When it comes to self-defense, it is important to have a firearm that fires quickly, so I recommend semiautomatics and double-action revolvers. They fire each time you pull the trigger. There are many other fine firearm designs, but a slow bolt-action rifle would be a poor choice in a crisis because it is so slow that you might not have time for a second shot. You need multiple shots if you miss or if there’s more than one attacker.
Please understand that this started as a simple list of guns that I recommend researching more. I started adding descriptions, and now it’s a full-blown post. These are only summaries of my limited knowledge, so you should still research each option.
For the sake of being brief, I cannot include very many specific details on each gun. We would need a long chart just for the Glock models alone.
I added an ***asterisk*** next to the firearms I personally plan to buy eventually.
As an alternative idea, you could buy a 22lr gun that *looks* like a badass self-defense gun, like the GSG 22LR 1911 or S&W M&P-15-22. It would be cheaper to buy, cheaper to shoot, and would still be intimidating for self defense. However, it would suck if you ever needed to actually use it for self-defense.
As one final note, always buy the best firearm you can find. Find your perfect tool, and then buy the nicest version. If you are only going to own one, then make it the best one.
Keep reading for my recommendations:
*Ruger S101 4″ barrel – This may be the most perfect general-purpose revolver. It weighs about 30 ounces, which is not too heavy or too light. For comparison, a full-size 6-shot revolver usually weighs about 40 ounces because of the larger frame & cylinder. Also, an ultra-light aluminum S&W revolver usually weighs about 15 ounces, and they kick pretty hard. 30 ounces is a good balance between a heavy target revolver and a lightweight pocket revolver. A 4″ barrel is often considered to be a common compromise barrel length. Back in the old days when cops carried revolvers, 4″ was the standard police length. It’s a bit too long to really carry concealed, but it is very possible under a jacket. Cost: under $600 new
Ruger GP100 4″ or 6″ barrel – This increases the size & weight a lot compared to the Sp101, but it also adds 1 extra shot. Of course, a gun kicks less when it is larger & heavier, but it is much harder to carry.
S&W Model 60 with 5″ barrel – This was a 5-shot revolver with 5″ barrel that weighs about 30 ounces. I really wanted one, but they’re discontinued & very rare. They cost about $800 in good used condition. Instead of buying this old S&W, look at the S&W 386 XL or Ruger SP101.
*S&W 386 XL Hunter – This is a 7-shot revolver that weighs only 30 ounces with a 6″ barrel. It’s a really great gun, but the lightweight alloy frame will wear out more quickly than a stainless steel frame. It’s also really expensive. Cost: about $900 new, or about $700 used
*S&W 686 – The 686 is the standard S&W revolver for 357 Magnum. They hold either 6 or 7 shots, and can have barrels as short as 2″ or as long as 8.5″. There are many versions of the 686, some of which are discontinued, but you can find almost anything for sale online in good used condition.
S&W TRR8/M&P8 – 8 shot revolver, 4″ barrel, expensive but nice, I need to research more. It’s a bit big for carry.
S&W 627 – larger & heavier that a 686, but the 627 holds 8 shots instead of 6 or 7. Available in various barrel lengths.
S&W 696 – that’s SIX NINE SIX. It’s a discontinued 5-shot 44 magnum revolver. If you only have 5 shots, make them 44! Of course, you could easily make your own custom low-power 44 Mag ammo for self-defense.
S&W “Governor” – a 6 shot short-barreled revolver that shoots 3 kinds of ammo: 45LC, 45ACP, and 410 shotshell. It’s really long & heavy, but will kick like a sumabitch. Seriously, it would hurt, but the ability to use 3 different kinds of ammo makes it a little bit unique. I don’t generally recommend these, but it’s nice in theory to be able to find ammo more easily.
Chiappo Rhino – The Rhino is weird. I mean, it’s like some kind of freak revolver. The grip angle is weird, the trigger is weird, it’s just completely strange. However, it seems to be decent quality. It supposedly has much less kick that normal revolvers because of its radical design. They’re available with 2″, 4″, and 6″ barrels. Cost is high at about $1,000.
