What’s the best gun for home defense?
Perhaps the most common and effective means of home protection, given purpose-driven selection and the proper training in use, is a good defensive handgun.
With that in mind, let us take a look at some of the better options out there.
Quick List: The Best Home Defense Handguns
Best Semi-Autos: Beretta 92X
The granddaddy of double-stack/double-action 9mm combat handgun, the Beretta Model 92 has been around since 1975 in one form or another and was the standard sidearm of the U.S. military for 35 years across “Two Gulf Wars.”
Today, the 92X models are at least the third or fourth generation of these guns and have kept ahead of the curve. This proven design, with a standard 17+1 magazine capacity, is solid piece of mind.
Best Semi-Autos: CZ P10 F
When this Czech Republic-based firearm maker evolved from their flagship CZ 75 into the realm of polymer-framed pistols, the P10 series surfaced and was quickly able to give Glock some heartburn.
While the P10 C is a close competitor to the Glock 19, the 19+1 shot P10 F, a full-sized model, runs a great race against the Glock 17 and does it with a slightly greater mag capacity. Plus, the CZ line has one of the best feeling triggers on the striker-fired pistol market today.
Best Semi-Autos: FN 509
The 17+1 shot 9mm FN 509 was developed to compete for military pistol contracts and, while a younger design than some of its competitors, don’t let that faze you as this gun is fully evolved, building on the lessons learned from the company’s previous FNS series, which in itself was well-liked.
Best Semi-Autos: Glock 19X
The international heavyweight champion when it comes to polymer-framed striker fired pistols– which describes the company’s entire catalog– Glock delivered their G19X pistol to market in 2018, promising a “do all” handgun, blending a full-sized G17 frame with a mid-sized G19s slide and the company’s Generation 5 features.
Shipping with both 17-round flush and 19-round extended mags, it also accepts the company’s affordable and reliable 33-round stick mag. Coupled with a WML and night sights, it would be hard to find a more well rounded example of a home defense handgun.
Best Semi-Autos: HK VP9
While Heckler & Koch catered to the caviar and 20-year old single-malt market with their P7 series handguns for a generation, which were uber reliable but also uber expensive, the German gun maker hit it out of the park with the much more affordable and recently introduced VP9 pistols.
These polymer-framed 17+1 shot full-sized pistols have only been on the market for a couple years but have already bagged large international military and police contracts against stiff competition.
Best Semi-Autos: Ruger Security 9
Ruger’s P80/90 series guns from the VHS-era were popular mid-shelf handguns that basically can’t be killed. Going with a polymer frame and replacing the SR9 line that came after, today’s Ruger Security 9 is as no-frills as it gets for a decent home defense handgun.
The 15+1 9mm ammo capacity is lots of pow for the price – and the pistols are available in a vanilla adjustable sight model for about $350 while one with steel tritium sights only run about $500. Tough to find better in this price range.
Best Semi-Autos: S&W M&P M2.0
Smith & Wesson’s M&P line of polymer-framed striker-fired pistols, now in its second generation, are every bit as reliable and, in some circles even more popular than, Glocks, especially with their low bore axis and 18-degree grip angle which translates to a more natural point of aim.
The full-sized M&P M2.0, particularly in the Spec series, runs a 5-inch barrel, 3-dot Tritium night sights, and 17-shot flush-fit magazines. For those wanting optics, there are models for those as well.
Best Semi-Autos: Sig P320 XFull
The literal staple for a modular combat handgun– just ask the Army– Sig Sauer’s P320 series pistols use a serialized fire control unit that can be swapped around different grip modules in minutes by the end-user.
The entry-level P320 XFull comes standard with XRay3 day/night sights and a rear sight plate for red dot optics. Coupled with a 17-round magazine capacity and 21-round extendos readily available, the 320 is ready to go.
Best Semi-Autos: SA 1911 Operator Series
To replace their WWII-era .45ACP Government Issues in the late 1980s, the Marine Corps contracted with Springfield Armory for a series of upgraded M1911s. Likewise, for generations, police tactical teams to include the FBI HRT unit, also went with modded Springers for their entry guns.
