Personal Defense

Pillow, Gun Safe, or Nightstand — Where Should You Keep Your Home-Ready Handgun?

Handgun sticking out from under a pillow

When you carry a handgun, the choice of carry mode isn’t that difficult. For most, strong side on the hip is the default. Inside the waistband has great appeal. Some like cross draw, others prefer appendix carry. That’s the easy decision. However, when it comes to home ready or choosing to rely on a pillow gun, more thought and discussion is required.

When you are keeping a firearm at home ready, the choices are much greater in scope. The problem is that almost all the home-ready handgun storage choices that folks adopt — many are recommended by writers who have never faced a bad guy for real — are poor choices. There are many places to hide a firearm in the home, I will grant you that. But most are poor choices based on speed and accessibility.

1911 pistol shoved between the mattress and boxsprings of a bed
Keeping a pistol between the mattress and box springs may not be as viable as you would first assume.

Keep Things Safe

I am surprised at the people who have several ready guns around the home. This is a very bad idea. It invites the burglar to become armed. A burglarized home doesn’t look like someone has rearranged the furniture. Instead, it looks like a cyclone hit. Books, furniture, even the kitchen cabinets are rifled, and your belongings broken and strewn around. The bad guys — and most are bad, some are cruel and evil —know every hiding place and spend just as much time as you have studying likely hiding places. It is one thing to secure a firearm in a safe, another to have it ready for action.

It is essential to have a gun safe to store your firearms. If you have only one gun, store it in a Hornady RAPiD Safe (or similar device) when it isn’t on the body, or when you are not at home and in control of the handgun. Let me give you a couple examples of what may happen with an unsecured firearm.

In one case, a homeowner was alerted by his dog barking. He went to the door unarmed, and a gang invaded the home and put one of the man’s own guns to his head. The Lord was with him, as he not only survived, but he also killed two of the home invaders. In another case, a man was killed after a terrorist burst through a window in his home. The man’s handgun was ready on a shelf behind the killer.

In another case, a man was confronted by a home invader. He raced for his gun that was stored in a nightstand. The burglar overtook and beat the man, obtained the gun from a nightstand, and fired. The homeowner was crippled for life.

In another case, a man’s wife was attacked at the doorway. The man rushed to her aid, never pausing to access one of the two handguns he kept at home ready in the closet. He was hurt, and his wife received permanent injuries. Eventually, he managed to access a firearm and kill the attacker. His wife will never completely recover.

Hornady Snapsafe with two handguns and a spare magazine
This Hornady safe, or a similar model from another manufacturer, will easily secure multiple handguns.

In a famous case in my hometown, a home invader broke into several occupied dwellings. In several instances, women were awakened to find him at the foot of their bed — naked in one case. He was a dangerous felon, perhaps criminally mentally ill, and guilty of at least one sexual assault. One homeowner, a man of considerable strength in his mid-30s, fought the burglar until the man escaped. He said the burglar, a man of average size, fought like a devil.

A good friend had only one firearm, a 28-inch barrel sporting shotgun. She slept with the gun near her elbow and the barrel near her feet during this terror that lasted several weeks. This fellow somehow managed to trigger his own demise by jamming himself into an air re-circulation vent while attempting to burglarize a popular store and expired. The town breathed a collective sigh of relief. I could go on.

Poor storage and poor access are worse than no gun at all. You are just as helpless, and in fact, you may well arm the bad guy. As these incidents illustrate, don’t wait until your neighbor is assaulted to prepare yourself. Be ready.

Grandfather clock
Don’t stash a gun on top of the grandfather clock! It is just too obvious.

Home-Ready Options

My grandmother adopted a common means of home ready. My grandfather always kept a shotgun handy. He also had several .38 revolvers. After he passed away, grandmother slept with a .38 under the pillow. It worked for her.

The ideal drill is to keep the firearms secure in a safe at all times when you are not at home and in control of the firearm. When you return home, open the safe, and put a gun on your person or at home ready. Do not forget to relock the safe. That is the only ready drill that is both tactically and safety wise.

