOK Mod 22) which is a full size pistol.

  15. I suggest you watch the series of videos by Paul Harrell who does in-depth testing on ammo and penetration. 380 is not as bad as you think it is.

  16. John Hussy, This video is borderline useless. It does not show anything that closely resemble penetration power. Let me see a video where the shooter shoots into ballistic gel and compare it to 9mm or 38 spec. There 380 auto is too small to do any real harm. As I have said repeatedly, 380 auto is little more than a bad bee sting.
    If you want to carry a pocket rocket, knock yourself out. But I just hope you never have to use it.

  17. So from your comments the meat target means nothing, or your mind is closed to the idea that 380 is a viable cartridge in some instances. You should watch more of Pauls videos he does testing with a open mind and provides good info

    • john hussy, You are correct. A .380 auto is not a viable cartridge except for maybe plunking at rats, and other small varment. The test he shows actually shows the IMPOTENCY of the .380. My mind is not at all closed. I just see things as they are.
      Again, if you want to carry a “pocket rocket”, by all means, it’s your funeral.

    • john hussey, please excuse my misspelling your name.
      But you are right. You are not going to change my mind when I have the facts on my side. Sorry.
      Your vaulted video that you alluded to shows the LACK of penetration of the .380 auto cartridge. The rounds did not go though the first layer of backing behind the jug of water.
      If I have to shoot, I want the target to go down, not be able to stand there and kill me.

  18. A gun owner must need a tool is a pistol cleaning kit which he should regularly use to clean out his old or new felicitated pistols or revolver. One fancy user of this machine must be concerned about this. Now let’s get to the point, there are several brands in the market offering various cleaning kits which may or may not be able to satisfy or nourish your pistol/ gun using experience. So you should consider some key factors before buying any cleaning kits for your gun. The followings are the top 5 cleaning kits we recommend. 5 best pistol cleaning kits of 2022………

  19. My friend asked me for tips regarding his first gun purchase since he wants to keep his property safe from intruders. I like your idea of investing in a firearm that can easily stop someone when necessary. Maybe we should find a store where he could try out handguns if they work out for him.

  20. This is good point here, Red in CO. For someone who is really going to just “leave it in a drawer or closet until they need it someday” a pistol of any kind really is a poor choice. Not only will they not be accurate with it they also won’t pay attention to wide of an arc that short little gun makes just handling it and moving it around. Now you got somebody with no trigger discipline nuzzling half the room and probably at least one of their own extremities along with it.
    Something longer is at least more obvious/deliberate where it’s pointed.

    I like shotguns of all types but a lot of 20s can kick plenty hard. At least not enough less than a 12 to make a difference to the recoil shy. With the advent of 5-ball #000 buck loads a .410 can be a worthy defense tool now, at least at in the house or city lot front yard ranges.

    For the aforementioned type of person a semiauto PCC in 9mm probably the best bet though.

  21. I didn’t know we need to use specific ammo for a defensive firearm to avoid putting others at risk if you ever fire it. I heard that my cousin wants to buy a gun for self-defense since last week he got assaulted, so I think he’ll benefit from reading your self-defense firearm information. I appreciate your tips on defensive ammunition and its safety features.

  22. When it comes to firearms, you really don’t want to scare other innocent people that you have one. A small handgun is something that I might really get used to since it’s easy to hide and use for protection. Should I ever buy my first firearm from a local guns shopping center, I’ll definitely opt for a handgun.

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