Today is Thanksgiving, and we, as citizens of these United States of America, have a lot for which to be thankful. First and foremost are our protections under our Constitution. With that in mind, let's pursue Part 2 of my topic. (This blog is not meant as the "be all and end all" for firearms. Rather, it is an introduction covering only the basics.)
We've established that you have a "right to keep and bear arms", and that you may have determined you need to exercise that right by legally purchasing a firearm for home defense. Again, there are significant variations in state laws regarding such purchases, and the storage and use of a firearm, so be familiar with the laws of your state prior to buying a gun.
Let's begin by exploring the question "How much gun do I really need?" There are so many to choose from - long guns, handguns, shotguns, rifles, revolvers, auto-loaders, single-shot, high capacity - sometimes just the thought of selecting can be mind-boggling. As far as caliber goes, currently there's everything from a .22 caliber to a .50 caliber, and pricing runs the gamut from dirt cheap to ridiculously expensive (the main thing to keep in mind is to always buy the best you can afford). As with most things you buy, you pretty much "get what you pay for". Dirt cheap. more often than not, is unreliable and frequently may be downright dangerous. Quality can be had - inexpensively - if you know how to shop.
For a home defense long gun, I would recommend the Mossberg 500 in 12 gauge in any of its variations. They are reasonably priced at $250-$350 - if you shop around, and are as reliable as a Remington 870 costing $330-$1,100. You may feel that the recoil generated by a 12ga is too much to handle though, so don't be afraid to consider a 20gauge. One of the most intimidating sounds in a darkened house, is the unnerving sound of a pump action shotgun having the slide "racked", and an intruder can't tell the difference between the sound of a 12ga or a 20gauge slide being activated. Personally, I have a Mossberg "riot gun" that's 35 years old, and still works like the day it was new. Quality does not have to bankrupt you, and a short-barreled shotgun is excellent in a confined space, such as the hallways and rooms of a "normal" household structure. The main advantage of a shotgun over a firearm using a metallic cartridge and a solid projectile, is the dispersal of the pellet payload, and a minimal chance of over-penetration. One doesn't have to be an expert marksman to hit a target within 30 feet. A carbine length rifle also handles fairly well indoors, but the condition of over-penetration still exists. The "Glaser Safety Slug" offers a solution to over-penetration. This excellent round uses a copper jacket and it is filled with a compressed load of either #12 or # 6 lead shot. It is then capped with a round polymer ball that enhances feeding and reloading. It is now available in four rifle calibers from .223 to 30-06. The Glaser Safety Slug is recommended for the urban dweller and anyone who is concerned with over penetration.
The handgun for home defense has the advantage of being the easiest to handle in a confined space, but requires more practice and skill to use effectively than does a shotgun. A handgun also shares the rifle's potential for over-penetration. However, Glaser has handgun calibers available from .25 auto to 45 Colt. Handguns are available in calibers from .22 to .50, and the recoil increases with each upward step. Personally, I feel that any handgun of less than .38 Special caliber is "iffy", and I do not recommend the .25 auto or the .32 caliber handguns simply because they are generally considered ineffective. Although I own a few 1911's in .45acp and a couple of .357 magnums, my personal preference is for what I refer to as the "mid-class" handguns - chambered for the .38 Special and the extremely popular 9mm. The lighter recoil of the mid-class rounds facilitates quicker recovery on-target, and placement of a slightly quicker, more accurate second shot if needed.
Felt recoil is a combination of several factors - the caliber and weight of the handgun, the weight of the projectile, the amount of powder in the case, etc. Since most people buy their ammunition "off the shelf", as opposed to loading their own, they have no control over the amount or type of powder in their ammo. They do, however, have control over three factors: the caliber and weight of the handgun they choose, and the weight of the bullet in the ammo they choose. Generally speaking, the larger the caliber the greater the felt recoil; the lighter the gun weight the greater the felt recoil; the heavier the bullet, the greater the felt recoil. And, in the case of a firearm, the word "magnum" means even bigger felt recoil. The best handgun for home defense is one with which you can consistently hit a target within 30 feet. Some people find the recoil of even a mid-class round to be intimidating, while others can easily deal with the recoil of a .44 magnum. If you believe you would be bothered by the perceived recoil of a .40 caliber (or larger) handgun, then buy in the .38 Special/9mm class, and get something with a 3"-4" barrel length (a bit more weight, a bit less recoil than those cute little snub-nose revolvers).
Who makes the best guns? Ask that question in a room full of gun enthusiasts and you will start a never-ending discussion. We all have our personal likes and dislikes for rifles, shotguns and handguns. In sporting rifles and shotguns, the most popular names are Mossberg, Remington, Winchester, Ruger, Savage and Marlin in no particular order. In tactical rifles and shotguns, you have the same popular names (and throw in Kel-Tec, who is coming on strong) - plus 100 or so others, most of whom are "custom builders").
The list of leaders in handgun manufacturing is a bit longer and introduces some other names. Glock, Colt, Smith & Wesson, Ruger, Beretta, SIG, CZ, Heckler & Koch, Taurus, Kahr and on and on. A handgun must fit your hand properly! If it doesn't feel comfortable in your hand, or if it doesn't point naturally, you may as well be holding a brick. A relatively recent innovation in handgun design is the interchangeable grip/back-strap, which can resolve fitment problems for almost anybody, no matter what size your hand.
I own 15 handguns from 8 different manufacturers, and enjoy them all, but... I have a personal preference for the Glock pistols. They fit my hand, they point very well, they consistently hit where they are pointed, and Glock pistols are virtually indestructible: dropped from an airplane at 500ft into a field recovered and fired; run over by a truck picked up and fired; buried "naked" in soil for 2 years, dug up, hosed off and fired; and 1,000 rounds put through one in 14 minutes and it never failed to fire. G L O C K - that's how I spell dependability.
But, the bottom line is - get what works for you. Fit, function, and affordability... those are the key considerations.