What Is the Best Weapon for Home Defense? Well, It Depends
Jeff K. is a 53-year-old entrepreneur and well-established business owner who splits his time between New York City and Key Biscayne, Florida. He has never bought or even shot a gun, but like many Americans, the uncertainty related to the upcoming election and the potential for ensuing unrest—regardless of who ends up winning—has him considering purchasing a firearm.
“It’s something I can honestly say I never considered until maybe the last six months. I don’t have anything against guns, but they aren’t something that I was ever personally drawn towards,” he told Worth via a Zoom call from the palm-tree shaded veranda of his Tuscany-style South Florida villa. “In New York, we live on the Upper West Side in a secure building, and down here, even though we live in a gated community with security, sometimes I feel like that added protection of having a gun would give me some additional peace of mind. Especially with the pandemic and everything else that is going on.”
Everything else that is going on. Sounds like a strong candidate for the tagline of 2020.
It’s no secret that this year has been one most Americans would just as soon put to bed and leave for the historians to dissect, but with just two months left, the country is still writing out many of the year’s major story lines. We are days away from what has been a hotly contested national election, in the throes of an economic upheaval that has seen the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ widen even further, reeling from a spate of high-profile cases that have put a spotlight on the country’s lingering racial tensions and contending with a pandemic that has claimed well north of 225,000 lives in the United States alone, infecting over nine million.
Tensions are high, to put it mildly. And since the beginning of the pandemic, gun sales are soaring, while sporting goods stores and gun stores have seen a run on ammunition. In March, when the coronavirus pandemic first took hold, the FBI processed 3.7 million firearms background checks—the most since it began keeping track in 1998—only to be surpassed by June, when it conducted a record-setting 3.9 million record checks. Overall, 2020 gun sales are up well over 100 percent from 2019. And nearly half of these guns and ammo sales are to first-time gun owners.
America, it would seem, is stocking up.
Jeff K., who estimates his net worth between $20 and $30 million, is not alone in his thinking; like many of the nation’s high net worth individuals, many are considering purchasing their first weapon for the purposes of home defense—a direct response to all of this uncertainty that has become the hallmark of 2020. For Jeff, the images of Mark and Patricia McCloskey of St. Louis defending their home, pointing a pistol and an assault rifle at a group of protesters who had passed through their gated community, struck a chord. But it’s not just Republicans who are worried about unrest; wealthy Americans across the political spectrum are flocking to gun stores with a newfound appreciation for the Second Amendment.
According to official FBI statistics, in 2019, there were nearly seven million property crime offenses in the U.S., or nearly 20,000 a day, resulting in losses surpassing $16 billion. Few reliable statistics are available regarding “home invasions”—the act of unlawfully entering a home with the intent to commit crimes such as theft, robbery, sexual assault, murder or kidnapping—because “home invasion” is not defined as a crime in its own right in most jurisdictions; nonetheless, many sources estimate that each year over one million home invasions occur across the U.S., or well over 2,500 home invasions every day.
Keeping Your Loved Ones Safe
I’ve been approached in recent months by a wide variety of well-off friends and acquaintances from across the political spectrum looking for advice on firearms for first-time gun owners, many of them coming to me with the same question: What is the best gun I should get to keep my family safe?
As a gun owner, collector and enthusiast, and given my relatively prominent stature in the media as a columnist for several national publications, as well as my history of working with political figures from both parties, many feel I can be an honest, ideologically neutral, broker in talking about firearms. The vast majority of gun-related queries I have fielded in recent month are centered around the question of home defense. Many first-time gun buyers are intimidated by walking into a gun store. They don’t want to be sold a weapon that serves the interests of the salesman but isn’t a good fit for their own home protection needs.
My goal in putting this list together is not to convince anyone to buy a firearm, nor is it to change anyone’s opinion about guns in general—whatever that opinion may be; rather, if you have already decided on, or are leaning towards, purchasing a firearm for the purposes of home defense, I believe this simple and practical introduction will contain some valuable information—especially for first-time gun buyers. One of the criticisms that I have of typical gun reviews on YouTube enthusiast channels and firearms-focused websites is that the content is either inordinately technical and presupposes quite a bit of familiarity with the different types of weapons available, how they operate, the difference among calibers and grains and other information that is overly detailed for a first-time gun buyer, or its absolutely juvenile, focusing more on seeing how different rounds blow up watermelons or bottles of Coke. The purpose of this article is not to be a comprehensive, all-encompassing exposition on firearms or home defense; rather, my intention is to give readers—particularly those coming at the topic from a high net worth perspective—a good starting point.
