How to Set Up a Home Defense Handgun

Checking the front yard with a pistol athe ready. The Glock is equipped with XS Sights

Handguns are used for many things including recreation target shooting, hunting, and competition. The bottom line is personal defense. An important part of personal defense is home defense. Repelling boarders or a takeover gang is deadly business.

As a peace officer, I arrived after the fact of quite a few attempted breaches of the home and plenty of incidents in which the homeowner was injured. In one incident, a mother of about 30 years of age jumped out a back window and left her children of less than five years age to a burglar’s mercy. Fortunately, he had some discretion and fled at the sight of screaming children.

Man shooting a handgun at an outdoor range
Good sights are essential. XS sights offer a good mix of speed and precision.

In another case, a father was passed out drunk on a couch as an intruder assaulted his young daughter. Let’s hope the reader is further evolved than that. Preparation is important and so is gear.   

Home Defense Handgun

For personal defense in the home, a handgun is handy, maneuverable, and lightweight. You may keep the pistol under the mattress (gun butt out), mounted on a bed post, or even under the pillow if safety precautions are followed. Don’t be like the citizen in Chicago who dreamed about a prowler and shot himself in the leg. (An unlikely story…)

Be careful and know your strengths and limitations. A properly set up handgun can be a lifesaver. It may be the handgun you carry daily, or a purpose-designed home defense firearm. Usually, it will be a larger handgun and perhaps even a pistol with an extended magazine.

A reliable, accurate, and controllable handgun is a versatile handgun indeed. There are cinematic, and panic and anxiety driven scenarios that unfortunately have some convinced they need an AR pistol with three or four magazines on hand.

I’m not John Wick, and you probably aren’t either. I do like to have a spare gun load handy, but then my research indicates that it won’t be needed. What will be needed is a quick response and shooting straight.

A revolver ready to be fires from the retention position
A revolver with a hand-filling grip and short barrel is ideal for home defense.

Unlike many who provide opinions on personal defense, I have dealt with dangerous criminals. Some of them did a lot of time for their actions, although one home invasion type was plea bargained down to trespass. In those days, the solicitor’s office seemed bent on avoiding jail time for any offense. The public defender’s office is, for the most part, made up of young attorneys building up favor with older attorneys and judges.

Just so you have no illusions. The criminal element is dangerous as hell. Most are cowards but not all. Not all of them are dopers. Some of our protein fed ex-con criminal class has been working out at taxpayer expense for years. Three hundred pounds of rage and stupidity must be respected. I won’t dwell further on the past, but it certainly provides a reference point and gives legitimacy to my opinion.

 Many of us carry a lightweight handgun during the course of the day and then posit it as the home defense handgun. That is fine, so long as you have proficiency in with the piece. If you deploy a revolver, I recommend a handgun with good sights, a smooth action, and hand-fitting grips. The grips are especially important. Many makers continue to supply revolvers with smallish grips that sting when the handgun is fired. A good set of Hogue MonoGrips are ideal.

Three revolvers with full grips
Revolvers intended for personal defense should have hand-filling grips.

A short-barrel revolver is a great choice for short-range defense. Things can get close-up and personal quickly. A hand-filling stock set gives the user plenty of leverage. However, a short barrel doesn’t give the assailant much to hang onto. While we don’t think we will allow the attacker to get that close it happens all the time.

Learn the retention position, and how to keep the handgun tight to the body. A quality double-action revolver in .38 Special or .357 Magnum is a good defensive handgun for those who practice. Training and practice is the key. A snub nose revolver isn’t something you can lay off practicing with for months and retain proficiency.

I often carry some type of 1911 during the day and a magnum in the backcountry. This works for me. A single-action semi-automatic handgun must be carried cocked and locked, hammer to the rear, and safety on for speed to address a threat. Hammer-lowered ready is indicated for home use.

SIG Sauer 1911 handgun with a Foxtrot 1X weapons light attached
A single-action pistol may be kept at ready with the hammer down on a loaded chamber, but be certain to practice quickly manipulating the hammer.

