There is a great deal of debate on this subject, and the reality is that no single weapon is the best choice for all emergency situations. Circumstances and conditions vary, as does the use of firearms for self-defense vs. hunting. There is no universal solution. Yet, an understanding of the options available to you is the best place to start.
The purpose of this post is to provide a brief summary of your firearm options, and to identify the pros and cons of each firearm category so that you can begin the process of making an informed choice.
Whatever firearm(s) you select, it’s important to understand that a Concealed Handgun License (CHL) is necessary in most States, and there are State and federal laws which govern firearm use and possession. Even if you do not want to routinely carry a firearm, you may want to be able to legally carry a handgun during an emergency situation. Therefore, you need to obtain a concealed handgun license. (In some States, this is referred to as a “Concealed Weapon License.” Visit the website of your State’s Department of Public Safety for details).
If you own a firearm as a tool for self-defense, you need to be trained in the proper use of that firearm, and regularly practice with it. Owning a gun is not being prepared. You need to be prepared to use the gun.
a) Can be concealed, so you won’t be making others nervous;
b) With concealed carry, criminals don’t know that you are armed, which gives you the advantage of surprise and the option of restraint;
c) Semi-auto pistols (left gun in top-of-page photo) can be reloaded quickly. Revolvers (3 guns in left photo) are simple to operate, and can be fired from inside a pocket or purse;
d) Handguns are relatively light (12 to 42-oz).
a) Far less accurate than a rifle;
b) Limited to short-range use (typically 75-feet);
c) Only modest stopping power;
d) Revolvers are slow to reload. (Not a problem with semi-auto pistols).
a) Intimidating in appearance and sound;
b) Require less accuracy in shooting;
c) Devastating knock-down power (when loaded with 00-Buck shotgun shells);
d) Loaded with OO-Buck shells, each shot consists of as many as 15-pellets (.33 inches in size);
e) Loaded with the proper ammunition, shotgun pellets are less likely to penetrate the interior walls of a home. (12-ga. #4 Buckshot compared to a standard 9mm pistol loaded with FMJ ammunition).
f) Different types of shotgun shells can be carried to meet the needs of self-defense, as well as for hunting of large and small game.
a) Not concealable (Mossberg #55340 is among the smallest);
b) Even when equipped with an extension-tube magazine, a shotgun only holds 6 or 7 shells;
c) Very time consuming to reload;
d) Ammunition is much heavier, reducing the amount that can be easily carried when on foot;
d) Shotguns designed for sporting purposes are difficult to use indoors as their longer barrel makes them ungainly. When the purpose is self-defense, a “tactical” or “home defense” shotgun should be used (illustrated on left);
e) Medium distance effective-range (with most loads, typically less than 100’, further with slugs).
f) Heavy in weight, typically 8 pounds.
a) Longer effective range (400+ yards);
b) Much greater accuracy;
c) Combat-style or “assault rifles” are fast to reload, and durable;
d) Ominous appearance can intimidate assailants.
a) Cannot be easily concealed;
a) Sporting rifles hold few cartridges, and reloading of sporting rifles is time consuming, making assault rifles the best choice for self-defense.
c) Heavy to carry. Most assault rifles are 9-12 lbs, so they are heavy if carried for a long distance.
d) Rifle ammunition is lighter than that of a shotgun, but spare magazines are bulky and the weight of extra ammunition is significant.
Special Purpose Guns
Special purpose guns come in many forms, some designed for unique and limited self-defense purposes, while others are designed for highly specific hunting or survival use. These special purpose guns are far less versatile but may work well for the certain purposes.
The North American Arms (NAA) “Black Widow” and other micro-guns are incredibly small, but though the .22 Mag is impressive for its size and can be deadly, it has almost no stopping power.
The Taurus “Judge” is a large revolver, chambered for both the .45 Colt handgun cartridge and .410 shotgun shell. Unfortunately, the .45 Colt is not available in the newer high-power hollowpoint self-defense ammunition, and the .410 is a diminutive shotgun shell, but at close range The Judge can be very effective for self-defense, and for snakes and small game at very short range. For most people, this gun is far too heavy for concealed carry, but it is popular with backpackers and for survival kits.
The Henry AR-7 Survival Rifle (pictured on right) stores the barrel and action inside its plastic stock. Only available in .22 LR, this gun is designed to be carried in a knapsack or survival kit. Though this caliber is best suited for hunting rabbits and squirrels, a well-placed shot can kill a small deer. And, a hundred rounds can be carried in a pocket.
Handguns: 9mm and .38 Special are good for new gun owners as they have less recoil but still deliver reasonable stopping power. (We do not recommend using a caliber smaller than this for self-defense. Yet, any gun is probably better than no gun as long as it is not displayed until you plan to use it.)
Most self-defense handguns carried by police officers are in one these calibers: 9mm, .357 Sig, .40 ACP, and .45 ACP. The U.S. military primarily uses 9mm pistols, but experts agree that this caliber has far less stopping-power than the previous standard which was .45 ACP. Reduced recoil and the ability to carry more ammunition in the same size pistol, are the benefits of 9mm over .45 ACP.
If opting for a 9mm pistol, be aware that standard (FMJ) ammunition as well as many 9mm hollow-point bullets (JHP) have excessive penetration. This can result in the bullet passing through the target and injuring someone else. If you intend to use a 9mm pistol for self defense, it is recommended that you load your pistol with Speer “Gold Dot” or Remington “Golden Saber,” or another brand of ammunition which has passed the FBI’s stringent standards for use by law enforcement. Don’t believe the hype and don’t just rust the advice of a friend or salesman, depend on actual research. This decision is too important.
Shotguns: 12-gauge is the gold standard. If concerned about recoil, use 2-3/4” shells. To increase your firepower but still carry the maximum number of shells in your gun, use 3” Magnum 00-Buck (Double-Ought Buck). Ammunition capacity for a shotgun with an extended magazine is typically 6-7 shells. For self-defense use when you also want to minimize the likelihood of pellets penetrating interior walls, use #4 Buck. For hunting small game, use birdshot, for large game use lead slugs. For longer range accuracy (rifle-like) use sabot slugs. Shotgun shell “rescue flares” can also be launched from a 12-gauge shotgun. Note: A shotgun with a barrel length less than 18-inches requires a special federal license. A barrel length longer than 20-inches will produce a tight pattern of pellets, making it less effective for most self-defense applications. Police and home-defense shotguns generally have a barrel length of 18-20 inches. For self-defense use, it is best to purchase a shotgun designed for police or a home-defense style shotgun.
Rifles: 5.56 NATO (or .223) or 7.62 NATO (.308) are the standard cartridges for self-defense use. The 5.56 cartridge is lighter in weight than the 7.62, making it possible to carry more ammunition. The 7.62 bullet is heavier and the bullet is not as easily deflected by branches and obstructions. Both are devastating for self-defense use, but the larger caliber is more popular for hunting, and better against vehicles and shooting through walls and obstructions.