The Pros and Cons of Shotguns for Self-Defense

One of the most commonly recommended firearms for home defense purposes is the humble shotgun. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of this type of gun for self-defense.


1. Accuracy

Being a long gun fired from the shoulder, the shotgun is relatively accurate. Under duress, it is easy to miss a target with a pistol, especially a moving target. But a shotgun can hit a moving target with relative ease. The fact that the shot spread out, covering a much larger area than a single bullet also helps with accuracy. You can’t shoot skeet or trap with a pistol.

2. Power

A full power defensive load of double-aught buckshot is 9 pellets of .33 caliber at supersonic velocities. Hit your attacker square in the chest, and it is a one-shot man stopper, for sure. And for a moving target, even if only a few pellets hit the mark, the effect is powerful and often deadly.

3. Reliability

Some pistols are prone to jamming, especially if the mag springs are weak or the ammo is cheap. But a pump-action shotgun is ultra-reliable. Shoot. Pump. Shoot. Pump. And even semi-auto shotguns are rather unlikely to fail. That’s a high priority in a self-defense situation: a reliable firearm.

4. Intimidation

The sight of a home owner wielding a shotgun, and the sound of a round being chambered, is enough to send most bad guys running away. And in the rare case of an attacker who is not affected by that sight and sound, a single blast from the gun is very loud and very intimidating. If the attacker isn’t dead after that first shot, he will be running as fast as he can.

5. Inexpensive

A good pump-action shotgun, like a basic model Mossberg or Remington, is relatively inexpensive. Current prices are well under $500. A good semi-auto pistol will cost the same or more. And the ammo is also relatively cheap and easy to find.

Well, I don’t know if there are any other PROS, but I’ve already convinced myself. A shotgun is a damn fine home defense weapon. Anyway, let’s look that the other side of the coin.


1. Size

You can walk around the house and yard carrying (where legal) a pistol, concealed or open carry. But a shotgun is much less convenient to carry. You’ll probably want to have it in one location in the house, in a gun safe. Then you must retrieve it, when needed.

2. Muzzle blast

The sound and flash from a shotgun is intense, especially if fired indoors. You will want to have a pair of over-the-ears muffs to avoid damaging your hearing.

3. Recoil

A 12 gauge shotgun is a formidable weapon, but that power means it has a lot of recoil. A less experienced shooter or someone who is recoil-sensitive, might find this disadvantage to be a serious problem. There are lighter recoiling loads, but they are also less effective.

4. Ammo Capacity

Shotguns tend to have lower capacity magazines than many pistols. And while 30-round mags are commonly used in ARs, a shotgun might have only 8 to 10 rounds. Reloading a semi-auto pistol or AR is fast, but shotguns are reloaded one round at a time. Granted, you probably won’t need to reload the shotgun, in most self-defense situations. But when the SHTF, you never know.


If I had to have only one firearm for home defense, maybe it would be a semi-auto pistol with a high-capacity magazine. But shotguns are relatively inexpensive, and very effective. So as one of several guns to own, it is in the top three: pistol, AR, shotgun. There’s a reason that 3-gun competitions use those three firearms, they are the three most useful ones for self-defense.

– Thoreau

6 Responses to The Pros and Cons of Shotguns for Self-Defense

  1. Intimidation may work and if it does wonderful but don’t count on it. If it worked 100% everyone would be telling you to go over to your buddies house, make a recording of him cycling his shotgun, play the tape in case of a break in, and save yourself the money. It does work most of the time but criminals are knot known for rational thought. If she is high on drugs or needs a fix she may convince herself that you wouldn’t shoot. Criminals are not afraid of guns. Criminals are afraid of citizens that are willing to use them.

    The hearing protection is an excellent idea and is often forgotten in these articles. I suggest you use noise cancelling headphones and keep them with the firearm. The noise cancelling headphones can amplify sound so it is easier to hear talking or someone walking around while at the same time cancelling much of the noise of a firearm discharge.

    I say firearm because long gun or handgun discharging a firearm inside a building can damage your hearing and disorient everybody. That is another benefit of hearing protection. Even if you hit the bad guy he may have friends there. If they are disoriented and all they hear is the ringing in their ears that benefits you, especially if you aren’t similarly afflicted.

  2. The reloading issue for a shotgun actually works both ways. No, it’s not as simple just dropping in a new magazine but, you can drop a single cartridge in the side and rack the slide forward all day long. If you are empty you’re back in the fight much quicker with a shotgun than with any other firearm (even if it’s only for one more round). As with anything else in the gun world, there are trade offs.

  3. One thing not mentioned is barrel length. Some 12 gauge shotguns (tactical) are made with 18.5″ barrels, which make them easier to wield inside a building. The minimum legal length of a shotgun is 16 inches, so if you are strictly looking for a home defensive weapon that is not intended for any other purpose, you can legally shorten the barrel. I have one shotgun that has barrel length 16.1″.

    • Under the National Firearms Act (NFA), it is illegal for a private citizen to possess a sawed-off modern smokeless powder shotgun (a shotgun with a barrel length shorter than 18 inches (46 cm) or an overall length shorter than 26 inches (66 cm)) (under U.S.C. title II).

  4. There is nothing more intimidating then the sound of a shotgun being racked. Even if it is unloaded or has no barrel (as long as the perp can’t see it). Then there is the penetration factor. It won’t go thru the wall and go a hundred yards.

  5. In my past law enforcement experience, I have chambered a round on many a dangerous and violent suspect. Some complied with the commands given them, some didn’t, and some turned and fled in FelonyFactor12, knowing full well we would not fire at a “fleeing suspect”.
    I don’t know of a single thug that ever was “impressed”, by the sound of a shotgun slide being pumped/actuated.
    That’s just my personal experience, and your experience will always be different, or YMMV.
    I would never count on any violent suspect being “impressed”, by the sound of a shotgun slide, that’s just too much Hollywood Bovine Excrement for me to standing, on or around.