The decision to purchase a gun to defend your home, yourself and your loved ones is an important and serious one. Does a woman need a gun for home defense? Only you can make the decision that is right for you. You must explore your local laws to fully understand your rights and your local and state laws governing the use of “lethal deadly force”. If someone breaks into your home, can you shoot them even if they are not visibly armed? Under what circumstances can you legally display your gun? These are just a few of the questions you want to answer as you make the decision to own a gun for home defense.
In most states, you cannot shoot a thief running away with your property as the immediate threat to your person is considered to have passed. Neglecting to understand the legal issues including your rights along with your risks involved with owning a gun for home defense is careless. You not only put others and yourself at risk, but the 2nd Amendment Rights of others is placed in jeopardy as well. Being a knowledgeable gun owner is part of what defines The Well Armed Woman. In addition, the better you understand the laws, the better equipped you will be to make quick decisions when under great stress.
This article will discuss owning a gun with the primary purpose of home defense and protecting yourself at home. If you are not comfortable and have chosen to not carry a firearm on your person, but would like to own a gun for home defense (or for the fun of target shooting) this article will discuss the best options. If you have or carry a handgun on your person (concealed and carry) which is typically a smaller, lower caliber gun, but would like to own a gun specifically for the purpose of home defense, the same recommendations will apply.
Blog Article: Part One – Your Personal Defense in Your Home
Blog Article: Part Two – The Safe Room
Blog Article: Part Three – Being Mentally Prepared For A Home Invasion
Many women purchase their first gun for home defense, and the question of which type of firearm would be the best home defense gun to pick can be daunting. The two practical choices for a woman are, a handgun or a shotgun. The first question to ask yourself is “which can I handle best, confidently and safely?” A shotgun in most situations is the “mother of home defense” and considered to be the best home defense gun. But, they are large, heavy and can be difficult to handle. A larger caliber handgun would be recommended if you lack the physical ability to handle a shotgun. A large revolver designed to shoot either .410 shotgun shells or .45 Colt ammunition can be ideal for the short distance shooting that most commonly occurs in self-defense situations. The Taurus Judge is an example of such a firearm and is described below. It is almost like a shotgun in a revolver body.
Walls don’t stop bullets. If you have to fire your firearm in your house then you must be aware of what lies behind your target. Innocent bystanders in adjacent rooms and adjacent houses can be wounded and even killed. Caliber and ammunition selection can lessen the significant risk, but the bottom line for any gun of any caliber is this: NEVER DISCHARGE A GUN AT A TA TARGET IF YOU ARE NOT WILLING TO STRIKE EVERYTHING THAT LIES BEHIND THAT TARGET
Let’s start with the shotgun. The shotgun has always been a favorite gun for home defense. A shotgun shoots multiple pellets which are housed in casings (shells) which are shot at a very high velocity. Because it shoots a “spray” of pellets it can be more difficult to miss your attacker and has excellent stopping power.
The shotgun is best when those in your home can take refuge in a protected area, and defend themselves from a single point. The multiple pellets that make the shot shell so effective are equally dangerous to innocents if they miss the intruder. A shotgun has a very powerful recoil that can be difficult to handle and recover from to shoot a second round. Another challenge for many women will be its weight. Shotguns are larger, heavier guns. If you must hold a home intruder at gun point with the shotgun for more than 10 or 15 minutes, its weight will become tiresome. So your size, strength and tolerance for recoil are very significant things to consider. Trips to a shooting range and practice are necessary and will make you more comfortable and confident with these powerful and large firearms.
If you buy a firearm that you cannot handle, you will not enjoy shooting it. If you don’t enjoy shooting it, you won’t practice with it. If you don’t practice with it, you will not be in a very good position when you need to use that firearm to protect your family’s life. Read my review of the Beretta 1301 Tactical Shotgun
The term “gauge” describes bore diameter, but unlike “caliber” used for handguns and rifles the larger the number, the smaller the bore. (The inside diameter of the barrel.) Gauge was defined by the number of solid balls the same diameter as the inside of the barrel that could be made from a pound of lead. Thus, the 10-gauge shotgun is larger than the 12-gauge, which is larger than the 20-gauge. While there are many different sizes, or gauges, of shotguns, the two most often recommended for home defense are 12 gauge and 20 gauge shotgun.
