August 10, 2022

Armed thieves entering a house and threatening man

In today’s world, there are countless firearms available for home defense. You will no doubt find many recommendations, especially for new shooters, whether you want them or not. The recommendations about which firearm makes the best home-defensive tool can really be confusing. I will readily admit that there are lots of choices, some better than others — depending on numerous variables that need to be considered.

Most people with average shooting experience consider a handgun to be the overall choice for home defense. Others say a 12 gauge shotgun is the ultimate tool for defending one’s domicile. And then there are those who argue the AR in one of its many configurations to be the king of the self-defense hill.

Para-Ordnance P12-45 with custom touches by Austin Behlert
A discontinued Para-Ordnance P12-45 with custom touches by the late Austin Behlert is one of the author’s carry choices.

Under specific conditions, I could make an argument for any of those. However, more often than not, none of those would be my first choice — especially for someone new to shooting. Let’s take a quick look at each platform and consider the realistic pros and cons before I make my recommendations.

The Handgun

The handgun gets the most press coverage, and for concealed carry, it is the most convenient choice. Although it is true that every creature that walks the earth has succumbed to a handgun, most of the handguns involved were specifically designed for hunting. Hunting handguns are most often beyond the skill of the average shooter. I know, I have hunted with handguns and have taken animals as large and dangerous as bears.

The truth is, and you can quote me: The chief asset of a handgun is its portability, not its power. If that is true, why would you choose a handgun to save your life? Wouldn’t you want the biggest and baddest gun this side of a 155 Howitzer to defend yourself?

There is no question that a handgun is easy to carry and conceal, because of its size and weight. Even, a full-size handgun — such as a 1911 — will carry and conceal on an average person without much effort. Handguns are relatively available in many makes, sizes, styles, calibers. They are also affordable compared to some other options.

So, why are they not number one on my recommendation list? Handguns require lots of time, practice, and dedication to learn to shoot well enough for you to depend on to save your life. Human nature being what it is, most folks go to the gun shop and buy the handgun the salesman convinces them is the magic ogre slayer.

Ed LaPorta with a trophy boar he took with a S&W Mod. 57, .41 Magnum
The author with a large Monterey County trophy boar he took with a S&W Mod. 57, .41 Magnum.

They take said handgun to the range once, put a box of ammo through it, take it home, stow it in the night table and believe they are Wyatt Earp. That may be scary but it’s true. As an instructor, it never ceases to amaze me how many people don’t think they need to practice or be trained. Just because Uncle Johnny took you rabbit hunting when you were a kid, doesn’t mean you know how to shoot — let alone survive a gunfight.

Because of the size and convenience of defensive handguns, their calibers and power are comparatively limited. The most popular defensive handgun calibers are: .380 ACP, .38 Special, 9mm, and .45 ACP. As I said, of the most popular calibers, not all the calibers are recommended for self-defense. The most popular platforms or type of handguns for self-defense are the double-action revolver and the semi-automatic pistol, in its various makes and configurations.

Revolvers are easy to operate and do not require much strength. However, revolvers can be difficult to shoot accurately and are more difficult to reload quickly. Also, keep in mind that they usually have only 5 or 6 rounds in the cylinder.

Smith and Wesson Model 686 double-action revolver
A Smith and Wesson Model 686 double-action revolver — always an excellent choice for any battery of firearms.

The automatic pistols, as a class, normally carry more ammunition in easily changed, removable magazines. Automatic pistols for the most part require significant hand strength to manipulate the slide and are more prone to malfunctions. Both platforms require exact shot placement under extreme stress to stop a lethal threat to your life or to your loved ones. Because it is difficult to manipulate, shoot accurately, and its limitation of power, a handgun would not be my first choice for a less experienced shooter… Especially if they do not put in the time necessary to become proficient.

The Shotgun

The next choice up on recommendations is the 12 gauge shotgun. As SFC Applegate would have said, “There Is No Doubt, In My Military Mind!!!,” that the 12 gauge shotgun is the most powerful option to choose. However, it’s a double-edged sword too.

Along with being the most powerful, it is — or can be — the most difficult to control in rapid fire. This is because of the significant amount of recoil generated by the double-ought buckshot or slugs on board. Additionally, the muzzle blast, consisting of both the flash and sound, can be extremely disorienting indoors.

side-by-side skeet shotgun broken open with smoke coming out of the barrels
A side-by-side skeet gun after ejecting shells ready to be reloaded.

As an aside at this point, I feel that I should mention something I teach my students to do when something goes bump in the night. The first thing they should reach for is their electronic hearing protection. Firearms discharged indoors can be disorienting to debilitating, kind of like a flash bang grenade.

Now back to shotguns. They are usually heavy in their tactical configurations requiring the use of both hands. The need for two hands makes opening doors, talking on the phone to law enforcement, and other administrative tasks very difficult to perform. This can lead to deadly situations.

