It has been estimated that half of American households contain at least one firearm that can be used for home defense. As a general rule, even in states where “shall issue” concealed carry permits are readily available, only about one out of twenty adults eligible for one choose to submit the application. Therefore, it’s probably fair to say that there are a great people who have guns at home, for every person who’s licensed to walk around in public with a loaded, concealed handgun. NRA’s long-standing compilation of “civilian” usage of deadly weapons to protect self-and others seems to show more cases of the gun being deployed against home invaders than any other circumstance.

Home Shotgun

The conventional wisdom in this country for a long, long time was that the shotgun was the best tool of home defense. The theory was that it would be easy to hit with for any member of the family, and that its long-standing reputation as a highly effective manstopper should bring a quick end to hostilities from dangerous intruders. Finally, it was said around the cracker barrel that a scattergun loaded with birdshot would be ideal for firing in the home, since at close range it would still turn parts of the attacker’s body into mincemeat, but would not penetrate the walls of a typical house or apartment with enough force to endanger other family members.

Alas, there was much myth in that. The most commonly used home defense chambering in the shotgun has long been 12 gauge. With a full power load, these guns have very nasty recoil. This can slow down the less-skilled shotgunner’s ability to engage multiple targets, and the memory of painful recoil in the past can make the shooter hesitant, if only subconsciously, to pull the trigger at all when it comes down to a fast-breaking “shoot-or-die” moment.

Moreover, the magic of birdshot has been highly overrated. There is no guarantee at all that birdshot pellets won’t go through walls with enough power to kill once they’ve passed through. See the sheetrock testing in my new home defense video from Panteao Productions (; 800-381-9752). I’ve also seen cases where dangerous criminals were shot with birdshot and not even slowed down. Within a very few feet, when the column of tiny pellets is still flying en masse; they strike together and create the ugly injury pathologists colloquially call “rat-hole wound effect.” The fact is, though, that if you wait to fire until the charging intruder is only those few feet away, you have so little reaction time left that you and your family are in very great danger. A better strategy is to interdict the intruder from a distance, such as down a long hallway. But with birdshot in that scenario, the pellets will have had time to spread, and each of them is too small to penetrate very deeply, or to make a puncture wound much wider than a pinhole.

Over the years, rifles from deer guns to AK47s to .223s have been used effectively for home defense. Recoil is lighter than a shotgun’s as a rule, particularly if you are running a .223, and with correct ammunition selection wounding effect should be ample to stop the onrushing intruder.

Two-Gun Approach

I have for decades taught a two-gun approach of long gun and handgun for home defense. I see the long gun as artillery, to be employed when the target is clearly identified and is coming at the barricaded home defender(s) and simply has to be stopped. Artillery is very powerful, and it is employed from a fixed location into a fire zone that has already been plotted out.
However, artillery is not very mobile. Infantry is mobile, and in this analogy, the handgun fits the infantry role. When the proverbial “things that go bump in the night” are heard, or the burglar alarm sounds, the home defender may need to do some reconnoitering before he gets down to shooting. Family members may have to be gathered into a predetermined “safe room.” Police have to be summoned, and while Bluetooth technology allows hands-free communication, it takes the hands some seconds to get it all set up when a sleeping person has to awaken, orient themselves, and gather up their communications equipment and other hardware. There may be light switches or flashlights that must be attended to by hand. A hand may be needed to manipulate a flashlight.

Life Lessons

Moreover, there are home defense situations that don’t necessarily require immediately leveling artillery at doorways and standing by to “repel boarders.” An unexpected late-night ring of the doorbell causes many folks to answer the door armed. I would strongly suggest doing so discreetly armed. Many years ago, a U.S. Supreme Court Justice answered his door under such circumstances with a .38 conspicuously in hand. The visitor turned out to be innocuous, but it triggered a firestorm of criticism in the press.

Instead, it is wiser to answer the door with the handgun tucked in the waistband or in a pocket, or in a holster if you have joined the growing legion of armed citizens who carry holstered guns at home. With the hip turned away from the door, no one sees the gun unless you have to show it to them.

Bear in mind that there’s an excellent chance the unexpected caller is a police officer. Perhaps your car has been stolen without your knowledge, and already recovered. Perhaps there has been a noise complaint by a neighbor about your stereo system or whatever. Perhaps, sadly, an officer has been asked to notify you of the death of a loved one.

If you answer that door with an AR15 or a shotgun in your hand, I can pretty much guarantee you that your night is going downhill in a hurry. In one case, a man answered such a late night knock with a shotgun; he had been threatened by a crazy neighbor and armed himself with a scattergun instead of calling the cops to report the threat. Unknown to him, the crazy neighbor had called the cops himself, and accused the homeowner of being the one making threats. The officer saw the shotgun in the householder’s hand the moment he opened the door. To make a long story short, the homeowner was arrested for the felony of aggravated assault on a police officer.

That incident ended without bloodshed. That’s not true of all of such cases. Some years ago, an elderly lady called in a burglary complaint. When police arrived, she flung open the door, a gun in her hand. They screamed at her to drop it. She did not, and when its muzzle appeared to be crossing them, they shot her. She did not survive.

In a more recent case, a man who’d had too much to drink put his .38 in his hand when he went to answer an unexpected ring of his doorbell. It turned out to be the police, summoned by neighbors and responding to a noise complaint at his address. When he swung the door open, the cops were looking down the barrel of his revolver. They drew and fired, neutralizing him with several gunshot wounds. He survived, but with a painful recovery and charges of aggravated assault on peace officers.

If any of those three people had simply answered the door armed with a handgun that was within immediate reach but concealed, none of them would have ended up as sadly as they did. (And, speaking from the crime prevention side as much as the defensive shooting side, a closed circuit TV camera would have allowed any of the three to see that those who had come to their door were uniformed law enforcement officers.)

We’ve seen that the handgun gives more mobility, and allows discreetly answering the door. It also allows you, if you feel you must, to go outside armed to investigate a commotion. Yes, I can tell you that if you hear a scream in the street, the safest thing to do for yourself is to stay inside behind locked doors and call 9-1-1. I also know that most of those reading this are not the kind of people who will leave a victim screaming in the street while they wait 20 or 30 minutes for a police response in an area where the cops physically can’t get there any sooner.

If you step out into the street with your AR slung across your chest or with your 870 pump gun at port arms, and the shrieks turn out to have come from enthusiastic kids playing outdoors, some terrified neighboring parents will probably call the SWAT team, and you’re going to have some difficult explaining to do. But if you step out onto your own property with a handgun discreetly concealed, you’ll provoke no such problems at all. So long as you are reasonably skilled with your handgun, you’ll still be able to take care of business if you find instead that the screams are genuine. I recently had a discussion with an ex-cop who heard gunshots and screams in his normally quiet neighborhood. Instead of unlimbering a rifle or shotgun, he took a discreetly concealable Glock .40 pistol when he went outside.

What he discovered was that a local man had gone berserk and was shooting innocent people. Because he had gone low profile, he identified himself to the first responding officer, and together they cornered the mass-murderer and cut him down in a blaze of gunfire. The killer was dead, they had stopped the murder spree, and there had been no tragic mistaken identity shooting.

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