Double-Action Semi-Auto Pistols
For beginners, choose 9mm or 40 S&W (or sometimes 357 Sig)
note: bonus points to the cz-75 and Sig Sauer for having 22lr kit
FNP-9 These are VERY light weight, 4″ barrel
*FNX-9 Tweaked/improved/updated version of FNP-9. I recommend this over the FNP, but research both
*HK USP – Expensive, a little bulky, available in standard size and ‘compact’ size
HK P2000 – smaller than the HK USP compact
HK P2000L – a different version of the P2000. I’m not exactly sure about the difference between the USP Compact vs the P2000L.
HK P30 – another compact pistol, I’m not sure how it’s different from the P2ooo or USP Compact.
old S&W 59 series – I don’t know much about them, except they were supposedly high quality, and they were the design that inspired the Daewoo D-51. This is what Andrea carried in TWD seasons 1 & 2. (She carried a S&W until Shane gave her a Beretta 92 which she carried for the rest of the show. On another TWD note, the Governor carried a chrome-plated 1911 in the beginning but then switched to a chrome-plated Beretta 92 for the rest of the show. There may or may not be some special symbolism in Andrea’s black Beretta and the Governor’s chrome Beretta.)
*Lionheart L9N– this is an updated, modernized Daewoo D-51, and it uses S&W 59 magazines. It has a LOT of interesting design features, but it’s a really new gun on the US market, so no one knows for sure if it is good quality yet. However, all of the major parts are forged, which is a very good thing. It has a “frame mounted safety” that I like a lot better than most guns which have a slide mounted safety. It has a very interesting trigger mechanism. It is finished with Cerakote, an extremely strong ceramic paint for guns. It is available with high-quality sights from Novak.
CZ-75b – CZ stands for “Ceská Zbrojovka”, a gun company in the Czech Republic. You can see why most people just say “CZ”! The CZ-75b is a classic pistol design that dates back to the Cold War. They were extremely rare in the West until the fall of the Iron Curtain. They’re well-know for quality and a comfortable grip. They have a somewhat strange design, with a very small slide. It may be a bad choice for a shooter with weak hands because the slide has a smaller area to grip. There are various different versions, so investigate.
*CZ SP-01 – This is a modernized, modified version of the CZ-75b. It comes in several versions including the standard, Tactical, and Phantom. The Standard model has an all-steel frame, which makes it very heavy to hold but easy to shoot. The Phantom has a light weight polymer frame. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CZ_SP-01#Variants_and_Derivatives
Sig Sauer – Sig labels all of their guns with confusing model numbers that I have not memorized. Start looking at the P226, which is the full-size 9mm pistol. They make smaller versions, too. Once upon a time, Sig Sauer made excellent guns. Quality has decreased. If you want one of the really nice old ones, look for one made in Germany. On the plus side, modern Sig Sauers are available in a disgusting number styles of colors and special markings. Wanna see something ugly? Go look up the “tribal P226”
Beretta PX4 – This is the companion pistol to the CX4 carbine. I’ve read good reviews, but don’t really know anything about them.
Beretta 92FS – This is the standard US military pistol. They’re very large with a 5″ barrel. It has a reputation for having a large grip that’s bad for small hands. The frame is aluminum, so the weight isn’t too bad.
Beretta 92A1 – This is an updated 92FS. The most noticeable changes are a rail under the barrel for a light or laser, and removable sights that can be replaced with aftermarket sights (like glowing night-sights). The 92A1 costs more than the 92FS, but I think the differences are worth it, especially if it is your only gun.
Ruger SR9 – Correction, the SR9 is not a double-action pistol, it is striker fired.
Choose 9mm or 40 S&W (or sometimes 357 Sig)
Note: I own a Springfield Armory XDM 9mm and a Glock 34 9mm. I like the XDM better, but the Glock is light weight. I have not compared their accuracy because my XDM is on the east coast and my Glock is on the west coast.
