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“What gun should I get to keep in the house?”  I’ve heard that question a hundred times or more during the last couple of decades.  When your friends and co-workers find out you are a ‘gun guy’ you become the de facto expert on guns. Having been a Marine, police officer and small arms instructor for the military, I get that question on a regular basis . . .

Back in the late nineteen-eighties and early nineties my patent answer was to purchase a mid-sized double-action revolver in .38 Special or .357 Magnum with a stainless steel finish.  The S&W “K” frame or something similar was the specific answer.

Diehard gun people aren’t the ones asking the house gun question, it’s the novice and new gun buyer. My reason for suggesting a DA revolver was that it was simple and uncomplicated to operate. The DA revolver is easy to load and unload without a complex manual of arms.

The reasoning behind a stainless finish was two-fold. Number one, stainless is more forgiving of, let’s say, a ‘casual’ maintenance program and a couple of sweaty fingerprints won’t corrode the gun if it’s left in a drawer for a month. The second reason for stainless is the fact that a stainless steel revolver brings a much higher trade-in value than one with blued steel. If the person inquiring decided they wanted to sell the gun down the road, they’d get a better return for their money if it’s stainless.

When my wife and I first married I found a second-hand revolver that fit the bill and it became our “fire extinguisher gun”.

Fire Extinguisher Gun

Do you have one or more fire extinguishers in your house? If not, shame on you. Stop reading this, go out and buy one. Now, when is the last time you moved your fire extinguisher? Do you play hide and seek with it, constantly shuffling it from one location to the next? Of course you don’t. A fire extinguisher is kept in the same location all the time. Every responsible person in the home should know where the extinguisher is and how to use it in a fire emergency.

A “Fire Extinguisher Gun” acts on the same principle. The gun in question is kept loaded and ready in a specific location in the home. Every responsible adult knows where it is and how to use it in the event of an emergency. Certainly there may be other firearms around.  I’ve carried a gun for a living for better than two decades now. However, the Fire Extinguisher Gun is the vigilant sentry, quietly standing its lonely post, day after day, month after month, year after year. Just in case.

Throughout the years, I’d take my bride with me to the range on occasion and brought along the fire extinguisher gun. Staging the gun on a range table, I’d sit my wife in a chair ten to fifteen feet away. On command, she’d have to get up, run to the gun, access it and shoot the bad guy target.

As my oldest son and daughter came of age, I started taking them to the range to run the same drill. Jarrad, who shoots regularly, didn’t have much trouble getting his first six shots into the “X” zone on the target. My wife and daughter, who only shoot handguns on occasion, struggled to get the first couple of shots into the preferred zone of the ‘bad guy.’  By the third or fourth cylinder they were putting all rounds in the middle, but that rather defeats the purpose.

I know what you hard core guys are thinking, “Make your wife and daughter practice more often. Set up a dry-fire schedule and take them to the range every week.” Yes, in a perfect world without school, work, and conflicting schedules that might be possible.

During one of these range sessions I introduced both ladies to my GLOCK 19 and 17 pistols. They both enjoyed great success with the guns. For the next outing I set up the same drill, only this time I staged the GLOCK 17 as it would be at home. Both my wife and daughter had to run the “Get the Gun” drill. To their amazement and surprise both girls put their first rounds into the preferred zone on the ‘bad guy’ target.

After that experience the ladies didn’t even want to shoot the DA revolver, but they did consume most all of the 9mm training ammunition I brought along. Therein lies the lesson learned; both my wife and daughter experienced success and enjoyed shooting the different gun. This success and enjoyment leads to genuine confidence. If the time ever comes to use a gun in self-defense, your thought shouldn’t be “Damn, I can never hit anything with this until I get warmed up.”  Instead you want to have supreme confidence in your equipment and ability.

Parting Thoughts

In the year 2012, my opinion of the house or fire extinguisher gun has changed a bit. I now recommend some type of striker-fired pistol chambered in 9x19mm. The S&W M&P, the Springfield XD(M) and, of course, the GLOCK 17 all fill the bill. These pistols are simple to operate like DA revolvers but the trigger press on each is much more conducive to rapid, accurate shot placement. The only additions I’ve made to my house gun were the XS Big Dot sight set up and a Crimson Trace Lasergrip. Yes, I want my family to have an ‘unfair’ advantage over any vermin that would attempt to harm them.

The 9x19mm cartridge is less expensive for training and practice than most any other pistol cartridge. It’s also no small consideration that if your spouse or loved one is forced to use the fire extinguisher gun, they will start out with at least 17 rounds of ammunition.  (That is, as long as you reside in Free America). I don’t know about you, but if my wife or daughter is forced to stop an intruder(s) with a pistol, I’d rather they had rounds left over than run out in the middle of the fight.