In many jurisdictions, those who leave an unsecured firearm about, and that firearm falls into the hands of a felon or a child, may be criminally charged. I don’t expect anyone to go to bed with a shoulder holster on, but… When you are sleeping, or perhaps in the easy chair watching television, where should the pistol be at ready?

American Dingo sitting in an office chair
Humble and good-natured ‘Aunt Lucy’ has superhuman senses and makes an excellent alarm.

When at home, I like to have a handy handgun in the back pocket. A snub .38 is ideal. Other firearms, even the Bond Arms Derringer, are good. I am highly unlikely to be surprised. I have a rolling prancing alarm system named Lucy who weighs 62 pounds, and her primary costs are love and deer meat. (At 38 pounds when rescued her, I have done my part.)

She loves the grandchildren and plays hard. I cannot imagine her biting, but she has teeth. Most dogs will bark and alert. The mailman doesn’t go undetected and neither does the lawn crew. She once spotted a snake 20 yards away. Her senses are a superpower in human terms. The backyard is now free of moles.

I would not want an animal willing to take on a grown man. They are dangerous to the innocent unless highly trained. A grown man or woman of average strength, or a dangerous invader, could kick a 60-pound dog to death. However, she makes certain there are no surprises.

Not everyone needs a dog. If you work long hours away from home, a pet isn’t feasible. They should be a pet, not a prisoner. Some animals such as the Pekinese have a heart all out of proportion to their size and make excellent alarm dogs. If you don’t have the option to responsibly keep a dog, then some type of alarm — even a cheap one — is a good idea.

So, a handgun is often in my back pocket. When I am sleeping, the home defense handgun is by the bed on a table or nightstand along with a weapon light for illumination. When the grandchildren are here, Lucy sleeps beside them or close by. She is a first line of alarm, if not defense.

Multiple shoulder holsters hanging on a closet door rack
Most of us have quite a few belts and holsters. The shoulder holsters may make good home-ready handgun harnesses.

I keep the firearms out of the grandkids’ reach when they are here. Although they are well trained in safety, this safety measure means an extra second or two to access the firearm, but the tradeoff is worth it. The alternative, some tragic accident, is unthinkable.

I have three categories of home defense firearms — maybe four. The first is the gun I have carried during the day. This is usually a Commander .45, sometimes a Springfield SA-35. If the day was filled with hiking or exploring, then it is more likely a revolver.

The second category is the small gun I always keep on my person. This is often the backup .38 that disappears in the back pocket and makes for a formidable defense considering its light weight. The third handgun is the special purpose home defender. These are among the most formidable firearms in the safe. A long slide 1911 or six-inch barreled magnum are too large to conceal. However, they are excellent home defense guns, very easy to use well, and hit hard.

Revolver laying on a desktop next to model cars
A gun on the shelf is likely to be far away when needed and isn’t secure at all.

I mentioned a fourth type. I have two .22s locked away but reasonably accessible. One is loaded with CCI Stinger, the other with .22 shotshell. Lucy has killed four snakes, a host of moles, and routed a raccoon during the past year. All outside — Thank God! She also alerted me to a kitten that had crawled under the house and could not find its way out, so the rescue animal rescued another animal. These .22s are not critical to access as far as speed goes. I may miss the shot before the snake slithers off — no big deal. The idea is to get rid of it, so gone is gone.

Under the Pillow?

This brings us to the controversial under-the-pillow home-ready handgun. There are variations. As one example, a good friend doesn’t use a nightstand as I do. He thrusts the gun between the mattress and box springs butt out for a fast draw. Worked pretty good until the one night he needed to access the gun and discovered as he leaned over putting pressure on the mattress, he could not draw the pistol against his own 220 pounds of weight.

