Your first priority in home defense should be to “harden the target” – make it difficult for a burglar or home invader to get in. And you’d like for your home to project an appearance that is unappealing to criminals. Increasing the security of your home using dead bolts, securing windows and lighting access points will help do that. A large percentage of burglaries occur between 10 AM and 3 PM, when homes are frequently vacant. However, there are still a significant number of break-ins that occur between 6 PM and daybreak. If you’re home when the break-in occurs, the crime falls into a whole new category; home invasion. Once a home invasion begins you have three basic options: retreat to a safe room and wait, evacuate and wait, or defend your life and your family.
Experts believe approximately 75% of home invasions are performed by armed criminals. Prepare accordingly. You may decide to build a secure safe room. A safe room will, as a minimum, have a solid core door with a deadbolt, phone, food and water and other survival resources. Having a safe room and being able to retreat to one with your entire family are completely different and may or may not be possible. Another option is to actively defend yourself and your loved ones. There’s an old saying that, “If you find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics stink.” That’s true. If you choose to defend your home and your loved ones you need to be better armed than the criminal. Since you don’t know if the home invader is armed or not, you should assume that he is. You need to be armed with the best weapon available for home defense.
But there is no “best” weapon for home-defense. For any self-defense tool there are advantages and disadvantages. For example, pepper spray works 90% of the time, if the wind is right and if the attacker is close (but not too close) range. A baton will work if you know how to use it and the attacker is in range, i.e. close enough for you to smell his breath. When confronting an attacker the word “if” is as big an enemy as he is. The ideal self-defense weapon would work 100% of the time. It would be fool proof. Unfortunately, there is no such thing. However, guns do a pretty good job. Let’s face it, police and military around the world rely on them daily and for good reason, they work.
A gun, like any self-defense tool, is designed to stop a determined attacker. If you chose to purchase a gun the first thing you should know is why. You don’t carry a gun to kill an attacker. You don’t carry a gun to wound an attacker. And you certainly don’t carry a gun so that you can fire a warning shot. You carry a gun for the same reason you would carry pepper spray or a baton; to STOP an attacker. But you carry a gun instead of pepper spray because you don’t like the word “if” to apply. Your gun will work regardless of the wind. It will work at a much greater range and it works on more than 90% of bad guys. Is a gun right for you? Maybe. If you think all guns are bad, you’re wrong. Guns are inanimate objects and have no moral or ethical value in themselves. A gun in the hand of a bad man is a bad thing. A gun in the hand of a good person can be a good thing, if that person is well trained and prepared. Let’s look at some of the considerations.
If you’ve ever been in a gun store you’ve probably been overwhelmed by the incredible variety of guns. There are guns for hunting deer and turkey, guns for target shooting, and guns for self-defense. Certainly a gun best used for hunting deer could still be used for self-defense but would it be the best choice? How about a target pistol, a shotgun or an AR15? Let’s narrow the field a bit.
Long gun or short? Some experts will tell you that an AR15 is the best weapon for home defense. It is the single most popular sport gun in America and it will certainly stop an attacker. However ammunition for an AR15 will most likely be able to penetrate not only an attacker but walls. Interior walls and exterior walls. Since I can’t see through walls, I won’t know what I’m aiming at. For that reason, I’m taking the AR15 out of the discussion. If your nearest neighbor lives miles away or you have a brick house you may want to do further research. Many experts will tell you the best weapon for home defense is a shot gun. Shotguns can definitely stop an attacker, are generally easy to operate, rarely misfire, and just the sight of one pointed in the right direction can stop an intruder in his tracks. They have an added advantage of not penetrating walls. That means your shot won’t pass through a wall and hit an innocent bystander in the next room. Also, the shot from a shotgun will spread out as it travels, increasing to about the size of an orange at seven to ten feet and about the size of a basketball at 25 feet. All good things. But let me give you a couple of reasons why a shotgun might not be best for you. A shotgun is a two-handed weapon. Using two hands gives you good control and accuracy but it also makes it harder to open and close doors, turn lights on or pick up your baby. It’s also possible to jam a shotgun, especially in situations of stress or duress, two things you should expect when defending yourself. Home defense with a shotgun definitely has its limitations. If you have the opportunity to retreat to a safe place in your home and defend against a home invader, then a shotgun may be the best choice. A shotgun may be best for stationary defense. On the other hand, if you may need to move, to open doors, turn on lights or carry a child, a handgun will work much better. For that, you’ll want the “best” handgun. Handguns have the added advantage of fitting nicely into a holster or purse and going with you into a dangerous world. Carrying a handgun as a concealed weapon is a distinct advantage over a shotgun. So let’s talk about handguns and to help you pick the best one we need to narrow the field a bit further.
