March 12, 2022

Home Defense Weapons: Handgun vs. Shotgun vs. Rifle

Home defense is always a hot topic. We want to feel safe in our homes, and the thought of something violating that security and safety is terrifying. A firearm allows a homeowner, a renter, or whoever to protect their home and their families. Firearms provide an equalizer that allows a small weak person to keep a horde at bay.

Within the firearms world, there are three main types of firearms, handguns, rifles, and shotguns. Today we’ll be discussing the strengths and weaknesses of all three to help you make the right choice for your home.

The Handgun For Home Defense

Handguns are the best-selling firearms in the current US market. People love handguns, find them unintimidating, and if you ask most people why they own handguns, the answer is likely for self-defense. Concealed carry is massively popular, and a lot of people want one gun to do it all, and the handgun is the obvious route.


Handguns provide a small, compact package that’s easy to use inside a home. The largest handguns are still drastically smaller than rifles or shotguns. Size matters indoors, and a handgun allows you to have an extremely small package that’s easily maneuverable in the tight quarters of a home.

Handguns are called handguns for a reason. You can wield a handgun with a single hand. This allows you to open doors, flip on light switches, hold a phone as you call the police, or evacuate a child. Handguns can be carried and fired with one hand easily, and that can be valuable in a home defense situation.

Modern handguns are easy to attach weapon lights, as well as optics. This makes the firearms even easier to handle, faster to shoot, and easier to shoot accurately.


The main weakness of a handgun is the fact it fires a pistol bullet. They tend to be much less effective at stopping threats quickly than a rifle or shotgun round. Handgun rounds are a giant ballistic compromise, and even the best self-defense ammo can’t make up for that weakness.

Handguns can be tougher to master and shoot accurately than long guns. This means you’ll need to train more and train harder with a handgun than on other platforms. Capacity is also limited with a lot of guns. You might be stuck with 15 to 17 rounds. Some guns have reliable extended magazines, but the vast majority do not.

Rifles For Home Defense

Rifles are the backbone of police and military forces around the world. When I say rifle for home defense, I don’t mean a bolt gun or your grandpa’s hunting rifle. I mean modern, semi-automatic, magazine-fed rifles like AR-15, the AK series, and all the others out there these days.

The Strengths

Rifles offer excellent penetration and ballistics even at close range. The rounds create permanent wound cavities that can drop an attacker quickly and efficiently. Rifle rounds like the 5.56 can easily stop a threat in a single, well-placed shot.

Intermediate rifle rounds like the 5.56 and 5.45 tend to be the safest choice inside the home. If overpenetration is a concern, a miss with a rifle round will often penetrate less drywall and retain less energy as it does so. The round deflects and can even break apart easier than a pistol or shotgun rounds.


Rifles offer three points of contact that allow you to have more control over the weapon and make it easier to aim and easier to shoot accurately. Intermediate rifles offer low recoil and muzzle rise and make fast and accurate follow-up shots a possibility.

The larger size of rifles also makes it easy to add accessories like optics and powerful white lights to the platform. Rifles also have a standard capacity of around 30 rounds, with 40 to 60 round options also available.


The main weakness of the rifle comes from it being somewhat large. It can be more difficult to maneuver with than a pistol but still easier than a shotgun. Rifles also are tougher to use one-handed but still easier to use than a shotgun one-handed.

Semi-auto rifles may often face legislation and laws in some states that prohibit them, require them to be featureless, and also prohibit magazine capacity.

The Shotgun For Home Defense

Prior to the advent of the modern semi-auto rifle, the shotgun was often looked on upon as the best home defense weapon. Like the rifle, it’s important we define what type. For home defense, you want to stick with a reliable semi-auto or a pump-action design. These offer you a repeater’s capability and a rapid-fire source of ammo.

Shotguns can use multiple ammo types, but for inside the home, the standard buckshot works best. Slugs work but tend to be better for long-range work, and birdshot is for birds.


Per trigger pull shotguns are the most efficient lead delivery vehicle known to man. With the pull of a trigger, a shotgun can fire 8 to 9 pellets that each the size of a 9mm projectile into an attacker’s body. That can be very valuable in a home defense situation.

Each pellet carries with it the ability to kill a home invader. That’s a lot of lead. Shot placement stops threats, and shotguns make it easy to put a lot of lead into a bad guy and increase your potential to hit something vital multiple times.

Like a rifle, you want three points of contact and a stock to increase control and make the weapon easier to aim. Shotguns offer you a big platform to mount lights and optics, as well as spare ammo.

Shotguns are often the least restricted weapons in the most restrictive states. A competent and capable defensive shotgun can be purchased in a state with strict rifle laws without compromise.


Shotguns tend to have more recoil per shot than any other weapon. Good recoil mitigation training and low recoil buckshot can help a lot, but still, it’s nowhere near as soft as a rifle or handgun. Shotguns have limited capacity and can be slow to reload.

They are the most difficult weapons to wield with one hand due to their weight and recoil. A pump-action shotgun requires both hands if you want to make a follow-up shot. They are longer than most home defense-type rifles and therefore even less maneuverable.

Defending the Home

A gun is one small part of home defense. You also need training, a plan, and the willingness to protect what’s yours. Without those, the gun is just an ornament. Get out there, practice, train, plan. Grow your competency with your weapon of choice. That’s how you become truly armed.


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