I have a confession to make: I’m not a fan of the shotgun as an in-home self defense option!
I know this goes against every Billy Bad-Boy trainer in the world and even against our own Vice President, but though I have a shotgun within reach of my bed it’s not the first gun I’d grab in an emergency. I’ve trained with them extensively and even taught others how to use them, but I’m still not wild about them.
Why is that?
Let’s start by looking at what the shotgun is good for in the context of in-home personal defense. As a long arm, it’s best used as a barricade weapon: the gun you use when you’re in your safe room or otherwise barricaded in a safe area. You have defined areas of fire, and you’re in an ensconced position where you likely have some small advanced warning (like the door being broken in) of the need to shoot.
This is a very different scenario than needing to move through your house to retrieve family members, for instance. In the barricaded position you don’t need to move around corners nor risk the gun being levered out of your hands by a waiting thug. The long gun is best thought of as artillery: weapons that you use from a fixed position, without the need for rapid movement.
(Yes, I know that you can train to move through structures with the long gun in a special ready position just like the Special Forces do; I’ve been through those kinds of classes. Guess what? It’s still not easy to do under the best of conditions, and severely limits your range of motion and interaction with your environment — doors, anyone?)
So it would seem the shotgun is a perfect candidate for the ensconced defense situation, and many in the defensive shooting world would wholeheartedly agree. I bought into that line of thinking for many years, spending money customizing my shotguns to make them into perfect “home defense” guns.
Yet more and more I find myself not bothering to take them out of the safe. Why is that?
Probably because I’ve finally started looking at the realities of both my needs and the capabilities of the shotguns I own, and found that they don’t really match up all that well. Once I recognized that my shotguns were more an expression of my own ego than of dispassionate appraisal of my needs and capabilities, I started looking at them very differently!
While the shotgun is certainly a powerful tool, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s not the only one which drops bad guys. There are other choices which are sufficiently powerful to cause an intruder to rapidly cease activity but are significantly easier to handle.
One major issue I have with the shotgun is that, in the configurations most recommended by the training community, they’re unwieldily. Even my lightweight 20-gauge with a loaded extended magazine tube is heavier, with a much greater forward weight bias, than most of my rifles.
The pump versions require a long arm reach to get a good grasp on the fore-end, and even the autoloaders require a good reach to get past the long receiver. Once there, the extended arm tires relatively quickly holding up the weight of the ammunition in the tube. A regular (short) magazine tube reduces the weight at the muzzle, but the resulting gun is still heavier than most modern rifles (and even than a lot of distinctly non-modern examples!)
Now you’re probably thinking that in an ensconced position none of this really matters, because you’ll likely have something on which you can rest that shotgun until you need it. That may be true, but it’s also conceivable that you’ll need to hold that gun on target as you order the bad guy to leave or face the consequences. The heavier the gun, and the further out from your body the gun’s center of gravity is, the harder it is to do for any length of time.
Of course the shotgun, when loaded with proper defensive ammunition, recoils a bit. I’m sure that some of the people reading this will puff out their chests and declare that they have “no problem!” with the recoil and the resulting slow down in followup shots. Good for you! Now what about the other people in your house? How able are they to operate this heavy, hard-kicking arm?
I’m no longer willing to deal with the downsides of the shotgun, especially when there are other ways to achieve the same ends. My AR-15, for instance, is shorter, lighter, has a significantly rearward weight bias in comparison to just about any shotgun, recoils less, is easier to get back on target for followup shots, and frankly is a lot more fun to practice with. It’s also extremely effective, particularly at the distances one is likely to find in a home.
(A lever-action rifle isn’t quite as easy to use as an AR-15, but it still beats the shotgun as far as I’m concerned!)
For me, the advantages of the shotgun are few and are outweighed by the disadvantages I’ve noted. The trouble is that too many people buy into an idea (“the shotgun is the ultimate home defense gun!”) without honestly assessing their own needs and capabilities.
Don’t let me, or anyone else, tell you what’s best — that’s subjective and open to all manner of externalities. Look at the objective attributes (things like weight, size, recoil, and manipulation) and decide for yourself which of those are important to your decision. Make sure, also, that you make your decision comparatively: what are the attributes of competing solutions to the problem?
Remember that you may not be the only one who needs to use that gun to defend themselves. How about your spouse or your teenagers? Can they effectively wield that 12-gauge when they really need to? Have they practiced with it to become proficient, or did the first round scare them off?
For me and for the reasons I’ve mentioned, I’ve decided that the rifle is a superior choice for my defense inside the home. You may decide otherwise, but make that decision logically and without ego.
It wasn’t until I finally threw away my own macho-based bias that I was able to make a factual decision. Once I got past the hype and lore, it was easy to ditch the shotgun for something more efficient!
-=[ Grant Cunningham ]=-