For more than 100 years, the most commonly used and commonly accepted home defense weapon was the shotgun — with good reason. Be it a pump or a semi-auto, the shotgun excels at home defense. It can deliver a devastating dose of lead. It’s reliable, simple to use and easy to maintain.
Well, times change.
In my humble opinion, the shotgun’s long reign as the home defense weapon-of-choice is over. It’s been supplanted by the AR.
Speed: Given its light weight and incredible ergonomics, you can engage targets — especially multiple targets — much faster with an AR than a shotgun. Compared to an AR, my 870 feels like I’m swinging a railroad tie from target to target, and the rate of fire is much lower. This is crucial, since the ability to make fast and accurate follow-up shots is what wins a gunfight.
Ammunition capacity: Most tactical shotguns hold between 6-8 shells. Hunting guns, far fewer. In a tactical scenario, you may need to reload. Reloading a shotgun — especially under stress — is not an easy task. While there are some shotguns that accept mags and drums, these bullet-feeders increase the overall weight by pounds. On the other hand, an AR with a standard-capacity 30-round magazine will most likely never need a reload during a gunfight.
Recoil: I have fired a shotgun during a gunfight and, quite frankly, never even noticed the recoil. Still, compared to an AR, a shotgun’s recoil is punishing . Therefore, it takes longer to reacquire the sights or bead and, contrary to how they’re depicted in Hollywood, you still need to aim a shotgun. For new shooters and shooters of a smaller stature, the recoil makes it harder to train with the weapon because they cannot handle the kick.
Accuracy: An AR is a very precise, accurate weapon, especially when topped with a red dot. A shotgun, by it’s very nature, is not. In a home defense scenario, precision shooting may mean the difference between tagging a bad guy who’s hiding behind a loved one in the head, and not being able to take the shot for fear of hitting a family member, especially if the shotgun is one of the new non-NFA shorties.
Flexibility: While I like a slick, clean rifle with just lights and sights, the list of accouterments that you can mount on the AR platform grows every single day. A modern AR is unparalleled in its flexibility. Sure, there are mounting systems now for shotguns, but they too increase overall weight.
Range: The maximum effective range of an AR, at least for me with 50-year-old eyes and a red dot, is around 250-300 meters. Others can shoot much farther. While range is moot in most home defense situations, for those is rural areas it can be crucial. Effective range for a shotgun with 00 or #4 buckshot is around 50-75 yards. A slug will buy you another 25 yards, at best, but they’re inaccurate at distance.
Retention: Generally, shotguns are longer than ARs. And, generally, most don’t have a pistol grip. When a bad guy grabs your weapon and the fight is on, shorter weapons with pistol grips are easier to retain. They’re also easier to maneuver into the bad guy’s center mass. You can probably figure out what comes next. Add a single-point sling — my preference — and an AR is even easier to retain.
Maneuverability: Given their light weight and ergonomics, an AR is the perfect platform for CQB. In the hands of a well trained shooter, the weapon simply flows from room to room. Try clearing corners with a much heavier boomstick. For me it’s far more difficult.
Familiar platform: Where’s the safety on an 870? A Mossberg? A Benelli? Where is the slide release located on these three guns? Simply put, the controls on a shotgun vary by manufacturer. On the other hand, regardless of the maker, all the controls on an AR are the same. This is one of the reasons for the weapons popularity, especially among veterans. They already know how to operate the weapon, and they usually know how to operate it very, very well. When lives are on the line and seconds count, they won’t be fumbling over the weapons controls. They’ll be ready to engage.
Psychological deterrent: For decades I’ve heard the old wives’ tale that the kachunk of a pump-action shotgun being racked into battery was enough to force even the hardest bad guys to flee from your home. I’ve never seen any solid proof of this ever working — not once. I look forward to being wrong on this. On the other hand, the sight of a homeowner advancing toward them while armed with a AR will cause even the most degenerate bad guy to skedaddle, probably while filling his shorts. Let’s face it. ARs mean business. For criminals, the sight of a homeowner with an AR means they picked the wrong house.
This column is, of course, my opinion. If you disagree, please let me know. I always appreciate feedback.
Thanks for reading.