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The Best Handguns for Home Defense

By Randy Tucker

Personal defense is as personal as the person using the handgun.

woman with handgun behind back at door

The requirements for a 6-4, 265-pound ironworker in protecting his home, are identical to a single woman, living alone protecting hers. The reality is that the ironworker probably wants the additional firepower of a heavy, large caliber handgun, while the single woman wants something she can use easily, hold well, and fire accurately without any heavy recoil.

Finding a handgun that fits your specific needs doesn’t have to be a quest. By considering a few factors we’ll elaborate on here, you can find the one that provides the best for defending your home.

What to look for in a Home Defense Handgun

When someone asks what the best gun for home defense is, I have to answer my 12-gauge Remington 870 pump. That’s not exactly what everyone is looking for in a home defense firearm.

types of home defense handguns

The preferred home defense handgun in 21st century America is the semi-automatic. The two most popular calibers for home defense handguns are identical to those used by most law enforcement agencies, the 9mm and its close rival the .40 caliber.

There are five metrics you should consider when choosing a home defense handgun, they are (in particular order) accuracy, power, size, weight, and recoil.

Accuracy

woman shooting handgun at range

You may have heard the phrase there are no inaccurate guns, only inaccurate shooters. That can be the case, but when choosing a handgun for home defense, accuracy is one of the most important considerations. Can you hit what you’re aiming at? If you can’t, the best designed handgun is useless.

You can never expert to hit a target the first time you shoot. It takes time, and effort to master accurately shooting a handgun. If you want to defend your home, put some time in on the shooting range first and become familiar with your weapon.

Power

In firearms, power is measured in velocity in terms of feet per second a bullet travels, and the weight of that bullet. The calibers discussed here today range from 9mm to .45 ACP and each has a different energy level when it strikes a target.

Power is important because this is the metric to measure if the bullet can stop an intruder, fire through a steel door, or deliver enough punch to knock down some drug crazed criminal intent on harming you or your family.

Relative Power of Popular Handgun Calibers

Caliber Bullet Weight (gr) Muzzle Velocity (ft/sec) Energy (ft/lbs)
9mm 125 gr 1110 306
.40 Cal 155 1000 479
10mm 180 1180 556
.45 ACP 200 1055 494

Size

woman handling handgun

The size of a handgun should match the size of the person’s hand holding it. A gun too large for a small hand is a bad idea, but a hand too big for one isn’t great either. The size of the handgun comes down to length, width, and height. The greater the length, the greater the potential for accuracy, the greater the height, the more ammunition the magazine can hold. Width works with magazine capacity as well but has more to do with the comfort of the grip.

Too much width makes it difficult for smaller hands to hold, too little width, and a person with large hands doesn’t have enough. A small hand that doesn’t grip the handgun well, won’t shoot as well either. A larger hand, wrapped completely around the grip of a small handgun, with fingers hanging underneath the base and difficulty getting a finger inside a tight trigger isn’t going to win any Olympic shooting titles either.

Relative Size of Popular Handguns

Gun Length Height Width
Glock 17 9mm 8.03 5.47 1.26
Sig Sauer 320XC-R2 9mm 7.0 5.3 1.3
10mm 180 1180 556
Sig Sauer 320XC-R2-10 9mm 7.0 5.3 1.3
Glock 22 9mm 7.32 5.43 1.18
Sig Sauer P229 9mm 7.1 5.4 1.5
Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 10mm 7.2 5.5 1.3
Springfield XD 9mm 7.3 5.5 1.2
Taurus 1911 .45 ACP 8.5 5.5 1.5

Weight

handgun in mans hand

The weight of a handgun can vary greatly depending on caliber and manufacturer. A common mistake many people make in looking for a handgun is to hold one in a sporting goods store and find it to their liking. Later, at the range, they discover the weight is all wrong. The difference is you’re holding an empty pistol in the store, and a loaded one at the range. The weight can be substantially different depending on magazine capacity, and the weight of the rounds in that magazine.

A heavy handgun is easier for some people to hold, while others will struggle with the same gun. It's all about hand size, strength, and the ability to handle a strong recoil. Look at the weight difference between empty and fully loaded handguns in this table, some models vary up to nine ounces and that can significantly alter the balance of a handgun.