Using lessons learned from both of these lines, Springfield today sells their 1911 Loaded and TRP Operator pistols, which include accessory rails, stainless steel match-grade barrels and low-profile combat 3-dot Tritium night sights. Make no mistake, this is not the “Two World Wars” .45.
Why a wheel gun?
Seen by many gun owners today as a dated, almost quaint, throwback to yesteryear, akin to stagecoaches and telegraph machines, revolvers are nonetheless still viable for home defense.
To be clear, more pistols are produced on average than revolvers– in 2019, over 3 million semi-autos were cranked out by U.S. manufacturers compared to only about 580,000 wheel guns– but they are far from extinct. They have a number of benefits in a home defense scenario to include a simple manual of arms with no slides, decockers, or manual safeties to manipulate.
This simplicity carries over to immediate action drills as, while revolvers can still malfunction, they are less likely to jam as they do not have to feed cartridges and extract spent shell casings as semi-autos do during the firing cycle.
In a close-quarter gun fight, which is very likely in home defense, hammer-fired revolvers are better able to deliver a contact-range shot, while semi-autos in the same scenario can be pushed out of battery and made unable to fire if pressed against a subject.
Best Revolvers: Colt King Cobra
After a two-decade hiatus, Colt reentered the revolver biz with their new .38SPL Cobra line in 2017 and last year stepped up their game with the .357 Magnum-capable King Cobra. With a heavy-duty frame and 3-inch barrel, this mid-sized stainless-steel snake gun is perhaps more relevant than ever.
Best Revolvers: Kimber K6S
While Kimber was best known for being a big wheel in the 1911 game, they turned heads a few years back with their slim-cylinder K6S 6-shot revolvers.
When it comes to a full-sized model for home defense, one of their lightweight DASA (double-action/single action) 4-inch Combat models in a quick-access lock box by the bed can guarantee a good night’s sleep.
Best Revolvers: Ruger GP100
Replacing their “Six” line of double-action revolvers in the 1980s, Ruger’s GP100 series guns are, with the possible exception of the S&W K-frame, the most common full-sized wheel guns in the country– and for good reason.
With a beefy one-piece frame built for steady use with Magnum rounds, Ruger makes something like 20 different models of this beloved revolver today and thousands of gun owners nationwide rely on it for home defense every day.
Best Revolvers: S&W K Frame
As basic a format of revolver as you can imagine, the standard K-framed Smith & Wesson six-shooter has been around in dozens of models and generations since the 1900s.
Today, when it comes to new-made versions in current production, the all-stainless Models 66 and 686 in 4-inch format, stoked with a half-dozen .357 Magnums, are ready for that literal bump in the night.
Home defense handguns are not a new idea
Going back to the dawn of firearm use, guns were used to protect the home of those who could afford them. As far back as the 14th Century, heavy iron-forged handgonnes were common in medieval castles, an ideal point defense weapon in the stone and masonry passages and myriad entry points, or in firing from a terrace above.
Fast forward to the Colonial era, by which time handguns were much more obtainable, such firearms were still a ready staple for those interested in protecting family members.
Founding Fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both left numerous pistols in their estates, which they both habitually carried while traveling and kept ready in their bed chambers and studies while at home. As time went on, the trend continued.
Using surveys from gun retailers and data from federal regulators, the National Shooting Sports Foundation found that the main reason cited by new gun owners taking the plunge in recent years was over concerns for personal protection and that handguns were the primary choice for home defense, outpacing the second-most bought firearm, pump-action shotguns, by a 2-to-1 margin when it comes to keeping guns for home protection.
Protecting the modern castle from stressful situations, it would seem, is still a job most commonly filled by handguns.
In serious modern ballistics testing developed since 1986, the FBI has set a standard for reliable self-protection that a handgun bullet must penetrate an average of 12-to-18 inches through ballistics gelatin and typical barriers offer effective stopping power.
Too shallow or too deep, and the bullet is less than acceptable. On the commercial side of the ammo world, extensive third-party testing has shown high-performance loads in selected modern calibers ranging from .22WMR and .380ACP to 9mm Luger, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .40 S&W, 10mm Auto and .45ACP to meet the FBI’s “sweet spot” when used in common handguns.
