Why a Home Defense Shotgun?

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Something falls over downstairs and rattles around on the floor.

"It's just the cat," you tell yourself.

Only you realize that you do not have a cat. Now what do you do? Whom do you call? Do you investigate first and then call or call and then investigate? These are things you need to think about before that time. What you walk down the hallway with, or descend the staircase holding, is also something that desires some time and attention long before it is needed.

For many, the shotgun is perfect for home defense. Let's look at those reasons.


You say don't have a lot of scratch in the bank? Who does these days, times are hard. They are so hard in fact, that more persons who would never consider thievery are now forced to. Many non-violent burglars are likewise blossoming into home invaders due to the larger amounts of cash to be had in those scenarios.

The good news is, if you can only afford one firearm, the humble shotgun is a wise choice for an entry-level tool. For about $150, you can get a decent used pump-action 12-guage shotgun such as a Mossberg 500, Remington 870, Ithaca 87, or Winchester 1200/1300 in many pawnshops and gun shows around the country. When buying a used shotgun be sure to bring cash and be ready to deal respectfully. For about $50-$100 more you can get the same weapon in new condition in big box sporting goods stores.

Even if the figure of $150 is out of your reach, single shot New England and Stevens shotguns can be had for half that price, especially if you are looking at used ones. These single-shot break open gauges are very light and have hard, stout, recoil, but are country simple to and have very few pieces to break or malfunction. Bottom line is that you can get a much safer and effective home defense shotgun for $75-$250 than you would a handgun or rifle for the same price.


The shotgun has long been an equalizer in dangerous situations. Some argue that shotgun buckshot rounds do not sufficiently penetrate to deliver enough take down. In 2007 FBI penetration tests, when 12 pellets of 2 inch 12-gauge lead buckshot were fired from a 20-inch barreled shotgun, 11 of 12 pellets went through four layers of denim fabric and
16-inches of ballistic gelatin. The 12th pellet 'only' went 14-inches. When it is understood that very hot 38-special +P hollow-points consistently only travel 11-inches in the same test, the rule of 12 is established.

However, with this in mind do shotguns over penetrate, making them unsafe to use in your home? Well the answer is no to a degree.

In numerous ballistics tests with 5/8 inch inner stud drywall walls (two sheets of gypsum sheetrock each), it was shown that most 9mm, 38 caliber, 40-caliber and .45 ACP handgun rounds penetrated as many as three walls (six sheets) and kept going. Birdshot loads of 12-gauge penetrated one full wall while buckshot rounds went through two.

Slugs, however zipped through as many as eight walls (16 sheets), so slugs are probably a little unsafe for urban combat in your own home.

In FBI testing, 3" magnum buckshot (24 pellets) fired through a -inch plywood door still penetrated 6-inches of gelatin. So even if fired through a door, a shotgun is still very dangerous. Bottom line is that shotguns are effective, but remember what is beyond your shot and keep in mind that all rounds fired eventually wind up in court.

In addition, in the dead of night, no sound is quite as unsettling for a burglar or trespasser than the telltale 'slick-slack' of a pump action shotgun. Now that is a moment of pause.

Multiple use firearms

Most shotguns can be utilized for a variety of purposes. On your basic framed Remington 870/1100/1187 as well as your Mossberg 500/590/835 and Winchester 1200/1300 series, all you have to do is buy a longer 26-31 inch barrel to turn your home defense shorty into a decent trap, duck, dove, turkey, and rabbit or deer gun. With the turn of a knob, these barrels can be swapped out in minutes. In some states where rifle hunting is highly regulated, special rifled slug barrels can be bought that produce amazing accuracy out to as far as 100-yards.

With the versatility of shotgun rounds you can do from light 'dust' loads for clay pigeons to heavier loads for small game all the way back up to buckshot for deer.

For your introductory price, and an additional barrel you can have both a sporting shotgun and a home defense weapon of unparalleled effectiveness for as little as $250.

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January 11, 2012  •  03:19 PM
A shotgun is fine - as a second home defense gun. If you have only one gun it should be a handgun. Carrying a child to safety, operating light switches, opening & closing doors, holding a flashlight AND a shotgun that requires two hands to even carry correctly AND all at the same time ... well, you get the picture. The shotgun should be kept in the safe room or area where you corral all the good guys while protecting you and them with a suitable handgun. Then, you can pull out the shotgun to take out whatever comes to the door since ALL the good guys are in the room with you and you have already determined that.

A 12 gauge with buckshot is a formidable defense weapon - but don't rule out a 20 gauge. It has very close to the same power and a lot less recoil - a big consideration for a smaller female. Even a 410 can be very good for defense.

But, if you're going to have only one gun AND children - a handgun should be your first choice. Adding a shotgun to the mix is an excellent next step.

C. M. Novess III
NRA Certified Instructor
January 16, 2012  •  01:58 PM
I agree with the above statement !
January 16, 2012  •  02:42 PM
Great article! My Mossberg pump 12 is my go to gun for home defense; it is very simple to operate, even when a bit sleepy.
January 20, 2012  •  01:55 PM

"A shotgun is fine - as a second home defense gun. If you have only one gun it should be a handgun. Carrying a child to safety, operating light switches, opening & closing doors, holding a flashlight AND a shotgun that requires
two hands to even carry correctly AND all at the same time"
Never thought of that, great point.
January 24, 2012  •  10:31 AM
"rack the pump"

I hate that TV crap.

I'd much rather quietly make sure I have a round ready to go (properly chambered) and then issue a warning verbally.

If the gun is loaded why "rack the pump" and dump a round and/or risk a failure to reload (for whatever reason) for the sake of an audible warning?

If I let the badguys know where I am, I sure as heck want to be ready.

Too much Hollywood logic these days.
March 7, 2012  •  01:43 PM
For the record, the mention of "racking the pump' is in reference to the practice of keeping a firearm and ammunition accessible but separate. Several gun-owners who have small children follow this principal. While I personally don't advocate this practice, one must admit the deterrent factor posed in such a scenario.