Skip to main content

Pistol Considerations for Home Defense

Home defense gives you broader options than you get for personal defense when it comes to selecting equipment and firearms. This is especially true when selecting a handgun and gear to protect the homestead. Here are our suggestions for exploiting this advantage.

Pistol Considerations for Home Defense
Photo by Alfredo Rico

In the vast majority of cases, personal-defense firearms are limited by the fact that they need to be either hidden or at least discreet. Sure, there are some exceptions to the rule, such as uniformed law enforcement or military personnel, but the vast majority of folks aren’t walking around with a Glock 34 in a Safariland ALS.

Before we get into the specifics of the pistol, let’s talk about the most common home-defense threats and then apply appropriate solutions as well as an honest look at the inherent strengths and weaknesses of the pistol in a home-defense scenario. First, if you’ve done everything right — including layering your home defense, as well as obeying my golden rule of not doing stupid things, associating with stupid people and not going to stupid places, your odds of never needing to use a firearm in a home-defense situation are pretty favorable. That being said, stuff happens. Fire extinguishers, home-defense guns and anti-diarrhea medicine are all things that we hope we never need but are extremely grateful for if we ever do.

A pistol’s strength is portability, not effectiveness. When it comes to engaging a threat, the pistol will be more difficult to get shots on target than a long gun, and its projectiles will have less terminal effect. The main culprit here is that there is inherently less stability. To shoot a pistol well, the shooter needs a stable technique. Gunfights tend to happen in such a manner that getting a solid stance isn’t always possible. As far as less effective, that’s just science. The vast majority of projectiles moving at under 1,000 feet per second (fps) are not going to be as effective as projectiles moving at 2,000 fps or even 1,500 fps. It’s something to be mindful of when you’re making your firearm selection.

Home Defense Pistol
(Photo by Alfredo Rico)

Don’t be angry with me, pistoleros! The pistol does have good things going for it in a home-defense scenario. Its portability is of great benefit when moving in the tight confines of a small dwelling. Likewise, its ability to be used one-handed is great when opening doors, moving children to safety or utilizing a handheld light in the support hand. While a weapon-mounted light is invaluable for moving towards a known threat, the option to have a handheld light not attached to a weapon is great for when you don’t know if there’s a threat. Many new shooters are also less intimidated by shooting pistols, so taking the kids or the wife to the range to practice with a pistol is not an onerous task. Pistol ammunition is also much more economical to train with, meaning that attaining a meaningful level of training won’t cost as much as some of the other possible selections.

Now that we have an idea of the limitations and advantages of a pistol, let’s talk about setting one up for home defense. The first thing to discuss is the need for an actual fighting caliber. I’m not going to dip my toe in the whole 9mm vs. .45 ACP battle here, but the statistics I saw while at my department have convinced me that there is no meaningful difference in effectiveness between all of the fighting calibers. Shot placement is king; all else is secondary. A 9mm is cheaper to practice with, and I get more rounds on board, so that’s the way I go. If you’re married to the .45, great, just make sure that you practice. A caliber’s reputation doesn’t stop fights — good hits do.

Home Defense Pistol
If you’re going to use a flashlight, it’s better to have one on the gun. (Photo by Alfredo Rico)

Next thing to look at is a really good sighting system. If you have the resources, a pistol-mounted optic provides advantages that other systems will not. I realize that they can be expensive and that change can be trying, but they truly are game-changing. A pistol-­mounted red-dot sight (RDS) allows you to focus on the threat, meaning that if the threat is moving or in low or varied light, it is going to be easier to track. It also allows you to take in more information, and more information leads to better decisions. Lastly, the RDS allows a much faster or more coarse sight picture, meaning that the shooter’s ability to get off a good shot fast is much improved over traditional sights. Of course, there is a learning curve, and it’s not cheap, but in my opinion, the benefits far outweigh the negatives.

If the RDS just isn’t for you, then make sure that you invest in a solid set of steel sights that allow a generous amount of light on each side of your front sight post. I’m slowly moving from night sights to fiber-optic sights because it’s been my experience that between ambient light, pistol-mounted light, and handheld weapon light, the tritium dot is becoming less and less of an advantage in low light, and the fiber optic is much faster for me across a wide spectrum.