There is an important caveat worth noting: When it comes to purchasing a firearm for the purposes of home defense—particularly for high net worth individuals—an expensive gun is not necessarily a better gun for home defense, although certainly there are some exceptions. Also, equally importantly, there is no universally accepted “best gun”—it all depends on an individual’s particular circumstances; namely, what you are trying to defend, who is in your house, how much training you have or are willing to get and a variety of other important factors worth considering.
Making a Plan to Get Your Family to Safety
Before we discuss firearms, the most important aspect of home defense is a developing a well-thought-out and rehearsed plan, as well as contingency plans, to deal with the unexpected. The primary objective of any home security plan is simple: Get all occupants to a safe, defendable room or space, and have the ability to call 911. Backup plans may include finding multiple means of egress from the dwelling or apartment building where you live, as well as strategically placed access to backup weapons and communications devices.
On a final note, I would be remiss in tackling this subject if I failed to point out that even though this is an article about purchasing a weapon for home defense, the best defense is to never have to use your weapon in the first place. Discharging a firearm for home defense should always be thought of as a tactic of absolute last resort. Home defense is not an exercise in machismo; rather, it’s about creating options for keeping your loved ones safe and giving you peace of mind.
Home Defense 101: Stick to Handguns and Shotguns
Despite rigorous planning and rehearsing and taking all possible steps to avoid a lethal confrontation, you should be prepared physically, mentally and emotionally for the possibility that you may have to discharge a weapon to defend yourself and other family members. Finding the right weapon can seem like a daunting task to a first-time gun buyer. If you have ever walked into a sporting goods store where guns are sold, it will be immediately obvious that there are a nearly infinite number of types of guns, brands and ammunition calibers from which to choose; for home defense, it’s imperative you find the right one for you and your circumstances.
Of course, in any potentially lethal confrontation, any gun of any caliber is better than no gun at all, but for the purposes of home defense, there are really only two types of weapons homeowners should seriously consider purchasing: handguns and shotguns. High-powered AR-style rifles, as well as most other rifle styles, are either overly unwieldy or too powerful for most home invasion situations.
In just about every home defense planning scenario, one of the most important considerations is overpenetration. Understanding the shot radius and depth of a given weapon and the round its firing in your yard, house or apartment is critical. It’s not only about what you’re shooting at, but what lies behind, to the sides of and, in some cases, above and below your target. Shooting an intruder with an overly powerful round could result in the bullet not only passing through the intruder, but through the wall behind him, into a nearby child’s bedroom and possibly through an exterior wall and into a neighbor’s house or apartment. It is imperative that the weapon you choose has enough stopping power to end any potential confrontation quickly and decisively, but without inadvertently endangering loved ones or neighbors nearby. All guns are extremely powerful, and when using them, it’s critical to understand their penetrating power and have a sense for your surrounding environs.
For example, the 9mm handgun is generally regarded as an effective weapon for self-defense; a typical discharged 9mm round travels at around 1,200 FPS (feet per second) and delivers a kinetic energy of 400 foot-pounds. By comparison, a typical .308 Winchester round shot from an AR-15 rifle travels nearly three times as fast and delivers stopping power of over 2,600 foot-pounds—more than enough to not only pierce through your home’s internal drywall and the structure’s external walls, but possibly into adjacent structures and dwellings.
Due to this concept of overpenetration, I don’t recommend high-caliber pistols (anything above a .357 magnum) nor slugs for shotguns for home defense.
Training Is Key
The second golden rule of firearms in a home defense setting is training. If you are unable or unwilling to spend the time to understand your weapons, how they work and how to maintain them, as well as being willing to put in the necessary hours at the firing range to become proficient with them, it’s best not to have any at all; you could be putting yourself and your family in more danger by attempting to wield a weapon that won’t function properly or that you do not know how to use under duress.
