Considering a firearm for home defense - revisted

I posted a thread several years ago about this same topic. After careful consideration, I decided not to purchase a gun at that time.

My situation has changed now - I’m still living in the same house in the ex-urbs of a major east coast city and I still have the same dog, but we now have three young children. This week, someone broke into a family member’s house just down the block from us. It was during the day and no one was home, but the family members work from home and it was just coincidence that the house was unoccupied. As near as we can tell, the alarm system went off immediately and scarred them off. The only losses are a broken window, a 12 pack of Corona (that was right next to some expensive wines and a case of Yuengling, wtf?), and a loss of sense of security. Mostly, this has driven home the point that events like this can and do happen even in our seemingly safe community. Seeing the broken glass scattered around my son’s toddler potty was a real gut shot. My wife is at home with the kids during the day and I can’t help but think “what if?”

As I mentioned in my prior thread, she’s mildly anti-gun but does have some shooting experience. This event has softened her stance somewhat and the topic is at least open for discussion.

Emotions are still high right now and I likely won’t make any decisions until things cool down, but I am revisiting the idea of purchasing a firearm for home defense. We already have a medium sized dog and an alarm, and I’ll be adding some motion activated exterior lights and a couple cameras. I was planning to add the cameras anyway so I know right away when we get deliveries at the house when my wife isn’t there.

I have very casual familiarity and decent marksmanship (under controlled conditions of course) with rifles and shotguns. I’ve only been pistol shooting once and did fairly well with 9mm, .38, .357, .45. Regarding a gun for home defense, is a pump action shotgun still the general recommendation?

A shotgun will always be an excellent self defense weapon. I’d go with a 20 gauge.

The downside is you need a gun cabinet to lock it up away from the kids.

I like a small 38 revolver. keep one in my bedside table. If needed, I could easily install a drawer lock. But my kids are already grown. I also have a 410 shotgun in the den on a wall rack. I have used it for squirrel hunting. It would also be useful in self defense.

Here’s a simple 2 gun wall rack that you could use inside a closet. Put a good lock on the closet door to keep the kids out. Ideally have it in your master bedroom closet. I don’t like leaving a shotgun or rifle leaned up against a wall. Too easy to knock over. A simple rack is safer.

Most definitely.

The only exception is if you are ***extremely ***familiar with your handgun or rifle. As in… when you pick it up, you can manipulate the controls without thinking. (This does not apply to 98% of homeowners.) Even then, a shotgun may still be a better choice.

Just to throw in an unusual idea, since I used to point out its benefit in my situation at times. I at one point kept a customized .45 semi-auto tuned for heavy loads as a house gun. With a 40lb recoil spring, it was pretty much safe from children, stored with a loaded magazine but empty chamber. Even a full grown sister couldn’t cycle the action with a normal grip.

Trigger locks with a heavy pressure release would likely do the same thing these days.

The half-serious joke I grew up hearing was that if you have a pump-action shotgun as your primary home defense weapon, racking it will usually be all you need to do.

Everyone knows that sound.

Nice thing about shotguns is you can load bird shot as the first two rounds. Two rounds of buck shot. Then Deer slugs.

Bird shot would send most people running. Buck shot is lethal. Deer slug – well you’re going to have one heck of a bloody mess to clean up aferward.

One downside of a shotgun is that, depending on the layout of your house, it may be difficult to maneuver a long gun into firing position. If you have a lot of small rooms and hallways, you may be better off with a handgun.

The sound of a semi-auto shotgun is very similar and probably close enough that an intruder would recognize it. It also has the advantage of reloading itself in the unlikely event that you’d need to fire more than one shot. I think that many homeowners would forget to rework their pump action in the heat of the moment. I know that I’ve forgotten when bird hunting.

If you cock the shotgun indoors, you’d better be prepared to use it. Firing a warning shot leaves a nasty hole in the ceiling.

Thanks for this post. I didn’t mention it specifically in the OP but I am interested in how folks balance the need for safety with accessibility and readiness.

Apparently another house down the road was hit as well but they didn’t have an alarm so the thief/thieves had plenty of time to make off with a bunch of stuff. No definitive evidene it was the same suspects yet, but it was about the same time of day.

For a totally different take my personal defense weapon is an M1 carbine with a bayonet kept in my closet. My dog warns me when people get close to the house so I’d have time to get it. It had a bad reputation in the war of people getting hit and getting back up, but that’s not likely to happen with modern hunting rounds. A lot of accuracy and stopping power and still handy enough to carry around the house and the bayonet adds extra intimidation. I do worry about overpenetration but there is a little bit of distance to the neighbors.