Relative Weight of Popular Handgun Calibers

Gun Weight (oz/empty) Weight (oz/loaded)
Glock 17 9mm 24.87 32.28
Sig Sauer 320XC-R2 9mm 25.3 33.06
Sig Sauer 320XC-R2-10 9mm 25.3 30.47
Glock 22 9mm 25.57 34.39
Sig Sauer P229 9mm 26.8 32
Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 10mm 29.9 36.65
Springfield XD 9mm 28 36.28
Taurus 1911 .45 ACP 42 46.12

Recoil

Some handguns just kick harder than others. A hard recoil isn’t something everyone can handle. If you know the gun is too much for you when you pull the trigger, you’re apt to suffer “shooter’s flinch” a jerking of the gun just before you pull the trigger in anticipation of the recoil you’re about to get. It lowers accuracy, and by default lowers your chances of using it successfully for home defense.

handgun recoiling in womans hand

A heavier gun in the same caliber as a lighter one will have less recoil, that’s just physics in action. Recoil is a problem for some shooters, and the reason they select lower caliber, lower recoil models.

Relative Recoil of Popular Handgun Calibers

Gun Recoil
Glock 17 9mm Light
Sig Sauer 320XC-R2 9mm Light
Sig Sauer 320XC-R2-10 9mm Light
Glock 22 9mm Light
Sig Sauer P229 9mm Light
Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 10mm Moderate
Springfield XD 9mm Light
Taurus 1911 .45 ACP Heavy

Home Defense Handguns for Women

Without being sexist, it is usually the case that women prefer a smaller handgun, usually a 9mm, though many enjoy firing a .40 caliber as well.

woman shooting handgun with instructor

In general women’s hands are smaller, and they don’t have the upper body strength that most men do. This is the reason women need a personal firearm. Women are attacked more often than men in garages, late at night, on the street, outside a store walking to their car, and even when out for a walk or bicycle ride. Smaller handguns are easier to conceal in a purse, holster, or even a leg holster for women. Women usually prefer tighter fitting clothes than men, so a smaller handgun, with a concealed carry permit, makes it easier to hide in their regular attire.

A 9mm or .40 caliber won’t stop a grizzly bear, but it will stop a mugger, kidnapper, or someone intent on sexual assault.

Find the handgun that is the best for you and then practice with it at the range, become adept at using it, cleaning it, and most importantly, being accurate when you draw on a target.

A story of one woman and a .38 Special

woman sleeping with handgun

My dad was a career NCO in the United States Air Force. I remember an incident when we lived in Fairfield, California when he was stationed at Travis Air Force Base. I was 10-years old in 1967 and a rash of burglaries were occurring in our neighborhood. The burglaries were always in the homes of single women whose husbands were deployed overseas. My mom’s friend Carrie who lived with her six-year-old daughter was the victim of one of these attempted burglaries.

In the middle of the night, she heard the sliding glass window of her bedroom window open and watched in terror as a man dressed in dark clothes slid his leg through the window. The outside light silhouetted the man. Julia quietly opened a drawer on her nightstand, pulled out a Smith and Wesson .38 caliber revolver quietly, then pulled the hammer back. The burglar heard the hammer click, panicked, fell backward out of the window, and jumped the fence into a neighbor’s yard. The woman living alone in the house next door also had a husband in Vietnam, but she had a pair of aggressive Doberman pinchers living outside in the warm California climate. The Doberman’s ripped into the guy but he escaped. The Fairfield Police Department had increased patrols in response to the rash of burglaries and arrested the guy a few minutes later on foot just two blocks away.

The criminal was an enlisted man, working as a clerk. He had access to the status of airmen sent overseas, and their locations off base in Fairfield. He earned an all-expense-paid trip to Leavenworth, Kansas later that year.

Carrie never fired a shot, but the sound of a hammer clicking back on a Smith and Wesson in the silence of the night can be a great deterrent.

Home Defense Handguns for Men

man shooting handgun

Guys like guns, it's ingrained in the movies and TV shows we watch, and our culture is saturated with firearms. That being said, many men don’t think they’ll ever need a firearm to protect themselves, but that’s not true. You never know when a home invasion takes place, or when someone tries to hijack your car, threaten your family, or tries to jump you in that same garage or park where they often prey on women.

Men have more choices in calibers, sizes, and action since overall their hands are larger, they have greater upper body strength and they can handle more recoil. Many small handguns are difficult for men to hold. The handle is too short, the trigger guard too small for larger fingers and overall they’re just too small to get off an accurate shot. That doesn’t mean you need a huge hog leg revolver either.

The vast majority of semi-automatics, and revolvers produced today fit the average man well. It’s personal preference on grip design, grip material, blued steel, or stainless steel barrels, types of sights, and even ease of use for left or right-handed shooters. Some handguns appear to be identical to the one right next to it on the shelf but just feel better in your hand. That’s why it’s important to physically try several before purchasing one.

