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Set Up Your Home Defense Gun: Rifle, Shotgun & Pistol [GUIDE]

Home defense is a hot topic in the firearms community, with newbies and seasoned pros debating the merits of different platforms.

But what should you consider when setting up a home defense or bedside gun?

What happens when things go bump in the night?

Well, I’m here to help. I’m going to try and dial in on some suggestions of things I would consider essential in home defense, as well as looking at the stats behind home invasions.

I will preface this by saying that everything contained in this article is meant as a general picture and in no way should be construed as an all-inclusive, gospel, or a cookie-cutter response to fit every person or scenario.

Vaultek MXi, Fully Loaded
Vaultek MXi

There are simply too many variables to account for in one article in dealing with a home defense scenario and what the correct tool for the job is.

But I’ve done my best to offer a broad perspective that should at least get you started. So keep reading to learn more!

Table of Contents


Science of Home Defense

One of the common misconceptions in the firearms community is that we must prepare to fight off waves of invaders in a home defense situation.

Could that happen? Sure. Is it likely? Reading through recent home invasion stories reported to the police, no.

Probably not going to be fighting these off. (Photo: Rogue Pictures)

Local statistics in Las Vegas are that the likelihood is one or two (average was 1.5) persons will attempt to gain entry, though more are possibly outside in supporting roles.

This can vary from area to area, but lower-income locations typically see more burglaries and attempts.

Per the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, a break-in occurs once every 26 seconds in the United States.

Home Defense Ominous Shadow
Ominous Shadow

Of those break-ins, 61% of offenders were unarmed at the time of the offense, and only 12% of all violent break-ins involved the offender having a firearm. Often, the offenders were known to the victims, and an assault occurred in only 5% of the break-ins reported.

So, what does all that have to do with setting up your home defense? First and foremost, the best deterrent you can have to prevent a home invasion is a security system — 83% of would-be burglars check for some sort of security system before breaking in.

Ring Security System
Ring Security System

If you choose to defend yourself, your home, and your family with a firearm, you need to understand that you may know the person attempting to break in, they may or may not be armed, and that the likelihood is that they want to get in and get out with cash or goods, not hurt you.

In short, make sure you understand your local laws VERY well.

This is a very complicated answer, and there isn’t a blanket “this works best for everyone” response.

Instead of going into a nuanced answer, I’m going to attempt to give some information that will highlight the strengths and weaknesses of different firearms for home defense.

Ultimately you will have to decide what will work best based on your level of familiarity and comfort with a particular platform, the layout of your house, availability of defensive ammo, and many other variables.

Why does the layout of your house matter? Defending a one-bedroom apartment will be a vastly different scenario than trying to defend a 10,000-square-foot ranch house on 27 acres of land.

The key here is realizing that you are legally responsible for everything a bullet does once it exits the muzzle of your firearm after being discharged.

Low Round Count Drill
You are responsible for every one of these that leaves the barrel…

Sending a round through a wall into your neighboring townhouse means you are responsible for any damages or injuries it causes. Different tools will excel in different environments, so figure out what will do the best for you.

Investing in some deterrents can often prevent the need to use force.

We already saw that potential burglars check for a security system, so that is the first thing you should be investing in. (Or take a look at our article on the Best Ways to Secure Your Home for more tips!)

Beyond that, what’s the next step to deterring a burglary without escalating to force? A good-quality handheld flashlight and properly using it.

Sean's EDC streamlight

Let’s face facts; if something goes bump in the night, most of the time, there isn’t a need to point a gun at it.

The use of a flashlight to investigate what is skulking around your property allows you to make an informed decision on whether the use of force is necessary or if you simply caught your teenage kid sneaking back into the house.

A little light goes a long way.

If you spot a would-be burglar, the threat of being caught and detained statistically shows they are less likely to stay.

In that 5% of break-ins that turn into an assault, however, use of force may be needed, and that is where other tools are more suitable for the job.

Hands & Home Defense

I’m not getting into a debate over semi-automatic vs. revolver or a debate on which caliber is the best.

The correct answer is finding a gun that you will train to become more proficient with, that can add the features you work best with, and ensure you are confident in its use.

If you can wield a revolver well, then rock on, my friends.

I will not recommend a .22 LR as a defensive handgun, but if that is all you have, you better make it work for you.

Generally, any caliber from .380 and up that offers hollow-point rounds can be suitable for a defensive gun. Each caliber will have some advantages and disadvantages.

Popular Pistol Calibers
Popular Pistol Calibers

Quality matters for defensive guns. Right now, finding quality guns can be both difficult and expensive, but you have to ask yourself what your life is worth.

Stick to brands with proven track records of success and quality like Glock, CZ, H&K, Smith & Wesson, Sig Sauer, FN, etc.

FN 509

Set your gun up for dominance and success.

