Seven Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying a Home-Defense Firearm

If you’ve decided to purchase a firearm for home defense, congratulations. It’s a big decision, and you are to be commended for being willing to take on the responsibilities that come with owning a firearm and being willing and prepared, to deploy it in order to protect your home and your loved ones. While deciding to acquire a firearm for home defense is a big decision, it is only one of several you’ll need to make to ensure you acquire the right firearm for your circumstances and needs.

Before you can make informed decisions to dial in just the right home-defense gun, you first need to ask the right questions. Here are some of the questions you should be asking before rushing out to buy a firearm to defend your home.

1. Which basic type of firearm should I purchase?

There are three basic types of firearms: rifles, shotguns, and pistols. Rifles shoot a projectile called a bullet, while shotguns shoot pellets that spread out as they leave the muzzle. However, a shotgun can also shoot a rifled slug, which is a single projectile that acts like a bullet but is heavier, less streamlined, and has less range and velocity than a bullet fired from a rifle. Pistols also fire bullets but, because they have shorter barrels and typically use less powerful ammunition, their projectiles don’t reach the same velocities or have the same range as those fired from a rifle.     

For home defense, range isn’t really an issue since any shots fired will likely be from close distances and all three types of firearms are effective at close range. If there’s an aggressor in your home, stopping power—the ability to cause sufficient damage to effectively stop them—is more important and, again, all three of these firearms are more than capable of stopping a threat at home-defense ranges.   

There are distinct advantages and disadvantages associated with each type of firearm. A rifle, for example, in the hands of a skilled user is highly accurate, so it can be easier to put shots where you want them with a rifle than a pistol, which has a shorter barrel, so even the slightest jerk or flinch is greatly amplified. On the other hand, a pistol is more compact and easily maneuvered in close-quarter situations. Because a shotgun sprays pellets that disperse with distance, your aim does not need to be as true, so it can be effective even if your aim isn’t dead center. But that also means shots fired from a shotgun may be more likely to hit something or someone near your target you don’t want to hit. A shotgun is also the most versatile of the three types of firearms because it can fire a shell containing pellets or a rifled slug.

So, which one is right for you?

Nope, just knowing the three types of firearms available for home defense is not enough. There are other questions you need to ask and answer, first.  

2. What is my living situation and home layout?

Where you live and how close in proximity you are to other people should be considered in selecting a home-defense firearm. Projectiles fired don’t always hit their intended target and, even if they do, they could pass through your target or through a wall, causing injury or death to an innocent person behind them. 

So, if you live in an apartment with neighbors on each side of you, a rifle may not be the best home-defense choice simply because a bullet traveling at a high velocity has a chance of going through a wall, even if it hits your target. A pistol that fires a heavier, slower-moving bullet may be a better, safer choice. Same holds true for a shotgun, which has a lot of stopping power but not a lot of velocity or range. But, if you live in a stand-alone home that’s not near other homes, a rifle may be a good choice. 

3. Which type of action do I want my firearm to have?

The action of a firearm is the mechanism that loads, fires, and ejects a round of ammunition. There are several types of actions, including but not limited to:The action of a firearm is the mechanism that loads, fires, and ejects a round of ammunition. There are several types of actions, including but not limited to:    

  • Pump Action: Most common on shotguns, this type of action requires the shooter to pump the forend back and forth to eject the case of the spent round and load another fresh round. After every shot, the gun must be pumped to cycle another round.
  • Semi-Automatic: This type of action is found on rifles, shotguns, and pistols and uses the expelled gasses of a fired round to cycle the action, ejecting the case of the spent round and loading another fresh round. Every time you pull the trigger, a round fires and a spent round ejects, until the ammunition in the firearm’s magazine is empty.
  • Lever Action: Found on rifles and some shotguns, this is like the rifles seen in Western movies, where a lever must be pushed forward and pulled back to eject the case of the spent round and load a new round. The lever must be operated after every shot to keep firing.
  • Bolt Action: Found on rifles, with this type of action, you must lift the bolt handle and then pull the bolt assembly back to eject the case of a fired round. A new live round is then fed into the breech from the magazine, and then the bolt must be slid forward and the bolt handle pushed down to fire another round.
  • Revolver: This type of action is found on pistols and uses a revolving cylinder that holds a designated number of rounds. When the hammer is cocked, or the trigger is pulled, the cylinder revolves, aligning another round with the barrel so it’s ready to be fired. Shell cases are not ejected with a revolver; the cylinder must be released and opened to empty the empty cases manually.
  • Hinge Action: This type of action can be found on rifles, shotguns, and pistols. A locking hinge opens and closes the firearm, exposing the breech. Ammunition cartridges must be loaded manually. On some hinge-action firearms the spent case ejects when the hinge is opened, on others, you must remove it manually. Hinge-action firearms may have two barrels, either side by side or over and under, or only one, which determines whether the gun can shoot one or two rounds before it needs to be manually reloaded.