Curious: my shotgun holds IIRC 7 rounds (without the limiters, natch). Does that count as semi-auto? It also has the feature that you can hold the trigger down and every time you rack a new round into the chamber, it will fire.

It sounds like your neighborhood is being hit by your run of the mill opportunist burglars- they want an empty house for ease of looting. The sort of psycho bandit gangs who break into an occupied house to rape, torture and kill are mercifully rare. That said, I offer the following general advice:
[li]The more warning you have of intruders, the better. Absolutely get alarms, cameras, dogs that bark (but only when something’s wrong), etc.[/li][li]Your firearm must be quickly accessible. You must be able to open a gun vault, undo the trigger lock or unlock a rack quickly, in the dark, within a few seconds of being jolted out of bed. Ideally invest in something with combination buttons or a biometric device. You should be able to do it with your eyes closed.[/li][li]A home defense shotgun should have a short barrel length, 18-20 inches. This is much more wieldable in close quarters than a full size hunting shotgun. Another option is a carbine- any of several types of gun that are smaller than a full-size rifle but larger than a hangun. Unless you can hit a master “lights on” switch, you might want to consider adding a mounted light or laser sight.[/li][li]Finally, owning a gun doesn’t make you an expert on self-defense any more than owning an axe makes you a lumberjack. You need to take a home-defense course and practice regularly with the firearm you intend to use in an emergency.[/li][/ul]

The number of shells has no bearing on the type of action. If it’s a pump, it’s not a semi-auto. A semi-automatic weapon is one that reloads itself after firing.

I’ve never heard of the type of function that your shotgun has. It sounds dangerous. Or maybe I’m not understanding. Are you saying that you can put it in that mode and it will fire automatically whenever the action is worked?

Only to the extent that “holding the trigger” equals putting it in a mode, yes. :slight_smile: Wikipedia tells me this is called slamfire and that it is common on Ithaca 37s.

And I should make clear, I was told my gun had this capability by my former father-in-law. I have not tried to verify it.


A weapon creates a certain (and especially if secured properly) small but still non-zero risk to your children. Harm to your family from an invader is also a certain small but non-zero risk that can possibly be reduced somewhat by an available weapon.

Honestly both are pretty dang small risks (and debating which is teenier seems absurd to me) and the decision to do one or the other is based less on real risk than on deciding which anxiety you can live with better: the fear that you might have to live with harm that came to your family that you think you might have prevented if you were armed or the fear of having to live with the harm coming to your family because of what you brought into the house.

If you do decide that the sense of security that owning a gun gives you is greater than the insecurity it causes, then I offer this gun enthusiast’s analysis. It seems he agrees with others here: the 12 Gauge Pump-Action Shotgun. Lots of stopping power, only a moderate risk of overpenetration (going through the target, the wall behind the target, and hurting someone in another room) and that less of a risk if you take the advice upthread and use bird or small game shot (although that decreases killing power), reliable and low cost. Its downsides to him are that he’d prefer more ammo capacity.

(For the record I am not a gun owner or in possession of any gun expertise myself. My anxieties have centered around making sure my kids are buckled in appropriately and wearing bike helmets.)

As the other have said up thread 12ga shotgun, short barrel, 00 buckshot

I have one IMHO very important thing to add, If you are not prepared to kill someone do not buy a firearm of any kind. The general public often has this notion that you can shoot to injure and that is ok, trust me the last thing you want, in your home, with your family around, is a hurt, angry burglar. 99.999% of the time when you jack in a shell all you are going to hear is the sound of feet running away, but if you get the .001, you had better make him dead. Shoot for center of mass twice, if he moves twice again(re-load now, most shotguns max at 5). Use buckshot, birdshot will just piss someone off. Think of the burglar as a big poisonous spider and the shotgun as a big boot.

I am not one of these super pro gun, lets kill all the criminals people. Please go out to the range and rent a shotgun that is similar to one you might purchase, go fire it at the silhouette targets. The holes you see in the paper, imagine them in a human being, if this freaks you out , gun ownership may not be the thing for you. If you decide it is; practice til you are comfortable with it in the dark, read your local laws as to use and liabilities and be careful with the kiddos.


I think you’re underestimating the power of birdshot at distances that would be found in a typical house. I’m pretty sure that #6 shot from within 20 feet would be devastating.

I need to do some watermelon testing.