Most of us can probably talk on a cell phone with one hand and reach into a pocket with the other to locate the key fob to unlock our car, without giving it much thought. Using a firearm must be just as easy, but it takes many more hours of practice and preparation. Capable home defenders must be familiar with their firearms and how they work; they must practice retrieving, loading and clearing jams in their weapons in daylight and in the dark. And one final point that should not be overlooked: Every home defense gun should be equipped with a reliable weapon-mounted flashlight, or at least stored with a working flashlight for positively identifying your target. You always want to be sure of your target before you shoot.
Ammunition can also be a very daunting topic for first-time gun owners. If you visit sites like GunBroker.com, you will find thousands of different calibers and gauges, brands, weights and styles of ammunition. But let’s simplify—for home defense, there are really only three different types of ammunition you need to consider:
1. 9x19mm ‘Parabellum’
This is a type of ammunition that goes by many names; whether you call it the 9mm Luger, 9mm Parabellum, 9mm NATO, 9x19mm, or just plain 9mm, the 9x19mm caliber ammunition is the most popular cartridge for handguns in the world. In fact, more than 60 percent of the world’s law enforcement agencies currently use this type of ammo for their sidearms. Since the mid-1990s, the 9mm platform has gained significant traction among civilian gun owners as well, with many moving away from revolvers that shot larger rounds like the .38 Special and .357 Magnum, and began favoring 9mm semi-automatic handguns. According to the 15th edition of Cartridges of the World, 9mm ammunition leads the entire market, making up over 20 percent of the global ammunition stock.
Many novice shooters who buy 9mm ammo can easily get confused parsing the differences between 9mm Luger vs. 9mm NATO vs. 9mm Parabellum vs. 9x19mm. The simple answer is that it’s all pretty much the same—other than the NATO round is a bit heavier giving it slightly more punch. The 9x19mm Parabellum is an ammunition cartridge with a bullet measuring 9mm in diameter and a casing that measures 19mm in length. The name “Parabellum” comes from the motto of the first company to manufacture 9x19mm ammo, the German munitions manufacturer Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken, or DWM. Their Latin motto, “Si vis pacem, para bellum,” translates to “if you want peace, prepare for war,” giving the round its nickname meaning “prepare for war.” The cartridge is also often labeled as the 9mm Luger, named after Georg Luger, the inventor of the round.
Among the most important aspects of this particular round of ammunition is that it is widely available and can be used in a variety of handguns as well as some AR-style pistols. A .357 round has more stopping power than a 9mm round, but the 9mm has considerably less recoil—which has made it more popular for self-defense.
Below I will review a number of handguns suitable for many self-defense and home-defense situations that fire the 9mm Parabellum round.
2. #000 Buck .410 Bore Shot Shells
“Triple-aught” Buck .410 Bore, as it’s known, is the smallest commonly available shotgun gauge and is an excellent choice for home defense but for a very specific set of weapons, namely the Taurus Judge line, including the Public Defender (reviewed below), and the slightly more expensive Smith & Wesson Governor. Both are small revolvers that are chambered to fire a typical 45 Colt round as well as the .410 Bore shell. These guns’ ability to discharge the .410 essentially turns them into handheld shotguns, which makes them particularly attractive for some home defense scenarios. It should be noted that these types of weapons are generally not legal in California, which has the nation’s strongest gun regulations, but are available and sold in the other 49 states.
When it comes to defense, .410 gauge shells are by no means the equal of other shotgun rounds such as 12-gauge shot shells, the traditional gauge used for home defense, or its slightly less powerful cousin, the 20-gauge shot shell. But the .410 Bore’s ability to deliver ample stopping power from a handgun is particularly useful in close quarters where maneuverability is an issue and there is a concern about overpenetration. It’s worth noting that using a gun like a Judge or a Governor presents a curious loophole in shotgun law, which normally regulates short-barreled shotguns. Just because a shotgun shell has been inserted into a handgun, doesn’t make the handgun a shotgun from a legal perspective. For this reason, .410 Bore shotgun rounds can be fired from much shorter barrels than would be legally allowed with an actual shotgun.