Another friend keeps a shoulder holster with two magazines and a combat light clipped in place hanging on the bed. The carry gun is slipped into it at night. (Be certain the shoulder holster is stabilized, or you will not be able to draw the gun.) He wakes up and dons the rig, if need be. Under the pillow will not work if you continually toss and turn and grab the pillow, fluff the pillow, turn it around from one side to the other, or sleep between two pillows.

Bob Campbell lying on a table practicing the pillow draw.
The author practiced the pillow draw using a range bag. That is a hard mattress.

We must look at access, speed, and safety. Unless you sleep reasonably soundly and don’t toss and turn (you may and not realize it), an under-the-pillow isn’t a good choice. A Glock or a cocked-and-locked 1911 is a bad idea. A double-action revolver or a double-action first-shot handgun with a safety would seem to be the best choice for this type of ready.

Some choose a handgun they keep at home ready with a loaded magazine and empty chamber. If you awake with an intruder at the foot of the bed, you are not going to survive if you need two hands to make the gun ready. The common, dope-inspired burglar, or the professional who hits the home while you are away, isn’t dangerous unless they are cornered.

The psychopath who rapes and kills for the sheer pleasure of causing human suffering is another matter and should be your primary concern. Readiness demands a pistol that may be put into action with a minimum of effort. I keep the handgun beside the bed on a small table below mattress level. Top of Form

Accessing From a Gun Safe

A handgun at home ready is only worthwhile if you can access it quickly. A fast access safe such as the Hornady Rapid Safe answers that need. The gun safe answers the need to keep the ready handgun away from children, guests, and snoopers — yet the handgun may be accessed reasonably rapidly. I am not a fan of remembering a code or combination during an emergency, much less manipulating a set of keys while awakened for an emergency.

Hornady Glide Vault gun safe
Hornady offers several safe variations, including the Glide Vault and Snap Safe. This is heavy-duty construction!

Hornady’s RAPiD Safe features an RFID bracelet, card, or key fob that allows instant access. I like this very much. Sleep with the bracelet on or keep the key fob very close at night. The RAPiD Safe may be secured to the floor or a wall. Don’t purchase the safe and feel smug about it — practice deployment often with a triple-checked unloaded firearm before you keep the handgun at home ready. I like the rapid safe concept.

A final warning, safety must come first. Be certain you are awake and clear-headed when you confront a home invader. Identify the target. There are worst things than being shot, and shooting the wrong person is one of them. In the past six months, two children of homeowners each grown daughters were shot while entering the parents’ home. Just locally — not nationwide. Each had a key to the home.

In one case, the man firing the fatal shot was in a dope-fueled haze. In another, the woman rolled out of bed and fired toward the door at a target she could not recognize or identify, and to which she had given no warning. Neither was charged, the Sheriff said they had suffered enough. Perhaps this is true.

The author practicing the nightstand draw using a picnic table
The author practices the ‘nightstand’ draw.

Target identification is vital. There are many unfortunate incidents in which homeowners are attacked, often with life-changing injuries — both mental and physical, if they survive.

A firearm, of any type, is essential to defend yourself and those you love. But think carefully about where the pistol is kept at home ready. A poor choice will make the firearm and your training worthless.

Would you recommend keeping a gun under the pillow at night for home ready? What about a bedside safe? Are you a fan of keeping multiple guns in multiple locations for home ready security? Why or why not? Share your answers in the comment section.

  • Three pocket guns including a Bond Arms derringer
  • Hornady Snapsafe with two handguns and a spare magazine
  • A semi automatic handgun and a revolver in leather holsters
  • Grandfather clock
  • American Dingo sitting in an office chair
  • 1911 pistol shoved between the mattress and boxsprings of a bed
  • Two handguns in the cocked-and-locked position
  • The author practicing the nightstand draw using a picnic table
  • Bob Campbell lying on a table practicing the pillow draw.
  • Cannon gun safe with several stickers plastered to the front
  • Revolver laying on a desktop next to model cars
  • Small Gun Vault or Hornady safe for two pistols
  • Multiple shoulder holsters hanging on a closet door rack
  • Three handgun with 6-inch barrels
  • Hornady Glide Vault gun safe

