AR-15 vs. Handgun vs. Shotgun for Home Defense

25th Jun 2020

Updated July 8, 2021

When it comes to home defense, you want to choose the right weapon to defend yourself and protect your family. Hollywood glamorizes the shotgun as the ideal tool for protecting your home, but the truth is, the best home-defense weapon is the one you feel most comfortable using in your unique environment. Knowing what each brings to the table can help you find one that best suits your experience level and your home.

5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Home Defense Weapon

AR-15s, pistols and shotguns all have unique advantages (and disadvantages) when it comes to responding to a break-in at your home. Comparing each can help you decide which is best for engaging intruders without losing the upper hand, and without risking injury to innocent bystanders.

1. Distance and Space

Most home invasions happen in confined spaces, increasing the challenges for responding with accuracy. To help level the odds in your favor, consider whether your weapon is one you can easily raise and move around corners without exposing yourself. A shotgun and AR-15s with barrels over 16 inches will likely be too big and could be hard to maneuver in a home hallway. Given their smaller size, pistols and AR-15 pistols may provide the greatest advantage in tight spaces.

2. Comfort and Experience Levels

If you have been training with a particular firearm, it makes sense to stick with what you know. When it comes to moving around your home and property, choose the weapon you feel most comfortable using, and then practice with it. Home invasions are intense, and you can expect a rush of adrenaline. When you stick to a weapon that you know, you can rely on your training and muscle memory to do their jobs and help keep your muzzle on target.

3. Range of the Weapon

Shotguns, pistols, and AR-15 rifles all have plenty of range for home defense. Any of these weapons will be able to take down an intruder inside a standard home. The danger comes when a weapon like a 300 Win Mag hunting rifle is used because it has a 1200-meter maximum effective range. It will definitely take down an intruder. However, with that much power, it will also go through the entire house and beyond.

One of the most important things to consider when choosing a weapon for home defense is the risk of overpenetration. Apartment buildings and homes built close together are particularly dangerous areas because overpenetration could cause injury or death to innocent people in adjacent dwellings. Remember that you are responsible for every round that is fired from your weapon.

A home invasion will be chaotic, confusing, and extremely high stress. The risk of overpenetration to family members in other rooms is extreme. Therefore, it is imperative that the weapon and ammunition used for home defense will put down the invaders without continuing to penetrate walls and people.

Pistols, AR-15, and shotguns all have significant overpenetration risk depending on the caliber and ammunition used. For example, high-powered pistols like a 357 magnum will have outstanding stopping power, but they will also rip through the target and keep going. Using ammunition designed for home defense will mitigate some of these risks and retain the stopping power while reducing the risk that overpenetration poses.

4. Recoil Sensitivity and Target Reacquisition

All firearms generate recoil, and you need to consider how it will impact your ability to acquire your target under pressure. Larger shotguns have heavy recoil that may prove too much for inexperienced shooters and create challenges when trying to reacquire a target. Most pistols kick as well, making it hard to keep your muzzle on target even at close range. AR-15s, however, generate little recoil and are designed for putting multiple rounds on target in rapid succession, so they provide the most stable platform of the three.

5. Other People in the Home

When planning your home defense strategy, you must consider anyone else in the home. Their presence complicates matters, whether it is you engaging the intruder, or them encountering a burglar first and needing to use your firearm to neutralize the situation. If you have a spouse, children or anyone else in your home, make sure you secure your weapon and limit access only to adults who are trained to use it responsibly.

No matter which firearm you choose, the "other people" factor makes it critical that you select the right ammunition. Opt for hollow points or specialty rounds intended for defense situations, as these are designed to expand on impact — they'll remain in whatever they hit rather than passing through and striking an unintended target.

Home Defense Gun Profiles

Every firearm offers different advantages and disadvantages in a home-defense situation. Explore the home-defense profile of each firearm type below


Semi-automatic pistols are the most popular and common home defense weapons. They are a tried-and-true choice.

Semi-automatic pistols are lightweight, accurate, and versatile. Calibers range from the tiny .22 to the massive .50 caliber. Pistols are tiny when compared to the AR-15 and shotguns, which means that the shooter is more maneuverable around tight corners. Semi-automatic pistols have a decent magazine capacity of 7 to 20 rounds, and reloading speeds can be lightning quick with training. Pistols can be used one-handed, allowing the shooter to use a free hand to do other tasks, such as calling the police while handling the firearm. However, it takes significant training to be accurate and confident with semi-automatic pistols. Recoil can also be harsh, especially on smaller pistols with higher calibers.