Paul Markel © 2012

Paul Markel became a US Marine in 1987. He has been a police officer, bodyguard, and small arms instructor. Paul hosts Student of the Gun TV and offers training through SOTG University. Find out more by going to


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  1. In the Vietnam War book “Bloods” one of the story tellers stored firearms in various locations around his camp. When the SHTF he was prepared with multiple weapons and ammo. Now that’s a bit extreme compared to a home but the principle is the same, if you can’t or won’t carry in the house at all times have a few guns in places where you can get to them. The more paranoid among us will be tooled up 24/7 in their house, their choice entirely, and become the subject of stories by people who know them.

  2. I personally still prefer a gun with a manual safety for such a scenario. When something goes bump in the night and someone, more so if their training is somewhat limited, fumbles a gun out of a safe/lockbox while still being half asleep is leaps and bounds more likely to get a finger onto the trigger in the process with an undesired outcome.

  3. I don’t know why, but I keep on thinking of a guy trying to break into a house, and 16 year old Jenny is running to the sink cabinet to get her glock, and as she goes to grab it she accidentally misfires and the whole scenario goes to hell. Maybe it’s just me, but are there any ‘windex molded’ holsters so she might be able to reduce the risk of misfiring?

  4. As an NRA certified instructor, former LEO, Army MP, and state certified firearms instructor, Hunter Safety Instructor for VT. I too have been asked this question. Which firearm is best for me? I always started new shooters with a revolver.

    As they progressed I would then start them on .22 semi-autos. This allowed them to judge apples to apples. After they had become familiar with the semi-auto, the big question then became which caliber should I buy? Is the .38 sp. better than the nine mm? Etc. At that point it became a matter of which they were more comfortable with.

    I had some men pick up the revolver as a home defense weapon, and the opposite was true for a few women, as they went with semi’s. Study is the real key in all of this. Which can and does lead to confusion, which can get straightened out on the range. The problem is that wet phone books, watermelons, cantalopes, etc. are not real time targets. Yes they will act as training tools, as it allows the shooter to see what different types of bullets, will do in different target mediums.

    But the question is “Which firearm is best for me?” It all boils down to personal preference. If you feel comfortable with a .22 then that is what you use. If your choice is a .357 the one must consider the problem of over penetration. However that is now pretty much eleviated with the advent of the newer types of ammo available.

    There is no easy answer for the instructor here. It is what the shooter is capable of handling in a competent manner, and one type of ammo they have confidence in, to feel that it will do the job.

    • If one chooses some of the bigger calibers like the .357, the blast sound should also be considered – especially in small indoor rooms like corridors. The shooter himselft/herself might end up being very disoriented after the blast.

  5. I agree that inexperienced shooters should have a weapon that they are comfortable with. My concern with an autoloader as a FEG is the spring in the magazine. I switch my autos on a regular basis because of this. I don’t worry about my GP100. Keeping a full mag for too long would worry me.

    • Hey Phil,

      I have also had concerns about springs — especially the springs that actuate the strikers in striker fired semi-auto pistols. I have two simple solutions for people that keep a semi-auto pistol sitting around “forever” in their home:
      (1) Keep the chamber empty and thus the striker spring uncompressed.
      (2) Load the magazine just over half full.

      In a home invasion situation, it takes an additional half second to rack the slide on a semi-auto which is almost never an issue. That also addresses people’s concerns about an accidental discharge. (Don’t rack the slide until you have to.) It is also safer if a young guest at the home happens to find the pistol. And keeping, say, 10 rounds in a 17 round magazine keeps the magazine spring only partially compressed. The spring should be good forever and 10 rounds should still be adequate for most home invasions.

      Of course semi-auto pistols with hammers offer other possibilities. I would keep one in the chamber and the hammer in de-cock with the safety in “fire” position. The first trigger pull could be double action or single action if the operator is able to use their thumb to pull the hammer back.

  6. I like the author’s approach. I especially like the choice of caliber for casual firearms owners … 9×19 mm is adequate as well as .38 Special with the appropriate bullets.

    A revolver makes the most sense for my wife. That said, factory double-action triggers are usually too stiff for most people who practice casually — especially women (including my wife). So if a revolver is the best overall choice from every perspective except accuracy (due to a heavy trigger), then obtain a revolver and have a gunsmith refine the trigger.

