Chapter 3

Firearms and Ammunition

The choice of defensive firearm for home use is an important decision that can literally save your life. Let’s first understand the desirable characteristics of a Home Defense firearm and then apply the characteristics to make a practical choice.


The most important attribute of a defensive firearm is reliability. Choose a firearm from a reputable manufacturer. The gun should fire reliably when somewhat dirty. It should shoot a variety of ammunition even though it’s wise to choose one brand that functions well and standardize on it to reduce variability. Regularly shoot your selected defensive ammunition to make sure the gun and ammunition continue to be a reliable combination.

Practical Tip: Choose a Home Defense gun from a reputable manufacturer, preferably a model chosen by Law Enforcement for reliability.


Exposure to the noise of a gunshot without hearing protection, even outdoors, will ring your ears and may cause permanent hearing damage. When you shoot indoors (in a home) noise intensity is increased.

Practical Tip: A firearm for Home Defense should use a caliber of ammunition that does not create excessive noise that can permanently damage hearing.

Rapid Delivery

It’s unlikely that a single shot from a pistol will incapacitate an attacker. Multiple shots will be required. The faster you can make accurate hits with successive shots, the faster the attack will be stopped and the less likely you are to be injured in the attack.

Practical Tip: Home Defense guns should balance the power of a single shot with the ability to deliver a rapid string of fire.


The more ammunition a gun holds, the more shots the gun can fire in succession without taking time to reload. Don’t expect to have time to reload during a defensive encounter. It’s important to be able to continue to shoot repeatedly until the incident is over.

Practical Tip: A home defense gun should have as much capacity as possible.


Make sure the gun fits all adults who are authorized to use it. Fit extends beyond just physical size. Each authorized adult should feel confident in their ability to use the firearm in a defensive manner. They should be comfortable gripping the firearm, loading and unloading it, using the sights, firing accurately, and managing recoil.

Practical Tip: All authorized users of a Home Defense firearm must be able to use it comfortably, proficiently, and confidently.

Projectile Containment

The interior walls of a home are typically made of drywall and pine lumber. Bullets and buckshot go right through these materials. A gun of sufficient power can even send a projectile through an exterior wall, potentially endangering people outdoors or in nearby homes. Care must be taken to choose a firearm that not only preserves life in the area where it’s used, but also protects the lives of other family members and neighbors.

Practical Tip: A home defense firearm should effectively stop a close quarters attack without endangering people in adjacent rooms or neighboring homes.

Ease of use

Heavy or complicated triggers, complex loading procedures, manual safety levers, electronic sighting devices, magazine extensions, and nearly all aftermarket accessories add complexity and failure points. A Home Defense firearm should be simple to operate and should be kept in its stock configuration. For use in low light, white-dot sights are preferable to fiber-optic sights that require ambient light to be visible.

Practical Tip: A Home Defense firearm should be simple to operate. Anything that adds steps to make the gun ready to fire or adds failure points is undesirable.

Ability to Practice

Frequent practice with a defensive firearm is essential to maintain proficiency. What practice facilities are convenient for you? What types of firearms do they allow? If you have a trap range near you, it might be most convenient to practice with a shotgun. In the city, an indoor pistol range might be the most convenient place to practice. Investigate nearby practice facilities so you’ll be prepared to keep your skills current with your chosen firearm.

Practical Tip: When choosing a Home Defense firearm, consider the training facilities located nearby.


Maintenance is an often overlooked but very important consideration when selecting a Home Defense firearm. The maintenance procedure should be simple and not require steps that could be easily reversed or performed incorrectly. When you choose a gun that’s easy to maintain, you’ll practice more often and you will be more likely to clean your gun after each practice session.

Practical Tip: The cleaning procedure of an effective Home Defense gun should be quick and easy. Disassembly and reassembly should not require tools.

Semi-Automatic Handguns

Considering the factors discussed so far in this chapter, there is perhaps no better firearm for Home Defense than the 9mm semi-automatic handgun.

The term semi-automatic means that every time the trigger is pulled, the gun fires and automatically loads the next ammunition cartridge from the magazine for the next shot. As quickly as the user can sequentially pull the trigger, the gun will repeatedly fire.

The 9mm semi-auto excels at delivering effective power per shot while maximizing the capacity of the firearm and minimizing noise and recoil. 

