Shotguns have long held the title as king of the home defense realm. A title that they don’t deserve, and that science disagrees with. Even Joe Biden has famously said that you should just “buy a shotgun” to protect yourself and your family at home. The point that JB was really trying to make, is that the ubiquitous AR-15 style weapon is much more dangerous than a shotgun, and should be considered “overkill” for the self-defense needs of us commoners (side note: overkill is underrated).
First, let’s talk some trash about shotguns. They kick like a mule, have limited ammo capacity, and require significantly more training to achieve proficiency than a handgun or carbine. Common arguments in favor of the shotgun for home defense include:
- You don’t have to aim! Just point and shoot! You’re in pretty big trouble when your argument for using a specific firearm starts with “you don’t have to aim it”. Aiming is a skill to be encouraged, not avoided. It’s also a prerequisite for safety. If you aren’t aiming, how certain are you that your weapon is only pointed at the bad guy and not your cat? This is particularly true with shotguns, which have a much wider spread of potential damage. Sooooo, I’ve got bad news, you do in fact need to aim a shotgun. Unless you like missing your target, and shooting your cat.
- “Shotguns are easier to use.” This is patently false. Since there’s a significant variety in shotgun types (pump action, semi-auto, break action etc), each with their own unique methods of operation, I’m going to have to generalize a bit here. Sure, pulling the trigger on a shogun is pretty simple (as it is on all firearms), but have you ever tried to remedy a malfunction on one? How about reloading under stress? Effective defensive usage of a shotgun actually requires a lot of practice. Shotguns are (generally) not very user friendly to the uninitiated.
- “They do more damage to the bad guy.” Well….. maybe? Compared to what though? Using what ammo? Shot placement will always trump caliber/bullet size. I can shoot your pinky toe with a 12ga slug and you might walk funny for the rest of your life , or I could put a tiny .22LR in your cranial ocular cavity and you might go to sleep forever. What was that thing we were talking about a minute ago? Oh yeah… AIMING.
- and my favorite… “I just have to rack it, and the sound will scare the evil doer away.” Sure…possibly…I guess. However, many people keep their go-to home defensive weapon loaded and chambered, so racking it would eject a perfectly good round out of your weapon moments before you might need it. It would suck pretty hard to die because you were one round short of stopping the threat, when you wasted ammo just to make a scary shotgun noise. You could also just get an app on your phone that makes the same sound (I just saved you a bunch of money, nobody needs a gun! You’re welcome!). What if that doesn’t work though? Maybe you could make other, even more scary noises? Like pretending to be an angry dog…..no that’s dumb… hmm……I’ve got it! Dracula. Make Dracula noises. If the axe murder is still trying to get you after after you scream” I VANT TO SUCK YOUR BLooOOoD, MuUhaHAhaha” at the top of your lungs, you may have to actually use your shotgun as a firearm, and not just a scary noise maker……see above for the reasons that’s not the best option in this situation.
Before we get into what makes the AR platform a superior choice, let’s discuss why it isn’t usually the first thing that gets suggested for home defense. Bad PR. The AR has a ton of it. In addition to its usage in high profile media highlighted shootings, the AR (or it’s military dopplegangers) have been featured in almost every moden movie and TV show about war. People even use the term “weapon of war” to demonize certain types of firearms that they believe are inappropriate for civilian ownership. Usually those people also believe that an AR is a “machine gun”, fires 1000 bullets a second, and can put a hole in you the size of a cantaloupe from 3 miles away.
Despite the ridiculousness (and redundancy) of using the term WEAPON of war, there is some truth in it. On the most fundamental level, the goal of both war and self defense is to win. You can win by killing your enemy/assailant, by doing enough damage to them that they no longer have the ability or will to fight, or by convincing them not to fight at all. All of these things can be best accomplished if you have the most effective tools possible. No one has ever been face to face with an enemy or violent attacker and thought “man, I wish I had a crappier weapon and less ammo right now”.
What does science have to say about the AR?
(Stupid science. Always knowin’ stuff and junk)
- They’re simple to operate. Almost every AR type weapon on the planet uses the same set of controls to operate. So, if you can use one, you can use them all. Those controls are also laid out in a fairly user friendly and intuitive manner.
- They’re easy(er) to be accurate with. Barrel length, rifling, and overall ergonomics come together to make an enjoyable and accurate shooting experience. Then there’s recoil. Google “-ANYBODY- shoots an AR for the first time”. You’ll see tons of videos of first-timers enjoying the experience, and being pretty accurate. Now Google “-ANYBODY- shoots a shotgun for the first time”. Those will mostly be videos of some jackass giving a shotgun to their unsuspecting friend, and then laughing their stupid ass off when the friend is knocked to the ground or hit in the face from the recoil.
- Greater ammo capacity. Pretty simple. More bullets is better than less when your life hangs in the balance. I frequently hear “well, I don’t need THAT many bullets” from people intimidated by the AR. Cool. Then don’t use them all. Nobody said that you need to use every single round in your magazine. Stop shooting when you’ve stopped the threat, or stop shooting when you run out of ammunition. This basically comes down to the fire extinguisher debate… is it better to need and not have, or to have and not need?
- Modularity. The AR platform is often compared to legos. With the number of options available, it’s a fair analogy. Don’t like your buttstock or pistol grip? You can change them both on your own in about 3 minutes. These weapons are also designed to easily attach a variety of accessories. Flashlights– Want to see in the dark, and blind the bad guy? Giddyup. Optics– Do you like faster target acquisition, and greater accuracy? Hell yeah you do. Want all of those things? What’s stopping you?? Not the AR.
- Safety/liability. This is an important one, and also an overlooked bit of info about the AR. The 5.56/.223 caliber round is LESS likely to overpenetrate than almost every other self defense round… including defensive shotgun loads. I won’t get into all of the sciencey gun nerd details, but the bottom line is that a standard AR caliber bullet has LESS of a chance of going through the wall in your house, across the street, and into your neighbors living room. This has been proven many times in controlled tests performed by people smarter than I am, and reported on by people who write word thingies better than I do (like this terrific article by Ken Whitmore on Pew Pew Tactical). Bottom line, the AR is a SAFER choice to have in your home. I know, crazy right?
AR Pistols and SBRs
These shorter length weapons have commonality in both features and operation with their larger sized brethren. The smaller overall footprint makes them more portable, and easier to use in confined spaces (like hallways). and where you may be negotiating obstacles (like furniture). The downside to the reduction in size (and barrel length), is the loss in accuracy and ability to effective put rounds on target at greater distances. However, both of those concerns are effectively irrelevant when talking about usage in a close quarters environment like your home. There will also be an increase in felt recoil due to the smaller size of the weapon, but it’s minimal, and doesn’t outweigh the benefits in my opinion. Many of these weapons are purpose built and ideal for home defense….. like the Rök from VALKYRIE COMBAT.
Wait a minute….. did I just sneak in a plug for my company’s new super-awesome amazing side folding AR pistol???? You’re damn right I did, and I’m also going to put the link to buy one right below this totally casual, not at all biased, and completely unrelated statement about how kick-ass it is.
I get it! Shotguns bad, ARs good. Wrap it up man!
Sorry shotguns. You’ve had a good run, but there’s a new sheriff in town. Objectively, the AR platform has a clear advantage over the other common home defense options. Simpler to use, faster to reload, more accurate, greater ammo capacity, and more easily adaptable to your needs. It’s science bitch!
Thank you for taking the time to read my gibberish.