Thoughts on Home Defense Preparation

By Bob Campbell published on in General, Safety and Training

The most dangerous places are outside the home. Inside the home, we have barriers including outer doors, glass, and hard interior doors. Hopefully, the family has your back, and you have a plan. If not, you have more problems than I can address. Illegal narcotics, and the pharmaceutical industry’s greed-fed opioid epidemic, turn many against their fellows, and the family is the first victim—just so you will not be surprised. My home is modest, and I have genuine affection for my neighbors. I am lucky. My first line of defense is

an early warning system named Lucy. She is a rescue dog, an American Dingo sometimes called a Carolina Dog or Pariah dog. She is 55-pounds of love, loyalty, and fine-tuned senses that serve to alert us of movements around the neighborhood.

SIG Sauer handgun and several rounds of ammunition

A good quality handgun and ammunition is important, but just one level of home defense.

Many liberal doctrines have given every advantage to the burglar. However, the courts have held that the need for self-defense is more apparent in the home. The Castle Doctrine, defining the right of citizens, outlines that there is no need to retreat from an attack in the home. This is a return to the doctrine of the King’s Peace that is fair and just.

All prepared Americans should have a good grasp of the law. We should also be prepared. My experience as a trainer indicates that more Americans keep a firearm at the ready in the home than carry a handgun concealed.

Firearms Choices

The concealed carry permit holder may own but a single handgun. The concealed carry handgun is a compromise of power, weight, size, and control. While pistols such as the Glock 19 9mm are fine home defenders, the snub nose .38 and compact slim line 9mm pistols may be less than ideal by comparison.

Any reliable handgun is better than a broom handle, but there are good choices that should be examined. A full-size revolver and proper loads make for a formidable home-defense handgun. The revolver may be braced against a door jamb for greater control and will deliver its load into a single ragged hole at 7 yards. If you carry a Commander .45 or SIG P227 as I do, then the carry gun simply becomes the home defense gun.

Paper target of the vitals of a person, which has been shot by a shotgun

Shotguns offer plenty of wound potential.

A good program many shooters are following is to carry the handgun at all times when at home. A study of time and motion indicates that this is a good course. A home invasion, despite your best preparation, will be a surprise. A shotgun in the closet or a handgun under the mattress is worthless when you are in the kitchen.

A firearm in every room—which some of my cop friends find suits them well—simply serves to arm the burglar that invades the home when you are absent.

The guns not actually being deployed should be in the safe. A counter argument by my friend Sid is that if you have a safe in the house, the burglar will return, place a gun to your head, and you will open the safe.

While I respect Sid’s opinion, I think it is mostly millionaires who have the worry of being concerned about such sophisticated thieves. The Hornady RAPiD safe is the ideal storage place for handguns, rifles, and shotguns that may be needed at a moment’s notice. As for myself, I have adopted a rather reserved program that works for me.

The carry gun, usually a Les Baer or Kimber .45 these days, is kept at home to be ready when I return from my daily chores. For moving about the home, mowing the lawn, and other chores, the snub nose .38 is kept in the pocket. This solves a lot of problems. It is my choice, and it works for me.

American dingo

Lucy the American Dingo is a wonderful early warning system.

The .45 is still the dedicated home defense gun; I simply have something extra. It seems odd that the weight of the 1911 never bothers out of the home, but when typing and working at home it does. Each has to determine their personal preferences. In practically every waking moment, I am armed. The pistol under the coat, in an IWB holster, or shoulder holster may be a .357 or .44 revolver, or a 10mm or .45 caliber self-loader.

When I am asleep, the carry gun is near my hand. In my youth, and as a peace officer, I observed a common ready mode that was nearly always taken by widows and other ladies. A .32 or .38 revolver was kept under the pillow at night. I am not recommending this, but it seemed comforting for my grandmother after my grandfather passed. Considering the number of women that have been awakened by a burglar or rapist at the foot of the bed or even in bed with them, this ready mode made good sense. Thus, a rifle in the corner isn’t the best answer for such attacks.

For those with a more defined concern, such as a takeover robbery, a rifle might be the answer. Those living in the back forty, who sometimes get into fights with feral dogs or wish to dust off predators, may wish to keep a versatile rifle handy.

The 5.56mm carbine—with proper loads—is one choice. As of today, I am seeing second- and third-quality AR-type rifles selling for less than $500. Good quality rifles, such as the Ruger AR-15 is selling for less than $700. ($622.15 on cheaperthandirt.com at the time of this writing) This price makes it easier to recommend the AR-15 rifle for home defense.