#000 Buckshot refers to the size of the pellets within the shell, and #000 Buckshot pellets provide ample stopping power for a small gauge shot shell. Some firearms experts may argue that you wouldn’t want to make .410 Bore your primary go-to for home defense, but when one considers that in a situation of duress, such as a home invasion, no matter how many hours you put in at the range, the likelihood of keeping good aim is significantly reduced; the .410 Bore shell will spray a number of large size pellets across a rather large shot radius. You may have to squeeze the trigger several times to deliver the same degree of stopping power of a 9mm handgun, but rest assured, you can be off with your aim a bit and still hit your target with some of the pellets.
There are several handgun platforms chambered to handle the .410 Bore cartridge, most notably, the Taurus Judge, Smith & Wesson Governor and Magnum Research’s Big Frame Revolver (BFR). While the first two are designed for personal defense, the BFR was designed primarily as a hunting handgun.
3. #00 Buck 2 3/4” 12-Gauge Shot Shells
12-gauge #00 (pronounced ‘double-aught’) Buckshot is probably the most widely available type of shotgun ammo of all time. Due to its tremendous stopping power, it’s also one of the most common types of ammunition for home defense. With relatively low recoil, a #00 Buckshot shell sends nine large caliber pellets flying at over 1,300 feet per second—powerful enough to go through car doors, metal panels and whatever else you may be shooting and the reason why homeowners need to diligently assess whether this is a truly appropriate type of ammo for their particular home defense environs. Although each individual pellet doesn’t carry a great deal of energy on its own, together, when all nine pellets strike a target, a massive wound channel is created, providing instant stopping power.
A great thing about #00 Buckshot ammo is that it’s carried almost universally in all gun shops and sporting goods stores that sell hunting ammunition, both brick-and-mortar and online. It’s also available directly online from most manufacturers, such as Federal Premium Ammunition.
And lastly, before I introduce a number of specific firearms to consider for home defense, I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight the importance of finding proper storage for your guns. Where and how you store your weapons is critical, particularly if you have children of any age with regular access to your home. It’s important to store weapons and ammo in easily accessible yet secure and well-hidden locations.
With all of that in mind, here are a number of firearms that are currently available across most jurisdictions in the United States that I have been recommending for high net worth individuals who are first-time gun purchasers. This is not a ranking, nor should it even be thought of as a definitive list; it’s merely a starting point. Remember, when it comes to self-defense and home defense, one person’s needs may be completely inappropriate for another’s.
1. The Benelli M4 Tactical Shotgun With Pistol Grip
Finish: Black Synthetic Titanium Cerakote
Recommended Load: #00 Buck Shot
Barrel Length: 18.5″
Magazine Capacity: 5 + 1
When it comes to debating which is the best shotgun brand in the world, almost anyone with knowledge of the subject would put Benelli near the top. Since the late 1960s, this Italian arms maker has more than established itself as the Mercedes-Benz of high-quality shotguns.
The Benelli M4 is a good candidate for the best gas-powered shotgun in the world. With its stock retracted, the M4’s overall length is a mere 35 inches—less than a yard stick—making it incredibly compact and ideal for moving around in close quarters. Its dual-piston gas system self-cleans, meaning it is accessible to first-time gun owners. Perhaps most importantly, the gun is rugged; in fact, it was originally designed for the U.S. Marine Corps. It can withstand water, mud—you name it—and still performs reliably. And at just under eight-and-a-half pounds, the gun is extremely light to carry—even when the extra weight of the shotgun shells is factored in. With its pistol grip, which gives it excellent recoil distribution, this is one gun made for discharging shells at a rapid clip—a key feature one should look for in a home defense shotgun.
2. The 1911 TRS Comp by Nighthawk
Finish: Black Nitride
Recommended Load: 9mm Luger 115 Grain
Barrel Length: 6″ with Compressor
Magazine Capacity: 17 +1 rounds
Price: $4,599 with Compressor
For the uninitiated, the Berryville, Ark.-headquartered Nighthawk Custom Firearms is widely considered—pardon my continuance of the car metaphors—as the Bentley of handguns. Their steep price tags puts its firearms far out of the reach for the average gun consumer, but for someone of means who is interested not only in reliability and usability, but also aesthetics and user experience, nothing beats the 1911 TRS Comp by Nighthawk.
This model features an integrated compensator which reduces recoil and makes the gun a pleasure to shoot at the range, allowing the shooter to get ample practice without tiring. In a potentially lethal home defense confrontation, the low recoil enables the home defender to stay on target for follow-up shots if needed.