Pistol Capability

  • Small and easily concealable
  • Decent ammo load capacity
  • Fast reloads
  • Very maneuverable in small places
  • Recoil can be harsh
  • Superior stopping power depending on caliber
  1. Price: $200 - $1400
  2. Range: 5 to 50 meters (most self-defense engagements happen within 7 yards or less)
  3. Capacity: 7-20 rounds
  4. Length: Common barrel length is from 3” to 5” (average overall length from 5.5” to 8.5”)
  5. Weight: Fully loaded 1 pound to 3 pounds


Nothing says “get out of my house” like the iconic sound of racking a pump-action shotgun. Many people automatically assume that shotguns are the first and best recommendation for home defense. Shotguns hold a major place in the world of home defense. They are affordable, reliable, have outstanding stopping power, and are effective and easy to use. The threat of overpenetration is somewhat minimized; however, it can still occur especially if using slugs or buckshot. Some assume that aiming is unnecessary with shotguns; however, at home defense ranges, aiming is critical. Despite many positives, shotguns for home defense also have drawbacks. They are significantly heavier, larger, and have significant recoil. Most shotguns only hold about 5 to 7 rounds, and they take a longer time to reload. Additionally, they are not precise because of their spread, so there is a risk of hitting friendlies, especially if near the perpetrator.

Shotgun Capability

  • Great stopping power
  • Reliable
  • Larger and less maneuverable
  • Slow reloads
  • Recoil is harsh
  • Small ammo capacity
  1. Price: $220 - $800
  2. Range: 5 to 30 yards
  3. Capacity: 2 to 6 rounds
  4. Length: The standard 18” barrel shotgun is about 39 inches
  5. Weight: 7 to 8 pounds


With superior firepower, 30 round magazines, and a versatile platform, the AR-15 rifle has emerged as perhaps the ultimate home defense weapon.

AR-15 rifles combine excellent stopping power with remarkable round capacity, ease of use, and superior control. In a high-stress home invasion situation with multiple assailants, an AR-15 is perfect. The standard 30 round magazine essentially gives you triple the ammunition that many pistols offer, not to mention the relatively low ammunition load with shotguns. This means you would have to reload your pistol 1-2 times to match just one magazine of an AR-15, and reloading the AR is extremely fast and easy.

Versatility is a major benefit to the AR platform. AR-15 rifles are known for their customizability. They range from very short to full size with many attachments and upgrades. ARs give shooters the ability to make a home defense weapon that is specifically designed for their needs.

Standard AR-15 carbine fire 5.56 or .223 rounds with minimal recoil. Ergonomically superior, ARs are designed to give the shooter more physical contact with the firearm giving outstanding control and accuracy. Operating the carbine is notably easy, and with minimal training to understand the basic operation of the weapon, every member of the family that is mature enough to handle a firearm could shoot this weapon comfortably. The AR-15 gives outstanding firepower, control, and accuracy; however, it also demonstrates a significant danger of overpenetration, which is mitigated by using rounds that are specifically designed for home defense.

AR-15 Capability

  • High variety of calibers to choose from (5.56, 9mm, 300BLK, etc.)
  • Good stopping power
  • Outstanding ammo capacity
  • Greater weapon control
  • Fast reloads
  • Very light recoil
  • Very customizable
  • Maneuverable in tight places
  1. Price: $400 to $2000
  2. Range: AR-15s have a maximum effective range of 300 to 600 meters.
  3. Capacity: 30 round magazines are standard (some magazines can hold more than 100 rounds)
  4. Length: Common barrel length for home defense is from 7” barrel to 16” barrel (average overall length from 23” to 32”)
  5. Weight: 4 to 10 pounds depending on the build

Prepare Your Weapons for Home Defense

Only you know which gun will serve you best when your family's safety is on the line. Upgrade your preferred home defense weapon with parts and accessories to help reduce recoil, illuminate your target, improve weapon retention and much more. At Wing Tactical, we carry a wide selection of AR-15 parts, parts for other firearms and a large variety of weapons accessories with next-day shipping on all orders. For help choosing the right upgrades, contact us today.

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