T Nation

Picking a Caliber for Home Defense

I am really interested in AR-15s. However, I am wondering if it would be of limited value as a home defense weapon given the penetrating power of a .223 / 5.56 round. I live in a development where houses are about 10-15 yards apart. Now, I would hate to ever have to actually fire a weapon at a human being, and hope I never have to, but if I have to use one to defend my home, I don’t want to penetrate the intruder, go through a wall, and hurt someone else. Is this a realistic concern? Or am I overestimating the penetration potential of this round? I have also seen carbines designed to fire a 9 mm round, and which also come with high-capacity magazines. I am wondering if that would be preferable. Please let me know if you have thoughts on this issue. Thanks
PS - I know people often have very passionately held positions on owning guns for home defense. While I respect everyone’s view, that’s not really the discussion I’m trying to have here. Rather, the discussion is, once that decision has been made, what caliber is best to get the job done while minimizing risk of harm to innocent people. Thanks again.

This will get interesting.
Pick the gun first: pistol, rifle, or shotgun
Are you going to wear it?
I keep 3 around
12 gauge loaded with ,00 buck
AK-47 loaded with hollow point Defenders
FNX 45 handgun

Should have clarified: Right now I have a HK .45 USP. I am looking at a higher-capacity weapon as a back-up option in a worst-case scenario (multiple intruders basically, which I know is an exceedingly rare scenario but not unheard of). Everyone seems to love the AR; my concerns are about the round that it is usually chambered for. Just from talking to guys who have been in the service, I know it packs one hell of a range and goes deep. I have heard stories of the round going in the one side of a person and coming out the other side before coming to rest in something else.

I’d look at your floor plan and find the good defensible positions then go from there.

In my own home there is no space for long rifles, and realistically barely any even for pistol.

Other than that, I too am always interested in others ideas on this and their rationale.

Picking a home defense weapon is a complicated issue because of so many factors involved, like the example you mentioned. Yes, a 5.56 will penetrate almost all modern housing walls, but, it has a hard time with mud built goat huts in AF. You are not over estimating potential of the round, but, in the right situation even a .22 will penetrate a wall and cause damage.

How much have you trained? because accuracy and ammo selection is more important than weapons. I teach CQB, so, one of the most frequent factors that occur in a kill house is how to maneuver you carbine in tight quarters. A situation you need to think about, because, you will be engaging in tight quarters in your house.

When choosing your primary weapon, consider the your floor plan. Where do you children sleep? If someone enters the home, will your children be in the line of fire? Your weapons selection is only one part of the equation.

High quality weapon and with the right fragile ammo, minimum risk for rounds flying through the neighborhood, if and this is a big if, you can hit the target. How are your reloading skills? 3 mags with your HK is “high capacity” and with good skill you can put a lot of rounds out in a short amount of time. You need more than this, then you are facing a kill squad, not the average criminal.

I have had a different overall experience, yes, it is an accurate round at moderate distances, yes, with hard ball ammo it can penetrate a person and keep on going but, I have seen guys shot with 9mm hard balled ammo that went through and kept on going. From my experience, it does not go deep at certain ranges. There is a reason the Army is developing a mid range caliber for the new squad weapons.

IMHO, this is my list:

  1. Handgun in 9mm, .40 or .45 , attached flashlight and three magazines of high quality ammo

  2. .12 gauge pump shot gun with extended magazine and flashlight attached.

  3. AR type carbine with flashlight attached… Note: you decide on a AR platform, don’t spend 3000 dollars on a tricked out weapon. Spend under a 1000 and use the rest for high quality training.

I am listing some information you may find useful in making a decision. The handgun ammo selections are from Dave Spaulding, one of the true experts in the field.

9mm: Federal 124 or 147 HST. You do not need +P velocities with the HST bullet design. I would use the 147 in 4 inch barrels or longer, the 124 in shorter barrels. The 147 is VERY accurate, but if all you want is “minute of chest cavity” at 15 yards and in, both are a good choice.

Speer 124 +P Gold Dot. The NYPD load as well as many federal agencies. Again, the street results speak for themselves.

115 gain all copper hollow points by several manufacturers. While I only know of a couple of shootings, this load is VERY promising. Yes, it is expensive due to how it’s made, but it performs like a bullet of heavier weight. The testing is very good as well.

.40 S & W: I just don’t hear much about this caliber any longer. Based on past experience, I would choose Speer 165 Gold Dot or Federal 180 grain HST. Again, street results from years past. (John’s note: .40 is dying, 9mm has killed it, more rounds per magazine and just as effective with less recoil.)

.45 ACP: Federal or Speer 230 grain HST or Gold Dot. The old Federal 230 grain Hydra-Shok was a REAL good load in its day…I have no reason to think it has regressed.


I’ve never been to this sub-forum!

The advice so far, from my experience, is pretty sound.

