W: I told you I’d write this, but I thought there might be a larger audience that could benefit, so I posted this here instead. I’ve tried not to put any information here that might compromise your identity – if you disagree, reach out and I’ll make changes.
W had an issue this year, where multiple intruders burglarized his house while he was not home. They came prepared, entered the back of the house on the second story, and removed a non-opening window to gain entry. Heavy objects were removed from the house through that same window (causing huge damage to the floor in the process.) The police who saw the scene surmised that this particular team was likely armed and quite dangerous, and told W he was lucky he was not at home.
Prior to this, W was not armed, and he has worked to improve his home security, incorporating firearms into his defensive plan.
First: Get Training
The standard “how not to accidentally shoot yourself and someone else” training is useful, as is the sort of training that teaches you to hit the target at the range. That’s not what I’m talking about though.
My first “real” civilian training course was at Gunsite, and there I learned lots about the proper use of a pistol and became a much better shooter for it. Gunsite staff will tell you on the first day that that they are not a shooting school, they are a gunfighting school, and that’s the sort of training I’m talking about. If you intend to use firearms to protect yourself and your family, then you need to get training on how to do so effectively.
The most notable lesson I learned there was on my first run through the shoot house (a building with movable walls and corridors, mixed lighting, targets placed in different locations, shoot- and no-shoot targets intermixed, etc.) When clearing a room that first time through I failed because I saw an armed female target and read it as “no threat,” when her gun was clearly visible. I’d never realized that I had internal blocks that prevented me from seeing “female” as “hostile,” but they existed, and that sort of lesson can’t be learned unless you’re learning them yourself, under pressure, with a skilled observer/instructor.
That’s not to say it’s all I learned though. Things covered in a good course include:
- How to be safe
- How to draw from a holster, in different situations
- Firearm/ammunition choice
- Shooting positions, and when each is appropriate.
- A clear understanding of when lethal force is legal, and when it’s considered murder.
- Shooting to a standard under time pressure (and maybe someone yelling at you.)
- Why you should never clear your own house, and how to do so if it’s your best/only choice (the latter reinforces the former)
- Confidence in your weapon as you’ve fired it 1,000 times in a week.
- Knowledge of how to perform a malfunction drill should your weapon fail. You’ll practice this enough that it will be automatic
- Shooting at night with different methods, so you understand what works for you
- Enough repetition at the basics that hopefully, if you’re ever woken up and need to defend yourself, you can do it correctly without having to think about the mechanics.
Good training is strongly recommended. I’ve done a week-long course of private instruction with Tiger McKee who’s up in North Alabama and I think he’s probably the best fit for you – he’s a great instructor, and you and your wife can book him for private lessons for a week, or 3 days, or whatever you need to get competent as quickly as possible. He will work to your skill set, and comfort level, and can be very patient. Plus, he’s good people, and quite knowledgeable.
Second: Let’s talk tools
You said you and your wife now had pistols. That’s a good start, but there are some options that might be worth consideration.
I’d like to open with something of a classic quote, from a renowned firearms trainer, Marine who saw combat in Vietnam, and overall a guy who’s not big on censoring his speech:
With that in mind, let’s cover my less educated and less erudite thoughts on choices for firearms…
Pistols are great because you can always carry one with you. This is the tool you learn to fight with because it’s likely the only tool you will have on you when a bad guy chooses his moment to attack. The greatest value of a pistol is its availability – it’s right there in the holster on your hip, or on your bedside table, or in the center console of your car. It can be used in confined spaces, and it can be used to save your life. But it’s not the first choice if you know you’re about to have to defend yourself:
- Of the available options, pistols are the hardest weapons to use effectively. Learning to hit what you’re shooting at under pressure is a skill you need to develop, and it’s perishable so you need to get more practice occasionally, which can be hard if you’re as busy as you are.
- Pistols just aren’t that effective compared to some of the other options out there. If you choose an appropriate caliber, and a good self-defense loading, and you place your rounds effectively (which might be hard in the dark when you’re woken up at 3:30am and thrown into a life-or-death situation immediately) then it will suffice. But if you know you’re about to be in a fight, and you can’t avoid the situation, there are other, better choices.