Types of Home Defense Handguns

glock pistols

There are a lot of choices in a home defense handgun. You can choose from a wide variety of manufacturers producing 9mm and .40 caliber semi-automatics, it bears mentioning that the .357 magnum, .45 ACP, 10mm, .41 magnum, and the gun that made “Dirty Harry” a household name, the .44 magnum are all viable contenders for home defense. They don’t all have to be semi-automatic either, revolvers remain a good choice for a home defense weapon, and they have additional safety features that make them an attractive choice for protecting your family, your property, and your life.

Semi-automatics

semi automatic pistol

Rate of fire, ease of use, and a wide assortment of sizes, weights, and grips make the semi-auto the popular choice in home defense handguns among many users. The magazine capacity is larger in semi-automatics than in revolvers, as is the rate of fire. Pull the trigger, fire a round. That fast rate of fire has great appeal to many people.

Revolvers

revolver with ammo and cylinder out

You’ll find more of those powerful calibers in a revolver than in a semi-automatic. The .357, .41, and .44 Magnum revolvers are the most popular, but many who prefer the nostalgic look of the old west choose the .45 Long Colt.

Revolvers are a safer weapon since they require either a heavier trigger pull, or physically pulling the hammer back before firing in single-action, or double-action varieties. You’re not as apt to fire unexpectedly with a revolver either.

My Top Picks for Home Defense Handguns

Glock 17

glock 17

The Glock 17 is the most widely used handgun on the market at present. Private users enjoy its smooth action, and heavy use in the military, SWAT, and police work attest to its durability.

The Glock 17 is a good overall firearm for home protection, but it may be a little heavy, and unwieldy for smaller hands. With a length of about eight inches and a height of approximately five-and-a-half inches, it is a preferred size for most men. The 17 run magazine capacity offers ample shots without reloading.

This is the handgun that broke the stronghold that .40 caliber handguns had on the market at the dawning of the 21st century.

Reliability, from a reliable manufacturer with the world’s largest consumer base, made this handgun one to consider for home defense.

center>Weight/Capacity

Gun Weight (loaded/oz) Magazine
Glock 17 9mm 32.28 17

Sig Sauer P320

sig sauer p320 handgun

The Sig Sauer P320 is available in two models. The major difference between the two models is magazine capacity. The 320XC-9-BXR2-R2 has a capacity of 15 9mm rounds, while the 320XC-9-BXR3-R2-10 has a 10 round capacity. That means when fully loaded with the largest bullet offered in 9mm the BXR2-RA tips the scales at 32.9 ounces, and its 10 round sister, weighs slightly less at 30.4 ounces.

The weight is similar to the Glock 17, but the footprint is smaller. The P320 is considered a compact handgun and is one that is often considered for concealed carry use. At just 7 inches long, a little over 5 inches high, and 1.3 inches wide, there is considerable heft in a small design. The weight can be a good thing for smaller hands since a heavier weapon lessens recoil.

The P320 is a favorite in professional defense use worldwide, but a popular home defense weapon as well. The smaller length grip is better suited to small or average hands, yet it still delivers an ample amount of 9mm action in either the 10 or 15 magazine style.

Weight/Capacity

Gun Weight (loaded/oz) Magazine
Sig Sauer 320XC-R2 9mm 33.06 15

Glock 22

glock 22 handgun

When it comes to the world of home defense, many people take their cues from law enforcement. No other agency has the reputation that the FBI has garnered since the days of Elliot Ness and his battle with the Chicago gangster Al Capone. The Glock 22 epitomized the FBI in the modern era. The .40 caliber Glock 22 with its 15 round magazine was the highlight of many a cops and robbers television drama. It was this exposure to popular entertainment venues that created a huge following for the Glock 22.

The media may have influenced the popularity of this venerable home defense weapon, but was the quality, reliability, and firepower of the .40 caliber Glock 22 that made it one of the most popular home defense weapons ever produced.

The Glock 22 is as reliable as they come and the .40 caliber rounds it fires have more power than the rival 9mm, though not as much sheer thumping power as a 10mm or .45 ACP. The modern trend of moving to 9mm side arms in many law enforcement agencies has reduced the viability of the Glock 22, but many police, sheriff and federal agencies still prefer the power, reliability, rate of fire, and extended history of the Glock 22.

Some will tell you that a 15 round magazine isn’t as good an option as the more modern 17 round 9mm magazines on the market. The truth is that if you can’t hit your target in 15 rounds, two more isn’t going to make much of a difference. The Glock 22 Gen 5 version isn’t available in .40 caliber, it too has moved to the 9mm platform, the but Gen 4 version remains on the market and continues to deliver the stopping power of a .40 caliber cartridge fired reliably at a high rate of fire.

