The debate over the best firearm for home defense has raged for years and is going to rage for many more of them. This article is unlikely to settle the matter entirely, but will help in outlining the pros and cons of the pistol and shotgun in regard to home defense.


The intent of this contribution to the best firearm for home defense debate is twofold:

To discuss some of the practical realities of home defense that can get lost in the more clinical analysis of stopping power, mag capacity, accuracy, effective range, etc.

To outline some pros and cons of pistols and shotguns for home defense, and the pros and cons of the pistol caliber groups, split into large and small calibers, and the different loads for shotguns.

(Yea or nay on rifles for home defense is another article entirely.)


The fundamental truth that dictates the answers to these questions is: Everyone’s situation is different. The home defense firearm priorities, concerns, and choices of a single adult occupying a house in a rural area who’s on a first-name basis with the woman running the shooting range are going to be different from a family living in an urban apartment building.

Some things to consider are: How many people are going to have access to the weapon? Have they trained with a pistol and a shotgun? How old, strong, or big are they? Are they big enough to handle the recoil of that 12 gauge ammo slug? How big are their hands?

Additionally, it’s important to consider how anyone’s handling of a firearm is going to be influenced by darkness; hands sweaty and shaky from adrenaline; one hand searching for a light switch or holding a flashlight; or when navigating through rooms that may be smoky or have a home alarm blaring. While the situation may never occur, or, if it does, have this many factors to take into account, it’s important to consider the potential realities of an in-home live-shooter scenario.

Hopefully, that at least abstractly clarified some of the benefits of a pistol: They can be used by smaller people with smaller hands who are less capable of racking and handling the recoil of a shotgun. Additionally, pistols can be wielded with one hand, leaving the other hand free to turn lights on or off, operate a flashlight, use the phone to call the authorities, etc.

Large Caliber Pistols

The large vs. small caliber question is like the shotgun vs. pistol debate in microcosm, but we’ll break it down in the following sections.

Pros: Large caliber pistols provide stopping power. Consider grandpa Colt. No one, regardless of size or intention, is going to shrug off a .45 body blow. The .45 slug weighs in at 230 grains, twice the 9mm parabellum’s 115 grains—so that’s a lot of stop.

Cons: It hurts to list them, but among the cons of this option are greater recoil and typically less mag capacity. Larger caliber pistols also tend to be heavier and bulkier, and can be less accurate at range than smaller calibers.

But all this is not to declare that large caliber pistols are the wrong choice. If you’re comfortable with the 1911 automatic and know how to use it, by all means stock up on that .45 ACP ammo.

Small Caliber Pistols

Pros: Something like a .380 pistol is easily concealable by the big and small alike, making it a good candidate for an everyday carry (EDC) that’s therefore comfortable for home defense. Plus, there’s the aforementioned bonuses of greater magazine capacity, less recoil, etc. For those with smaller hands or users looking for an EDC that’s not too bulky to be convenient, get some .380 ACP ammo and some training time with a small caliber pistol.

Cons: As mentioned, this comes down to their stopping power—small caliber pistols have less of it. But, in the hands of a trained shooter, that shouldn’t be a game-changing (or game-ending) drawback.


Pros: It’s a shotgun. If you’re shooting standard shot-based 12 gauge ammo, you’re going to have a spread that effectively covers pretty much any area in front of your barrel within 50 feet or so. And a blaze of buckshot (or a slug) makes the .45 bullet look like a mosquito bite by comparison—well, not exactly, but it’s still much heavier duty. Plus, the unmistakable sound of a shotgun being racked is going to stop anyone in their tracks.

Cons: Shotguns require two hands to use and they’re more unwieldy than pistols in a tight spot, which means they can be harder to operate, particularly for smaller users. The shotgun’s considerable recoil and also be difficult for shotgun owners smaller in stature and the spread of shot means there’s a higher possibility of damage that’s not localized.

Considering your specific needs and situation before choosing a home defense weapon will greatly increase the likelihood that you pick the right one. Good luck!

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