If you use a lighter, better-balanced sporting arm such as a side-by-side or over/under, you only have two shots before a reload is required. That means you also need to carry that extra ammo someplace and most pajamas don’t have suitable pockets. If you decide on a scatter gun, I do not recommend anything smaller than 12 gauge and nothing smaller than #4 Buck for defensive purposes. Tactical shotguns are available in the manually cycled pump style and semi-automatics. For all the reasons stated above, a shotgun would not be my first choice for a less experienced shooter — especially for an in-home urban setting.

Remington 1100 semi-automatic shotgun with rifle sights and a spare shell in the buttstock
A Remington 1100 semi-automatic shotgun in its tactical configuration.

The AR Platform

Whether you call it an assault rifle, America’s Rifle, or correctly, the Armalite Rifle, the AR in its various configurations is extremely popular. That fact boggles my mind. I never liked it since it replaced the venerable M14 — America’s last great battle rifle, but that is a personal opinion. It is, after all, a .22 caliber that is illegal to hunt deer with in several states. And, you want your life to depend on it?

I won’t go into all the reasons why I am not a fan, but would someone please explain to me why the bayonet lug is considered a feature that makes it more deadly in California and other oppressive states? Putting a bayonet on an AR is like… well, I can’t think of anything as stupid or useless right now. In fact, the Army no longer teaches bayonet because the AR is so unwieldy.

Can you imagine executing a Long Thrust and Parry followed by a Vertical Butt Stroke? It’s impossible; I’ve tried it. BTW, I was in what was probably the last rotation of basic trainees at Fort Ord that had bayonet training. I qualified as a Bayonet Expert and have the badge to prove it.

Ed LaPorta at a shooting bench zeroing one of his AR-15s
The author at the bench zeroing one of his ARs. I said, “I didn’t like them.” I never said, “I didn’t know how to use them.”

Sorry, I got off track a bit there. As a home defensive choice, I don’t choose the AR for some of the same reasons that I don’t like the shotgun. It is heavy, awkward to operate and manipulate, has excessive muzzle blast — especially if it is fitted with a brake — and the flash will destroy any night vision you may have.

The AR also penetrates too many house and condo walls. So, the possibility for collateral damage increases exponentially. It would appear, there is no pleasing me… Aah! But I do have a preference….

My Choice

Some of you might recall an article published in this forum some time back regarding the M1 Carbine. Well, surprise, surprise… that 80-plus year “Ol’ Warhorse” is my first choice and my recommendation for the best urban defensive weapon that I give to all my new students. Here is why.

M1 Carbine rifle with Ultimak Rail with sight and light, sling and 30-round magazine
My perfect urban defense weapon slash zombie slayer complete with bayonet lug and bayonet. Take that California!

The M1 Carbine was built to withstand real world combat. With a modicum of care, the M1 Carbine will prove reliable and outlast years of use and abuse. Over 6 million were manufactured and used by well over 60 countries. It is lightweight at approximately 5.2 pounds, and easy for people of small stature and limited strength to shoot accurately and wield effectively. That means children, small women or men, the elderly, and infirmed all have a tool to defend themselves.

Although, it is true, that the M1 Carbine also sports a bayonet lug. However, a bayonet can be used correctly and effectively on it. It is not scary like it is on the AR. The M1 Carbine looks like any regular, non-threatening rifle made of wood and steel. It fires .30 Caliber ammunition that is more powerful than the .357 Magnum, which is considered the gold standard for self-defense handgun use.

Because of the 18-inch barrel, the muzzle flash of the carbine is much less than that of a handgun. As for the recoil, it is noticeable by its lack thereof. But do not be fooled by its good manners. Some of the new premium ammo for the Carbine with 110-grain bullets boast 2,000 fps with almost 1,000 foot-pounds of energy.

Bayonet lug on the barrel of an M1 Carbine rifle
Be afraid. Be very afraid… The dreaded bayonet lug!

That provides enough penetration to get to and damage the vitals but not so much as to cause the neighbors’ concern. Couple that with a 30-round magazine, and you are more than good to go. Even in states unfriendly to firearms, it is effective with 10-round magazines. It is also classified as a curio and a relic, and not considered an assault rifle thereby, making it easier to obtain in most places.

The M1 Carbine is easy for anyone to learn how to shoot accurately and is easy to maintain. Zillions of spare parts were made and are readily available, so fixing things is not an issue. Ammunition is common and available everywhere. With the addition of an Ultimak rail, red dot sights, and flashlights can be added — making it an even stronger choice.

The only fly in the ointment is knowing how to obtain one on the used market that has not been used and abused. I recently published an article on The Shooter’s Log that will show you how to find a good one, if you’re willing to put this old soldier’s recommendation to the test.

It’s unlikely that the majority the readers would have picked the M1 Carbine as their first choice for a home defense gun. Likewise, many of you have strong feeling about handguns, shotguns, and AR-15s for home defense, so let’s hear it. Why do you agree or disagree with the author’s choice of the M1 Carbine, and what firearm do you think is superior to the M1 Carbine and why? Share your answers in the comment section.

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