This prepping and survival blog post is a discussion of the best inexpensive guns for home defense across various categories of guns. On this subject, opinions vary greatly. If you have a different opinion, feel free to comment on this post. However, I’m talking about home defense guns here, not self-defense guns generally. You might want a self-defense gun for carry that is compact, lightweight, concealable. But all of those features are low priority in a home defense gun. In my view, the most necessary features in a home defense gun are these seven:
No matter what features a gun has, if it isn’t reliable, it isn’t a home defense gun. A jammed gun is not a self-defense weapon, it’s a paperweight. Now suppose you say to me that your home defense gun is reliable, with a certain brand and type of ammunition. Nice gun. But when the SHTF, and there is the inevitable ammo shortage, will you be able to find that exact brand and model of cartridge? Maybe not. Nice paperweight.
Accuracy and reliability are often a trade-off. The most reliable guns tend to be somewhat less accurate, and the most accurate guns are either less reliable, or they are most accurate only with certain ammunition. For home defense, you need enough accuracy to hit your target (an attacker putting your life in imminent danger). You are not trying to get the smallest grouping of shots on a paper target. A man-sized target is large enough so that you can have both reliability and accuracy.
3. Moderate power
Why do I say “moderate power”? Why not get as much power as you can in a home defense gun? The answer is that power is a trade-off with other factors. For most shooters, the greater recoil, muzzle blast, noise, and flash from a more powerful gun will all reduce accuracy. Once you have enough power in a gun to accomplish your purpose of self-defense, anything more may reduce accuracy. So this is why I would suggest the 9 mm for a pistol, rather than .40 S&W, and the .223 for a rifle, rather than the .308. On the other hand, if you are an experienced shooter, you might be able to handle a more powerful gun without losing accuracy.
4. Moderate range
The argument for moderate range is like the argument for moderate power. To obtain a greater range, you need to make some trade-offs. In a rifle, the longer range might require a longer barrel, which makes the gun less handy for close range self-defense. Or it might require a more powerful cartridge with more recoil. Also, as a practical matter, you would very seldom have a need to shoot long range to defend your home. I’m thinking that 300 meters is about the practical limit. Even in warfare, most firefights occur inside that range.
5. Inexpensive gun
There are many different types of purchases that are useful for emergency preparedness. Assuming you have a finite amount of money that you would like to dedicate to prepping, you need to limit how much you spend on firearms — and ammo. As the saying goes: “guns are cheap, ammo is expensive.” Over time, you will spend much more on ammunition than on the purchase price of the gun that fires that ammo. So the ammunition should be affordable as well. This is particularly true for prepping, since you would probably want to stock up on ammunition to prepare for even a moderate SHTF scenario.
6. Availability of ammo
Do you know what is a great new cartridge for home defense? The 300 blackout. It has moderate range, moderate power, reliability, sufficient accuracy. And an AR-15 type gun can be converted to 300 BLK with only a new upper, using the standard magazine and bolt. Do you know why I’ll have to pass on this type of gun for home defense? Ammo availability. The 300 blackout is a relatively new cartridge, not found in many stores that sell ammo. And even when a store does sell the cartridge, they don’t have a huge supply (as with the .223), so they can run out easily.
Also, the 300 BLK is designed to appeal to the military and law enforcement markets. That’s where the money is. But you would probably have the most need for a home defense gun in case of civil unrest or a sharp increase in violent crimes — so would law enforcement. Sources of the ammo for civilians might dry up. I don’t think you’ll be able to find any 300 BLK ammo if the SHTF.
7. Ammo capacity
I think that an effective home defense gun must have an ammo capacity of at least 5 shots or 6 shots. When shooting under duress, you will be less accurate. With some missed shots, you might need all 5 or 6 shots for even one attacker, and for multiple attackers, even more so. This requirement rules out certain shotguns. It also means that a revolver with 6 shots or a hunting-type rifle with a 5-shot box magazine barely make the grade.
These are my picks for the guns in each category that meet the above criteria. But opinions vary. Note that all prices cited in this article are current estimated prices as of this writing, not guaranteed, and always subject to change.
See the main article on this topic: Pistol-caliber Carbines for Home Defense. In summary, a pistol caliber carbine offers lower recoil, greater power, greater accuracy than a handgun in the same caliber. Long guns are also easier to choose accurately, with less practice, than a handgun. My pick for best inexpensive Pistol-Caliber Carbine: The Hi-Point in 9 mm.
By all accounts, this gun is very reliable with a wide range of 9 mm ammo, and it has sufficient accuracy for home-defense out to 100 yard or so. And you can’t beat the price at under $300.00 for the basic model.