The TRS (Tactical Ready Series) was designed to answer the demand for high-capacity pistols, enabling the magazine to hold 17 rounds plus an additional round in the chamber. Its 18K gold bead front sight does an excellent job catching light, providing quick target acquisition for the shooter, with a useful rear sight. The TRS Comp utilizes unique dimples at the rear of the slide, matching the pattern of the grip; this design feature provides a nonabrasive surface that won’t snag on clothing or when trying to retrieve from a hidden location. The trigger pull is light and easy.
3. Kel-Tec KSG
Finish: Black Tungsten
Recommended Load: #00 Buck Shot
Barrel Length: 18.5” Bullpup
Magazine Capacity: 7+7+1 2 3/4” Shot Shells
Florida-based Kel-Tec is owned by Swedish firearms designer George Kellgren, and his company’s weapons are well known for their European aesthetic and design. The KSG is the largest capacity shotgun on the civilian market and would make a unique addition to any gun owner’s collection.
Most shotguns have fairly small internal magazines; a conventionally laid out shotgun has a tubular magazine that runs underneath the barrel, feeding a pump or semi-automatic operating system. In this typical design configuration, the length of the barrel generally restricts the capacity of the magazine, with short barrel shotguns suffering the most. A Mossberg 590 shotgun with an 18.5-inch barrel, for example, can only store seven 12-gauge shells.
But the Kel-Tec KSG shotgun flips conventional wisdom on its head, producing a shotgun that holds up to 15 (7+7+1) 2 3/4” shotgun shells without the need for reloading. For the record, I cannot imagine any real-life home defense scenario in which you would need 15 shotgun shells. The KSG’s Bullpup design, in which the action is located behind the trigger, delivers a shotgun that measures slightly shorter than most tactical shotguns on the market. Unlike the Benelli M4, the KSG is pump-action, eliminating the variability of a gas system, putting the reliability in the hands of the user.
The Kel-Tec KSG is legal in all 50 states in a 26.1” package. It comes with Picatinny-style rails for mounting your lights and other favorite accessories on both the top and bottom.
4. The Stoeger Double Defense Over-Under
Finish: Black-Finished Walnut
Gauge: 12-Gauge (Also available in 20-Gauge)
Recommended Load: #00 Buck Shot
Barrel Length: 20″
Magazine Capacity: 1+1 2 3/4” or 3” Shot Shells
The Brazilian-made Stoeger Double Defense Over-Under shotgun is a rugged and reliable option for home defense. With a traditional break-action and short, efficient design, it’s easy to load and quick to deploy in an emergency, although prepare yourself for quite a bit of kick. It only fires two shells, but that is more than enough stopping power to de-escalate almost any home invasion situation. I recommend adding a side saddle with more shells just in case. It’s ideal for tight quarters and tense situations.
5. Taurus Judge Public Defender®
Finish: Black or Green Polymer
Caliber/Gauge: 45 Colt / .410 Bore
Recommended Load: .410 Bore Shot Shell #000 Buck
Barrel Length: 2.5”
Magazine Capacity: 5
Forjas Taurus is a Brazilian manufacturing conglomerate based in Rio Grande do Sul in the South of Brazil. Its arms manufacturing division, Taurus Armas, is considered one of the world’s most reliable manufacturers of handguns. The company’s Judge Public Defender is a little hand-cannon that holds 45 Colt bullets or, more importantly, five .410 Bore shotgun shells—the only real reason to buy this weapon.
With a small barrel and weighing a mere 27 ounces unloaded, the Judge Public Defender is extremely lightweight and easy to carry and aim by almost anyone, regardless of stature or strength. The grips are rubber—Taurus calls them “Ribber” grips for the stylized ribs running horizontally across the handle—and easily conform to your hand, although it might be a bit small for a man with larger hands.
In a home defense situation, the Judge Public Defender’s rifled barrel shoots in a relatively tight shot radius, which means you don’t have to be needle-accurate; you will hit what you’re aiming at, even if you are several feet off, with ample stopping power to get the job done. This is a terrific front-line home defense gun. It is much shorter (and lighter) than any shotgun, which removes some of the wariness one might have of wielding a long gun in a house or apartment—particularly if there are narrow hallways and tight corners. Its compact size means you can hide and secure it almost anywhere.