- It is really easy to accidentally point a pistol at someone accidentally, which is unsafe. It’s not at all uncommon for someone new to shooting to turn around and accidentally point their pistol at everyone else.
Pistol Caliber Carbines
This is something you’re probably not aware of, but you can buy a long gun that shoots the same ammunition as your pistol. A pistol caliber carbine is essentially a short, compact, easy to use rifle that happens to shoot the same bullets your pistol shoots, generally 9mm though 45ACP and 10mm are also options. This is a significant upgrade over a pistol in the following ways:
- It’s a lot easier to hit what you’re trying to hit. Notice the EOTech sight on top of that carbine – push a button to turn the reticle on, keep both eyes open, and put the crosshairs on your target when it’s time to shoot.
- You’ll have a light attached. You’ll learn in training about the important of properly identifying your target, and you’ll practice with a light. If you’ve got a carbine set up for defensive use, then you’ll have a light attached making it easy to use it effectively in the dark (or deciding not to after properly identifying your target.)
- It makes your pistol caliber more effective. Most carbines have a longer barrel than a pistol which means you’ll have more velocity (and a round that should make a bigger hole as a result), but mostly it’s much easier to handle recoil with a carbine. Multiple shots that are on-target are much easier with a carbine than with a pistol, given a comparable level of training. Probably 5x to 10x easier.
- Muzzle discipline is easier to maintain.
With that said, you’re still using “just” a 9mm or 45ACP, and those aren’t the best at ending a fight. This is a solid upgrade over a pistol, however, and it’s probably the easiest option to shoot well.
Shotguns, as Clint implies in the clip above, are pretty good for making hostile people infinitely less hostile very quickly, provided you’re using the right sort of ammunition at the right range. Gun people love to debate minutiae, but most would agree that simple 00 buckshot fired at distances of less than 10 yards will generally stop a threat in one shot if your aim is reasonable.
My home defense shotgun is similar to the one above with a couple of changes: I have more rounds in the magazine; I have a light attached to it; and I have a red dot sight attached that will allow the batteries to last for 10 years in sleep mode but wake up immediately if the gun is moved. Though in all honesty if you’ve got 5 rounds in the gun, and a light attached, you don’t need much more. Pump-action or semi-auto are your choices and both are correct provided you train with it enough to understand how to use it. A bead sight, or a peep sight, or an optic is fine. Even a double-barrel shotgun can be a solid choice, though I do not believe they are optimal.
The big misconception about shotguns is that they have a huge dispersion and you don’t need to aim as a result, and this is absolutely, positively false. Using cheap 00 buckshot you should see the dispersion across a 10 yard room (maybe the longest shot in a normal house) be 8 to 10 inches. Using Flite-Control buckshot in my experience means that group will be closer to 1.5 or 2 inches. Both work. Here’s a site that lays out some of the differences between buckshot options pretty well. Regardless, 00 buck launches 8 or 9 .33 caliber round balls at the target with every pull of the trigger. It can create a great deal of trauma, and is generally considered quite the fight stopper.
This isn’t to say a shotgun is a panacea:
- Shotguns have some recoil, and if you want to deliver a second shot quickly you’ll need to know how to handle that recoil.
- There are more ammunition choices for shotguns than any other weapon. Add in the complexity of a choke in the barrel and things can get confusing quickly. Bird shot is not good for self defense. Slugs probably aren’t either, though they’ll work (they might also leave your house and put someone else at risk). You need to think about ammunition and your situation.
- Many people using a pump shotgun in stressful situations find they “short stroke” the gun to try and reload faster, meaning they don’t pull the slide all the way to the rear, and a new shell isn’t chambered. This is bad. You need training.
- If you use a semi-automatic then it is probably very fast and reliable to reload, but only with the right sort of ammunition. You’ll need to test to be sure. That photo at the top of this section is of a Benelli, and these are known for their reliability but only with full-power loads. Those low-recoil, tactical buckshot? If you haven’t tested them in your Benelli you might find your second shot only comes after you notice the trigger doesn’t do anything and you need to manually cycle the next round. Practice and train!
- You’ve got a limited number of shells. Luckily, if your shots hit you won’t need many.
