The other day I was at a local gunstore with a friend and he asked me an interesting question: If somebody came to you with a very small budget for home defense or self defense and they had to buy what’s sitting on the store shelf right now, what would you set them up with? It’s a trickier question than it may seem on the surface. We need selections that are cheap, reliable, and effective. As the old joke goes, you can typically pick any two items from that list.
Looking around the store briefly I came to a recommendation for a handgun suitable for home defense and/or concealed carry, and a long gun suitable for home defense.
If you shop carefully you can sometimes find a real bargain on used handguns, but in the typical gunstore they’re often priced higher than my buy-it-now threshold. Guns are durable goods that tend to hold their value pretty well, assuming they aren’t rusted or obviously worn out. The used section of the shelf is where I look first when I go into a store just in case there’s a deal to be had. Every now and then you get lucky. Last year I found a pristine 6″ S&W model 28 for under $500 and I snatched it right up. That’s an atypical result, at least for me. Some stores put guns up on consignment based on what the individual selling the gun is trying to get from it. Sometimes the store takes in trades which, if done correctly, can net the store a nice margin on the total deal. Since everybody thinks their gun is worth top dollar and gun stores often operate on pretty thin margins anyway, the negotiating room for used guns can be narrow to non-existent. While I’d love to suggest buying used as a means of buying a serviceable firearm on a budget, it’s not something you can absolutely depend on. If you can find a bargain, by all means take advantage…just don’t go into things expecting a miracle.
As a result, for the hypothetical choice I recommended a new gun: The S&W SD9 VE. No, it’s not the sexiest handgun on the shelf and yes, it is a descendent of the S&W Sigma, but it has benefitted from considerable improvement and refinement over the Sigma. The specimens I’ve encountered worked well enough and could be used to hit a reasonable target by just about anyone with a little bit of practice. Generally speaking S&W’s customer service is good, (just in case there’s a problem with a pistol) and at the time I was looking in the store the SD9 VE was one of the least expensive guns on the shelf, selling for a little over $300.00. At that price point they’re tough to beat. I’d buy one in a heartbeat over anything offered by, say, Taurus.
Close second would be the Ruger SP101 I saw on the shelf for just a bit over $400. Limited capacity, certainly, but a very good revolver that you could count on to work.
I would also add that if somebody could only afford one gun, I’d stick with a handgun because it can work for home defense and for daily carry. Being able to defend against home invasions is certainly useful, but bad guys have been known to accost innocent people outside the home too…so having something you can keep on your person is crucial if you’re stuck with only one firearm in total.
The Long Gun:
This is where I get a little controversial: Given the mission of home defense for a long gun and trying to effectively accomplish that mission for as little money as possible, I’d suggest a Ruger 10/22. A .22 rimfire is not an ideal weapon to use against bad guys. It exhibits rather poor terminal ballistics even from a rifle…but when fired from a rifle you can be incredibly precise with one at typical home defense distances. Ruger now makes a reliable 25 round magazine for their rifles and every Ruger 25 round magazine I’ve bought or encountered in the wild has worked. The 10/22 doesn’t seem to be picky about feeding ammunition, and the aftermarket for the rifle is so huge that one should be able to very cheaply add necessary add-ons like a light, sling, and a red dot scope without breaking the bank. Assuming you can find .22LR ammo, it’s something you can practice with on the cheap.
Adding accessories and doing some practice on the range won’t magically transform the .22LR round. It’s still a .22…but somebody who knows how to put those little rounds on target effectively and who has another couple of dozen of them on tap before they need to reload is going to be a bigger problem than most bad guys can handle. It wouldn’t be my first choice for home defense, but if I had to rely on my Ruger 10/22 exclusively for home defense tomorrow I wouldn’t lose any sleep. I’m not the world’s greatest rifle shot, but I’m good enough with my 10/22 to put those little bullets inside the head box of an IDPA target pretty quickly at home defense ranges.
I know, I know…the default recommendation is a 12 gauge shotgun, preferably a pump-action one. Because shotgun, because they’re so powerful they’ll actually vaporize a bad guy in his tracks…maybe even travelling through time and killing that guy’s ancestors so that he’s never born in the first place, and because merely working the action of the shotgun is so terrifying that anyone within a 3 mile radius of the event will immediately lose control of their bowels.
It’s certainly a more effective weapon from a terminal ballistics perspective, but they also kick like a mule, tend to be pretty heavy, and people don’t tend to practice with them. A person who trains with a 10/22 (because they’re so easy to use and fun to shoot) is going to be far better off than a person who doesn’t practice with the 870 they’ve got sitting in a closet. I’m not arguing that the 10/22 is a better weapon against bad guys, merely that the cash-strapped person interested in a long gun that’s good enough for their purposes is probably better off with a gun they’ll train with and can use well than one they don’t train with.
Those are my budget suggestions for self defense. Yours may be different…if so, let me know what you’d suggest in the comments below.