6. Chiappa Rhino 40DS
Finish: Black Anodized Frame, Blued Cylinder with Medium Walnut Grip
Caliber: 9mm Parabellum
Recommended Load: 9mm Luger 115 Grain
Barrel Length: 4”
Magazine Capacity: 6 rounds
From a design perspective, you will either love or hate this Italian firearms manufacturer’s post-modern Chiappa Rhino line. Aesthetics aside, all of the rugged durability and reliability you would want in a sidearm is there.
Like the Judge Public Defender, the Chiappa Rhino 40DS is a revolver, which means that from a mechanical perspective, it has a slightly more reliable design mechanism (i.e., less likely to jam or misfire) than a semi-automatic pistol. The uniqueness of the Rhino revolver design owes itself to a lower bore axis compared to most other revolvers, which means the barrel is directly in line with the shooter’s hand, wrist and arm. The result is almost no muzzle rise and, because the energy of each round is better absorbed and controlled by the entire arm, the shooter feels considerably less recoil.
7. Black Aces Tactical Mossberg 590 Shockwave
Finish: Cerakote Non-Reflective Stainless Finish with Aftermarket Walnut Furniture Kit
Caliber: 12-Gauge (also available in 20-Gauge and .410 Bore)
Recommended Load: #00 Buck Shot
Barrel Length: 18.5”
Magazine Capacity: 6+1 2 3/4” Shotgun Shells
O.F. Mossberg & Sons is one of America’s most iconic shotgun manufacturers. The Connecticut-based company also make pistols and rifles, as well as the 590 Shockwave, a 12-Gauge unclassified yet legal firearm that is 26.5” in length with a 14” barrel and a 5-round tubular magazine. Technically, due to ATF rules that determine what is and is not a shotgun (namely that shotguns must be fired from the shoulder), the Mossberg 590 Shockwave is classified as a legal firearm that shoots 12-Gauge shot shells from the hip. Either way, this is a very compact and powerful weapon that some have taken to calling a “scattergun,” and, as opposed to more novelty weapons, like the Rossi 12-Gauge break-action shotgun pistol, this weapon is one that should be considered as a secondary weapon for many home defense planning scenarios.
Black Aces Tactical, a Florida-based aftermarket custom firearms outfit, has improved upon the Shockwave by offering an array of customized tactical accessories like a quad rail, bayonet magazine stub, side shell holder and a beautiful wood furniture package that adds class and style, making the Mossberg 590 Shockwave a truly beautiful firearm to own.
8. Nighthawk Custom Overseer Model 6
Finish: Black Matte Blued
Recommended Load: #00 Buck Shot
Barrel Length: 26”
Magazine Capacity: 7+1 2¾” Shotgun Shells
Mark Stone, the affable owner of Nighthawk Custom Firearms, might quite possibly be the nicest man in the firearms industry, but any intruder having to face a homeowner wielding his Nighthawk Model 6 Shotgun might beg to differ. This is one weapon that packs a lot of punch, and then some. The Overseer Model 6 is a modified Remington 870 Express shotgun. Nighthawk adds customized rails and sights, a six-round Side Saddle, a collapsible stock, pistol grip, dual mode light and 3-Shot Shell Extension Breaching Device. It just might be the most complete home defense shotgun package on the market.
9. SIG Sauer P938 Blackwood Micro-Compact
Finish: Hard Coat Anodized Carbon Steel
Recommended Load: 9mm Luger 115 Grain
Barrel Length: 3”
Magazine Capacity: 6 rounds
Originally a company of Swiss origin, and now part of German holding company Lüke & Ortmeier Gruppe, arms manufacturer SIG Sauer is one of the most important names in firearms. Although they make a variety of weapons systems, they are best known for their semi-automatic handguns.
Weighing just 16 ounces, the SIG Sauer P938 9mm is the perfect conceal weapon. For home defense, it can be stashed just about anywhere, making it an excellent back-up weapon for the kitchen, office, home bar, pool house or any other number of areas throughout the house. It is extremely reliable, easy to fire and can be ready for use even after an extended period of time without being shot or cleaned.