To meet the criteria of moderate power, you might think that a 20-gauge gun would be better than a 12 gauge. But 12 gauge ammo is ubiquitous, and it comes in a much wider range of ammo choices. So I think that you get the 12-gauge, and then choose lighter recoil ammo. In a pinch, you can use any ammo that is available.
My pick is the Remington Model 870 Express Tactical 12 Gauge 18″, Bead Sight, Synthetic Stock, Matte Black Finish, 6+1 Round Capacity, which can be found for under $400.00.
I know that the .22LR is under-powered for home defense, but on all the other factors, a good .22 rifle scores high: low cost gun, low cost ammo, highly available ammo, inexpensive and accurate, with decent range (100 to 150 yards). If low cost and low recoil are two of your biggest considerations, try the Marlin Model 60.
For under $200.00, you get a very reliable rifle that is accurate out of the box. At 5.5 lbs, with a 19″ barrel, it is a handy little gun, and it offers 14 rounds in its tubular magazine.
See the main article on this topic: Lever-action Rifles for Self-defense. In summary, a good lever-action rifle in .38 special or .44 special is accurate, with low recoil, sufficient power for self-defense, and a decent magazine capacity (usually 9 rounds or more). The only downside is that working the lever between shots takes time, and takes your sights off-target. But compared to a bolt-action rifle, the lever is perhaps quicker to work.
Another trade-off if you decide to go the lever-action route is cost. A quality reliable lever-action rifle in center-fire caliber, like the Marlin 1894, is around $500 or more. You could go with an off-brand, but you don’t save that much money. I’d spend the extra money and get the Marlin.
The same problem with price occurs with revolvers as with lever-action rifles. A good quality revolver, like the Smith & Wesson model 64 in .38 Special, is over $500 retail price. But you might find one, used and in good condition, at a local gun shop.
If you want a less expensive option, you might consider trading off price for power. The .22 Winchester Magnum can be had in a revolver from Charter Arms (Pathfinder Target model) or Taurus (model 941) for under $400. This type of gun is suitable for in-house self-defense, assuming that you have a reasonable degree of skill and accuracy. The Taurus offers 8 rounds and a 5″ barrel, while the Charter Arms model has 6 rounds and a 4″ barrel.
My Beretta Px4 in 9 mm meets all of the criteria that we are discussing (reliable, accurate, ammo price and availability, etc.), except the price of the gun (usually over $500). Hi-Point makes a very inexpensive and reliable semi-automatic in 380 ACP, 9mm , 40 S&W, and 45 ACP. That gun is perhaps the best of the lowest price guns in this category. The Ruger SR9 is better gun for more money than the Hi-Point and less than the Beretta. Another good option in the same price range is the Stoeger Cougar in 9 mm (or if you prefer, .45 ACP). There are lots of other choices, but those are my picks.
You might also want to consider the new value pistol from Smith and Wesson: the SD9 VE, which has an MSRP of under $400.
All of the above 7 factors can be found in a bolt-action hunting rifle of appropriate caliber. The typical bolt-action rifle is designed for hunting: 5 round magazine, good out-of-box accuracy, and for many models relatively low price. Sufficient power for hunting usually means sufficient power for self-defense as well. The only caveat is to avoid models that have too much power for defensive purposes. You want to be able to make a quick follow-up shot. And you also want to avoid over-penetration.
But the main problem with this type of gun for home defense is that you must work the bolt between shots. So you get only one shot, then you have to work the bolt, and now your gun is off-target, so you have to readjust your aim. Then you get a second shot. Especially for a less experienced shooter, the time between one shot and the next is too long for self-defense. But on all the other factors, bolt-action rifles score high.
There are many makes and models of bolt-action hunting rifles with reasonable price tags (under $400), and I’m a little short on knowledge in this particular area, so I’ll avoid making a specific recommendations. Suggestions are welcome in the comments section.
The AR15 Rifle
Last but not least is the AR15 type rifle, which offers high magazine capacity, plentiful cheap .223 ammo, decent accuracy, more than enough power, range, and reliability. For some purposes, such as home defense in a crowded suburb or in a city, the AR15 might not be the best fit. See this article: Is an AR-15 suitable for Home Defense? But the main problem with the AR15 for home defense is cost. Out of all the above-discussed gun choices, the AR15 is the most expensive.
There are many well-made reliable and accurate AR15 type rifles in the $1000 to $2000 price range and up. But if you wanted to keep the price well-below $1000, and still keep the quality high, your options quickly narrow. I suggest taking a look at the base model of the Smith & Wesson Model M&P15 Sport, which has an MSRP of $739.00 (at the time of this writing, per the S&W website). They also make version that are compliant with various State laws, including CA, MA, NJ etc., at about the same price point.
Did I leave anything out? Add your picks or other categories of guns in the comments below.