You've made the decision to buy your first gun for self or home defense--now you have a few more decisions to make.
So you've decided to buy your first gun for self defense and officially become a gun owner. It's a big decision, especially for a first-time gun buyer, but you actually have a bunch more to make right away.
Do you want a defense handgun, shotgun, or rifle? Do you want a semi-automatic? Are you going to be carrying a concealed firearm, and if so, should you use your concealed carry gun for home defense? How much does "stopping power" matter? Will it be an everyday carry (EDC) gun, or only occasionally when you feel you need it?
There are a lot of options, but as with most decisions about choosing firearms, the best gun for the job is the one you can use best and most effectively, and that you can use well under an extremely stressful situation, like a home invasion.
When choosing a concealed carry handgun, make sure you pick something that fits your hand well, that you can draw easily, and that can, of course, be concealed easily with your body type and the carry position that you feel is most comfortable and suitable to your lifestyle. Of course, a concealed carry handgun should be paired with solid hollowpoint self-defense ammo.
There are a lot of semi-automatic pistols on the market that are explicitly designed for personal defense and concealed carry, but that doesn't mean they're one-size fits all. Be sure to test out the handgun you intend to buy as much as you can. If that's only dry firing it in the store, at least you get a chance to feel the trigger pull. And make sure you're comfortable with it. A factory two-piece Glock trigger won't feel anything like the the hinged trigger on a Smith & Wesson M&P pistol.
And once you get to that point, you then have a number of different calibers to choose from Many ultra compact self defense semi-auto pistols come chambered in .380 ACP or 9mm, with some larger frame models also available in .45 ACP and even .40 S&W.
If you're choosing a gun that will serve only as a home defense weapon, then you have even more options, but you also have more considerations to make. Do you live alone? If not, then an ideal firearm for a home defense situation should be one that can be proficiently used by every family member in the house.
Full size semi-automatic handguns with all the bells and whistles are certainly an option here, as they don't have to be carried or concealed, but getting good with a handgun (and being able to use one and reload one under stress) takes work and regular training.
Revolvers are also an option, but capacity is much smaller than a semi-auto. If you carry or use a double-action revolver for home defense, be sure to practice shooting it IN DOUBLE ACTION. It can be tempting to thumb the hammer back at the range and use that crisp light trigger pull, but in a self defense situation, you will be firing in double action, so train accordingly.
The best handgun for self defense is the one you're most confident with.
The learning curve is much shallower for stocked firearms, like shotguns and carbines.
Pump-action shotguns and semi-auto shotguns are extremely effective, but reloading them is difficult and slow, and they tend to be on the heavy side, unless they're extremely short.
This brings us to one of the chief concerns regarding home defense guns: overpenetration.
You are responsible for every projectile that comes out of a firearm when you shoot one. If you live in an apartment or a house with multiple people who could be accidentally hit by gunfire going through walls, you want to choose a gun and ammo that will minimize overpenetration as much as possible. Buckshot ammo in 12 gauge can often have far too much oomph and will tear right through multiple layers of drywall and other materials, and while birdshot may not tear through walls as much, it might not be as effective against a bad guy as you need it to be.
Reduced recoil, self defense shotgun ammunition is an excellent choice if a shotgun is your go-to, and a 20 gauge is just as effective as a 12 gauge for home defense at close range.
A pistol caliber carbine is a great gun, and might be the best choice for home defense. They are typically light and if you get one with a 16 inch barrel, it will be maneuverable and easy to heft for almost anyone. Handgun ammunition will benefit from the additional barrel length in accuracy and velocity, and reloads, especially with an AR-15 pattern firearm, are easy to learn and master with practice.
No matter what, night sights are a great feature to have on any home defense or CCW gun.
Whether you're an experienced hunter or a brand new shooter, once you settle on a defensive firearm and ammo, whether it be a subcompact pistol, a full size magnum revolver, a pump-action shotgun, or an AR PCC in 9mm, the most important thing is to get to the shooting range and practice, practice, practice with your new defensive firearm.