Home Defense Pistol
Not only is there a big difference in capability between these pistols, there’s a big difference in portability. Sure, the Mossberg MC1sc is great for everyday carry, but the full-size CZ P10F with a light and optic fits the bill for what you need for home defense. (Photo by Alfredo Rico)

One thing that the home-defense pistol must have in common with an everyday-carry (EDC) pistol is a great trigger. There is no reason to have a crappy trigger on a gun that might be used to defend yourself or a loved one. Even stock components can be cleaned up. Just make sure you don’t go crazy lightweight. The decision to shoot may last longer than it takes to press a trigger, and there’s at least two people walking around today because they stopped what they were doing by the time my trigger finger went from 1 to 3 pounds.

Home Defense Pistol
Never be in a position to be wanting more ammo in a gunfight. If concealment doesn’t matter, go big with increased-capacity magazines and more in reserve. (Photo by Alfredo Rico)

Lastly, let’s talk about the size of the gun. A larger gun is easier to control in recoil and manipulate under stress. It may also be heavier, so there’s going to be a sweet spot for each shooter. I prefer full-size guns in the home-defense role, but I certainly can’t argue with shooters that use a midsize offering. My advice is to avoid subcompact pistols in this role, as they prioritize portability over effectiveness.

Home Defense Pistol
A simple battle belt next to the bed is easy to throw on and allows for holstering the gun, carrying extra mags, an extra flashlight and first-aid pouches. (Photo by Alfredo Rico)

Don’t forget to give some thought to how you’re going to carry the pistol. I’ve seen shooters use battle belts and even plate carriers with holsters attached. As long as you can safely and effectively holster and unholster the pistol and can carry an extra magazine, a flashlight and maybe some handcuffs or some flex-cuffs, it will work. There are a multitude of good ideas out there. Just make sure you choose what’s right for you and that you practice with it often.

Current Magazine Cover

Enjoy articles like this?

Subscribe to the magazine.

Get access to everything Guns & Ammo has to offer.
Subscribe to the Magazine

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

The first in this new family of Springfield Armory rifles is the Model 2020 Waypoint, the result of years of engineering, testing and evaluation, combined with premium grade components found on rifles costing thousands of dollars more.First Look: Springfield Armory Model 2020 Waypoint Bolt-Action Rifle

First Look: Springfield Armory Model 2020 Waypoint Bolt-Action Rifle

The first in this new family of Springfield Armory rifles is the Model 2020 Waypoint, the...

Guns & Ammo Staff

The Swarovski Z5(i) P BT L 3.5-­18x44mm has a unique and versatile multiple-­zero system and an erector assembly unlike any other on the market. The Z5(i) is an excellent choice for an all-­around hunting scope.Swarovski Z5(i) P BT L 3.5-­18x44mm Scope Review

Swarovski Z5(i) P BT L 3.5-­18x44mm Scope Review

The Swarovski Z5(i) P BT L 3.5-­18x44mm has a unique and versatile multiple-­zero system and...

Tom Beckstrand

Popular Videos

Cameras Don

Cameras Don't Lie: Subsonic 9mm vs. .300 Blackout

In this segment of "Cameras Don't Lie," a subsonic-ammo showdown, 9mm vs. .300 Blackout fired from AR rifles.

Shooting 600 Yards with .300 Blackout

Shooting 600 Yards with .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout cartridge was developed to provide greater effectiveness than a 9mm at short and medium ranges when fired from a short-barreled suppressed firearm. Just because the cartridge wasn't designed to go long doesn't mean Rifles & Optics Editor Tom Beckstrand won't take it there, using a large-format pistol, no less. Armed with SIG Sauer's 9-inch-barreled MCX Virtus Pistol loaded with Black Hills' 125-grain TMK ammunition, Beckstrand attempts to ring steel at 600 yards with help from Hornady's 4DOF ballistic calculator in this segment of “Long Range Tech.”

First Look: Springfield Armory Model 2020 Waypoint Bolt-Action Rifle

First Look: Springfield Armory Model 2020 Waypoint Bolt-Action Rifle

At the heart of the rifle is the Model 2020 action which wish designed and built with very tight tolerances thanks to Springfield's technology-driven manufacturing capabilities The stainless steel action features an integral recoil lug, and pairs with a fluted bolt employing dual cocking cams and an enhanced extractor for high pressure loads. The blueprinted and precisely machined action allows Springfield to offer the Model 2020 with .75" MOA accuracy guarantee. Despite being a production rifle, the Model 2020 should rival more expensive custom builds.

See All Videos

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Guns & Ammo App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Guns & Ammo stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Guns and Ammo subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now