I will start by saying that generally the 20 gauge is a better choice for a woman for home defense. A 20 gauge will be easier to handle, have less recoil and more than adequately provide stopping power. But…. I will finish by saying that many woman can both handle and prefer the added power of a 12 qauge. Your physical size and your ability and/or sensitivity to recoil will be determining factors.
There are two types of shotguns actions, they each describe how they cycle rounds.
Slide Action shotguns – A slide action will require you to have to slide the action backwards and forwards to load each shell. These are also known as “pump action”. They are low-maintenance and, in experienced hands, deadly fast. They can also hold as many shells as the tubular magazine under the gun’s barrel can hold, so you can shoot multiple shots in fairly rapid succession. This does however require practice.
Semi-automatic shotguns A semi automatic action uses the force generated by the last shot to automatically eject the empty shell case and chamber the next round after each shot (cycle). They can be fired as fast as the shooter can pull the trigger for each shot. Semi-automatics have less recoil which makes them appealing to many women. As with many semi-automatic firearms, there can be an issue with ammunition sensitivity. Because the the rounds are “automatically” chambered after the first round is fired, the gun assumes the round or shell is “perfect” and will move perfectly as it moves it into place. So the shotgun shell can potentially get hung up and not chamber properly. The quality of the ammunition you use is a key factor in preventing these issues. Practice with multiple brands will also help you to figure out – which shells your gun “prefers.”
Which is better for a woman to use for home defense?
I would suggest a gas-operated semi-automatic 20-gauge for most women. The gas-operated semi-automatic is much softer kicking than any other shotgun type firing the same shell. The 20 gauge is readily available in an 18″ length as well and in junior sizes which fit a woman’s size better. The semi-automatic shotgun can shoot multiple shots quickly and without any manual action. The cost is more expensive than a pump action though. As it is a more complex machine it requires proper cleaning and care.
The advantages of manual operation is the lower cost and the gun’s ability to handle a variety of different kinds of ammunition. A number of semi-automatic shotguns will not cycle low-powered bird shot, a common and inexpensive choice of ammunition for training. Because the pump shotguns do not need to harness the gases when the shell is fired to operate the gun, a pump-action shotgun can fire a greater variety of ammunition and operates when dirty or un-lubricated, since the shooter does all the work manually. On the down side, the pump-action shotgun will have more felt recoil than a semi-automatic shotgun of the same gauge and must be manually “pumped” for each shot.
Size matters in two important aspects: length of barrel and length of pull.
The length of the shotgun barrel typically ranges from 18″ to 28″. A long shotgun barrel, is difficult to maneuver around corners and through a house. The 18″ barrel is the best option.
Length of pull refers to the distance from the gun butt to the trigger. If the size of the shotgun is wrong, you are going to be less accurate and it will be more difficult for you to work the controls on the gun. While aftermarket (add on) stocks allow for an adjustable length of pull, a great option for women is to purchase a youth-sized shotgun. These shotguns have a shorter stock and typically are less expensive.
As a general rule, when the butt of the shotgun is held in the elbow crook of your bent arm, the first joint crease on your index finger should fully contact the trigger. The 20-gauge youth shotguns fit this dimension perfectly for many women and should be seriously considered when buying a home-defense shotgun.
If a youth model is too short, you can add a recoil pad which not only dampens the felt recoil enormously, but also adds length to the stock.
Choke is the degree of constriction machined into the muzzle end of the barrel. It’s a way of controlling the size of the pattern or spray at a given range. The tighter the choke the tighter the pellets are squeezed together so the pattern holds tighter over a longer distance. Conversely, the less restriction you have in the shotgun choke the more loosely the pellets are held together and the faster the pattern opens up.
AMMUNITION (visit the Ammunition Demystifier for more in depth information)
To quickly stop an attacker, the pellets must penetrate his body deeply enough to cause internal damage and stop him immediately.
