When discussing most topics related to firearms, it’s tempting to ask, “What’s the best (X)?” A reasonable response is almost always, “Best for what?” Even when discussing appropriate choices for a home-defense firearm, it’s not possible for someone to give you a “best” recommendation without a few caveats.
Everyone’s individual needs and wants are different, and everyone operates under different skill sets, budgets, physical/mental abilities, and even legal considerations that can have a dramatic impact on what choice may be right for them in their unique situation.
However, what we can do is go over the distinct advantages of both handguns and shotguns when considering their use as potential home-defense firearms, and help create more awareness of the potential advantages and disadvantages of each, so you may hopefully make a more informed decision.
Advantages of a Handgun for Home Defense
Size, Weight, and Portability
A handgun’s relatively small size and weight means that it’s easy to keep close at hand, carry on your person at all times, and even conceal if appropriate and legal in your area. Having a handgun on your person or readily available at all times when you’re home means that it’s there if and when you need it. This is much harder to do with a shotgun.
Inexpensive, Secure Handgun Storage
When you’re not in direct control of your home defense handgun, you should keep it securely locked up. Luckily, there are many options for relatively inexpensive, secure handgun storage, including Liberty’s handgun vaults.
Handguns are Relatively Easy to Learn and Operate
Handguns, particularly revolvers and today’s striker-fired pistols, are easy to understand. Some only have two or three main controls that allow safe loading, unloading, and firing. This is advantageous in cases where a person may not have time or interest in regular practice with a firearm (which is always a good idea, of course).
In addition, there are several handgun models today that were specifically designed to be simple and easy for individuals with less hand strength to load and operate safely. Shotguns, while they may be simple to use in some cases, are usually large and relatively heavy.
Handguns Generally Have Low Recoil and Muzzle Blast
While there are certainly some handguns that kick like a mule and have ferocious muzzle blast, they are generally not chosen as home-defense handguns. An appropriate handgun choice for most home-defense scenarios will have easily manageable recoil, and it won’t make your ears bleed when firing it indoors (be aware, however, that shooting ANY firearm in your home without hearing protection will probably be the loudest sound you’ve ever heard).
Handguns are Relatively Inexpensive (with some caveats)
Today’s selection of reliable, inexpensive handguns is far more diverse and extensive than even 20 years ago. There are multiple options for any type, size, and action you might desire, in any price range. For the price, it’s amazing what quality $400 (or less) can buy you on today’s handgun market.
A high-quality shotgun, on the other hand, is usually a much more expensive proposition. Some pump or break-action shotguns can be inexpensive, but they have some other potential issues, which we’ll discuss below.
Handguns are Comparatively Reliable
Today’s modern handgun designs are much more reliable and tolerant of a lack of maintenance than handguns of old. Though you should definitely keep your home defense handgun clean, maintained, and properly lubricated, a modern pistol or revolver is generally able to properly function even if you neglect it.
Disadvantages of a Handgun for Home Defense
Now that we’ve gone over some of the key advantages of a handgun for home defense, let’s go over some potential downsides to consider.
It’s more difficult to hit a target with a handgun when you’re under stress
It may seem second-nature to people who shoot handguns a lot to hit a target or multiple targets rapidly, but when you compare apples to apples with equally skilled shooters, a long gun is easier to aim and hit targets with due to the additional points of contact with the support hand, cheek weld, and shoulder.
Regular training and practice with your home-defense handgun can improve your abilities, but again, a long gun has inherent advantages in this regard.
Handguns are less effective at stopping a threat quickly
When comparing “stopping power” and effectiveness against a threat, there are really two categories: 1) handguns, and 2) shotguns/rifles. There’s so much difference in muzzle energy and terminal ballistics between the two categories that it’s almost silly to compare them.
The smaller size of handguns means a greater potential for theft, or even loss
The same small size and portability that makes handguns an attractive option for home defense also means that they have a greater potential to be stolen without attracting attention, or even lost in your home somewhere (hey, it has happened!).