*XD/XDM – My first 9mm pistol was a Springfield Armory XDM. I went to every gun shop I could find and looked at every polymer pistol I could find. I looked at the Glock, Sigma, Ruger SR9, and maybe some others. I judged them based on how they felt in my hand, how the trigger felt when I pulled it, and how well they “point” in my hand. I did a “pointing” test – I looked at a target, closed my eyes, pointed the gun, and opened my eyes. Hopefully, the sights would be on target. The XDM was clearly the best choice out of the 4 or 5 guns I compared. The XDM is available with 3.8″, 4.5″, and 5.25″ barrels. THE BAD SIDE of the XDM is that it weighs about 32 ounces, compared to a Glock 17 that only weighs about 24 ounces. That’s an extra half-pound of steel. However, the Glock’s magazines are cheaper, and you can buy a 33-shot Glock magazine for about $35. The standard XDM magazines cost $35.
*Glock – The best thing about Glocks is that they will work. They will shoot & shoot & shoot. They’re also very affordable compared to their quality level. The Glock gets extra points for being common, affordable, and customizable. One man said that Glocks arebasically the Honda Civic of the gun world, reliable & dependeble but otherwise kinda crappy. It is easily the most customizable gun on this list. Just look at Lone Wolf Dist and Glockstore.com for proof. You can convert them to different calibers, including the ultra-cheap 22LR. However, they have crappy ergonomics, uncomfortable grips, and squishy trigger pulls. They’re available in a wide variety of sizes and calibers. I really like the full-size guns like the G-17, but a lot of people like the smaller G-19. If possible, I recommend the 3rd Generation guns.
*S&W M&P – the older generation were inaccurate, but supposedly they fixed that. Also look at the VTAC version, I’ve heard it’s especially good. A Glock can always be customized later by adding common parts. There are very few custom parts for the M&P pistols (and custom gunsmiths are very expensive), so it is better to buy the best M&P you can get.
S&W SD9 or Sigma – The SD9 replaced the almost-identical Sigma. They’re really inexpensive, but they make a Glock look fancy. The trigger is absolutely awful. It’s about the cheapest gun available that is still “good quality”. The best thing about them is the low cost: well under $400 ($350 if you’re lucky)
FNH FNS-9 – made by the same company as the FNH FNX-9. It is available with an optional manual thumb safety, so that’s a big bonus for some people. A lot of people were excited when it was announced, but I’m not exactly sure why. I don’t know much about them, but FNH is known for quality.
Ruger SR9 – The SR9 got a lot of good reviews a few years ago, but I looked at one in a gun store and did not like it. I really didn’t like the shape of the thumb safety because my fingers hit it when I pulled the slide back. Your mileage may vary, so check it out.
Definitely go small-caliber (9mm or 380) and do some more research.
- Glock 26
- Beretta nano
- Beretta Pico
- Walther PPS
- Walther PPX
- Kel-Tec P3AT
- Ruger LCP (clone of the P3AT)
- Ruger LC9
- S&W M&P Shield
- Sig Sauer P238 – like a miniature 1911 in 380
- Sig Sauer P938 – like a miniature 1911 in 9mm
- Kahr – Kahr is well known for quality, and makes a wide-variety of small pistols. However, if it matters to you, the founder/president/CEO of Kahr Arms is Kook Jin Moon, of the Unification Church.
The fundamental, uber-important question with every self-defense gun: “Is it reliable?”. Reliability can suffer in smaller guns, especially big calibers in small guns. In many cases, these ultra-tiny 9mm pistols are probably not as reliable as full-size 9mm pistols. That’s the reason I’m not recommending the Kel-Tec PF9. In case you don’t know, the PF9 is the thinnest, lightest weight 9mm pistol on the market. It’s also the hardest kicking, and it jumps a lot in the hand. For many people, it kicks so hard that they cannot hold it steady so it jams.