9mm bullets will penetrate walls, so care must be taken to ensure a backstop against neighboring walls where over-penetration could be harmful to others. 

Practical Tip: A bookcase (full of books) makes an excellent bullet stop. If possible, place a bookcase behind the likely direction you’ll be shooting. The bookcase can be placed on either side of a wall to be effective.

9mm defensive ammunition is available in several bullet weights. Bullet weight is measured in grains. 1 grain = 1/7000th of a pound. 

The ideal 9mm bullet for Home Defense weighs 147gr, which is designed to travel slower than the speed of sound. This eliminates the sonic boom of the gunshot, which is heard as a high-pitched “crack.” The noise is still loud and damaging to hearing, but less so than other options. The 147gr 9mm cartridge is also optimized to use with a silencer, which is an excellent additional step to protect your hearing.

Practical Tip: There is simply no more practical Home Defense firearm than a quality 9mm handgun utilizing 147gr defensive ammunition.


Sharing many characteristics with 9mm semi-autos, revolvers utilizing 38 Special defensive ammunition can be a practical choice for Home Defense. High quality revolvers are reliable, easy to maintain, and have moderate noise and recoil. The over-penetration risk from 38 Special ammunition is comparable to 9mm.

While revolvers have some positive traits for Home Defense, they have one primary weakness that eliminates them from being the ideal choice – capacity. Revolver capacity is limited to 5-7 cartridges. This is about half the capacity of a typical 9mm semi-auto.

Practical Tip: Revolvers have much less capacity than semi-autos. Running out of ammunition during a defensive incident can be deadly. Carefully consider other options before choosing a revolver as a primary Home Defense firearm.


Shotguns have a well-deserved reputation as excellent Home Defense firearms. There’s no better way to deploy a lot of firepower quickly than from the muzzle of a shotgun. One well-placed shotgun blast often ends a defensive encounter instantly. 

Shotguns come in several varieties. As you might expect, some are more appropriate for Home Defense than others.

The most practical Home Defense shotgun is the Remington 870 20-gauge pump-action compact / youth model:

  • Remington makes great shotguns. This specific design has been around since the 1950’s and has proven to be exceptionally reliable.
  • Pump-action should be favored over semi-auto because pump-action shotguns are reliable, easy to use, and easy to maintain.
  • The compact model is lighter and offers more maneuverability in the confined space of a home than a full-sized shotgun. An 18” barrel and compact stock are the ideal Home Defense shotgun configuration.
  • 20-gauge ammunition is plenty powerful for Home Defense, yet creates considerably less noise and recoil than 12-gauge ammunition. The ideal 20-gauge ammunition for Home Defense is #3 Buckshot, plus or minus one size.

Practical Tip: It’s a myth that shotguns produce a wide pattern of pellets at short range. At Home Defense distances, the pattern will be only a few inches across. Shotguns must be aimed just as precisely as other defensive firearms to avoid missing your target.

Tactical Rifles

An AR-15 tactical rifle is one of the most versatile firearms in existence. An AR-15 rifle can be used for defense, hunting, target shooting, and general recreation. AR-15 rifles feature adjustable stocks to fit shooters of nearly any size. Felt recoil is moderate. They’re fun to own, shoot, and customize.

Despite practicality for other uses, an AR-15 rifle is an impractical Home Defense tool. A bullet fired from an AR-15 rifle travels at nearly 3 times the speed of sound. The noise of each gunshot is very loud and the risk of over-penetration into neighboring buildings is severe. AR-15 rifles are inconvenient to maintain. Training facilities that allow AR-15 rifles are often difficult to find. And AR-15 rifles cost several times more than a quality 9mm semi-auto or Remington 870 shotgun.

Practical Tip: While an effective defensive weapon in many respects, an AR-15 tactical rifle is not a practical choice as a primary Home Defense firearm due to excessive cost, noise, risk of over-penetration, and cumbersome maintenance procedure.


Care should be taken to select an appropriate Home Defense firearm. The two types of firearms ideal for Home Defense are the 9mm semi-automatic handgun and the 20-gauge pump-action shotgun. Revolvers and Tactical Rifles can be used for Home Defense but their weaknesses need to be carefully considered in the decision-making process.