Best Inexpensive Guns for Home Defense

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:

1. Reliable

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.

2. Accurate

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.

My Picks

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.

Pistol-Caliber Carbines

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.

Shotguns

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.

Rimfire Rifles

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.

Lever-action Rifles

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.

Revolvers

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.

Semi-automatic Pistols

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.

Bolt-action Rifles

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.

– Thoreau

9 Responses to Best Inexpensive Guns for Home Defense

  1. Nice article. I like the Ruger 10/22 because of the popularity and availability of parts and accessories. You are spot on with the 870. We only have 38′s and 9′s for hand guns so that we only have to acquire and store two types of ammo for them.

  2. Excellent article, there is not a bad choice in the bunch. I would make a couple of suggestions. The revolver and lever action carbine might be better chambered in the magnum loads, .44 mag and .357 mag, this allows you the flexibility to use a more powerful round if you choose or to use the .44 or .38. Having two different rounds that will fire in your firearm doubles your chance of finding ammo.

    While the Highpoint is an excellent choice I prefer the Kel-Tec Sub 2000 as it folds and is compatible with the magazines for my pistol. You should have multiple magazines for each semi-auto so the cross compatibility saves a few bucks.

    A rifle that is sometimes overlooked is the SKS. They fire the same inexpensive 7.62X39 round as the AK 47. They tend to have a longer barrel so you get slightly better speed and range. If price is a factor, you should be able to get an SKS for well under half the price of an AK or AR. Having said that, a gun is a multi-generational purchase. I have taken deer with guns over a hundred years old. I have a gun that my grandfather owned and I will pass it down one day. Don’t let the price stop you from getting the gun you want.

  3. We are looking into a shotgun for home defense. Possibly a hand gun as well. We live in a 2nd floor apt. with another apt over us. We worry about shots traveling into another’s living area and possibly causing harm to an innocent. Which gun would be best to avoid this?

    • I wouldn’t recommend a shotgun for that situation. You might want to consider a pistol-caliber carbine, for accuracy, and Glaser safety slugs for ammo. However, no firearm offers zero possibility of harm to innocent by-standers. Learn firearms safety, learn to use your particular firearm, be sure of your target, and consider what you might hit if you miss your target.

    • The shotgun is OK, it’s the ammo you use that you have to watch. Slugs and double-00 buckshot is not good for that environment. You can get reduced recoil ammo in #4 buckshot that has good stopping power without over penetrating. That’s what we carried in the military most of the time. If we needed to blow a hinge we had special ammo to load for that. Get an 18.5 inch barrel on it also. Don’t let the sales clerk press you into all the tactical black color and gadgets. A plain jane with wood or polymer stocks is just fine. All the tactical array does is make a $250 shotgun cost an extra hundred or two. The bad guy doesn’t care how cool you look.
      Agree with Thoreau on the handgun ammo. They are making some ammo classified as Personal Defense that is lower powered nowdays.

  4. Mossberg 20 gauge pump. Inexpensive, light, reliable.

  5. A shotgun is probably the best home defense gun. What ever firearm you decide on you need to take a home defense class designed around that type of firearm. The type of round you select is very important. If you pick a round that will not go through a sheetrock wall it will not likely do significant damage to the criminal attacking you. Buckshot is a good defensive round #1 buck is arguably the best. It is smaller than 0, 00, or 000 buck so will have less energy left after passing through a wall. You must aim a shotgun, the shot does spread but not as much as most people think. Take your shotgun to the range and shoot a clean target from the furthest you might actually fire inside your home, you might be surprised at how small the spread is. For further study check out theboxotruth.com

