Hero Training: The Best Weapons for Home Defense

When you become the man of the house you inherit a sacred responsibility to protect your family. Former Marine Jeff Barnett gives the bottom line on the best tools for the job we hope you'll never have to use.

Jeff is a former Marine with a lifetime of experience with firearms. For the past ten years he has pursued strength and health in numerous ways and posts his daily workouts on his website, CrossFit Impulse.

Defending yourself and your loved ones from home intruders that would do you harm is a serious matter and a grave responsibility. If you have decided to take this responsibility seriously but don’t know quite where to begin then this article is for you.

Today’s focus is what weapon to choose for home defense. Each option I will recommend is a firearm, because firearms are simply the best modern home defense weapons. While a fighting knife and a backpack full of claymores may work well for John J. Rambo, there can only be one Rambo. Similarly, non-lethal defenses such as stun guns and mace leave much more to chance than I am willing to accept. Real aggressors don’t slowly walk towards you in a straight line like Jason Voorhees.

When selecting a weapon for home defense you should consider the following factors:

Effectiveness

The weapon must be capable of stopping the threat, which is primarily a matter of caliber, assuming proper shot placement. This is a very subjective topic and you will find as many opinions as you will find commentators. Let it suffice that all of the weapons I recommend will be effective enough for anything short of a zombie horde or rabid grizzly bear.

Overpenetration

The complement to effectiveness is overpenetration. Walls don’t stop bullets. If you have to discharge a 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 mitigate this significant risk, but the bottom line for any weapon of any caliber is this: Never discharge a firearm at a target if you are not willing to strike everything that lies behind that target.

Ammo Capacity

The weapon should also hold ample ammunition, because under stressful situations even an accomplished marksman requires more than one shot to hit his target, and some aggressors require more than one shot to neutralize.

Reliability

An effective weapon that doesn’t work properly when needed or that quickly malfunctions is hardly effective at all.

Cost

Just because home defense is important doesn’t mean you should squander your retirement preparing for a scenario that will likely never happen. Effective solutions can be had for less than a $200 total investment, including ammunition.

Here are my top picks for home defense weapons:

1. 12 Gauge Pump-Action Shotgun

No, not because of the sound it makes when cycling the action. Sounds do a poor job of neutralizing intruders. Pump-action shotguns are familiar to everyone and easily accessible to the beginner.

Remington 870

Effectiveness: High 

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At ranges of less than 25 yards there is scarcely a more effective weapon than 12-Gauge loaded with #1 or larger buckshot. When it comes to shotshell loads, smaller numbers mean larger projectiles. Example: #1 buckshot consists of (10) .30” diameter projectiles while #4 buckshot consists of (21) .24” diameter projectiles.
Overpenetration: Moderate 

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With #1 and smaller buckshot the projectiles will lose enough energy to reasonably mitigate this risk. With larger buckshot the chances of overpenetration increase. If you are in a densely populated home or neighborhood you can almost completely mitigate overpenetration by using small game loads of #6 shot or smaller, but this sacrifices a great deal of effectiveness. Versatility in available loadings is a great strength of shotguns, but you must choose your loads carefully for your environment.
Ammo Capacity: Low 

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With extended magazine tubes seven to eight round capacities are common. This is likely more ammo than you’ll need in the most common defense scenarios, but it still relatively low compared to other choices.
Reliability: High 

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Extremely reliable. KISS design and manual cycling make weapon-related malfunctions all but impossible.
Cost: Low 

Cost
You can find used examples in gun shops for $150. With quality brands, well-worn shotguns work exactly the same as their new counterparts. I suggest going with an ugly example of a proven brand. New models start around $300.
My pick: Mossberg 500 or Remington 870Both designs have proven themselves for decades. I prefer the controls and price of Mossberg, but a Remington 870 is my primary home defense weapon.

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AR15

2. .223 / 5.56mm Carbine

You may know this type of rifle by the name AR-15. It is the civilian (semi-auto) version of the M16 family of weapons. While this may seem intimidating, it’s just a rifle with lots of doo-dads and handy features. If you can shoot grandpa’s lever-action 30-30 then you can engage targets with an AR-15.

Effectiveness: High 

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While not packing quite the punch of multiple projectiles (a shotgun) a 5.56 mm frangible projectile is extremely lethal and has greater range.
Overpenetration: Moderate 

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With frangible ammunition (such as Hornady TAP) bullets begin to yaw, turn, and fragment upon impacting any medium other than air. This significantly reduces overpenetration, but is only valid for frangible ammo. Do not use standard full metal jacket (FMJ) or hollow point (HP) ammo for home defense!
Ammo Capacity: High 

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Thirty rounds in a single magazine–almost certainly more than you’ll need.
Reliability: Moderate 

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A clean and broken-in AR-15 will function for many hundreds (sometimes more than 1000) rounds before malfunctioning.
Cost: High 

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Quality entry models begin just short of $700.
My pick: DPMS Panther Lite 16 This is a quality rifle that’s on the low end of price. Short, light, effective, and relatively simple.

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Glock 17

3. Handgun

While one of the least overall effective tools for the job, small size and accessibility to the beginner have made handguns one of the most popular home defense weapons used today. Handguns are easy to learn, cheap to practice with, and store comfortably in a nightstand.

Effectiveness: Low 

Effectiveness
Despite what you may have seen in movies, pistol caliber projectiles simply do not create the type of damage that instantly incapacitates an aggressor. The key is to place your rounds on target and have plenty of rounds available.Overpenetration: High 

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Know what lies beyond your target, because your rounds may end up outside your home. Ammo Capacity: Moderate 

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Most handguns hold between 7-15 rounds. Some hold over 30 rounds.Reliability: High 

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A quality handgun with quality ammunition will function flawlessly for much longer than you’ll need it in a defensive scenario.Cost: Moderate 

CostCost
Inexpensive handguns start around $300. Some production handguns go well into the $600sMy pick: Glock 17
The Glock design is as simple and reliable as any handgun made. These polymer framed pistols have a high capacity, good accuracy, unmatched reliability, and are readily available for $500 new and as low as $300 for a well-worn example. There are no external safeties to fumble with, making this a good weapon for high-stress scenarios where fine motor skills are lost. I use a Glock model 26 as my backup home defense weapon and concealed carry weapon.

Concluding Thoughts

You are legally, morally, and financially responsible for everything that exits the barrel of a firearm under your control. Any of the choices presented here will serve you well in a defensive scenario. However, should you be thrust into the dreadful circumstance of repelling an aggressor in your home, you must decide based on federal, state, and local laws as well as your own principles what constitutes a legitimate use of deadly force. I’m not advising you to shoot at anything other than paper targets, and I hope that’s all that will ever be necessary.

Jeff Barnett is an entrepreneur, fitness enthusiast, and former Marine. He has an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and an MBA. When you don't find him wakeboarding, writing, or eating meat off the bone, he's at his startup, CrossFit Impulse.