How to Set Up a Home Defense Handgun

Handguns are used for many things including recreation target shooting, hunting, and competition. The bottom line is personal defense. An important part of personal defense is home defense. Repelling boarders or a takeover gang is deadly business.

As a peace officer, I arrived after the fact of quite a few attempted breaches of the home and plenty of incidents in which the homeowner was injured. In one incident, a mother of about 30 years of age jumped out a back window and left her children of less than five years age to a burglar’s mercy. Fortunately, he had some discretion and fled at the sight of screaming children.

Man shooting a handgun at an outdoor range
Good sights are essential. XS sights offer a good mix of speed and precision.

In another case, a father was passed out drunk on a couch as an intruder assaulted his young daughter. Let’s hope the reader is further evolved than that. Preparation is important and so is gear.   

For personal defense in the home, a handgun is handy, maneuverable, and lightweight. You may keep the pistol under the mattress (gun butt out), mounted on a bed post, or even under the pillow if safety precautions are followed. Don’t be like the citizen in Chicago who dreamed about a prowler and shot himself in the leg. (An unlikely story…)

Be careful and know your strengths and limitations. A properly set up handgun can be a lifesaver. It may be the handgun you carry daily, or a purpose-designed home defense firearm. Usually, it will be a larger handgun and perhaps even a pistol with an extended magazine.

A reliable, accurate, and controllable handgun is a versatile handgun indeed. There are cinematic, and panic and anxiety driven scenarios that unfortunately have some convinced they need an AR pistol with three or four magazines on hand.

I’m not John Wick, and you probably aren’t either. I do like to have a spare gun load handy, but then my research indicates that it won’t be needed. What will be needed is a quick response and shooting straight.

A revolver ready to be fires from the retention position
A revolver with a hand-filling grip and short barrel is ideal for home defense.

Unlike many who provide opinions on personal defense, I have dealt with dangerous criminals. Some of them did a lot of time for their actions, although one home invasion type was plea bargained down to trespass. In those days, the solicitor’s office seemed bent on avoiding jail time for any offense. The public defender’s office is, for the most part, made up of young attorneys building up favor with older attorneys and judges.

Just so you have no illusions. The criminal element is dangerous as hell. Most are cowards but not all. Not all of them are dopers. Some of our protein fed ex-con criminal class has been working out at taxpayer expense for years. Three hundred pounds of rage and stupidity must be respected. I won’t dwell further on the past, but it certainly provides a reference point and gives legitimacy to my opinion.

 Many of us carry a lightweight handgun during the course of the day and then posit it as the home defense handgun. That is fine, so long as you have proficiency in with the piece. If you deploy a revolver, I recommend a handgun with good sights, a smooth action, and hand-fitting grips. The grips are especially important. Many makers continue to supply revolvers with smallish grips that sting when the handgun is fired. A good set of Hogue MonoGrips are ideal.

Three revolvers with full grips
Revolvers intended for personal defense should have hand-filling grips.

A short-barrel revolver is a great choice for short-range defense. Things can get close-up and personal quickly. A hand-filling stock set gives the user plenty of leverage. However, a short barrel doesn’t give the assailant much to hang onto. While we don’t think we will allow the attacker to get that close it happens all the time.

Learn the retention position, and how to keep the handgun tight to the body. A quality double-action revolver in .38 Special or .357 Magnum is a good defensive handgun for those who practice. Training and practice is the key. A snub nose revolver isn’t something you can lay off practicing with for months and retain proficiency.

I often carry some type of 1911 during the day and a magnum in the backcountry. This works for me. A single-action semi-automatic handgun must be carried cocked and locked, hammer to the rear, and safety on for speed to address a threat. Hammer-lowered ready is indicated for home use.

SIG Sauer 1911 handgun with a Foxtrot 1X weapons light attached
A single-action pistol may be kept at ready with the hammer down on a loaded chamber, but be certain to practice quickly manipulating the hammer.

If the pistol is secured in a holster, there is no reason to keep the piece hammer down. However, be certain you know what you are about if you adopt this type of handgun and carry mode. This brings us to the dedicated home defense handgun.

Since this handgun doesn’t have to be concealed or carried daily, it may be a relatively large handgun with both red dot sight and illumination mounted. I prefer to rely on a quality flashlight for searching. I don’t like illuminating something I am pointing a gun at but that is my preference.

I keep a quality, heavy-duty Infinity X1 light — several in fact — nearby in the bedroom. The Infinity X1 features modern technology, something we cannot ignore. This light features a rechargeable core and the option of swapping to a dry cell battery core for power. These lights are a century ahead of the old D cell lights in every way and affordable enough for anyone to own several.

I also keep a SureFire Stiletto compact available. I prefer to use it when walking after dusk. It doubles as a home defense light.

Modern striker-fired, polymer-frame 9mm handguns offer a good argument for home defense. Reliability is high and maintenance requirements are modest. The pistols respond well to a trained shooter.  Smith & Wesson, HK, CZ, and FN offer reliable and useful pistols well worth their modest price. Which you choose, be certain you are getting your money’s worth.

Glock 19X laying on a bed of spent brass at a shooting range
The Glock 19X is a first-class combat pistol.

Glock is a baseline for reliability. For home defense, the pistol should have self-luminous iron sights (if not factory equipped with night sights). XS sights offer a comprehensive list of quality sights. Some are designed for real speed at short range others are as precise as any iron sights at longer range. I prefer the F8 sight, but all XS sights are bright and well made.

A modern red dot has a learning curve. To master it, count on weeks of range work and 1,000 rounds of ammunition. After that, the red dot offers a significant increase in speed and hit probability. A red dot-equipped pistol won’t fit most pockets, and a pistol with a light isn’t easily carried.

Shadow Systems 9mm with Holosun red dot sight and Inforce combat light
The author’s first choice is a Shadow Systems 9mm with Holosun red dot sight and Inforce combat light.

For home defense, a modern 9mm with a light and red dot is a great choice. A modern 9mm handgun with a red dot sight, combat light, and night sights is a formidable home defense handgun. Nothing will take the place of training, so make time and allot funds for training first. Next, consider the hardware equation. We have formidable modern choices. Take advantage of these tools.     


Ammunition is important, but probably gets too much concern and too many comments by those who have no idea about wound ballistics. The first concern is reliability. The load chosen must be feed and cycle reliably.

According to ATK, “the HST hollow point effectively passes through a variety of barriers and holds its jacket in the toughest conditions. HST is engineered for 100-percent weight retention, limits collateral damage, and avoids over-penetration.”

Cartridge integrity is important. The ammunition must be resistant to oil, solvents, water, and handling. A favorite across the board in all calibers is the Federal HST. The balance of expansion and penetration is excellent. Any concern with over penetration must be alloyed with a concern for adequate penetration. The safest course is to not miss the target.

The man or woman behind the tool is by far the most important part of the equation. Just the same, we would be foolish not to choose the best gear we can afford. These handguns and accessories will add to your safety if you train properly.

How would you set up the ultimate home defense handgun — make/model, accessories, ammunition? Share your answers in the comment section.

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