These are my picks, based on effectiveness, cost, and reliability. If you disagree with any of my picks, feel free to opine to the contrary in the comments section.
1. Hi-Point Pistol Caliber Carbine in .40 S&W
The Hi-Point 4095TS is the quintessential low-cost high-quality carbine. My pick is in .40 caliber. I know the 9mm ammo is a little less expensive, and perhaps a little more available. But from a long gun, I feel the .40 makes good use of its heavier bullets and greater powder capacity. For example, Buffalo Bore has a number of powerful loadings in +P .40SW, such as the 155 grain Jacketed Hollow Point rated at 1,300 fps (582 ft. lbs.) from a 5-inch handgun. At 17.5″, the Hi-Point carbine will easily push that bullet above 1400 fps. That’s plenty of stopping power for home defense.
A pistol caliber carbine has a number of advantages over handguns and over more powerful long guns for self-defense in the home: excellent accuracy, low recoil, little or no flash, and no problem with muzzle blast. A carbine can deliver a quick double tap to the body, or an accurate headshot, from a much greater distance than a semi-auto pistol. And you can’t argue with the extra velocity. If I had to pick only one firearm for home defense, it would be this one. Inexpensive and highly effective.
2. Remington 870 Shotgun in 12 gauge
Speaking of highly effective guns for self-defense in the home, a single blast from a 12 gauge with a full power loading of double-aught buckshot is the definition of effective. There’s a reason no one talks about a “double tap” from a 12 gauge. The second “tap” is not needed.
Federal has a nice loading with 9 pellets of 00 buckshot at a modest 1145 fps. Fiocchi offers 9 pellets of 00 buck at 1325 fps. Hornady gives you only 8 pellets of 00 buck but at 1600 fps. I’m not sure if there is much practical difference between these loadings. One well-placed shot and your assailant can no longer assail. I’d pick the lower velocity option for its lower recoil.
As for the choice of shotgun, I favor the 870 because it is time (and military) tested. You can get a model called “tactical something” with some nice additional features. But even a turkey hunting gun will work fine for defensive purposes. The longer barrel in a hunting shotgun is not so bad. A little slower to come on target, but less muzzle blast and plenty accurate.
3. Smith and Wesson Model M&P15 Sport (AR-15)
Yes, I know that the M&P15 is not the best AR out there. But try to find an AR with the same quality and reliability at a lower price. The MSRP is listed as $739.00 on the SW site (as of this writing). You can easily spend three times that on an AR from any of a dozen other companies. And I’m not sure how much of a difference it will make for home defense. Any AR offers plenty of stopping power in the home.
Yet, as much as I like the venerable black rifle, it’s not my first choice for home defense. It’s a little overpowered, if you have to use it indoors. The blast and noise is excessive in close confines. But if you live in a rural area, and need a home defense firearm that can reach out and touch the BGs at a few hundred yards, an AR is ideal.
Ammo for the .223 rifle is inexpensive and easy to find. Cheap practice ammo is plentiful and, well, very cheap. And top quality ammo is plentiful and not really that expensive.
4. Marlin lever action rifle (1894) in .357 Magnum
I was torn, for this pick, between the .30-30 and the .357 magnum. Like the choice between an AR and a pistol caliber carbine, one is best for outdoor defense, and the other for indoors. The .30-30 offers ample power. A 140 to 160 grain bullet at over 2000 fps is very effective. If you can hunt deer with it, you can also defend yourself well with it. The .30-30 has decent range, especially with the Hornady (poorly named) LEVERevolution FTX ammo, which maxes out at around 300 yards or so.
But the .357 offers less recoil and muzzle blast when fired from a long gun. And for those who are sensitive to noise or recoil, you can use a .38 Special +P loading for accurate, if minimally powerful, self-defense. A lever-action in .357 is more practical for indoors or close quarters scenarios. It’s also effective at over 100 yards outdoors.
As for the choice of gun, I want a Winchester in .357 (and another Winchester in .30-30). But the Marlin much less expensive. Taking into account cost, and accepting a trade-off in quality, my pick is the Marlin 1894. The 1894 Cowboy model is supposed to have higher quality control, since it is designed to be used in Cowboy style shooting competitions. So that might be your best bet.
5. Taurus .357 Magnum Revolver
A revolver in .357 magnum, with a 4 to 6 inch barrel, is a very capable self-defense weapon. Time tested by innumerable police officers, the 125 grain .357 round at over 1300 fps is the definition of one-shot stopping power. And the same firearm that is designed to shoot the .357 can also fire the .38 Special, giving you much less recoil and probably better accuracy.
Which revolver is best in .357? Probably a Smith and Wesson or Ruger. But I’m taking into account cost, so my pick is the Taurus model 66. It offers seven shots of .357 from a six-inch barrel.
Well, those are my top picks for cheap and effective self-defense guns. Add your picks in the comments below.