S&W “J-frame” – The J-frame revolvers hold 5-shots of 357 Magnum or 38 Special. There’s one that holds 6 shots of 327 Federal Magnum (327 Federal Magnum is a 32 caliber cartridge, which should not be confused with the 36 caliber 357 Magnum). They come in different sizes and styles, with 3 different hammer styles that are often called the “Chief’s Special” (standard hammer) and “Centennial” (hidden internal hammer). There is a third design with a partially-shrouded hammer that is much less popular. The shrouded hammer is a compromise between the fully-exposed hammer on the “Chief’s Special” style guns and the fully-enclosed hammer on the “Centennial” style guns. http://www.smith-wesson.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Category4_750001_750051_757768_-1_757767_757751_image
Ruger SP101 – The Ruger SP101 series competes with the S&W J-frame series. There are NO aluminum SP101 guns. I already mentioned the 4″ model, but I’m mentioning the SP101 again because the 2″ version has a bit different purpose than the 4″ version.
Ruger LCR – The Ruger LCR competes with the aluminum S&W guns. Ruger uses polymer instead of aluminum. They are slightly lighter weight than the alumin S&W J-frames, and they have a fully-internal hammers similar to the S&W “Centennial” models. Supposedly, the trigger is much better than S&W. Some people say they’re really ugly. It is available with an optional laser.
S&W Bodyguard – S&W also has a new polymer revolver. I don’t know much about them, except that they all come with a laser attached to the side.
North American Arms – The tiniest revolvers on the market usually around $200 http://northamericanarms.com/firearms.html
The 22WMR performs really, really badly out of the super-short barrels on most NAA revolvers. Personally, I don’t think it makes sense to get a NAA in 22WMR – the ammo costs a lot more than the 22LR, it makes more noise, and it makes more flash, but it doesn’t really hit much harder in such a tiny gun.
Standard 22LR – costs about $210, this is the most basic revolver NAA makes
Sidewinder – faster & easier to reload – costs $350 for 22WMR, or $420 for both 22WMR and 22LR. Definitely the most practical model to shoot. I wish they would make a Sidwinder version of the Mini Master.
Black Widow – a version with a 2″ barrel and rubber grips – $275-$335 depending on options
*Mini Master – basically a version of the Black Widow with a 4″ barrel. This is one of my favorites, but obviously won’t fit in a pants pocket – $285 to $350 depending on options
Pug – basically a 1″ barrel Black Widow – $315 to $335 depending on sights
*The 1860 Earl & Derivatives – These are basically “wild west” versions of the Mini Master and Black Widow. The main differences are the style of the sights and the reloading system. $285-$320 depending on options
Shotguns !!!! (This is my BOOM stick!)
Generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of shotguns. Yes, they are powerful, but they kick hard and don’t hold very much ammo. Not only do they hold very little ammo, they’re very slow & cumbersome to reload. They also suck at longer ranges past about 60 feet. I just simply prefer the low kick, power, accuracy, range, capacity, and quick reloads of a good rifle.
However, they still rival a handgun for home defense. If you’re considering a shotgun, then I recommend a semi-auto if possible. Obviously, the 12 gauge is king of the shotguns, but they kick like a mule. If you can handle a 12 gauge, then you can easily find a shotgun that meets your needs. If you need something smaller, 20 gauge is milder but there is very little defensive ammo for the 20ga. Many people berate the meager 410* shotgun, but they’re not so bad if you look at them on paper. The 410 throws only 4 pellets (compared to 9 in a 12ga), but it throws them just as hard & fast as the pellets in a 12ga.
If you want a 410 shotgun for defense, there are no good options for a semi-auto**. Your best option is a pump-action model. Mossberg’s pump-action 410 costs about $200. Some of them have long barrels, but you can cut them down to 18 inches (be careful to never go shorter than 18). The Browning BPS 410 costs about $700, the Remington 870 Wingmaster 410 costs about $800, and the Marlin 1895 410 costs about $800. I believe they all hold 5 shotshells in the magazine, and you can choose to keep a sixth round in the firing chamber.
*Technically, 410 is a caliber, not a gauge. There is no “410 gauge” shotgun.
**There are a few semi-auto 410 shotguns, but they all use “box” magazines. Plastic shotgun shells cannot be left loaded in box magazines. The shells deform over time and will cause a jam. There is one company that makes steel-cased 410 ammo that will not deform in a box magazine. If you really want a semi-auto 410 shotgun, then get a Saiga and keep it loaded with Silver Bear ammo.
