Handguns are the most popular firearms for home defense and there are several reasons; a handgun can be concealed almost anywhere in the home ready for use, they are easy to hold and can be fired from either hand in an emergency situation and they are less likely than a shotgun to severely damage your home. For these reasons, handguns are the first choice of many for home defense.
Of the various types of handguns, only revolvers and auto-loading pistols (also called semi-autos) should be considered for home defense. Cool little derringers, single-shot pistols and other “neat” guns may have their place, but it’s not in your hand during a home defense scenario. Sub-compacts are excellent for concealed carry but have a few short-comings when it comes to home defense. Full sized handguns with 4 or 5-inch barrels are your best choice as they deliver the full rated velocity from your chosen ammunition. Most full sized revolvers and auto-loaders come with decent sights and, some, with self-illuminating Tritium night sights, are available. Full-size handguns kick less than lightweight, sub-compact guns, allowing you to recover rapidly for a follow-up shot. Why handicap yourself in both accuracy and power with a concealed carry pistol when better handguns for home defense are readily available?
A few guidelines when choosing your home defense handgun:
- Reliability – The weapon must function every time. It cannot malfunction once in 25 shots or once in 100 shots, etc.
- Accuracy – You must hit the target’s vitals (head or chest); remember that speed is wonderful, but accuracy is deadly.
- Readiness – The weapon should be simple in operation and require a minimum of thought and action. (You will be under great stress!)
- Size – The gun should have a barrel length of at least 4 inches but no longer than 6 and ½ inches to balance retention, sight radius, and ballistic efficiency.
- Caliber – The caliber chosen should be factory loaded (store bought), affordable, and have decent stopping power (9mm, .380, .40, .45).
- Safety – You should choose a safe weapon. There are handguns out there with no safety features. Choose one with an effective but easy to operate safety feature.
Auto-loaders, or semi-automatic pistols, are the choice of many. Examples of modern, full-size auto-loaders include the Beretta 92 and the newer 90-TWO, the much lauded SIG P226 and Glock 19. These are double action or safe action pistols that can be safely stored with the chamber loaded and the safety off. With these weapons, it is not necessary to manually cycle the action or manipulate the safety, just pull the trigger and the gun will fire. If these guns interest you, Google the safety features of each weapon. You’ll be impressed.
Auto-loaders typically hold 7 to 17 rounds and are faster to reload (if pre-loaded magazines are handy) than revolvers. An auto-loader can deliver very rapid fire but, remember, this isn’t Hollywood, you have to aim. Also, you are trying to protect you and yours by canceling a threat, not throw lead around the place like a madman.
Auto-loaders are more sensitive to ammunition variations than revolvers. An auto-loader requires the ammunition for which it was designed to operate properly. Cartridges that generate too much or too little pressure will cause malfunctions, even in the correct caliber. If you choose an auto-loader for home defense, make sure it’s a reliable brand and you have the proper ammunition. Keep it clean and properly lubricated. Follow the owner’s manual supplied with the gun for directions on cleaning and lube for your specific model weapon. If you buy a second-hand gun, you can download the owner’s manual from the gun manufacturer’s website.
Auto-loaders have a very significant drawback: the spring in a loaded magazine gets tightly compressed. You should rotate your magazines on a monthly basis. Meaning, unload the magazine in the weapon and the 1 or 2 extras you keep ready and load up 2 or 3 new ones. Then the following month, unload those and reload the magazines you unloaded the month before. The spring in a fully loaded magazine left compressed for an extended period of time may lose its ability to bounce back and, in turn, lack the strength to reliably feed rounds.
A top choice for a home defense gun is the revolver. Home defense requires a reliable handgun that can deliver at least two accurately placed shots and revolvers are ideal in this scenario. Revolvers have no separate parts, like magazines, to drop or lose. They typically hold six rounds which is plenty for most home defense scenarios. Revolvers are ambidextrous and, perhaps best of all, you can leave them fully loaded and untouched for years and still bring them to use at a moment’s notice.
Revolvers don’t rely on their ammunition to operate and will fire any round that will fit into the cylinder; if the gun is chambered for the cartridge, it will fire. Even if it misfires due to a defective cartridge, the cylinder will rotate and bring up a fresh round.
A lot of people will tell you that you need at least a .45 to stop a man. To them, I say, “Then let me shoot you with my .22.” They never agree. Training is the most important part of shooting. A well-placed shot from a .22 is much more effective than a wildly fired .357 magnum. Get trained and practice often. If you place your shot in a vital area, the baddies will go down regardless of the caliber.
If you’re worried about assailants in body armor, then you may want a higher caliber to compensate for the extra protection worn by the bad guys. This, again, is where training comes in. With the proper training, you will know where to shoot if “bullet proof” vests are in play. And again, if you place your shots correctly, the caliber of your weapon won’t matter, you will stop the bad guy.
Whichever handgun you choose, become one with it. Make it a point to practice as often as time and budget allow. A handgun can save your life and the lives of your loved ones. Remember, it isn’t the gun that will save you and yours, it’s you and your skill. Learn. Practice. Repeat.
That’s defensive handgun in a nutshell.