The type of action you choose will determine how many shots you’ll be able to fire before the firearm needs to be reloaded. For example, if you have a semi-automatic pistol with a 10-round magazine, you will have a total of eleven shots (10 in the magazine plus one in the chamber) at your disposal before you’d need to reload. If you have a pump shotgun with a tube magazine, you may have six to ten shots available. And, if you have a single-barrel hinge-action rifle, you would only have one shot before you’d need to reload the gun.

In deciding which type of action you want, consider how many rounds you want at your disposal. It’s better to have too many than too few, but having the maximum amount isn’t necessarily optimum. For example, if you’ve set up an AR-15 with a 100-round extended magazine, it’s highly doubtful you’re going to need 100 rounds for most home-defense situations, and that heavier, longer magazine could weigh you down or make your rifle less maneuverable.

It's also important to figure out which type of action you prefer and are most comfortable with. Which brings us to our next question…   

4. How comfortable and proficient am I—or will I be—with the firearm?

Much of this will come down to your training, but personal preference comes into play as well. For example, even though a semi-auto pistol may be lighter weight or easier to fire than a revolver, there are folks out there who swear by revolvers and shoot better with revolvers. There are also people who prefer a pump-action shotgun to a semi-auto even though it takes an extra step to cycle a round with a pump. 

No matter which firearm you ultimately go with, make sure you train and are proficient with it. A firearm in the hands of an untrained, unskilled owner can do more damage than good—even if it’s being used for defensive purposes.

5. Which caliber do I want?

Let’s say you’ve decided on a type of gun and an action. Well, now you need to choose a caliber, and there are many choices. For example, if you opt to go with a rifle, should you go with a 5.56mm round, which most AR-15-style rifles are chambered in, or should you get a bigger caliber, say, a .308? Or, if you’re going with a pistol, should you buy one that fires a 9mm Luger round or a .45 ACP round? Or if you decide on a shotgun, should you go with a 12 gauge or a 20 gauge?

There are lots of opinions and lots of written words on choosing the right caliber out there, and if you ask any two “experts,” chances are good they’ll disagree. There is no “right” answer, but suffice it to say that, in choosing a caliber for home defense, you should consider stopping power. A heavier, slower-moving projectile will typically have more stopping power than a lighter projectile with more velocity. But this is not written in stone, especially given there are many different types of loads and projectiles to choose from with ammunition. For example, a hollow point 9mm bullet could prove to be more effective at stopping an aggressor than a rounded bullet on a larger caliber.

Another consideration is which caliber are you most comfortable with. Because, if you’re not comfortable shooting a bigger caliber with more recoil, you may be more likely to miss because you flinched or tensed up anticipating recoil. So, even though a pistol chambered in .45 may conceivably have more stopping power than one chambered in 9mm, if you’re more comfortable and a better shot with the 9mm pistol, then the latter is a better choice for you. Because the odds of a missed shot stopping an aggressor are not good, no matter how big the caliber of that missed shot was.

6. How quickly do I want to be able to access my firearm?

In a home-defense situation, a firearm that’s not easily accessible isn’t of much use. But it also needs to be stored safely—especially if you have children living in or visiting your home.

As far as accessibility goes, a pistol in a locked handgun safe on the nightstand is hard to beat. It is locked up and not easily accessible to children, but should you need quick access, you can have it in your hand in seconds—especially if it opens with a code or your fingerprint.

If you opt for a shotgun or rifle, chances are you won’t have a full-sized gun safe next to your bed. But there are still ways to safely store a long gun and have it easily accessible, such as putting it on a rack out of reach of any kids.

No matter how you choose to store your go-to home-defense firearm, make sure you practice accessing and deploying it so it becomes second nature should you hear a crash or thud downstairs in the middle of the night.    

7. Which firearm manufacturer should I choose?

Once you’ve figured out the type of firearm, the action, the caliber, and which firearm will work best for your living situation, it’s time to decide which manufacturer to go with. Suffice it to say that, if you’re purchasing a gun to protect your home and those you love—two of the most precious things you’ll ever have in your life—don’t go with a less reputable brand to save a few bucks. You may only ever need to put that home-defense firearm into action once in your lifetime, but you damn sure need to know that it’s going to be reliable and accurate when you do.

There are lots of reliable manufacturers out there, in many different price points to appeal to all types of consumers. But whatever your price point is, do your research, read reviews, and ask people you trust which manufacturer they trust.

If you’ve made a short list of manufacturers, the next step is to go into a gun store and actually hold the firearm to see how it feels and, just as importantly, how it fits you. If you get a chance to fire a rifle, pistol, or shotgun you’re considering buying before making a purchase, even better. There’s no better way to figure out how a gun fits and feels—and how you shoot with it—than to actually test-fire it.

Final Thoughts

Once you’ve found the firearm to be your go-to home-defense gun, please, please, please don’t think your job is over. The importance of training, retraining, and practicing with the firearm to stay sharp and proficient, and safe with it can’t be overemphasized. Even if you own the finest home-defense gun in the world, if you’re unsure, inept, or unsafe with it, you may as well be unarmed and take your chances.