More dated “one-stop shot” data compiled from law enforcement use of force statistics shows that rounds beginning with .38 Special +P moving through .45ACP and into .44Mag as having good results in over 3/4 of cases.
Handgun ballistic gel tests demonstrating the appropriate penetration depth
With handguns, there are literally hundreds of models in production by dozens of manufacturers. Many of these, however, are impractical for home defense.
On the “no” list would include rimfires which can be very ammo sensitive and prone to the inevitable malfunction, as well as the other side of the spectrum, oversized large-caliber hunting models, which are generally overkill.
Likewise, very small “pocket” style guns such as snub-nosed revolvers and pistols engineered for discreet concealed carry are less than ideal home defense guns as they tend to suffer from muzzle flip, and produce a sometimes significant muzzle blast– a big detractor in a dark hallway– due to the nature of their shot barrels.
While easy to conceal they also typically have a low magazine capacity while simultaneously lacking the ability to mount accessories.
Sure, any of the above *could* be used for home defense, but that is usually working against the gun’s intended purpose and engineered traits, putting the user behind the 8-ball right out of the gate.
A better choice would be for a handgun in a common, proven defensive caliber– 9mm Luger, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .40 S&W, 10mm Auto and .45ACP. With that in mind, said caliber should be coupled to a mid- or full-sized handgun as this size is less recoil-sensitive, generally has a larger magazine capacity, and typically provides for accessories such as weapon-mounted lights.
While many legacy models on the second-hand market will (sort of) fit this bill, for instance your grandpa’s 80-year-old custom Colt Police Positive, a better choice is to run a modern firearm from a reputable manufacturer in good repair and with few modifications made to it.
Keep in mind that guns used in self-defense shootings can disappear into police evidence rooms for months, possibly even years, afterward and may never re-emerge. With that being said, leave the heirlooms and $5K race guns in the gun safe in favor of a dedicated, affordable, home protection platform.
Why an autoloader?
When it comes to a home defense handgun, semi-auto pistols are ideal. They bring a decent magazine capacity, with standard models offering 17 or more rounds at the ready, a factor that can prove decisive in the event of a home invasion by multiple subjects. Likewise, they offer a much faster reload than a revolver, beneficial in an extended engagement.
Most full- or mid-sized pistols have a sight radius of 6-inches or longer, lending to decent accuracy and a better ability to gain a fast sight picture. For those who elect to use a suppressor– which have tactical advantages going past sound moderation, autoloaders are the only way to go.
Further, as most pistols these days will have accessory rails, they are all set to use weapon-mounted lights and lasers right out of the box.
What? No Shotguns?
While scatterguns can be a solid home defense option, and there’s no doubt they deliver the most devastating amount of power per round, they’re tough to navigate in tight quarters, have limited capacity, and (in the case of pump-action shotguns) slow to fire. Shotguns also require two hands to operate, meaning you are committed to the weapon.
Handguns are compact, easy to carry and fire (even with one hand) and can be fired rapidly in the case of a moving target. Handguns are also small enough to be stored basically anywhere, meaning you can distribute firearms throughout your home, decentralizing your arms.
If you’re committed to a shotgun for home defense check out our guide to tactical shotguns to level-up your knowledge.
- Grzegorz Żabiński et al, A late medieval or early modern light gun barrel, May 18, 2018
- Mt. Vernon Collection, Flintlock Pistol
- Montecello.org, Firearms
- Montecello.org, Thomas Jefferson’s bed chamber where he displayed pistols
- NSSF, Survey Reveals Broad Domestic Appeal for Firearm Purchases in 2020, July 21, 2020
- Brass Fetcher, FBI Ammunition Protocol
- David Lewis, The Best Self Defense Ammo – Ballistic Testing, April 25, 2019
- Chuck Hawks, Handgun Cartridge Power Chart
- ATF, Annual Firearms Manufacturing Report, 2019 Interim
- Kevin Creighton, Home Defense: Pistols vs. Shotguns vs. Rifles, January 20, 2020
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