If the pistol is secured in a holster, there is no reason to keep the piece hammer down. However, be certain you know what you are about if you adopt this type of handgun and carry mode. This brings us to the dedicated home defense handgun.

Lights and Optics

Since this handgun doesn’t have to be concealed or carried daily, it may be a relatively large handgun with both red dot sight and illumination mounted. I prefer to rely on a quality flashlight for searching. I don’t like illuminating something I am pointing a gun at but that is my preference.

I keep a quality, heavy-duty Infinity X1 light — several in fact — nearby in the bedroom. The Infinity X1 features modern technology, something we cannot ignore. This light features a rechargeable core and the option of swapping to a dry cell battery core for power. These lights are a century ahead of the old D cell lights in every way and affordable enough for anyone to own several.

I also keep a SureFire Stiletto compact available. I prefer to use it when walking after dusk. It doubles as a home defense light.

Modern striker-fired, polymer-frame 9mm handguns offer a good argument for home defense. Reliability is high and maintenance requirements are modest. The pistols respond well to a trained shooter.  Smith & Wesson, HK, CZ, and FN offer reliable and useful pistols well worth their modest price. Which you choose, be certain you are getting your money’s worth.

Glock 19X laying on a bed of spent brass at a shooting range
The Glock 19X is a first-class combat pistol.

Glock is a baseline for reliability. For home defense, the pistol should have self-luminous iron sights (if not factory equipped with night sights). XS sights offer a comprehensive list of quality sights. Some are designed for real speed at short range others are as precise as any iron sights at longer range. I prefer the F8 sight, but all XS sights are bright and well made.

A modern red dot has a learning curve. To master it, count on weeks of range work and 1,000 rounds of ammunition. After that, the red dot offers a significant increase in speed and hit probability. A red dot-equipped pistol won’t fit most pockets, and a pistol with a light isn’t easily carried.

Shadow Systems 9mm with Holosun red dot sight and Inforce combat light
The author’s first choice is a Shadow Systems 9mm with Holosun red dot sight and Inforce combat light.

For home defense, a modern 9mm with a light and red dot is a great choice. A modern 9mm handgun with a red dot sight, combat light, and night sights is a formidable home defense handgun. Nothing will take the place of training, so make time and allot funds for training first. Next, consider the hardware equation. We have formidable modern choices. Take advantage of these tools.     


Ammunition is important, but probably gets too much concern and too many comments by those who have no idea about wound ballistics. The first concern is reliability. The load chosen must be feed and cycle reliably.

According to ATK, “the HST hollow point effectively passes through a variety of barriers and holds its jacket in the toughest conditions. HST is engineered for 100-percent weight retention, limits collateral damage, and avoids over-penetration.”

Cartridge integrity is important. The ammunition must be resistant to oil, solvents, water, and handling. A favorite across the board in all calibers is the Federal HST. The balance of expansion and penetration is excellent. Any concern with over penetration must be alloyed with a concern for adequate penetration. The safest course is to not miss the target.

The man or woman behind the tool is by far the most important part of the equation. Just the same, we would be foolish not to choose the best gear we can afford. These handguns and accessories will add to your safety if you train properly.

How would you set up the ultimate home defense handgun — make/model, accessories, ammunition? Share your answers in the comment section.

  • Checking the front yard with a pistol athe ready. The Glock is equipped with XS Sights
  • A Colt and Kimber 1911 .45 ACP handgun in the cocked and locked position
  • Shadow Systems 9mm with Holosun red dot sight and Inforce combat light
  • A revolver ready to be fires from the retention position
  • Handgun with a weapons light and handheld model
  • Man shooting a handgun at an outdoor range
  • Three revolvers with full grips
  • XS sights on a cleaning mat
  • We the People leather holster with a 1911 inserted
  • SIG Sauer 1911 handgun with a Foxtrot 1X weapons light attached

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (11)