Let’s face it, in the middle of the night; you should have the advantage in your home over a stranger. You know the layout better, you know where obstacles typically are, and you are just generally more familiar. Why not press that advantage with your firearm?

Floor Plan
You know the layout better than they do.

If you find yourself in a dark house trying to defend yourself, getting positive target identification and getting sights on target are the two things with which you need to be concerned — speaking in terms of operating the gun itself, not considering things like finding and using cover, etc.

To this end, I do recommend a weapon-mounted light of good quality — Streamlight, Surefire, Modlite, etc.

1911s with Lights & Lasers
1911s with Lights & Lasers

Additionally, I am a huge advocate for adding an optic to your pistol. Optics allow you to be threat-focused, rather than requiring you to switch to sight focus beyond a certain distance.

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Optics allow you to acquire your aiming device regardless of lighting conditions and permit faster follow-up shots with more consistency, regardless of shooting experience.

Bunch of Micro Guns and Red Dots
Bunch of Micro Guns and Red Dots

Can’t night sights/fiber optic sights do the same thing? Yes and no. They will allow you to find your sights faster, but you are still limited by lighting conditions to get sights on target, and iron sights still require sight focus vs. being target focused.

The last component is ammo. Find good quality, consistent hollow points that will get the job done.

Popular 9mm Ammo
Popular 9mm Ammo

Examples of this would include but are not limited to Speer Gold Dot, Hornady Critical Duty, or Federal HST for larger handguns like the Glock G17 and G19.

For shorter barreled guns like Glock G43x, S&W Shield, or Sig P365, Hornady Critical Defense or Federal Punch are better options.

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Speaking with Chuck Haggard of Agile/Training & Consulting, he mentioned that shorter barreled handguns lead to the round not fully expanding on some of the duty grade hollow points.

His testing and experience showed that Critical Defense was a much better choice in that scenario.

Glock G43X
Glock G43X

Make sure your gun is rated for any +P or +P+ ammo you intend to shoot, and then shoot a magazine worth through your gun to make sure it cycles without any issue.

Pistols do have their limits, and you need to know them.

Depending on the handgun you’ve selected, you will have between six and 17 rounds to use for your defense without reloading.

Shield vs Stock Glock 43x Mag
Shield vs Stock Glock 43x Mag

Looking back at the average number of attackers, that is between three and eight shots at each adversary.

Add in adrenaline and the high stress of the situation, and you now have a scenario where you are likely reverting to your lowest proficiency and training to put hits on target.

Rifles for Home Defense

Many, myself included, choose to use a rifle or pistol version of a rifle for home defense.

Rifles offer a more stable, more forgiving firing platform than handguns due to the increased points of body contact with the gun.

Ruger PCC shooting standing

Additionally, they typically offer more ammunition to feed and, in most cases, provide increased velocity over handguns.

So, when will a rifle be an advantage over a handgun? If your house is laid out in such a manner that you can create distance, a rifle is going to generally be better than a handgun.

I want to clarify this in that shot placement matters; either way, people can generally fire a rifle better than a handgun at low skill levels. At 15 to 20 yards, both can be effective; it will come down to training and comfort.

Aero AR-15 10.5" Pistol
Aero AR-15 10.5″ Pistol

In my case, my entire family is housed on the second floor of our home. I can then use a rifle to defend against people coming upstairs and know that it will be effective.

Much like handguns, some definite upgrades are recommended.

Just like with handguns, a rifle will benefit from a weapon-mounted light. Target identification is still a priority, even more so at greater distances.

Cloud Defensive OWL, light on
Cloud Defensive OWL

Some form of quality optic is needed as well. I prefer red dots that I can leave on like an Aimpoint CompM5 or T2 so that my gun is ready when I pick it up. I know others that run low-power variable scopes and are very effective.

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I would avoid using just iron sights, as you still suffer the same limitations as handgun sights. Invest in a quality optic, stay away from knocks-offs and low-quality products, and prosper.

Faxon Firearms Ascent AR Pistol
Faxon Firearms Ascent

Lastly, a sling is a must-have for a defensive rifle. This allows the user to retain possession of the weapon if hand to hand occurs and allows for retention of the rifle if you need your hands free to pick something or someone up to help.

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Rifles are not without their drawbacks, though. That sling that I just mentioned means that the gun is attached to you to some extent. A knowledgeable attacker can use that as leverage against you to control your body and/or throw you.

Pew Pew Tactical Sling Padding
Pew Pew Tactical Sling

In closer quarters or houses with lots of turns, a longer barrel can be a hindrance in terms of maneuverability.

Ammo selection, along with good shot placement, also plays a huge role in the effectiveness of a rifle. Once again, something like Speer Gold Dot, Federal LE Tactical, or Hornady TAP FDP that are made to have a hollow or soft point allow for better defensive use than a full metal jacket round.  

