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Home Defense Shotgun – Good Idea or Not?

There are pros and cons to everything, and this is especially true with the 12 gauge shotgun as a home defense gun.

Home Defense Shotgun – Good Idea or Not?
Like any firearm the 12 gauge shotgun has certain strengths and weaknesses you need to be aware of before choosing it to protect your home. Photo by Sean Utley.

If you are considering a 12 gauge shotgun for defending your home, there are certain things you should be aware of. Chiefly you need to know what the pros and cons are of employing a shotgun for home defense. As with anything, the 12 gauge shotgun has a number of attributes which make it very well suited for personal protection, and others which detract from it in this role. What follows will be an examination of both the good and the bad of the 12 gauge.


One of the good points of a 12 gauge shotgun is they tend to be affordable. You can purchase a used pump shotgun at a very economical price. So this puts them well within reach of your average blue collar worker. Plus, they are readily available and easy to find. A simple mundane short barrel 12 gauge pump-action shotgun is all you need. You don’t need to get very fancy.

There is a certain intimidation factor to the 12 gauge, which other firearms lack. Part of this has to do with the large bore-size, and part of its reputation as a fight-stopper. Often simply presenting a firearm will stop a crime from progressing, and nothing is as intimidating as looking down the bore of a 12 gauge. No one ever looked at the wrong end of a 12 gauge and said, "I can take that hit."

Of course you should never rely on the intimidation factor of a firearm to protect you. You need to be ready and willing to use it. If you should need to protect you or your family, the great virtue of the 12 gauge shotgun is its terminal performance. When loaded with 2 ¾-inch slugs, 00 or No. 1 buckshot the 12 gauge is brutally effective at short range, such as is encountered in a typical indoor defensive shooting scenario. One well-placed shot is usually a fight stopper.

You do not need expensive or fancy ammunition, any low recoil 2 ¾-inch 00 or No. 1 buckshot will suffice for protecting you and your family. Photo courtesy Hornady.

Plus, you do not need to get fancy about load selection. You do not need expensive Gucci loads for protecting your family inside your home. Any run of the mill 2 ¾-inch 00 buck, No. 1 buck or slug load will suffice. You do not need special plated pellets, shot buffer or fancy wads. We are talking about distances measured in feet, not yards. At these distances, pattern size does not matter. It doesn’t even come into play. If you live in a residential area with neighbors, then you should stick with buckshot rather than slugs due to problems with over-penetration.

In our litigation happy society the mundane 12 gauge shotgun has another virtue, it is relatively low profile. It is not an “assault weapon,” and it doesn’t even resemble one. So, your DA probably will not see a PR opportunity if you are involved in defensive shooting protecting your family.

Lastly, when not leaning in the corner a 12 gauge can perform double-duty as a hunting gun, or for recreational shooting. It is not limited to only defensive use. A 12 gauge can be used for small game hunting, bird hunting, medium-size game hunting and can be used to protect your family from even the big bears. It is a very versatile firearm.


While the 12 gauge does have a number of good characteristics, it also has some real fleas. This is especially true if a smaller stature member of the family might have to employ it. The most obvious negative attribute of the 12 gauge shotgun is its recoil. Even when firing “low recoil” defensive loads, it still has a healthy kick. This may dissuade certain members of the family from wanting to practice with it. Remember, you need to practice with and try to master any firearm you expect to use to protect your life with. The heavy recoil also slows follow-up shots.

Another negative is the 12 gauge’s limited ammunition capacity. Five to eight shots is all you get. When it comes to ammunition in a gunfight, more is always better. Worst still, they are slow to reload. This is especially true in the dark when your stress is through the roof and you are experiencing a major adrenalin dump. You must train to get good at quickly reloading a shotgun.

Overall length is also an issue. Even a regular 18-inch barrel "riot" gun is still most of three feet long. This can be a problem inside a house, especially if you are trying to juggle a cell phone while calling the police. Shorter is typically better. Then there is the issue of the safety which (except for Mossberg) are typically push-buttons set up for a right-handed shooter. This is something to consider if you or someone in your family is left-handed.

A look at the pattern from one round of Winchester’s Super-X 16 pellet No. 1 buck at 15 feet. You still have to aim a shotgun, but terminal performance is impressive if you connect.

Then there is the old wives’ tale that you cannot miss with a shotgun. At the distances encountered in your home the shot pattern will be very small. You need to aim a shotgun or you can easily miss your target. If you do miss your target slugs and buckshot can shoot through a wall. So you need to be aware of what is behind your target. If you live alone, in the boonies, then this will not be a problem. Otherwise, it’s something you will need to consider.

In the end the 12 gauge shotgun has a number of good and bad qualities when it comes to defensive use inside a home. You need to weigh all of them when making your decision. Once you have, simply decide what is best for you.


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