  1. Father was a LEO in the 60’s&70’s. Back then the standard firearm was a S&W model 10 revolver. A DA/SA revolver was and still is the original point and click device. So a modern revolver is still a good home defense choice. After a number of years, modern materials and manufacturing technology means that pistols are now as reliable as any DA/SA revolver, as the issues of magazines and quality ammo are no longer of any concern. What now is the major issue is = Can you rack the slide of your pistol? Pistols do require spare magazines, and they need to be checked to insure they cycle properly. Only key factor in whatever choice you make would be if you are comfortable with how it feels in your hand. P.S. – Add a Laser to your handgun, and your flashlight should be a bright as practical. Bright lights will scare off four-legged creatures and sometimes the two-legged ones as well.

  2. Currently I have a Glock 23 with a mounted light and Winchester Ranger ammo as a primary and a S&W model 10 K frame revolver with speed Gold Dot 135 grain +p ammo as a secondary. I have a spare magazine for the Glock, and 2 speed loaders for the Smith & Wesson and a hand held light as well. Also available for easy access is a Remington 870 shotgun in 12 ga, and a mid length 16 inch AR-15 in case of a zombie attack. ( kidding about zombies)

  3. For most of you who do not know me, I was a Police Reserve Officer for about 33 years. I began studying tactics and what would become known as combat shooting back in the mid 60’s I became a follower of Colonel Jeff Cooper. I do not recommend dry firing as a training program for competition combat or self-defense. You need the feedback from hitting your target fast and repeatedly on various targets 2 to 5 yards away. Use the bowling pin silhouette on your target, any hit outside the bowling pin silhouette is a miss. In a combat shooting only the brain, brainstem, and throat are true stoppers. Most people carry small light power pistols, even a heart shot may allow a deadly opponent to return fire for 10 seconds or harm you before they collapse. Forget fast draw. You, cannot draw faster than someone who already has their gun, knife, or another weapon out. If you have not practiced firing a pistol tucked into your side(either side) don’t start with a real firearm. An airsoft pistol works much safer for that.
    When you become safe and confident you will need to do some work with your self-defense weapon from a coat pocket(recommend a salvation army vest or jacket) before you begin to carry socially.

    I own a combat master airsoft, model of the 1911 45 Colt pistol. This model in my opinion is one of the best 1911 semiautomatic Airsoft pistols made. It will shoot a 5gr.0.2O plastic BB at 350 feet per second and a lot more. It is accurate, sight adjustable, and will ring light targets and knock down most lite aluminum targets. I do not shoot it much anymore as I am 78 and no longer shoot combat competition. I do regularly shoot a smaller liter HK USP Compact Airsoft pistol with a red laser. This has been the smallest, most accurate Airsoft pistol I have been able to find. I carry a pair of Smith and Wesson 380 bodyguards with lasers or an S&W 9mm EZ with an under-barrel laser. So far the HK is as close in size as the Bodyguards in airsoft that meets my training and practice requirements. The HK keeps my hand-eye coordination very effective for six-inch targets to 10 yards. That’s about the maximum distance I may have to defend to with a handgun. Start with the airsoft pistol before you invest in a carry weapon. There are also revolver models available that will fit your needs. U tube can be a source of how-to videos. Look for Paul Harrell for many informative videos. Test yourself, set up 3 soup can lids at 3 to 5 yards to either side, then add 3 more on the other side 5 to 7 feet irregularly spaced to represent moving targets If you like, set another 15 feet out, all at about 4 feet above the ground, coke cans work, about the level of the average person’s sternum. You might add 1 more about 25 feet out. Those targets would represent a moving shootout. Time yourself. Count your misses, and remember that every bullet/airsoft bb you fire in public has an attorney attached to them. Shoot as slow as you need to get all hits. Re-arrange the targets.
    You are your only critic in this practice. Remember past statistics show that you {the average person} shoot at best 50% of your best training time under stress. Unless you are very fortunate, you don’t have a range that allows this kind of practice. Probably you do have a Privacy fenced yard or a garage where you can shoot an Airsoft pistol. I have one caution, if you don’t practice, Don’t Carry a Firearm.

