Double-Barrel Shotguns Or Handguns?

By Dave Anderson

Ex Vice-President Joe Biden is apparently planning a post-political career as an expert on defensive firearms and tactics. On the subject of firearms, he says we don’t need an AR or handgun — we need a double-barrel shotgun.

And those tactics! He says he tells his wife if there’s a “problem” in the backyard (What kind of problem, Joe? Sewer backup? Kids playing street hockey?) to go out on the balcony and fire both barrels into the air.

I can imagine Massad Ayoob’s reaction to this tactical advice. After all the books and articles Mas has written about the moral and legal issues inherent in the use of deadly force, here’s the Vice President suggesting a procedure both tactically stupid and blatantly illegal. Is the firearm advice any better?

I hadn’t seriously considered a double shotgun for personal defense, but if Joe says so — well okay then. I bought a Stoeger Coach Gun with 20″ barrels and double triggers, although I got a 20 gauge instead of the 12 gauge recommended. Foolish of me, I suppose, after all, he is a politician and therefore must be telling the truth.

Being serious for a moment, a double shotgun is certainly not to be despised as a defensive gun. Its biggest advantage over a handgun is decisive stopping power, in 12 or 20 gauge. Long guns are also easier to shoot accurately, especially for those who don’t take the time to train with a handgun. The operating system is simple and reliable. There’s no magazine, hence no worries about failures to feed. With double triggers there’re two independent firing systems and the odds of even one failing are remote, and of both at the same time even more unlikely.

The two barrels can be loaded with different types of ammunition, birdshot and buckshot, or buckshot and slug to give a couple of examples. If you want to get creative you could even purchase inserts from MCA Sports (mcace.com) and load pistol or rifle cartridges in one or both barrels.

Here’s Dave’s Stoeger Coach Gun in 20 gauge with double triggers. It’s also available with
single trigger and in 12 or .410. Considering the moderate price, quality is impressive.
The S&W 686 .357 Magnum revolver also represents old technology — but at least it holds
six cartridges.

Two Enough?

But there’s no getting around the limitations of two-shot capacity and slow reloading. After firing two shots you’ll need time to remove the empty cases and reload with two more cartridges. I’ll concede (if you’ve connected with those two blasts) you’ll also need two more bad guys.

Home invaders running in packs is certainly within the realm of possibility. Critics of handguns and ARs like to say, “you don’t need all those bullets” (cartridges, moron!). How I marvel at their gift of foresight. I don’t know how many cartridges might be needed. I do know having 15 or 20 too many is better than having one too few.

Some downsides are the shotgun is less maneuverable in confined spaces and easier for an assailant to grab. Managing the gun takes two hands, while a handgun leaves one hand free to hold a light, open or close a door, dial a phone or pull a child to safety.

Don’t misunderstand, I think a shotgun has a place in home defense, but make mine a pump. Greater magazine capacity is one factor, and the pump can be stored with the magazine loaded and the chamber empty. That makes it safe from firing if dropped. In an emergency a round can be chambered in the time it takes to shoulder the gun.

This old Rossi with external hammers (12 gauge), like other doubles, can handle different loads.
Left to right is 00 Buck, Slug, birdshot and the nifty Aguila mini-shells.

Rested Hammers

I don’t like the idea of a double with cartridges in the chambers and hammers at full cock, unless it’s actually in my hands. “Hammerless” guns like this Stoeger actually have hammers inside the action. No less an authority than the late Jeff Cooper once wrote approvingly of the double shotgun — but with external hammers. His point was the shotgun could be hung over the door with hammers down, all springs at rest, untouched for 50 years, and it would still fire when called upon.

Home defense is just one aspect of personal safety — an important one to be sure — but we don’t spend all our time at home. Many citizens, especially Handgunner readers, carry while going about their daily routine. From a financial point of view if nothing else, one gun for both home and concealed carry makes sense. Which pretty much eliminates the shotgun right there. But still, maybe having one handy can’t hurt either?

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