Taser vs. Gun for Home Defense
June 17, 2010 7:30 AM   Subscribe

Taser or gun better for home defense in a house with kids?

This is either/or, meaning I don't want to discuss the 2nd Amendment etc.
posted by luke1249 to Health & Fitness (74 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have training using and storing either?

Either are dangerous if you're inexperienced and you don't know how to make sure your kids cannot get to it.
posted by Hiker at 7:32 AM on June 17, 2010 [5 favorites]

This is kind of a complex question for it to be an either/ or.
posted by Think_Long at 7:33 AM on June 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

Assuming that you have the safe/effective use and safe storage thing down, and ignoring legal niceties such as when one can use only non-deadly force versus when one can use deadly force, at bottom the issue seems to be that bullets are always effective and tasers are only sometimes effective. If you're worried about home invasion and that sort of thing, I can't imagine a situation in which bullets (or the threat thereof) wouldn't be preferable.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:37 AM on June 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Given the propensity of weapons in the home to end up being used on people living in the home, much more so than on someone invading the home, I'd go with the taser.
posted by adipocere at 7:38 AM on June 17, 2010 [32 favorites]

It depends what you are trying to defend against. Do you mean night-time burglars, when you are home, but asleep? Do you live in a big house or something? And by better do you mean better at preventing theft or at protecting lives. Some details specific to your problem would be helpful.
posted by polymodus at 7:39 AM on June 17, 2010

better for home defense in a house with kids

Why do you mention the kids?

If you're concerned that the kids might get their hands on the weapon, than clearly the taser would be better. You're less likely to have a fatal accident.

If you postulate that the kids can never get their hands on the weapon, then the kids are irrelevant, right? In that case the gun would probably be a more effective weapon for "home defense."
posted by alms at 7:42 AM on June 17, 2010

Response by poster: I have a lot of experience with handguns, having owned a few before I got married. I know how to lock guns up. In terms of pros and cons, you can keep a gun unloaded, with magazines locked up nearby. If a kid finds the gun and somehow manages to get it out of the safe, he/she will have to do the same with the magazines and knowingly load the gun and rack it (it would be a semi) in order to turn it into a lethal weapon. In other words, it would require serious intent on the kid's part to do something lethal with the gun, meaning that accidentally finding a loaded gun and playing with it would not be part of this scenario. On the other hand, you can't keep a taser unloaded (uncharged), because then it would be useless, and I also suspect a taser would be as potentially lethal for an 8-year-old as a gunshot would be.
posted by luke1249 at 7:43 AM on June 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

No, tasing an eight year old is nowhere near as lethal as a gunshot would be, unless you were aiming for their arms with a .22.

Trust me, I'm an American. We tase kids all the time.
posted by adipocere at 7:46 AM on June 17, 2010 [18 favorites]

I've always been told by law enforcement in my part of the country that a sawed off shotgun is your best bet in home defense. I vaguely remember them saying that because it isn't terribly accurate at long distance (you need to be fairly close to cause damage) it affords you a better chance of shooting a trespasser versus your eight year old.
posted by carefulmonkey at 7:47 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know the precise stats, but unless you keep either well locked away then the most pressing danger your kids face is actually being harmed by your own weapon.

I.e. around 300 kids/teens are killed by firearms every year.

My own personal experience - luckily it was only an air pistol, but despite being told not to use it I did. And ended up with a friend accidentally pulling the trigger after reloading it and shooting me in the leg.

On that basis, if you have to have one or the other then the non-lethal alternative is better.

But there have been cases where arrestees on drugs have been tasered multiple times before going down. Tasers sometimes can't penetrate thick clothing. They won't keep someone down. Gun advocates would argue that if you're trying to stop an attacker a gun is much better.