    EMG TTI Licensed JW3 2011 Combat Master Airsoft Training Pistol

    You may be able to find cheaper Airsoft pistols but unless they can shoot to 350 feet per second with adjustable sights and I recommend a pistol that will accommodate a green laser you’re probably wasting your money.

    If you have more interest in Airsoft, please contact me, and I will show you pictures of homemade targets I use and some more discussion about them.

    Good luck with whatever you do. You may notice I do not recommend BBs because of ricochet also there are few accurate blowback semi-auto pellet pistols. Both of these will give you problems with backstops as Airsoft will not.

  4. Excellent article that touches on most of the important things to consider when choosing a home defense specific handgun. One thing I would add is to make sure the larger revolver or semiautomatic pistol still fits your hand. Sometimes weight distribution, grip circumference and/or the reach to the trigger change. This will affect hand to gun fit, accuracy, target acquisition, etc. If possible, try out your choice(s) before purchasing.

  5. Great article! My personal home defense gun is a Glock G21SF in .45 A.C.P. (Carry gun G30 same caliber). My Glock is totally stock. Longest sight picture in my house is 21 feet (3 yards). This is close your eyes, point and shoot distance. With your eyes open you just can’t miss. I have a hand held flashlight in my off hand for illumination. I train (with an empty chamber and no magazine) In very low light several times a month. I feel I am ready to defend myself and family. But, like an army general once said: “All the plans go out the window after the first shot.” That is why I will never stop trying to get better!

  6. The “K” frame size 4″ S&W has been the model home defense revolver for decades. My suggestion is that a set of Laser Grips, as replacement for the factory grips, is a welcomed upgrade. Today S&W, and several other manufacturers, offer Laser sights already installed. In low light conditions, the Laser can be a significant aid. Also prefer using a separate light, as a weapon mount light means you are covering someone/something with your muzzle. A very bright light, shining in the eyes, can scare off four-legged creatures, and sometimes the two-legged ones as well. Ammo is too expensive to use if you don’t have to. As example, 38 CRITICAL DEFENSE rounds are over $1.00 apiece now. P.S. – Found that almost any version of the CA 44 BULLDOG, even using “Cowboy” loads, works as well as any 38 load I tried.

  7. Howdy 👋 , just got me a Taurus The Judge long barrel an addition to me “home defenders “ , instead of a shot gun for now . Your opinion matters to me , THANKS— ALL —- Blessings.-

  8. If using a 9mm beware of FMJ ammo. Many departments have switched and there are numerous videos and stories of people being shot with 9mm FMJ and not even realizing they were shot. Even more of the bad guys not taken out of the fight or people being hit when the bullet passed thru the bad guy. FMJ is good practice and plinking ammo but not for self defense. Other than that i agree somewhat in using a bigger gun at home if you have the ability.

  9. Bob, sometines you seriously leave me scratchibg my head. Why would you carry a 1911 the proper way, cocked and locked, about town, but leave it hammer down in your nightstand drawer?

    I am a retired LEO too, as well as a former DoS contractor in Iraq back in 2004-2005; and I can assure you, a +/- 11″ AR-15 is superior to ANY handgun, assuming it is stocked or braced; and is the absolute best self defense and home defense weapon readily available to the average US citizen. Not just for climbing in and out of armored Suburbans. And that is why defeating ATF’s pistol brace “rule” re-interpretation is so critical.

  10. Sir, like you I spent many years in law enforcement as a deputy. I agree with most if not all of your observations and suggestions. I conquer a flashlight is a must but I would not recommend one attached to your pistol for the following reasons:
    1) You by default are pointing a weapon on a possible “Friendly”?!
    2) You will be giving the “Enemy” a point of aim!
    I suggest and do this myself, a flashlight in your non-gun hand away from your body. It prevents #1&2. It has worked for me for over 25 years. Just a thought.

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