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Shotguns for Home Defense: Advantages and Limitations

By MIchael Gaines on Sep 29, 2021 01:57 pm

The shotgun seems to be one of the most recommended home defense guns in the United States, but should it be?

In this article, we will explore the myths, limitations, and advantages of a shotgun for home defense.

Shotguns are not a new piece of firearm technology, most early firearms had a large smoothbore barrel and were capable of firing a solid ball as well as shot of different sizes. They were employed by the military and law enforcement for many years, but first made a notable appearance in the trenches of World War I. Shotguns fitted with bayonets and heat shields were employed under General Pershing and became extremely effective for fighting in the trenches. These trench guns were so devastating in fact that Germany filed an official protest stating that the shotgun violated the laws of warfare. In more modern times, shotguns were utilized by the US Military in the Iraq war as a tool to breach doors and clear rooms and buildings. Shotguns were also heavily utilized by law enforcement agencies until the fairly recent swap to the patrol carbine.

Given the wide variety of modern firearms and ammunition, and given the way most people live their lives, I don’t think the shotgun is the ideal gun for home defense. Some will disagree with me and that’s fine. My claim that the shotgun isn’t ideal doesn’t mean anything without context, so let’s break it down.

First, a scattergun has many advantages. When you pull the trigger on a scattergun, you send more than 1 round down range – unless you are shooting slugs. In the case of most 12 Ga. defensive ammo, you are sending 8 or 9 .33 cal pellets down range at the same time. This gives you an immense advantage because you are able to create more than one hole in the target at a time. 

Another advantage of the shotgun for home defense is their versatility. Changing barrels and ammo is easy and allows the gun to be used in a variety of situations. You can use the same shotgun that you use for bird hunting in the fall as a defensive gun year round. Also switching to slugs in a defensive situation allows a shooter to reach out further than buckshot in a situation that might require some range. Additionally, shotguns are known to the general public and because of their widespread and historical use are not seen in such a negative light as AR-15s and AKs (not that we care, but someone might). Shotguns are generally accepted in states or municipalities where carbines are not allowed. This makes the shotgun a good choice for people who are looking for a defensive tool in an environment that is less than permissive.

On the other hand, a shotgun has several disadvantages. One of the biggest is all home defense shotguns have a limited amount of ammunition. In the best case scenario, you are limited to 8-10 rounds, which doesn’t sound too bad until you consider that modern handguns can offer 15 or more and a smaller carbine can offer 30 or more rounds. This is important because more ammo gives you more chances to hit your target. 

Another downside of a shotgun is recoil. Shotguns generally produce very high recoil. Recoil is much easier to control on an AR or AK platform carbine. 

Shotguns have the disadvantage of being bigger than other defensive gun options. Without considering NFA items shotguns are limited to 18.5” in barrel length where rifles are limited to 16”. Shorter guns are easier to maneuver inside of a house. 

Because shotgun defensive ammo spreads out as it leaves the barrel when firing a shotgun you run the risk of hitting things that you do not wish to hit. The last thing that you want is to shoot at a bad uy and hit your loved one or pet.

With this analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of a shotgun, you might also come to the conclusion that they are not ideal for defensive use. That being said, they are definitely not obsolete. Shotguns can be very effective defensive tools with the right training and an in-depth understanding of the gun and its ammunition capability.

With the right understanding of how your gun patterns, and in the context of your specific needs, no one should flat-out say it is wrong to choose a shotgun for defensive purposes. But know – don’t assume – the advantages, risks, and limitations of choosing a scattergun as a defensive tool and get training so you can be sure you are operating on something other than Hollywood myth.


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