One question I get asked very frequently is “What kind of handgun should I get for home defense”. My answer is always the same: “I wouldn’t get a handgun for home defense.” There are a handful of reasons why a pistol just isn’t the brightest idea for protecting against a home invasion.

The best option for home defense is a tactical 12 gauge shotgun.

Why use a handgun when you can use a long gun?         

Any experienced shooter will tell you that they would rather bring a rifle to a gun fight then a handgun. In fact, a common saying with law enforcement is “I use my handgun to fight my way to a real gun”. They are referring to their M4 rifles and/or their shotguns.  There are several reasons why just about any long gun is the better option in a gun fight, but this article is about why a 12 gauge is the answer for home defense, so we will focus on that.


Sight radius

The longer the sight radius (the distance between the front and back sites) on the gun, the more accurately you are going to shoot it. A shotgun, having a significantly longer barrel is going to have a longer sight radius. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to miss with a shotgun.  However, the longer barrel on the 12 gauge (as compared to a pistol) makes it far easier to accurately take aimed shots as well as to “point shoot”.


Mossberg Roadblocker Tactical Shotgun

Point shooting the 12 gauge

 It speaks a universal language  

As my good friend, and an author here at Packing Pretty says, “Hollywood got one thing right, the sound of a pump shotgun.”  That “chhk chhk” sound when someone pumps a 12 gauge is a universal language for “Get the hell out of my house!”.  Talk about intimidating. Anyone who has seen a movie with a pump shotgun in it has a pretty good idea of what a 12 gauge can do psychologically as well as physiologically. 


Superior stopping power

Let’s talk a little bit about my favorite subject in the world… ballistics! 

Cartridge:  There are two types of shotgun cartridges. There are the cartridges that shoot pellets and cartridges that shoot slugs.  For home defense, my personal suggestion is 2-3/4” double ought buckshot, this is round is easier on the shooter then the slugs and the pellets spread out as they hit the target.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with ballistics and the science behind cartridges: caliber is determined by the diameter of the bullet.   In the 2-3/4” double ought buckshot there are 9 pellets, each pellet is 50 grains and .33 caliber. All nine .33 caliber pellets, or projectiles, exit the barrel with each trigger pull. If all the pellets hit the target, you have essentially just shot the target 9 times with one trigger squeeze. Pretty cool, huh?

Muzzle energy:  A .45 caliber defensive round shot from a handgun has approximately 476 ft-lbs of muzzle energy.  2-3/4” double ought buckshot, 9 pellets (.33cal. 50 grains each) shot out of a 12 gauge shotgun has approximately 1,590 ft-lbs of muzzle energy. I think those numbers pretty much speak for themselves.

Shot pattern:  There is also the fact that the pellets inside a shotgun cartridge spread out when they are shot. Like I said, it is still easy to miss your target (especially under stress) but the spread pattern makes it easier to hit your target then with a handgun.  It also effects a larger area on the target then the handgun round, causing a faster break down of the target’s structure and organ function.    

Try making a hole like the top one in the picture below with just one shot out of a handgun…

This was shot with 2-3/4in oo buck

This is the back side of the target after being shot with 2-3/4in oo buck at ten feet.

Back side of target after being shot with 2-3/4in oo buck at fifteen feet.


It’s a gun… now it’s a club!

…and I’m going to bash your face in. While I advocate choosing a reliable 12 guage that will feed and shoot properly every time you pull the trigger, it’s nice to know that if you run out of ammo or do have a misfeed that you don’t have time to clear: the 12 guage turns into a really nice club.


And most importantly…

A shotgun round won’t go through your walls, down the street and hit a kid playing his yard. A handgun round can definitely do this. If for no other reason, a 12 gauge shotgun is safer choice for liability reasons.


Why a tactical shotgun?

I know I’ve talked up the qualities of a longer barrel. However, for home defense, there is such a thing as too long of a barrel. You want to be able to turn corners in your home with the gun, as well as point it at someone without them grabbing the barrel and redirecting the muzzle. The tactical shotguns have shorter barrels than the hunting shotguns. That being said, I would still choose a hunting shotgun over a handgun for home defense any day.

 Everyone has their personal preferences and favorites for tactical shotguns. There are a lot of great shotguns out there; my favorite, and the one I personally use is this bad boy….

Mossberg 500 Road Blocker with heat shield and muzzle break. 12 gauge, 18 inch.