Handguns come in two basic types, revolver and semi-automatic. A revolver is simple to operate and is pretty foolproof. They typically have five or six rounds of ammunition. Once the gun is loaded all you have to do is point and squeeze. There are few moving parts. If you plan to carry a handgun in your purse, the revolver has the added advantage of not being susceptible to jamming. The simplicity of a revolver is a distinct advantage when you are gripped with fear and adrenaline is pumping through your veins. While few in law enforcement still carry revolvers as their primary weapon, many use them as a backup and for good reason. They work. Most law enforcement officers carry semi-automatics as their primary weapon. Why?
A semi-automatic can put far more rounds on target in a short period of time. With as many as 18 rounds of ammunition available without reloading and the ability to reload another 17 rounds in about one second, the semi-automatic allows you to put a lot of rounds downrange very quickly. If you shoot only one shot and stop an attacker, the number of rounds your gun carries doesn’t matter. However, police reports often show that far more than the 5 or 6 rounds a revolver typically carries were necessary to end the fight. I find comfort in having a gun with a whole bunch of bullets in it. More rounds gives me more room for error and provides a safety cushion and that gives me greater confidence.
That capacity and convenience does come at a price. The semi-automatic requires a bit of strength and technique to “chamber a round” (prepare the gun for firing). You need to find out if it’s something you can do. If it’s too difficult, you’ll want to stick with a revolver. The only way to know for sure is to try it. Folks at gun shops are very familiar with this challenge, especially for women, and they’ll undoubtedly be glad to help you try it. Once you’ve decided (tentatively) on that basic issue, you can narrow the field further.
The next consideration is size. A big gun can carry either a lot of ammunition or bigger bullets, but big guns are heavier and harder to conceal (sometimes much harder). On the other hand, a small gun can be harder to control and may seem to have more recoil (kick). Your strength and the size of your hand will certainly influence your choice. If there were one best answer, there would only be one size gun. There’s a lot of discussion on this issue and no matter what you chose it will be something of a compromise. My suggestion is to carry the smallest effective gun you can. The smaller the gun the lighter it is and the easier it is to conceal. That combination will make it easier to carry and therefor more likely that you will have it with you when you need it. When it comes to size, the ammunition itself factors into the equation. Law enforcement officials rarely carry anything smaller than a 38 revolver or 9mm semi-automatic and I think that’s a reasonable lower size limit. Revolvers have been about the same size for years and until recently, all weighed about the same. Now, with the use of polymers and aluminum materials the 24 ounce revolver is now down to around 14 ounces. There’s one other issue with a revolver that is worth mentioning and that’s the hammer. An exposed hammer will allow the shooter to cock the gun before firing. But a revolver with a hammer also has one extra thing to get stuck in your purse. The ability to cock the gun before firing really isn’t necessary and hammerless revolvers are available from most manufacturers. Unless you have a good reason for doing otherwise, go with a hammerless revolver.
Sub-compact semi-automatic handguns chambered in 9mm are much bigger than the 380. But there’s a new breed in town, the 9mm pocket pistol. They are almost as small as the 380 and have much better stopping power and are generally more reliable. Seven rounds of 9mm ammunition in a semi-automatic that will fit in my pocket is perfect for me. It’s easy to conceal with a caliber large enough to stop an attacker. That’s a good combination. I can see no reason to settle for anything smaller. Can you defend yourself with a smaller caliber like a 22 or 32? Yes. But smaller ammunition is less effective at stopping an attacker. A smaller caliber gun no longer means the gun will also be smaller. At least not by much. There is not enough difference in the size of the smaller caliber guns to warrant using less effective ammunition.
Another very important factor you should consider is reliability. Could there be anything worse than coming face to face with an attacker and hearing your gun “click” instead of “boom”? Some handguns are finicky when it comes to the brand of ammunition they use while others will fire anything and they’ll fire ever time. If you’ve chosen a revolver, the solution to hearing a click is simply to squeeze again. With a semi-automatic, you’ll have to clear the bad ammunition from the gun and that takes a second that you might not have. Most quality guns are very reliable but from my personal experience and research Glock, Sig Sauer and Springfield XD guns seem to be the most reliable. There are a lot of very high quality firearms available but military and police use the brands mentioned more than any other. It’s a good place to start.
The next question is very personal. How does it feel in your hand? Only you can answer that. Visit the nearest gun store and hold a wide variety of guns, testing each for how it feels in your hand. Some will feel awkward and strange, perhaps heavy or bulky. Some may feel like a perfect fit. You most definitely want a gun that feels comfortable in your hand. Remember, that when it counts, you won’t want a gun that is distracting or awkward. It should feel as much like an extension of your hand as possible. One other thing to be aware of is that grips can be changed. If you like a particular handgun but the grip feels uncomfortable, it may be possible to put a different grip on the gun and change the feel completely. Most grips are relatively inexpensive.
