The decision you make as to what to use for protection in a variety of self-defense situations is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make. Many questions need to be answered before just going out and buying the first handgun you can, or relying on a “stranger” in the gun store. Do you live in an apartment, neighborhood of homes, or in the country where the nearest home is miles away? These questions need assessment before purchasing that first gun and will help determine the firearm best suited for your particular situation.
Many years ago, when I first started giving my personal advice on home defense in San Diego, my pat answer was to have a 12-gauge shotgun handy in the home. For the male or female of the house, this was a simple answer to defense because there was no need of precise target acquisition, just aim in the direction of the threat and pull the trigger. A pump shotgun was the proper choice (and still is in my opinion). Although this is still an excellent place to start, there have been some modifications to this defense weapon that makes it extremely effective. Again, where you live is very important when choosing ammo for the 12 gauge. You need to really look at your neighborhood. How far is the nearest home, what kind of wall is between you and your neighboring apartment?
Defensive shotgun ammo is now specifically made for these situations. My personal choice and the rounds in my Remington 870 tactical shotgun are Federal Power-Shok 00 Buck, Low Recoil 9 pellets. In my case, my ranch is private and a half-mile from the nearest ranch. Like I tell my friends and students, I can replace a wall, but not my wife. Winchester and Remington also make home defense/tactical shells for not only 12 gauge, but also 16 and 20 gauge. If you live in an apartment or condo, it’s a whole different story. In this case, the choice of ammo I would use would be birdshot as this would be effective about 20-30 feet out, and shouldn’t take out a wall or your neighbor.
My accessories to my Remington 870 consist of a folding tactical stock, extended 10-round magazine, mounted flashlight with grip switch, side caddy for additional six rounds, and a red dot laser sight for target acquisition at night. I also have nearby a bandolier with an additional 20 rounds in it. If this sounds a little extreme to you, know it wouldn’t be if you had gone through having your home invaded by a gang. One additional word of advice…practice, practice, practice. Every adult in your home (including yourself) should be able to pick up that firearm, know how to work it, and practice with live ammo. It’s up to you how young your children should be  before teaching them, or having them take a class, but the news covers 12-year-olds who defend their moms, and without that defense, you are just a victim.
Handgun choices are many, from revolver to auto loader in a variety of calibers. The decision about what is best for you depends on multiple factors. The simplicity of the revolver makes it a choice of many. Pull the trigger and it fires. The semi-auto has safeties and the choice on keeping it loaded with a round in the chamber or having to jack a round into the chamber before firing is up to each individual and their comfort levels. As far as what caliber to choose, that depends on what you can physically handle, how much stopping power you want, and how many rounds you want between you and the assailant. My best advice is to find a range or club where you can try different handguns to find one that you are comfortable shooting and can effectively operate during a confrontation with little or no thought to its operation. Your choices are many in regard to calibers, with probably the most popular being the 9mm, like most law enforcement agencies use. This is an effective round and the availability of high capacity magazines and very little kick makes it desirable to many. In the revolver, the 357 magnum can be a good choice because you can practice using .38 special ammo in most cases. My smallest caliber recommendation would be the .380 ACP for concealment or someone that just can’t deal with larger calibers. If you decide on this caliber, the recommended defensive rounds are the Cor-Bon +P JHP or Federal Hydra-Shok.
My personal choice of handguns and caliper for each is situational. For day-to-day personal defense my choice is the .45 caliber semi-auto, either my Colt or my Kimber. I choose that caliber because I believe in maximum stopping power and accuracy. My experience with the .45 caliber started during combat situations where I needed to use my sidearm in my own defense during my tour in Vietnam. When I am in the woods hunting or on a river fishing in remote Alaska or Montana in bear country, my choice is the .44 magnum loaded with Hornady 240 Gr. JHP/XTP rounds. My revolver is the Ruger Alaskan with a 2-inch barrel. Remember that your personal defense isn’t always about defending against things on two legs, depending on where you live or visit.
Ammo for the handgun in self defense, whether in your home or out in town, is another decision which can have consequences with the wrong choice. For all intents, the hollow point is a great defense round. Upon impact, this round expands, resulting in less penetration but a great amount of tissue damage (and thus, stopping power). It also is less likely to injure a bystander or someone on the other side of a wall or home.
Lastly, there is the defensive carbine, which honestly, is more for offensive positions than defensive. Not really a good choice for the average apartment or condo dweller, this weapon is best used in a country environment where you have a good safety zone between you and your neighbors. Created for military and law enforcement situations, this weapon does provide much better stopping power than the handgun, as well as better accuracy. Again, as with any firearm, familiarity with its operation, along with accuracy practice, is key. Large capacity magazines make this firearm fun to shoot in the right environment, and a blessing to those of us in the country with larger aggressive varmints like bear, coyotes, and cougars that attack our livestock.
My final words of wisdom are this—whether you know your way around firearms or have never held one, when your life and those of your loved ones are at risk, you must know your firearm and be able to pick it up in the dark, under stress, identify your assailant as a threat, and remove that threat. Keeping this in mind, continuous practice is essential if you already own your personal defense firearms. For those who have limited or no experience, find a professional and learn. Remember, it isn’t only your life that you might be called on to protect, but your family’s and possibly someone else’s.
I hope and pray that you will never need to use them in defense, but I also hope and pray that if needed, you are prepared.