Reviving Classic Home Defense Debates: Shotgun or AR platform?

You are looking for a home defense gun but you either don’t want to buy a handgun or you don’t want to go through the song and dance of getting the required permit to own one in your locality.  Whatever the reason, pistols are off the table, so you turn your attention to all those neat short-barreled pump action shotguns and AR-15 rifles.  These are your options, so which do you buy?

If you read a lot of reviews, the trend I’ve seen usually suggests you get the AR, usually because you can add every form of light, sight, and accessory known to man.  And that’s cool, but it isn’t just about how versatile or feature friendly the gun is—it’s really all about the specific need for the gun (a gun always will be a tool, tailored to perform a specific task).

For the average apartment dweller with neighbors just on the other side of the drywall, the .223 caliber AR-15 might not be the best idea given the construction of the bullet versus the construction of modern housing.  Do not doubt, if necessity requires you to pull the trigger in self-defense, lawyers representing a third party could be knocking on your door along with the cops after you sent rounds whizzing through your building-mate’s dining room. Hollowpoints and frangible ammunition could lessen that risk, but it is still something to consider. The AR-15 in a 9mm set up might not be a bad idea here as you really knock down (no pun intended) the velocity and chances of a bullet ending up where you don’t want it to go.

Many tout the AR-15’s magazine capacity, but lets be honest, how many rounds do you see yourself unleashing? Most gunfights that take place don’t involve more than a few rounds, and while I have never criticized anyone for owning what they wish, how well will your local district attorney take to seeing photos of a tricked out AR with two thirty round mags strapped to each other? Don’t think it can’t happen or it won’t make the papers? Don’t count on it.

Here in New York State those thirty round mags are a no-no unless you can find a pre-ban after that you are stuck in the realm of the ten round magazine.  Personally, I would not want to try to explain to a local attorney the difference between pre and post ban magazines (and I’m guessing you wouldn’t either).

So what about the shotgun? It has its drawbacks too. Buckshot can go through thin drywall, and the only thing I recommend birdshot for is birds. Still 00 buck in 2 ¾ inch form has been tried and true as long as it is properly aimed. This hip shooting nonsense on television looks cool, and you’ll do it once before you realize you can’t hit a bull in the backside with a banjo that way.

Most folks have one big complaint about shotguns. Recoil. For those who have not used a shotgun or at least for something other than skeet shooting often find themselves adverse to shooting more than a few rounds of buckshot, but really it is like everything else—practice will help take the sting out of those heavier rounds.

In terms of the fear factor (which thankfully is the only factor in many home defense scenarios), I’m going to call it a wash.  Both genres of guns are known to sport that certain menacing look that would persuade the devil himself into thinking twice about robbing you.  However, home invasions often happen at night (meaning the thief can’t see your gun) and there’s just something about the sound that accompanies working the action on a gritty pump gun that the gentile racking of an AR just can’t touch.  

Economically the shotgun beats the AR-15 hands down every time. You can go out and pick up a brand new Mossberg 500 Persuader or Remington 870 short barreled home defense shotgun for a fraction of even an entry level AR-15. Then there is the used gun market. I have had great success in finding a secondhand pump shotgun that had an old polychoke at the end of the barrel.  I cut the barrel to 20-inches, making it an instant home defense gun. Gun shops are tickled pink to get rid of these guns since, to me at least, polychokes are about as attractive as Hillary Clinton in a thong and have been replaced by choke tubes that can be changed out and keep the gun’s appearance clean.

In the end the choice really depends on your location and finances. Out in the country where you don’t have neighbors to worry about and, if you can afford it, the AR-15 would be an ideal set up, but a good shotgun would work too. In a more urban setting with houses and more importantly the warm bodies of neighbors all about I would stick with a shotgun as the risk of over penetration is much greater. In this economy though, I have always preferred the shotgun, mainly because I have not been able to afford the costs of an AR-15, and with its proven track record, a pump action shotgun has suited me just fine in all environments.