TAP and other fragmenting rounds are especially worth considering if over-penetration is a concern in smaller living spaces. Please understand that fragmenting rounds are different than frangible rounds, and under no circumstances are frangible rounds a go-to for personal protection.

Going back to our average number of people in the break-in, rifles offer more rounds to put on target.

An AR-15 magazine comes in 10-round, 20-round, and 30-round magazines as the most common options. You can get larger capacity drum magazines, but many tend to be lower quality, finicky, and not reliable to consider for a self-defense scenario.

Aero Precision Thunder Ranch TR15 AR Mags
All the mags

As I mentioned above, it may take more than one round to stop someone from attacking you, so having more ammunition to expend in that pursuit is a good thing.

Shotgun Setups for Home Defense

Shotguns for home defense use have become a more heated topic in the last few years.

Search any gun forum or message board, and you’ll encounter people saying…shotguns are the best defensive gun ever, you just need to rack the action to scare away every bad guy in a 3-mile radius, you don’t have to aim, etc.

Streamlight Universal Shotgun Light Cordage Pump Action

The truth is that shotguns have their place in home defense, but like anything else, they aren’t a blanket answer to a problem. Sometimes shotguns will be the optimal choice and other times they won’t.

The first thing to consider is the gun itself…

Remington 870 with Streamlight
Remington 870 with Streamlight

Remington 870s or Mossberg 590s are the go-to pump-action shotguns.

If semi-automatic shotguns are more your thing, the Beretta 1301, Benelli M2 or M4, and the Mossberg 940 will do.

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Once you have a good-quality, reliable shotgun, the next step is patterning your ammo.

This involves getting the ammo you intend to use and shooting it at various distances to see how the pellets spread and pattern on a target. 

Shotgun Battle Belt 2
Practicing at the range with your ammo will give you a good idea of how it flies

This is important, as using different types of buckshot with different guns will get you different results. As you are responsible for everything your ammo does after it is fired, you need to know exactly where these pellets will fly, where they end up, and if you will face any unintended damage.

There are two viable shotgun rounds for defense, buckshot, and slugs. Birdshot and snakeshot are not suitable for self-defense, and their use could leave you facing an angry opponent that is still able to function.

12ga Birdshot, Opened
12ga Birdshot, Opened

Buckshot utilizes larger pellets that are ideally suited for home defense, but not all of them pattern the same. Depending on your barrel and if you are running a choke or not, Federal Flight Control may be an option, and generally, 8-pellet buckshot is going to be superior to 9-pellet.

Federal FliteControl shell, dissected 2
Federal FliteControl shell, dissected 2

Slugs are your other option for self-defense. Slugs utilize a solid projectile instead of pellets and were originally designed for use on larger game.

Think of firing a softball instead of marbles. Slugs will be a better choice for defensive rounds at longer distances, as buckshot patterns will spread out more there. Inside of 10 yards, though, buckshot will be better.

12ga Slug, Opened
12ga Slug, Opened

Distance is generally going to be the enemy of a shotgun beyond 30 yards or so. Inside of that range, a shotgun is a devastating tool that will very quickly end engagements.

Contrary to popular myth, you still have to aim a shotgun for it to be effective. To that end, a good quality light for target identification is worth considering. As with other platforms, mounting an optic is not a bad idea.

Blue Force Gear Vickers Sling
Blue Force Gear Vickers Sling

Additionally, a sling is a great idea for the same reason discussed earlier. Also, keep in mind that a shotgun will generally be longer and often heavier than an AR-15 or AK-47.

Shotguns do have their drawbacks, though. Like rifles, movement and mobility can be hindered by the size of the gun.

Additionally, recoil mitigation for follow-up shots is something that must be trained, as some people will find the gun awkward and uncomfortable without adjustments made.

Mossberg Retrograde 590A1 Shooting Front
Mossberg Retrograde 590A1

Reloading a shotgun is also a bit more involved than slapping a fresh magazine in, so it is a skill that must be trained to be fast and proficient at it.

Applying shotguns to our two-attacker scenario, this is where things are very different.

Depending on which shotgun model you have, the tube may hold between six and eight rounds without extended tubes.

shotgun speed reload keanu

While this leaves only three or four rounds per assailant within a shotgun’s effective range, one round delivered to an attacker is devastating. The shot must still hit, but if it does, there is a very high probability that the fight is now over and your opponent’s behavior has changed.

Final Thoughts

No two scenarios are the same, and thus no answer will fit universally. Find the self-defense setup that makes sense for you, train with the tools and understand the tactics needed to win the fight.

Home Defense Glock G19 at Door

Also, source out quality information, and do not be afraid to challenge the misconceptions you might have or might have heard.

In the end, defending yourself and those you care about is the only thing that matters, so give yourself as much advantage as possible.

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