RIFLES RIFLES RIFLES RIFLES RIFLES RIFLES RIFLES
It would be wise to also own a rifle, eventually. Even the most low-power rifle will do some things that a handgun cannot. Rabid animal 200 feet away? That’s not a shot you want to try with a handgun. At a very minimum, every single person should buy a Mosin-Nagant rifle. A few years ago, I saw barrels of them in gun stores for as low as $90 each. Today they’re more like $150-$200, but they’re still a great value for the high power and low price. If you can’t find a Mosin-Nagant for a fair price, you should be able to find a Savage Axis or Ruger American for about $400.
Beretta CX4 – expensive, uses Beretta magazines. An especially good choice for someone who owns a Beretta 92FS or PX4
JR Carbine – expensive, looks like AR-15, easy to disassemble, uses Glock magazines
Kel-Tec Sub2000 – cheap, folds in half, uses several common magazines including Glock, Beretta, Sig P226, or S&W 59. Folding in half makes it very easy to clean the rifle without needing to disassemble it. Folding also makes it supremely portable. A Sub2000 can even be transported in a typical messenger bag or backpack.
MechTech rifle conversion kit for Glocks – expensive, but technically not a gun. It converts your Glock into a rifle. On the plus side, you can buy the MechTech kit online because it is not a gun. The downside is that you still only have one gun. It would be better to have a rifle AND a pistol instead of a rifle OR a pistol.
Seriously Powerful Rifles
Unfortunately, many of these defensive rifles would qualify as “assault” rifles in certain states, so they may be a bad choice for people who travel to anti-gun states.
AK-47 type – Durable, reliable, but kinda crappy. Think of an AK like a beat up old pickup truck. They will go anywhere and can survive anything. Ammo: usually 7.62×39, but sometimes 5.45×39 or 5.56×45
Saiga – the Saiga is a Russian rifle that combines the system of an AK with the style of a traditional sport/hunting rifle. Many places that ban AKs will still allow the more ‘politically correct’ Saiga. Ammo: same as AK
Sig Sauer – Sig makes a line of rifles called the 556, inspired by Sig’s military rifles. I’ve never seen one, but I’ve read that they’re mechanically based on the AK, but unlike an AK, the Sigs are actually nice. For example, the safety switch is near the shooter’s thumb and you can easily mount a scope on a Sig. Ammo: 5.56×45, but 7.62×39 is available
AR-15 type – The AR-15 is probably the most adaptable rifle in the entire world. By changing the barrel and other parts, it is possible to convert an AR-15 to shoot ammo as small as 22LR to ammo as large as 50 Beowulf. The standard cartridge is the 5.56×45, but common conversions are 22LR, 9mm (like a pistol), 300 Blackout, 5.45×39, and 458 SOCOM.
SU-16C or SU-16CA – Kel-Tec makes this little carbine. It uses a long-stroke gas piston like the AK, but it uses the same 5.56×45 ammunition and magazines as the AR-15. It is very light weight at only 5.7 pounds, but it is not very durable. The expected life of the rifle is something like 5,000 to 10,000 shots. Of course, 5.56×45 ammo WAS about $400 for 1,000 shots, so 5,000 shots was $2,000 worth of ammo. Also, it’s cheaper than an AR-15. The -CA model was specifically designed to combine the accuracy of the -C model with the traditional stock of the -A model, so it is not an “assault” weapon in CA-lifornia (see what they did there?). However, the recent Feinstein federal “assault” weapon bill would have classified every version of the SU-16 as an “assault” weapon everywhere in the country (bill did not pass).
Mini-14 – The Ruger Mini-14 has a reputation for not being very accurate, but “accurate” is a relative term. Not accurate compared to WHAT? They’re plenty accurate enough for normal self defense (just don’t get into a sniper duel). The big advantages of the Mini-14 are that it is very common (you can buy one at some Walmart stores), very affordable compared to other rifles ($600? at Walmart), and it is generally legal anywhere because it is NOT an “assault” weapon. On the down side, magazines are uncommon and expensive. A Ruger brand name 30-round magazine costs about $40, compared to $9 for an AR-15 magazine.