Weight/Capacity

Gun Weight (loaded/oz) Magazine
Glock 22 9mm 34.39 15

Sig Sauer P229

sig sauer p229 handgun

This is a unique option in a home defense weapon. The Sig P229 features all-metal construction, offered in a variety of calibers, with double and single-action triggers. Most other models in this review are built on a polymer frame. The Sig P299 is available in 9mm, .357 magnum, and .40 Cal S&W configurations.

This is a popular model with various federal agencies due to the versatility of the platform. It has been used by the US Coast Guard, Secret Service and is often carried by Air Marshalls.

This versatility extends to the civilian realm, where you have many choices to consider if you purchase this handgun.

Weight/Capacity

Gun Weight (loaded/oz) Magazine
Sig Sauer P229 9mm 32 10

Smith & Wesson M&P

smith & wesson m&p

Smith & Wesson is a name that’s synonymous with high-quality, world-class firearms. With over a century of experience, Smith & Wesson produces some of the best consumer-level firearms available today. Smith & Wesson handguns can also be found in some of the busiest police forces in America. The Detroit Police Department and the LA County Sheriff’s Department both have Smith & Wesson M&Ps as approved carry pistols.

Smith & Wesson M&Ps have a similar feel to Glock. They share a reputation for reliability and quality craftsmanship and offer polymer-frame design in a variety of calibers.

Weight/Capacity

Gun Weight (loaded/oz) Magazine
Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 10mm 36.65 15

Springfield XD

springfield XD handgun

This might be the best handgun no one has ever heard of. That’s a bit of an overstatement, but the Springfield XD is a great choice for a personal defense weapon, and has the largest variety of caliber offerings of any handgun in our reviews.

The XD is available in 9mm, .357 magnum, .40 S&W, .45 GAP, and .45 ACP. That’s a lot of variety, and with each one there are subtle changes in magazine capacity and not-so-subtle differences in recoil.

The heavier calibers require a stronger hand to operate effectively.

Similar in feel and performance to Glock, the XD has the variety that professionals and civilians alike look for in a handgun. The various s configurations offer you the chance to personalize a self defense firearm to your specifications, making the XD a great option for many.

Springfield XD Caliber Weight (loaded/oz) Magazine
9mm 32.5 13
.357 Magnum 33.6 12
.40 S&W 29.1 9
.45 GAP 31 9
.45 ACP 33.7 10

Taurus 1911 .45 ACP

taurus-1911-45-acp

A history lesson follows the ancestry of this legendary design. The Model 1911, originally designed by the legendary John Moses Browning is considered by many to be the greatest military sidearm ever invented. The creation of the venerable 1911 platform traces back to the late 19th century and the Spanish American War. While Cuba gets most of the coverage in this brief American conflict, it was in the Philippines where the war took on a grim, earnest tone.

The weapon was a game changer, with many claiming that if you hit a man in the little finger with a 1911 .45 ACP it would knock him down. An exaggeration no doubt, but also a testament to the power and trust soldiers found in the Model 1911. The 1911 is a heavy gun when fully loaded, but the smooth action, large grip, and reliability make it the handgun of choice for many civilians in a home defense weapon.

I have a Taurus 1911 and love the reliable action, the power it has on impact with 230-grain bullets, and the fast cycle rate that can put a lot of lead on a target in very little time. It was the first of its kind and remains a favorite among handgun enthusiasts.

Weight/Capacity

Taurus 1911 Weight (loaded/oz) Magazine
.45 ACP 42.5 8

Conclusion

I’m a bit biased, I have a Taurus 1911 .45 ACP and it’s a great handgun. It’s easy to shoot, reliable has never jammed, and is in easy reach if there is a strange sound in the night from downstairs. But, I’m 6-1, and spent a lifetime doing heavy labor, and am well north of 220 pounds, with its heft and heavy recoil it’s not a good choice for home defense for many people.

I cannot definitively say one is the obviously superior choice in the guns we’ve reviewed here. Each has merit and should be considered when selecting a home defense weapon.

The Springfield XD has the edge on all other models when it comes to diversity. If you were buying a gun for each member of the family, and they required different calibers due to their relative size and strength, you couldn’t lose with this handgun. You’d have the same cleaning routine, the same safety features, and the same firing pattern, just in different calibers to suit each user.

You also can’t lose with either a Glock 17 or Glock 22. The professionals use this handgun in a wide variety of military and law enforcement applications.

At the end of the day, the handgun you select for personal defense must be personal as we stated in the opening line of this piece. It must fit your body size, deliver the firepower, reliability, rate of fire, and overall performance you’ve set for yourself, and arrive with a price tag you can afford.