A note on what “effective” means in this context
You are only allowed to shoot in self defense when you are in fear for your life or in fear of grievous bodily harm. You shoot to stop the threat – if you “shoot to kill” then that’s murder. If you continue shooting past the point where a reasonable person would believe they were still in fear for their life then you’re probably going to prison for a long time. If the intruder runs out of the house with your heirloom jewelry while screaming he’s going to grab his friends and come back to kill your family and you shoot him in the back, that’s a long and expensive fight to prove self defense that you’re probably still going to lose, then go to prison. This is not legal advice – get training and know the laws in your state!
So you’ve got a threat, and you shoot to stop him. What makes him stop?
This and it’s a much better explanation of these issues than I could draft right now. Some people might give up the fight because of psychological reasons, but if they don’t then you need to make them unable to fight. Shotguns, with appropriate ammo and at very short range, arguably do this better than any other platform. Rifles are probably the best at ranges beyond 25-50 yards or against opponents wearing soft body armor.
What about Rifles?
Rifles…can be a great choice or an awful choice. The big issues is that you are legally and morally responsible for every round that leaves the barrel of your weapon, and rifle rounds can punch through the wall of your house and keep going down the street. Pistol bullets will too – nothing that’s effective at stopping a hostile intruder in a hurry is guaranteed not to leave your house – but over-penetration is bad, and lots of the rifle options fall into this “bad” category. Get training!
I will argue here that rifles are a terrible choice for the average person, and as I’m posting this so it can be read by the average person I’m not going to recommend it.
Some love AR rifles for self defense. I would use an AR in self defense, but I’ve got quite a bit of training and I live on a large property. I also know how to choose ammunition that is unlikely to make it beyond the outside wall of my house and remain a threat to others. If you’ve taken a 3-5 day training class with an AR-15 and you’ve learned how to use it under someone competent, then you can make this decision for yourself. Until then, rifles are a bad choice and you should stick to the options above.
My Personal Recommendations
I can’t choose for you. You need to get trained, and you need to make the choice based on your preferences, your family (your wife may need to use this in a hurry so it’s not just you!), your location, and the sorts of threats you expect to face.
I suppose if it were me, my concerns would run in this order:
How long do I have to respond? If the alarm goes off, or I hear a window break, with the layout of my house how long do I have to prepare? If it’s seconds, then it’s hard to beat the pistol next to the bed. You can grab that (or open the safe attached to the bottom of your bed with the right finger-presses), turn to face the door, and direct your wife to roll onto the ground and crawl to the bathroom in seconds (with a subtle push to get her moving). It’s not optimal, but you’re ready-ish quickly.
If you’ve got a bit more time, you’ve got a moment to give better directions to your spouse (“Wake up. Intruders. Shotgun. Bathroom. 911. NOW!“) while you pick up either a shotgun or a pistol caliber carbine and take a defensive position. For most people a shotgun is a better choice, but either with a flashlight and optic attached is likely much better than just a pistol. Buy something that you can use effectively.
Stuff can be replaced, and hopefully your insurance coverage is better now than it was then. Put doors between yourself and your intruders. If easy then barricade those doors. If you can leave the house from the other end of it, then do so even if you and your wife sleep naked – bring the phone and the firearm though – your modesty is worth less than your life. Consider letting intruders know you’re armed and that 911 has been alerted to their presence and the police are on the way. Do not attempt to clear your house on your own.
As someone who’s played the role of OPFOR, I can tell you it’s very dangerous to try and maneuver through a building while looking for threats. It’s much easier to assume a defensive position, with only one place to expect threats to enter (the single door in your room), preferably behind cover. Take the easy role, call the cops, cover the door, and let the intruders take what they can in the minutes they have before law enforcement arrives. Don’t go on the prowl yourself and let the bad guys take the easy role of laying in wait.
TL/DR: What am I trying to say?
Get training. And I mean serious training of the sort of that the police get. Learn how to be competent with self-defense.
Then buy the tools you think work best for your situation.
But it’s better to be trained and competent with the pistols you’ve got then it is to be untrained with the best gear in the world. Seriously, consider a shooting vacation. Your wife’s life may depend on it.