Before you shell out your hard earned cash for a gun that feels great in your hand, you need to actually fire it. You may find that the perfect gun, seems to have more recoil than others or the trigger pull is long or heavy or that the trigger itself hurts your hand. How the gun feels on the showroom floor is important but until you actually fire the gun, you just won’t know. And that means you’ll have to shoot several different guns. The one you finally purchase may have been your third, fourth or fifth choice in the showroom. If the gun doesn’t perform the way you want it to on the range, you won’t want to practice with it and it won’t perform the way you want it to when it really matters. I’d recommend narrowing the field to the top 4-6 guns in the show room and then trying each on the range before you purchase. By the time I finally purchased, I was confident and comfortable I had found the best gun for me. Three years later, I found a better gun. It’s not easy.
There’s one more question to answer before you make the purchase. Could you pull the trigger? Could you point a gun at an attacker and actually pull the trigger, knowing that it could change his life forever, maybe even end it? This isn’t a simple question to answer. Weigh that question against this one: Are you willing to let your children grow up without a mommy or your husband without his wife? Pointing a gun at someone, even the hardest criminal, is not something to be taken lightly. You really need to answer this before you buy a gun. Go to the gun store. Shop for a gun. Try it out on their range. But before you part with your money, answer that one question. Could you pull the trigger? If you’re not sure, buy pepper spray a tazer or a couple of big dogs. It’s better to quickly and confidently use pepper spray than hesitate with a handgun. A lesser weapon used decisively is better than the best weapon not used.
You’ve answered, “Yes” and made your purchase. Now, it’s time to practice. You need a coach and you need to practice. You need to practice a variety of scenarios and you need to practice often. Familiarity with your gun is not proficiency and it is certainly not mastery. Plan on shooting at least 1,000 rounds before you move from familiarity to proficiency. A good coach will make all the difference in the world. One hour of private instruction could save you time and money wasted by practicing poor technique.
Before you make your first trip to the range, you’ll need some ammunition. There are dozens of brands and each brand may have a variety ammunition types for each caliber. For practice, you’ll want inexpensive but high quality full metal jacket (FMJ) rounds. Brands like Winchester, Remington and Blazer all provide that. Less expensive ammunition is also typically dirtier, and less reliable.
For self-defense, you’ll want to load your gun with defensive rounds. This type of ammunition is specifically designed to expand on entry making them more effective in stopping the bad guy. That expansion also means the bullet is less likely to pass through the criminal and into someone else. Brands like Speer Gold Dot, Hornady, or CorBon have been tested extensively and meet the highest criteria for performance. I’ve chosen Speer Gold Dot because the FBI tested it, found that it met the most stringent testing requirements and had good penetration results using ballistic gel. The FBI then used Speer Gold Dot for about 20 years and no one has done more handgun ammunition testing than the FBI. Good enough for the FBI? Good enough for me.
Every time I go to the range to practice, I go with a plan. Ammunition isn’t cheap and I don’t like to waste it. I will typically shoot a few rounds with my preferred grip and stance. Then I’ll shoot with just my strong hand and then with just my off or weak hand. I’ll start with the target close. That way I can see where each shot hits and make small corrections. Once I’m comfortable and warmed up, I may move the target back to 25 feet. Longer shots are fun and confidence building but not really necessary for practice. Most gunfights happen at a range of 10-15 feet. Twenty-five feet is the greatest distance I would expect to shoot at a criminal. My home simply isn’t big enough to warrant practicing longer shots. Outdoors, the chance of me being threatened at longer distances is very small.
So, how much will all this cost? In rough terms, $1,000 or so. Here’s my best estimate breakdown:
Handgun – $400 – $600
Holster – $30 – $100
Concealed Weapon course – $150
Hearing protectors – $30
Safety glasses – $10
Gun cleaning kit – $25
1,000 rounds of ammunition – $250
10 trips to the range – $75
Book on local state gun laws -$20
That’s a big investment. However, it is much cheaper than surgery or a dozen trips to the psychiatrist’s office after you’ve been attacked. And it’s a lot less expensive emotionally than walking in fear.
It’s a big decision and what I’ve shared here is just the beginning. I’ll list a few resources below for further reading.
The Cornered Cat: A Woman’s Guide to Concealed Carry. This is a wonderful website with a growing list of articles.
The Well-Armed Woman. This site has a wealth of information and they really try to demystify gun ownership.
Buds Gun Shop: Buds sells most things gun related and is a good place to start when shopping. You might not find the best price but you’ll at least have a solid price baseline.
Gun Broker: Ebay doesn’t allow you to list guns but Gun broker provides the same service and you should be able to find some great prices. If you can’t, wait until tomorrow and try again.
Gun Bot: You’ll need ammunition and the cheapest places to find it online all come together here. Gun Bot searches dozens of popular sites to find the best prices and you can sort by caliber and get a price per round.
In the Gravest Extreme: The Role of the Firearm in Personal Protection by Massad F. Ayoob
Combat Shooting by Massad Ayoob
The advice on this page is just an introduction. My advice is to prepare for the worst and pray for the best. Ultimately, the choice in how you choose to defend yourself in your family is yours to make. Choose wisely.