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
Handloader
Rifle Magazine
Handguns
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 (25)

  1. Heh Bob, the point to the “if your not home” is to address the fact that they can’t hurt you, but if you don’t have them placed appropriately, when the bad guy comes, you don’t have them to help you. Also, even just having a barking poodle is a benefit & early warning system. Most people, at least those with a modicum of sense, will not have a “Bad ass dog”, unless they know how to handle them, because they will have been hospitalized. Not everyone has safes. A guy with 1 or a few guns, does not usually have one, and again, if in the safe & not available, it’s just another chunk of metal & of no use.

  2. @LARRY,
    I am 71, and 50 or so years ago, I was in the Army and the weapon I carried was a 1911A1. I have forgotten the make of it as it had different marks for the slide and the frame. After that I worked as a nurse and have seen and treated hundreds of GSW in my more than 30 years in the ER. Add my time in the Army and it is almost 40 years on the front lines. That is actually beside the point, I must take issue with several things you have said.

    First of all, you come across in a far less than favorable light. My first response is to tell you how revolting the totality of your message is, the presentation as well as the tone. The second would be to say that, in my opinion, you have presented nothing worthy of the time I wasted reading it. But it does warrant telling you that not only are you discourteous, you have offered nothing of any value to the conversation. To call someone a coward from behind your keyboard is particularly revolting to me. It gives me the same sensation when some longhairs got in my face when I got back to the States after my time overseas, called me names, threw $#!+ on me (literally) and said I was a baby killer. I did not respond as they hoped I would. They were all uninjured when I left them but they did not know how clise they came to eliciting a response for which they were physically unprepared. That is what I feel about what you have said. You owe the author an apology.

    You state that he has nothing but rationalizations but the overall message you are presenting is hardly rational. Your father’s time in the pacific war is not relevant to the topic being covered. And from the perspective of this veteran, and as a retired ER nurse, you are incorrect when you state “Everyone does his or her best to provide a home defense against intruders.” I have seen and treated more than a few people who pretty much crumbled into a pool of tears when their intruders arrived. Many offered not a single effort to resist the culprits. They obviously had never read anything by Col. Cooper.

    As far as being 72 and thinking you will be getting into fighting form for the Ukraine by the end of July, all I can say is you need to get back on your meds, man, and soon. You are likely to get hurt by someone who doesn’t understand how badly you need them.

  3. Just got to the article and basically agree with the author. My nightstand gun is my EDC gun, a Sig P365 (with 2 spare mags) which stays on my person from the time I wake until I go to bed. 2 flashlights and a small but very sharp fixed blade knife have full time residence on the nightstand as well. My den is upstairs and in the junk closet resides a CZ Scorpion EVO pistol that is outfitted for CQB (including suppressor and brace) with 3 spare mags. My early alert system is a Chihuahua and my deterrent system consists of a Polish hound, a Plot hound and a pit bull mix (all very sweet dogs, intimidating but friendly). The only guns that are left out are wall hangers and not loaded or chambered in a common caliber (one isn’t even functional). Readers need to realize this is an opinion piece and you may agree or disagree but bear in mind that Mr. Campbell is not an armchair quarterback

  4. To Grumpy 49

    Thanks for reading!

    If the gun in the bed went off I would ruin the bedding as well one way or the other!

  5. Scott Puckett

    Thanks for reading! This means a lot of me, thanks for taking time to think this over.

    I keep a snub .38 in the back pocket as naturally as a handkerchief.

    Stay safe.

  6. Tom
    Thanks for reading and thanks for the comments.
    Come on though- if someone steals the guns when you are not at home no skin off your nose?
    You have armed felons! The point is the gun should be on the person.

    I have the greatest respect for trained K 9 dogs, seen them work many times. But you have to admit there are 1,000 ill trained simply mean dogs for every well trained animal.

    I also favor the handguns that begin with 4.

