Buyer's Guide: The best home defense gun for you, your family

First Home Defense Pistols

During the past several years, many people have bought their first firearm.  Home defense was the number one reason for these purchases according to a recent study of first time gun buyers sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation. In the study, researchers found that more than 87% of first time gun buyers stated “home defense” was a reason for the firearm purchase.

This survey seems to support my own observations when talking to prospective gun owners.  I am frequently asked to offer an opinion on what kind of gun to buy for protection in the home.  The best gun is highly dependent on the individual needs of the buyer, but I have been able to make some general observations that I think will hold true for many people.

My starting position is that the “best” home defense gun is a full-size, striker-fired pistol chambered in 9mm.  This isn’t always the best for everyone.  As I said, everyone had individualized needs that will heavily influence the selection.  But, absent individual specifics, I am comfortable in making the above recommendation.  Here’s why…

Long Gun vs. Handgun

Since we are talking about the first time gun buyer, having a place to shoot and become proficient with the firearm is very important. Many, if not most, indoor ranges only allow handgun shooting, and indoor ranges are what most people are limited to in urban and suburban areas.  It is definitely easier for many new shooters to get practice time with a pistol than a rifle or shotgun.

Long guns also have other problems for the new shooter.  Recoil from a 12 gauge shotgun can scare off a new shooter as quickly as the price tag on an AR-15.

One additional thing to consider is many gun buyers have children in the home.  Should an intruder come into the residence, the gun owner may have to carry a small child to safety.  Try wielding a rifle or shotgun while carrying a two-year old.  With a handgun, the gun owner can move the child and shoot if needed.


When it comes to handgun calibers, there is not a lot of difference in stopping power between them when using quality self defense ammo.  Everything is a compromise, but 9mm holds its own in stopping bad guys.

In normal times, 9mm ammo tends to be less expensive than other calibers for practice.  Regular practice is important for everyone, and even more important for the new shooter.  Lower cost means an increased likelihood of regular practice.

Recoil is always a concern, and a 9mm is a relatively easy shooting cartridge compared to the .40 S&W, .357 SIG and .45 ACP.  For the brand new shooter, a gun that is easier to shoot is much more likely to be used at the range instead of just sitting unused in a safe.

Full Size vs. Compact

A full size handgun is much easier to shoot than a compact or subcompact pistol.  The gun absorbs more recoil and the sights tend to be much larger and easier to see.  Additionally, all of the controls are large enough to operate properly.

Teams of criminals, not a solo attacker, often perpetrate home invasions.  That means a gun owner is going to want as much ammo on tap as reasonably possible.  Many full size pistols will hold 15-19 rounds of 9mm in a normal magazine.  Compare that to the 8+ rounds in a compact pistol or the five or six in a revolver.

Striker Fired vs. Hammer Fired

Striker-fired pistols tend to be extremely reliable and are very simple to operate.  They have a consistent, light trigger pull and are easy to disassemble for cleaning.

Hammer fired pistols can be some of these things, but do not frequently possess all of the above traits.  The traditional double-action/single-action pistol, for example, has a long, heavy trigger pull for the first shot, with a light pull for subsequent shots.

Teaching a new shooter how to perfect two trigger pulls is more than twice as hard as teaching them a single pull type.  But, then the shooter has to learn to de-cock after shooting – something that is not a natural act and without a lot of repetition is likely to be forgotten under stress.


The price of a new polymer pistol tends to be less than that of a traditional pistol.  Material and labor costs are a lot cheaper on the guns, and that savings is passed on to the consumer.  The top shelf polymer guns tend to sell for $500-600.

In fairness, there are some traditional pistols that sell in the same range, such as the CZ 75 pistol (and clones) and the Beretta 92.  But you will have a tough time beating the price of a quality polymer gun like the Smith & Wesson SD9 that sells for less than $350 brand new.

Top Picks

There are a multitude of pistols to pick from, but four jump to the top of my list as being the best of the bunch.  They are the Smith & Wesson M&P, Glock, Springfield Armory XD and the Smith & Wesson SD.

Each of these gun lines offers different characteristics, but all are widely held as being very reliable.  Also the guns are widely available and accessories such as magazines can be found for them easily.  Any of them would be a great pick for the first time gun owner looking for a home defense pistol.

The Smith & Wesson SD line of handguns is an excellent choice for someone who needs a reliable gun at a very affordable price point.  I’ve extensively tested a SD40 and have found it to be a rock solid performer.  It does not have swappable backstraps or ambidextrous controls, but is an incredible value.

Smith & Wesson SD40
Smith & Wesson SD40

Undoubtedly, some readers will agree with some of the points I have made, while others will disagree.  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.  A lot of potential gun owners read this column and the community’s experience can help them make an informed decision.