Shotgun pellets are classified into three general categories:
FINAL THOUGHTS ON SHOTGUNS
For home defense, a shotgun is superior to a handgun in terms of being able to stop a violent intruder as quickly as possible. A reliable, well-made, pump-action shotgun can usually be purchased for less than the cost of a handgun of comparable quality. Also, inexpensive birdshot ammunition, typically used for training applications, is about three-fourths the cost, round for round, of comparable handgun ammunition.
If you’re considering a shotgun for home defense or already have one, we stongly suggest you attend a “defensive shotgun” training course from a reputable shooting school. It’s one thing to be armed with a well-equipped, high-tech shotgun and premium personal defense ammunition, but if you’re not comfortable or skilled shotgun shooter, you’re the weakest link in your home defense weapon system.
Skill with the shotgun, like any other defensive firearm, requires competent instruction and dedicated practice. When these skills are mastered, it becomes a powerful and effective weapon and a wonderfully fun sporting activity.
CONTINUED – DO YOU NEED A HANDGUN FOR HOME DEFENSE
Handguns are generally less effective than shotguns for home defense as their projectiles have less energy, and as there is a single bullet. Aim and accuracy become critical to successfully defending yourself. But they do have the benefit of being easier to maneuver in cramped quarters, such as smaller houses and apartments and must be considered when selecting the best gun for your home defense. They also have less recoil and for some women, are less intimidating to use and can be stored easily and discreetly. The emergence of .410 revolvers such as the Taurus Judge which can shoot .410 shot the gap is closed somewhat. Handgun bullets will generally penetrate exterior walls more than shotguns and your environment must be considered in making the decision of a handgun for home defense.
There are two options for handguns, revolvers or semi-automatic pistols.
Pistols and revolvers each have their own advantages and disadvantages. Here is a brief overview, please read What Kind of Gun for a more in-depth discussion.
At the bottom I have included a special section on the Taurus Judge, this revolver is really a blend of handgun and shotgun and is fast becoming the firearm of choice for many women, including me. It is the gun on my nightstand!
A semi-automatic pistol is a handgun where the magazine holding the ammunition, slides into the grip of the gun and some of the energy from firing the gun is used to eject the spent cartridge and load a fresh one. When considering which handgun is best for home defense there are some benefits to the semi-automatic pistol. Such as; they have magazines that can hold a larger number of rounds than a revolver which typically holds 5 or 6 rounds. Handguns typically have an easier trigger pull, the ability to shoot multiple rounds quickly and are slimmer and more compact in shape. Pistols; however, are not as mechanically simple as revolvers and their semi-automatic action is dependent on the first round firing successfully so the next round is cycled into the chamber. This means that revolvers may be better suited for home and self defense, at least for people who don’t take meticulous care of their guns. That said, the reliability of modern pistols is exceptionally high. See below for full caliber descriptions
Revolvers have a cylinder with multiple chambers, each chamber holds a round, usually 5 or 6. Pulling the trigger rotates the cylinder and aligns the loaded chamber with the barrel and the gun then fires. A revolver is a very simple machine so there is little that can go wrong with the firing process. This means a revolver may be a good choice for self defense. Although all firearms should be thoroughly cleaned regularly, the simplicity of the mechanics makes the effectiveness of a revolver less dependent on meticulous cleaning. Revolvers; however, are bulkier and heavier than pistols and tend to hold fewer bullets (rounds), it also takes greater finger strength to pull a revolver trigger. The other serious thing to consider is that many of the safety features are not commonly found on revolvers.
Once that decision is made the choice of which caliber to use is next.
THE TAURUS JUDGE 410 REVOLVER FOR A HOME DEFENSE GUN
The Taurus Judge is designed to shoot either .410 shotgun shells or .45 Colt ammunition, making it ideal for the short distance shooting that most commonly occurs in self-defense and home defense situations. It received its name because a significant number of judges carry this revolver into the courtroom for their protection. Because it is capable of chambering both .410 shotgun ammunition and .45 Colt ammunition it is ideal for short distance shooting. Because this revolver offers superior accuracy and short-range shooting performance, it can be an ideal self-defense handgun used for home defense and protection in a car. Due to the rifle’s ultra-light design and unique shotgun/revolver combination is has become a very popular choice in choosing a home defense gun.
