Home-Defense Firearm Considerations by R. Ann Parris
I have no intention of preaching the NRA’s lines on safes (I refuse to teach those portions of classes, if that helps clarify my position there). Nor am I currently going to entertain the many variables involved with children and guns, gun theft from homes, or the legalities of lethal-force defense.
The sole focus here is how our living situations should factor into the gun we chose for our home defense.
Things I’m going to touch on are the layout and construction of homes, the composition of people and other living beings in homes, the distances involved, and how they can impact caliber and platform options.
The good ol’ standby: Shotguns
Shotguns have a well-deserved reputation as a do-all. While we’d need some extras to truly do-all and they don’t match the capacity of others (usually, even with detachable-mag autoloaders) they are a go-to for home defense, and have been since their conception.
In part, that’s because of the typical load: bunches of pellets instead of a single projectile. Shot v. a bullet means they’re faster and easier to aim* and they require less precision.
*With some exceptions, you point a shotgun and look past the bead with your target in focus; you’re not really aiming with a dot, blade or post in focus as with most firearms.
Getting started with the typical ranges involved in self- and home-defense shooting, some of that less-precise aiming benefit goes away.
Depending on the choke, barrel length, and the speed of the load we select, our shot pattern can be as little as 2-6” at the 5-15 foot ranges most common to defensive shooting. We still have better chances of hitting our target – and of hitting something vital and hitting with enough impact to slow, stagger and drop them – than we do with a single projectile a fifth to a third of an inch in diameter, but it’s not the same level of an “easier” shot that a shotgun can claim starting even at 10-15 yards.
The shot pattern also bears consideration due to common home construction.
Shot leaves the barrel in a line and travels in a cigar and then teardrop shape – it’s not like throwing a web or net, the way looking at patterns on targets can imply.
Because shot is arriving on target at different times, the first pellets can very easily open a “keyhole” that allows trailing pellets to pass through…
…and find a different target.
It’s a trait that actually gets applied with specialty rounds designed for dense brush and jungle.
Many shot sizes at common sporting and hunting load velocities will pass right through drywall and late-date paneling, even two layers separated by most of four inches and insulation as we find with common interior stick construction.
Slugs intended for increased penetration commonly will, as well, and both are prone to passing through most glass.
Due to the frequency with which we live with family members, pets, and livestock, and the frequency with which another home or a passing/parked vehicle is well inside the 30-85 yard effective ranges of a shotgun-shell pairing (let alone the terminal ranges of 120+ yards), it may be absolutely vital that we set up some sectional test targets and find the choke and shell combination that doesn’t endanger our loved ones and innocent bystanders.
*There are specialty shells – and cartridges – designed for decreased structural penetration. There are pro-con’s to everything, so do specific research.
Pass-through risks apply to centerfire calibers, too.
Especially if we’re stocking FMJ and precision HP rounds (versus specific “blooming” HP), and especially in rifle calibers*, we have to consider just how likely it is that a miss, through-and-through, or ricochet is going to endanger our loved ones or innocents who are just passing through.
*Typical rifle calibers: There are handguns and SBRs that shoot them, but it’s most common and originally seen in a rifle/carbine. For example, .223/5.56 caliber pistols are rifle-caliber pistols. Conversely, we also see pistol-caliber rifles and carbines, such as .357/.38 Spec, 9mm, .45 ACP, and .45LC.
One of the things that makes me crazy when I see the .223/5.56 and newer 6.5-range of calibers suggested as home defense and property defense guns is that there is rarely any mention whatsoever of just how capable those rounds are of leaving a home and crossing a yard before entering a tin, plywood and panel shed or barn, especially in the most-common and most-affordable FMJ ammo.
There is always going to be a tradeoff in home- and self-defense.
If we want to be able to bleed out an un-armored threat, while also penetrating heavy winter gear and light armor, we’re at risk of endangering our families and anyone/anything near us.
If we want to ensure our firearm never endangers the baby/grandma/bulldog in the next room or the neighbors or somebody minding their own business on a street 60-100 yards if not 200-500 yards away, we run the risk of losing “stopping power”.
There are ways to mitigate risks and drawbacks, but it’s a tradeoff we have to seriously think about.
Our priorities and thus eventual choice in gun, caliber and ammo loads will differ. Our skill levels will also affect our options for effective home defense, as will our budgets for firearms and training.
We have to be aware of the factors to make the best decisions, always. Home-defense guns are no different.