Cutaway graphic of Winchester's PDX shotshell

Winchester’s PDX shotgun load offers a mix of buckshot and slugs.

Another good home-defense long gun, the M1 carbine, is becoming increasingly difficult to find (in good examples). If you have one, confirm its reliability, and load it with the Hornady Critical Defense .30 carbine load. I cannot imagine a better home defender.

These rifles will give you an advantage against a takeover gang or marauding dog packs. There are some valid concerns with over penetration, but the primary means of avoiding over penetration is to hit the target. The Hornady .223 55-grain V Max, as an example, will exhibit less penetration than the typical 9mm or .45 caliber handgun, and it has greater predicted wound potential. The SIG Sauer Elite .300 Blackout hollow point was recently adopted by a good friend. Thus far, the reports from his testing shows this is a good home defense loading.

Sporting guns may be pressed into service for home defense. A .22 Long Rifle self-loader is a common home defense load. There are many files on this rifle, and it has generally been successful. The primary concern is reliability with the heel-based bullet and inside priming of the rimfire cartridge. While it is not the preferred cartridge for most, the .22 LR may be all that is available, and it will serve if properly delivered in double and triple taps to the arterial region.

Whatever the firearm chosen, the piece should be proofed for reliability. While the long gun is a formidable firearm, be certain of its handling under stress. Carrying a child in one arm, moving with the firearm, or using the cellphone to call 911 makes for complicated gun handling that should be practiced.

Bob Campbell shooting a shotgun from behind a barricade

Whatever your choice for home defense get plenty of practice.

A weapon-mounted light is an aid in home defense provided the user is skilled in its use. I like the advantage of a light that isn’t attached to the firearm as well. You will search more often than you will engage an adversary. Aiming the light slightly to one side of an object (such as a door jamb) makes for greater visual clarity and less glare. Properly illuminating an object in a modest-sized room may be accomplished by aiming the light toward the ceiling.

While I do not like gadgets for their own sake, my worst-case scenario rifle is well equipped for every problem. The Colt SOCOM is fitted with a Redfield Battlezone scope. This rifle is my test bed for ammunition performance. In the home, it is often loaded with the Hornady V Max. The rifle is fitted with a LaserMax Uni Laser in order to give the rifle utility in home defense. I have practiced looking over the top turret of the scope and results are good to 15 yards—far beyond a home defense problem.

The shotgun is a superior home defense firearm provided the user takes the time to learn to handle the recoil and power of the shotgun. The Remington 870 is among the fastest handling and most reliable shotguns of all time. A modern AR-15-type stock with a forend that will accept a combat light seems a good modification for those who practice.

Bob Campbell shooting a pump shotgun

Practice cycling the shotgun and getting hits. Shotguns are underutilized because few shooters get the necessary practice.

I prefer the easy handling of the standard riot gun. However, when the shotgun is used with slugs and accuracy becomes more important, a rifle-sighted shotgun with improvements is a viable option. As an observation, I have never seen a riot-type shotgun used for home defense. I have over a dozen files in which homeowners successfully defended themselves and their family with a standard-length sporting shotgun. If that is what you own, then you may have the perfect home defender in a shotgun you are already familiar with.

Ammunition Selection Is Important

The often-touted frangible bullet handgun loads are something I never choose for personal defense. Cycle reliability in self-loaders may not be ideal, and the reduced mass and penetration of these loads leaves the user with a serious deficit in penetration. After many years of testing ammunition and studying wound potential, I find that frangible loads lack the necessary penetration to prove effective.

The best choices for home defense are usually middle-of-the-range bullet weights with good quality control. The Hornady Critical Defense load is among these. The balance of penetration and expansion is ideal for most uses. Be certain to proof the firearm with the load of choice. Stick with proven firearms that have demonstrated good reliability, get training, and avoid odd ideas that cannot survive a climb up the logic ladder.

What is your go-to home defense gun? Have you adopted 24/7 carry, including while at home? Share your answers to these questions or home defense tips in the comment section.

SLRule

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

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Comments (24)

  • Meathead

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    My wife prefers a .38 S&W Special 5-shot revolver and I prefer a .40 Caliber auto.
    We load them alternately with max-load hollow point and full metal jacket. I learned to “double tap” at a young age and taught her the same. If they don’t drop after two to the chest, they may have body armor, so the next two go to the head.
    It IS a mental thing, so if you don’t run scenarios in your mind over and over, you may hesitate when faced with the real situation. Hesitation CAN get you killed.