    We purchased a small (“J” frame) revolver for my wife because she has small hands. I bought a trigger kit for something like $25, a special firearms screwdriver for something like $7, and I was able to refine the trigger in an afternoon. I am not a gunsmith, either. With a little mechanical inclination and a “how to” YouTube video, I was good to go. If that is beyond your comfort zone, I believe it would cost about $60 or so for a gunsmith to do the work.

    Now the trigger is reasonable, my wife can shoot it accurately, and it goes bang every time. What’s not to like?

  7. I had to stop at, “On command, she’d have to get up, run to the gun, access it and shoot the bad guy target.”

    I don’t know what kind of wife you have, but I don’t know many that run and jump on command. You just blew any credibility you have! 🙂

  8. Unfortunately, I reside in non-free zone of America known as California where we can only have reduced capacity 10 rd magazines.

  9. I’m curious – where/how did you store your fire extinguisher gun when the kids were little?

  10. Someone needs to design a semi-auto that looks just like a fire extinguisher and has a two hundred round magazine in the base or maybe a semi-auto twelve-gauge with thirty rounds in the base.

  11. Interesting timing. My son just treated me to range session in which we compared a 4″ Ruger GP100 to a Glock 17. We are both pretty new to centerfire handguns, and based on what I have read I expected us to prefer the semiauto. Instead, we both liked the revolver better. After shooting 50 rounds of .38 and 50 rounds of 9mm, we turned in the Glock and ran 50 rounds of .357 through the GP100.

    I thought the 9mm was supposed to be a mild round, and that a semiauto was supposed to dampen recoil in the process of chambering the next round. To our surprise, we both found the Ruger more pleasant to shoot than the Glock, and any accuracy advantage went to the revolver. When we switched to the .357, we were impressed by the fireball coming out of the muzzle, but neither of us were bothered by recoil. And since I was wearing both ear plugs and headphones, the difference in noise from the three calibers was not a factor.

    I understand that the magazine capacity and faster reloading makes the semiauto a superior weapon in a gun fight, so it makes sense for law enforcement or military to go that way. But I’ll be shopping or a revolver when my new carry permit comes through next week.

    • Try a bunch of different pistols–they all shoot differently. I started shooting Glocks and H&Ks in 9mm, but ended up buying a Springfield XD and much prefer the way it shoots over the Glock. My son feels the same. And then, for a real shooting pleasure, rent a full size 1911 (5″ barrel). With 185 grain wadcutters, they shoot “like butta.” Even full load 230 gr rounds are smooth shooting–smoother than any 9 or 40. Like shooting a good revolver single action.

  12. I like the concept, especially if there are multiple responsible adults living in the house. However, I think it should supplement, NOT replace, home carry (a practice that RF seems to strongly advocate and that I agree with). Also, I own only one handgun at the moment, so this might be a good excuse to buy another…

    • I wondered about this as well. People have expressed concern about the performance of the magazine spring after sitting fully compressed in a drawer for months on end, but wouldn’t the same apply to leaving the firing pin spring at full compression for the same amount of time?

      • Although I don’t have hard numbers, a Glock can be stored “hot” for a long time. I keep a round in the chamber in my Glock 27 and 35, as well as fully loaded mags. I function test them about once a month (different guns go to the range at different times).

        The ammo can literally be stored for decades under good conditions, although I switch out my ammo much more often than that. I swap out loaded mags monthly, and have not had any reliability issues with good ammunition.

        Practice and function check your specific home defense guns and ammo, and have a good weapon light or flashlIght at the ready. You will be much more prepared than most homeowners if you do so.

  13. “In a home invasion situation, it takes an additional half second to rack the slide on a semi-auto which is almost never an issue. ”

    I used to keep my bedside gun, a 1911, with a full mag but no round in the chamber. That made it easy to “safe” the thing in the morning when I put it away for the day. Just take the mag out and lock it up. I didn’t have to worry about the kids finding the gun.

    Then one night I awoke to find an intruder standing at the foot of the bed. Believe me, that extra time to rack the slide turned out to be important. It would have been even more important had I needed to use my left hand to fend off the intruder while I was getting my gun. As it turned out I managed to rack the slide; the intruder took the hint and started running. I chased him but he got away before I got a clear shot at him.

    Ever since I’ve had either a burglar alarm or a dog, so I wouldn’t be surprised again. I also keep my bedside 1911 “the way it should be,” with a full mag in the well, a round in the chamber, and the hammer cocked. Fortunately I’ve never again had to deal with an intruder (knock wood) but I learned my lesson. Should I need a gun, I’ll need it in a hurry. Any extra motions needed to get the gun in operation might cost me my life.

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