Benefits and advantages that make the Taurus Judge revolver an ideal personal and home defense gun include:
Because the Taurus Judge has become such a popular and well trusted revolver for personal defense and home defense situations, there are now a wide variety of Taurus Judge models available. Each of the Taurus Judge versions includes all of the expected Judge features such as .45 and .410 shooting capabilities as well as additional features that make these revolvers unique and highly desired.
Any gun, chambered for any caliber of round, is better than none when you find yourself in the situation and are confronted by someone wanting to inflict bodily harm. That said, smaller, less effective calibers may not empower you with the means of effectively protecting yourself against an aggressive, violent and most likely larger person and will not provide the necessary stopping power necessary. There are many more calibers than what is represented here. As the focus of this article is home defense, those calibers that are considered effective for home defense purposes are discussed.
.38 Special Caliber
This cartridge is considered by many experts to be the minimum caliber necessary for adequate personal protection, along with the .380 ACP . .38 Special ammunition is loaded to two pressure levels: standard pressure and +P. Standard pressure loads may be used in any .38 Special revolver, but +P loads should be fired only in steel-frame .38 Special revolvers.
.357 Magnum Caliber
This caliber round has more stopping power than any other handgun round, however .357 Magnums have a lot of blast and kick. If you are not comfortable with such powerful recoil and kick I would suggest that you use a lower caliber round. The ability to effectively control your firearm is also important, and you will be able to fire lower-recoil rounds more rapidly and accurately. Another benefit is that the .357 Magnum and the .44 Magnum revolvers that are chambered for these rounds will also fire the .38 Special and the .44 Special, respectively. This versatility allows you to fire the less expensive Special ammunition for practice and the more expensive Magnum ammunition for defense. Revolvers cambered for .357 Mag. can be loaded with .38 Spl. for recoil-sensitive family members. The reverse, however, does not apply.
The 9x19MM Parabellum cartridge, like the .45 ACP, has been around since before World War I. It is a round that originated in Europe, for the Luger pistol, which is why it is measured in millimeters, rather than fractions of an inch. The bullet diameter is the equivalent to .35 caliber.
.40 S&W Caliber
.45 ACP Caliber
The .45 ACP is an excellent cartridge for self defense. Big, loud and powerful and is nearly half an inch in diameter! Because of its blast and recoil, the .45 ACP is a round that is best handled by the experienced shooter. This does not exclude women! My Kimber .45 Tactical Ultra Carry is overall my favorite gun, hands down! The .45 ACP’s relatively large mass bullet and slower travel, means there is less chance of over penetration. Using a hollow point bullet reduces this risk even further as all of the bullets kinetic energy is again transferred to it’s target. Stopping power is obviously a big key factor here, the .45 is a time tested effective caliber. This caliber ammunition is more expensive than say a 9mm, but again this is going to be one of those things that may be worth the extra money.
The choice of which caliber to use for home defense; of course is a personal one. Your size, sensitivity to recoil, your home environment and preference for a revolver or pistol are all important to consider in making these choices.
I have done some training with a hand held flashlight as well as with a light mounted on the firearm. I must say it was a real challenge to get coordinated and shoot straight dealing with a handheld light. Of course practice is key and getting yourself trained to position and use it effectively is key. Using a firearm mounted light in practice clearing a dark home was much more effective. I could move with ease and know I could put the light where I wanted it, when I wanted it without fumbling. I also leaves the second hand totally available for better grip or perhaps maneuvering, opening doors or even shielding a family member. Here is a great article on using firearm mounted lights by Shooting Illustrated.
I am certainly no ballistics expert and have based all of the above on research, my personal experience and those of other fellow female shooters.
The most important thing when making the decision on which is the best gun for home defense is to get a gun that you like, feels good in your hand, is comfortable to shoot and one you want to shoot. An inexperienced shooter, with any caliber, will not be anywhere near as able to defend themselves as an experienced shooter with even a less-than-desirable caliber. So, practice and lots of it is not only fun, but necessary to confidently and successfully defend yourself and your home with your gun.