    Bob

  7. Larry
    I started to pass on this reply as you are obviously approaching dementia. Evidently your parents never taught you civility. I have never faced an enemy on a battlefield, my respect to those who have. I have one healed scar from a 9mm and stitches on my body that look like a railroad track in places. I served for over 20 years as a peace officer. You dont write for SWAT magazine or Black without credentials. While you are advanced in age you have learned the way of the modern computer jerk who is willing to denigrate for no reason and say things that I assure you would never say to the face of the person.

  8. I sure have a lot of disagreement with the author. Start with the last one first; dogs. OK, I’m a police dog trainer, etc, so know dogs…but a “good” protection dog will protect you with their life, give you advanced warning & time to react. Bad guys, “don’t” want to go to homes where “bad ass” dogs live. “I” have several warning signs saying beware of dogs, not responsible for injury or death. At the house there is one last sign saying “warning, BAD ASS DOG ON DUTY”! Well, I have 4, so, pretty well covered for anyone wanting entry. Now I have a fairly large horse property with locked gate, so I would get plenty of advance notice.

    No problem with most people putting the guns in safe when away. As for placing them around the house – Yes, put them everywhere you feel is appropriate for you. If you leave them out & your not home & someone breaks in & takes them – your “not” at home. I personally have a number of revolvers in places where we spend our time & on bed stand next to bed – they all start with .45! Revolvers for KISS! Wife, grand kids exc can use without worrying about doing anything but sight & shoot. I’m a combat Marine & Police Officer & I mostly carry a revolver or 1911 style, all starting with 4 (except a pocket 357). I also have a 12ga & a combat tricked out AR on the overhead of the bed.

    If your gun is in a safe, it’s of no value. If it’s not where you can get it easily whenever you need it, it’s of no value. If you don’t have some security system, movement alarms, lights, and/or “bad ass dogs”, you are putting yourself in jeopardy.

    “Now”, non of that is perfect & all is fairly worthless, if you don’t know how to shoot (combat) under stress, can always hit you target & your dogs are not trained well, or your security system is poor.

    People need to find out what they need to know, how to do it & have the proper stuff to protect yourself & family.

    Not everyone who teaches a class, or professes to be an expert – is! You need to hook up with someone who “really knows” what it’s like to throw lead when the bad guys are throwing lead “at you”! You ABSOLUTELY need to practice combat shooting, cover, concealment, movement around house/property & practice like it is in the real world & practice, practice, practice!

    FWIW
    Tom

  9. As usual Mr. Campbell has given me something to think about. I have several handguns “stored” around my home. They are out of sight but certainly not inaccessible to a thief who has time to ransack my home. When the grandkids are around most are in my safe. I live in a rural area and when I answer the door, or go outside because someone has driven up, I seldom think to grab a concealable handgun. In today’s world I know I need to be more concerned about the safety of my family. Perhaps I will take a hint from Mr. Campbell and start carrying my old back-up, a J-frame, in my back pocket, as I do when cutting grass of weed-wacking my property.

  10. I keep a small 9mm semi automatic on a magnetic holster behind a window drape by the window and front door my gun had in on the gun when opening the door.

  11. Mattress holster that has a long tab that goes between the mattress and box springs. Holster hangs over the box springs, covered by sheet. Practice draw and point so you don’t shoot your feet.

  12. I personally prefer the under the pillow method, but under the opposite pillow. Then I can toss and turn and not bother my Glock 40 cal. It’s always within reach right next to me.

  13. Some 500 years ago somebody realized you can’t defend a castle when under siege. Well that is a thought to remember as some jacked up pill head is standing at the door, you must react quick to the situation! My 40 cal is under the sheet next to my hand at all time at night and on hip otherwise.
    And yes every neighbor that passes my house has seen it, must wave, I’m not sure about the ones that don’t.
    Raven out
    To all of the WANDERING JOHNS stay on point

  14. I use a compact but powerful magnet mounted to the metal bed frame within easy hand reach. Holds my CZ 75 SP-01 securely in place.