  6. This is a very good article. There are, however a number of other factors which need to be considered before making your final choice. These include:
    -Some of the best guns you can use for home defense are illegal in many jurisdictions.
    -The environment in which you live. I.e., urban, suburban, or rural? House or apartment building?
    -Your level of experience with firearms in general, and the particular gun you’re considering.
    -Many guys don’t think about others in the home using a weapon, but what if you are at work or travel as I do. What then?
    You do not need to buy a $3000 AR-15 or a $1500 Kimber 1911 pistol for home defense. Learn to use what you have and learn it well. At a distance of 20 feet, down the hall, a $250 pump shotgun works just as well as a custom $13,500 Krieghoff.
    I actually have three guns which I keep specifically for home defense. My primary piece is a $240 Mossberg 500, 12 gauge pump-action shotgun. It has an 18.5″ barrel and holds 5 shells in the magazine (I removed the wooden plug). I keep the magazine loaded with 3-inch #4 buckshot, while the chamber is kept empty.
    In my opinion, a short-barreled 20 or 12 gauge shotgun is the top choice as a home defense gun “for most people”. The shotgun possesses the advantage that the projectiles won’t whiz through a criminal, the wall behind him, and go on to strike one of my family members or a neighbor (as with a high powered rifle). Another advantage, which is not to be discounted, is that the sound of the slide being worked on a pump-action shotgun is very intimidating. A typical long barreled rifle has 2 disadvantages. It can be difficult to wield in a hallway, and it is easier to get taken away from you by the perp.
    I did say a shotgun for most people. What about a mother home alone with an 18 month old toddler? Can you envision her trying to get upstairs to a safe room with a 12 gauge in one hand and the toddler in the other (you do have a designated safe area, don’t you?)? For that reason my second weapon choice is a handgun. I actually have a couple of handguns, a Rossi .357/.38 Special revolver with a 4” barrel, and a semi-automatic Beretta Cougar .40 S&W pistol. (My wife has a Walther PK 380.) For reliability and simplicity of use you cannot beat a revolver. My wife has the Walther because she does not have the strength to rack the slide on my Cougar or a Taurus 92F 9mm I have. This is something to consider along with older people who may be frail or have arthritis. It may be all the recoil they can handle is a .22 or .32 caliber.
    Semi-autos are generally easier to shoot than double-action revolvers, but do require more training. It is critical that you test a semi-auto with the same loads you intend to use for self defense. It must reliably feed and extract the rounds from at least 100 rounds of ammunition before you can consider it reliable enough for defensive use. Further, semi-autos require a break-in period before they should be considered reliable — shoot about 400 to 500 rounds through it before depending on it to save your life.
    Did I mention my third weapon? This is a Beretta CX4 Storm pistol-caliber-carbine (only 30” long) in .40 S&W that I just purchased used for $485. The main reason for this particular weapon is that I already had the Cougar and they both use the same ammo and the same magazines (10-17 round mags). In the event my locality is ever struck by some man-made or natural disaster which causes a breakdown of the social order, I also have high powered hunting rifles to choose from with which to defend my home.
    I want to state that your choice of what gun to use for home defense is really only a very small part of the equation. Before you can be truly well protected, you must have more than a good gun. You need training in how to use it, and just as importantly, when to use it. You need to make yourself familiar with your jurisdiction’s laws regarding the use of deadly force. What do you know about tactics? If your knowledge of tactics comes from watching reruns of “NYPD Blue,” you need to get training. Moreover, you should have a plan in place on what you’ll do if your home is invaded. E.g., do you have a “safe-room” that everyone knows to retreat to if your home is invaded, where you and your family can wait until help arrives? Do you have a charged cellular phone to call someone if the crooks are smart enough to cut your telephone lines before they break in? Do you have a good flashlight at hand? Do you have a small survival pack handy for the safe room for all this stuff, and spare ammo? Don’t approach choosing a home defense gun lightly. It is a serious choice to make, if you are ever faced with defending your home and loved ones. The best gun for self-defense is the one you can get to in a hurry and use effectively.
    NEVER, EVER use hand loaded ammo except for range practice or hunting. The legal issues can be horrific. ONLY use factory loaded ammo for defensive use.
    There is an often left out discussion – the Psychology of Self Defense. When you strap on a gun, you are introducing into your life the possibility that you may shoot and kill another person. This is extremely serious business. No right thinking person wants to shoot someone. It is a tragic and horrible thing. It is expensive in every way and creates a profound legal liability. It may create emotional and spiritual trauma. People respond to this in different ways, some having a great deal of “post traumatic stress” while others seem able to shrug it off pretty easily. One way or the other, it leaves a mark on your soul. You don’t want to shoot someone if you don’t have to.
    The presence of the gun may resolve the problem without it ever being fired or drawn, or it may not, you do need to be mentally prepared to use it. By the same token, you must be perfectly clear about the correct and legal use of deadly force, and you must be emotionally capable of controlling yourself so as not to use the gun when its use is inappropriate. Your mind is the true weapon. Everything else is just a tool. If your mind is not prepared, the hardware will be useless. If the mind is not prepared, the hardware is more likely to get you into trouble than out of it. If your mind and body are prepared, you will not need to use the firearm except in the gravest extreme.
    Remember – the greatest self defense tool you have is between your ears. When you are aware of the world around you, you can head off and avoid 99% of the situations which might force you to deploy a weapon.
    Practice situational awareness – if you are planning on going somewhere that you think you’ll need your battle rifle, two backup pistols and a Kevlar vest, don’t go there. If you find yourself somewhere that doesn’t “feel right,” leave.
    I will not attempt to tell you what moral decisions you should make regarding the use of deadly force. That is a personal decision left up to you. You must make your own individual decisions on the Moral Use of Deadly Force and you need to begin making those decisions NOW. Why now? Because you may be faced with the decision to use deadly force tonight, when your car breaks down and leaves you stranded on the side of the road— to be approached by three men with evil intent. It may happen tomorrow morning when you stop in the convenience store to pick up some lunch supplies and two armed men follow you in— to rob the store. It may happen when you return home and find an armed burglar— in your residence. It may happen at any time, and under any circumstance. Should you ever find yourself in a lethal confrontation; the decision to use deadly force is going to be yours and yours alone. With that said, are you thinking that you should try to avoid a gun fight if there is any way to prevent it? Good. The best gun fight is the one you avoid, the one that never happened!
    I realize that some are thinking, “My gosh! This is more than I bargained for. I want to improve my skills for weekend recreational shooting, not to contemplate when or if I would ever shoot someone!” The more training you have, the better and faster you are, the less likely you will ever need these skills, and if needed the more likely you are to be prepared and make the right decisions. I encourage you to discuss this topic with your family.

    Read “In the Gravest Extreme” by Massad F. Ayoob

    In the words of US Navy Chaplain, Lt. Howell Forgy, on the USS New Orleans, 7 Dec 1941….

    “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.”