If you aren’t incredibly comfortable with your weapon, I don’t like a rifle in your home defense scenario. If there are other people in your home, I don’t like shotgun - I know you can dial in the spread and there is a lot under your control, but I think it’s asking a lot when this isn’t what you do all day.

Caliber is nothing in a vacuum, if that makes sense. Just as important is the rifling of the weapon and its muzzle velocity. 5/56 tumbles because the round is light and the muzzle velocity high on a relatively short barrel - it’s designed to do that to cause damage. If you’re concerned about penetration, you’re going to want a flatter round; it works for us in this close-quarters scenario as well because you want stopping power… Basically I don’t want to rely on the killing shot to knock the bad guy down; I want whatever hits him to do it because I don’t know how good I am right now.

I would pick a pistol with a relatively high muzzle velocity that fit my hand well and a long enough barrel I can control. I’d choose hollow point rounds. I’d pick a caliber secondary to that, but I tend to like .40 and .45 just as a personal preference. For me, for home defense (or carry), I also want to be as safe as I can while the weapon is still readied (because I’m at least as likely to have an accident in the US than to actually be in a shooting situation) - for that I’m pretty partial to the Springfield XD series because of the grip safety (some have trigger safeties too, but eh); you at least have to have some intention of holding your weapon the right way before you fire a round, but it doesn’t get in your way like some other mechanisms.

Don’t know if that’s helpful, but my thoughts! If you want an AR to shoot, I can offer my advice there - that’s actually more where my experience is, but I don’t know if it’s the top tool for your goal.

Edit: just saw @SkyzykS @idaho crushed it above

1 Like

Really sound advice from @SkyzykS @idaho and @TrainForPain.

To partially restate what’s already been said:

  1. You already have a very solid, reliable weapon in the USP;
  2. You’re preparing for a scenario that guarantees maximal disorientation and inconvenience, so more training with a weapon of comfort is going to get you way further than weaponeering the perfect solution and learning to employ it from scratch;
  3. Unless you live in a mansion with really long avenues of approach, long gun utility is limited

Not advocating for one over the others, because there are other factors to consider…but overpenetration may not be as big an issue as we would think.

Bullets behave differently impacting different media. Drywall stinks. People are pretty good.

Keep it simple, any reliable AR 15 and put a white light on it.

I usually hear the over penetration stuff from people who don’t practice or train with their rifle. Hit what your aiming at.

1 Like

Over penetration with is .223/5.56 is less of a concern than most pistol calibers. The HK USP is a hell of a pistol, and will serve you well. I have bought, sold and traded a lot of pistols, the USP is the only one I regret letting go.

Anything you get you need to shoot a lot, and take classes if possible. Proficiency is the key. Also, decent quality ammo.

1 Like

I’ll pop in to make the case for a hand-held light. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a weapon light, but that my go-to for “bump in the night” is my Glock 19 (Speer Gold Dot 124gr +P) and my trusty bouncing companion, my Streamlight TL1R (or soemething close to that model) flashlight.


You can shine a light without pointing a gun at who or what you’re illuminating.


From what you have described as your goals.
I would recommend something similar to a Mossberg 500 series, Mossberg Shockwave.
Buckshot or slug.
Revolver 38 caliber.
The last thing you want to is a jam, or user malfunction if you are not familiar with your firearm.
A high quality bright light, and air horn, may give the result you are looking for without the need to discharge your firearm.
Window decals displaying the name of a home security system will also be a deterrent.

No expert, but that taurus judge seems like a pretty good self defense gun? Maybe I am wrong, but having a pistol that can shoot a 410 shot gun shell seems pretty good for taking down an intruder. You don’t have to have great aim, you can maneuver it fairly well in tight spaces, and shot isn’t going to penetrate a wall like a rifle bullet.

In home defense distances, the spread of the shot from a shotgun shell will be negligible. Exact spread depends on the gun as well as the shell, but even at thirty feet, most shotguns are spreading less than an inch radius. So it’s not like it’s a huge factor in helping you hit a target you would have otherwise missed.

The perception that you are spraying pellets and can’t miss is overestimated.


I wouldn’t want to defend my house with a .410 shotgun, to say nothing of a .410 pistol. That’s what turned me off from the judge. Seems like a fun range gun though.

For home defense, I went with a Maverick 88, which is (to my understanding) a Mexican made Mossberg 500. Got a short barrel on it. There is something to be said for the deterrence inherent in the sound of a pumping shotgun.


Someone that broke into your house shouldn’t hear you rack the slide until after you already shot them once. :slight_smile:

I also like the maverick. Inexpensive and reliable. I have one I keep in my truck.


This is why I believe that a society with a widespread, socially-acceptable and stigma-free practice of carrying pump-action shotguns in public spaces would be a very polite society.


They’re like ALWAYS on sale too, haha. The price is so good you feel like you can’t NOT have one. Or a few…


I’ve got a couple of police trade in 870’s. They were an awesome bargin once upon a time, but as most police departments have moved away from the gauge those days are over. I’ll post pics in a little while.