  15. I have a bed holster which slides between the base and the mattress which covers the trigger and also holds a spare mag and a flashlight. This works perfect because you grab it out just like normal from you gun belt holster. There is no way you can grab inside the trigger guard if you train to use it this way. No saying this I do not have small children in my house either so this would not work for that.

  16. 60+ years ago, my father kept his service revolver in the top drawer of his dresser. All the kids knew not to touch his dresser. As the oldest, one of my jobs was to polish his gear and clean his revolver. Now, folks have to keep their guns locked up in most areas. Did note that the one item not discussed was that a good light should be part of the “things that go bump in the night” package. My package is a revolver with a laser grip, a shotgun, and a high power flashlight. Newer flashlights are bright enough to effectively blind any two or four legged varmints, and can save having to use up your ammo, or worse, shoot someone you didn’t want to shoot. As to putting a handgun under your pillow, the stories of someone firing their gun in their sleep did happen in my home town many years ago, Didn’t hit anyone, but did ruin the bedding. Thankfully, no fire was started.

  17. A few points not mentioned; in addition to having a firearm readily available, modern body armor is cheap and improves survivability. Next to my bed I keep a surplus carrier filled with level IIIA Kevlar panels, on the carrier are Molle bands holding spare ammunition, holster, and knife; a spare carrier is on my wife’s side of the bed. Secondly, I make a practice before going to sleep of visualizing in my mind exactly where my handgun is next to me and in the dark will reach out and touch it to reinforce in my mind where to find my weapon. I began this visualization and touch practice while serving as an infantry soldier in Afghanistan and continue to do it; I find it particularly helpful when I am in a new environment, i.e., Air BNB, hotel, etc. and helps keep my mind ready for action and not as an afterthought.

  18. I sleep with my SA/DA pistol on the nightstand with the grip turned for easy access. Always have a round chambered and fifteen more where that came from. I trust my 60# girlfriend to wake me. She can smell a bad guy a mile away. If the 9mm isn’t enough there is a .45 with 16 rounds close at hand. Of course, the AR is nearby…

  19. Drednicol.son, I live on the third floor of an apartment that has a brick exterior.

    I know that bricks won’t stop bullets, completely, nor will any walls in a house.

    A trained gun holder, if awakened soon enough, will be able to grab any gun they have and, if needs be, they will fire it.

    Whether it’s a 12 gauge, a chinese ak, or a 9 mm pistol, the only thing that matters is how good the weapon holder is with it

  20. It seems that the author has not engaged an actual enemy in the battlefield.

    The author has nothing but a bunch of rationalizations about he would carry a weapon for home defense.

    For me, the answer is my father’s 1911 from his time in all of the pacific war. The production date was december of 1932 according to stampings on his gun.

    Everyone does his or her best to provide a home defense against intruders.

    The ideal home defense weapon is, number one, how fast you can get to it, and number two, how fast you can put the bad guys down.

    That is different for everyone. So, for someone to sit there in their lazy, cowardly chair and lectured me on home defense is revolting.

    I’m 72, and toward the end of july I will be back in fighting form and off to ukraine. I’m sure the closest the author has gotten to combat is playing call of duty on his computer.

  21. The soundest advice in this essay is to lock up every not-carried firearm in a safe when the house is unoccupied. You don’t want to come home having to defend yourself against one of your own, unsecured guns left behind. As half of an SC empty-nester couple, this is no-brainer. Making firearms in all cases inaccessible to bad guys–and grandchildren–is axiomatic.

    All other contingencies require thoroughly reasoning and planning. There is no one-size-fits-all formula. Nor are any options–like life itself–without risk. The “prime directives” go like this (not necessarily in order): 1) keep your loved ones safe, 2) maintain your own defensive capabilities, and 3) minimize the bad guys’ malificent opportunities. These list items are organic: not hierarchical or mutually exclusive.

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