    Reply

  • Jayson

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    Personally, for home defense I like the Highpoint carbine in .45 ACP. Easy to shoot and hard hitting.

    Reply

    • dprato

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      I have a 9mm Hi Point carbine and they are very under rated. They are very accurate and very reliable and are definitely a good home self defense weapon. Light weight and fairly short as well and able to handle a variety of accessories on the rails. Good price and worth the money.

      Reply

    • bill knight

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      Mine is a Hi Point .40. While it is not my go to home defense gun, that duty is split between an old Taurus nickel plated 4″ .38 six-gun and an 18″ barreled 870 w/ red dot, laser, and white light on board.

      Reply

  • TS

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    I’m a female with a few hand guns, all of which I got to the range with. Both high call and low. I carry while I side my home and outside. You would never know I’m a gun enthusiastist. I’m a light sleeper and am aware of my surroundings at all times. I lock my doors and know my home inside and out. Mentally I am always learning of what could happen at home and while outside our home. I say these things because it is vital to know the world around you, your neighbors, things that are out of place. I keep a watchful eye and keep my weapons clean and ready for what may come my way. I hope nothing ever does, but we all know things happen. Be ready and be prepared both mentally and know your equipment.

    Reply

    • royc

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      Thank you, TS, for pointing out that the brain is our FIRST weapon, as was re-emphasized by a former SEAL Team member in a recent training I attended. Bob’s excellent article implies this throughout, too.

      My wife’s and my go-to gun for home defense is a Taurus Judge, with Hornady Critical Defense, backed up by various daily-carry’s and finally a Remington 870 with 00 buck and an AR-15 that is in the safe (since little ones are often around) but at the ready for a SHTF scenario. We’re not ex-military nor law-enforcement but in the end, we must all do what works best to protect our families, while always looking to improve our readiness and adjusting as conditions change.

      Reply

  • Bobby P

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    I am on the plus side of 80 and have some arthritis challenges etc. Consequently I have reduced caliber in my defense arms. I carry an S&W 351PD 22 mag revolver, and occasionally a Bersa Thunder 22LR autoloader. I do carry full time in the house. I keep a NAA 22 mag derringer on my bed post and I carry it in summer wearing shorts. I have a Mossberg 505 pump .410 shotgun also at the ready in my home.I use Hornady Critical defense ammo in the 22 mag pistols and in the .410 shotgun. I practise a minimum 2 times a month. I realize that my pistol firepower is not substantial but I can handle my weapons rapidly and shoot accurately and comfortably. I think my .410 shotgun and Hornady loads will do serious damage to an intruder, and I am confident in handling and shooting it. To me this is the most important aspect of carrying and deploying a self defense gun.

    Reply

  • dprato

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    While I agree with much of what was written in the article I would point out that I did not see any discussion about the “will” to do what needs to be done when you have to do it. If you have not prepared yourself mentally that to protect your family and home you may need to shoot another human being then you better forget about having a gun or any weapon for that matter because chances are the assailant will use it on you. I probably spend more time thinking about that and going over scenarios in my mind than I do going to the range which I do very frequently. I believe I have convinced myself to stay calm, do everything I have been taught and learned, and to shoot first and ask questions later. Practice alone and having a large caliber gun are not necessarily going to insure a successful
    defense. As far as the weapon goes that depends on what any given individual feels comfortable with and can handle. I always get a kick out of the big caliber small caliber etc arguments. Watch the video “Vietnam Vet kills police officer” and that will highlight all of what I have said here.

    Reply

    • Matt

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      Dprato you are absolutely correct about it taking a certain menatility to be able to actually draw down on and pull the trigger on another person. I spent 21 years in the Army and I’ve been in several firefights while deployed. I had been through a lot of training before I ever deployed to my 1st combat zone and it didn’t really fully prepare me for just how surreal it would be to get engaged and return fire. I can’t help but laugh when I hear guys talk tough about carrying because they think it will just come naturally and it won’t be a big deal. We became conditioned to just shoot on reflex but there is a reading so many of have PTSD. It’s something you never really forget you just have to compartmentalizations. I also laugh whenever I hear guys talking about stopping power. There is no such thing, it’s called hitting your target in a vital area. The average person is done with aggression after being hit by just about any supersonic projectile unless they are dipped up. If they are on something like PCP unless you can hit a vital organ I don’t care what caliber your pistol is they will not drop. So 2 to the chest and 1 to the head, can be done fast with practice.

      Reply

  • Commander.45

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    @ Charlie, do those gun clubs protect you 24 hours a day? You pointed out more reasons to live in the LONE STAR STATE!!

    Reply

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