In summary: I'd use pepper spray personally. It's cheap, it's non lethal and you don't need training to use it. Combined with a decent door lock it's an adequate compromise between endangering yourself and giving you a reasonable chance of slowing down an attacker.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:49 AM on June 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Without getting into any ethical issues, I would think that you'd need to store a gun unloaded and thus it would take significantly longer to make it available for your use in case of emergency, whereas a Taser you could probably keep handy in case you needed to use it quickly.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:54 AM on June 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Well, how many kids die in home Taser accidents? How many die in home gun accidents? I think the Taser is clearly less dangerous.
posted by delmoi at 7:58 AM on June 17, 2010

Assuming that either would be completely out of reach and inaccessible/unusable to a kid (please don't assume that an 8 year old doesn't know how to load and rack a gun - surely they've seen this in a movie or two by that age?) - then the answer is gun.

But honestly, thats a big assumption in my opinion.
posted by ish__ at 7:58 AM on June 17, 2010

Response by poster: Way more kids are killed by drowning in pools or getting hit by cars than are killed by guns, but no one is agitating to get pools or cars banned. You were lucky that you were shot by an air gun, but I grew up shooting .22s (starting when I was about eight) and was fully aware of the danger of guns. There's a lot to be said for training. They have to be demystified - telling a kid "don't touch it" is the best way to get a kid to want to touch a gun.

To get back to the point, there's no way to have a taser uncharged, is there? Like the battery can be kept separate from the taser or something?
posted by luke1249 at 7:58 AM on June 17, 2010

i would vote gun because it's ability to incapacitate is much better then a tazer. if your threat is wearing heavy clothing, for example, the tazer would be a lot less effective. if you really need a weapon it would be better to have the best one possible.

of course, the tazer is less lethal if it falls into the hands of children--but to be really effective you would probably need to have several. more tazers=more chance they could get misused by the kids.

having a gun in the house also would give you the opportunity to teach your kids about the proper ways of handling firearms.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 8:02 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mod note: few comments removed - metatalk is your option but the OP is asking a pretty specific question.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:08 AM on June 17, 2010

To get back to the point, there's no way to have a taser uncharged, is there? Like the battery can be kept separate from the taser or something?

This Tazer uses removable cartridges that include the compressed gas used to propel the darts.
posted by cosmac at 8:10 AM on June 17, 2010

I don't understand your logic. A gun is clearly more dangerous to your kids if they get their hands on it. But you say you grew up around guns and you were fine.

Why can't you apply the same training and "demystification" to a taser?
posted by desjardins at 8:11 AM on June 17, 2010

You don't say how old of kids, but I can imagine that when they grow into teenagers they may end up tasing someone for fun. It's what I would have done when I was 14.

I wouldn't have shot anyone though.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:12 AM on June 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

@schmod, I've heard that claim of the supposedly astronomical odds before. Politely, "Bull."

I have personally had my home invaded by a rapist at night, attacking my wife while I slept next to her. My cousin was murdered in another incident. Neither of us live in terrible neighborhoods, both happened at night. Both incidents had locked deadbolts on doors.

Seems to me that the odds aren't quite as high as some would like us to believe.

Get the pistol, or preferably a shotgun. Tasers are not as effective nor as threatening.

Also, get thee to a concealed carry class. Even if you don't want to carry, and even though you grew up with them, a good class will cover the law about when you can shoot and when you can't. Also it will be a useful, cheap refresher course for you.

Possibly consider taking the kids to a gun safety class. They are easily available.
posted by Invoke at 8:13 AM on June 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

Given that you are more likely to shoot a family member than a robber, I vote for the taser, since it is less lethal.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:15 AM on June 17, 2010

In other words, it would require serious intent on the kid's part to do something lethal with the gun, meaning that accidentally finding a loaded gun and playing with it would not be part of this scenario.

There's a lot to be said for training. They have to be demystified - telling a kid "don't touch it" is the best way to get a kid to want to touch a gun.

These two statements don’t correlate. If you’re going to train your kid how to use the gun, then they will definitely know how to load and shoot it.

Personally, I think if you are as knowledgeable and trained as you say you are, and you will be as careful in locking up the weapon as you say you will, then a gun wwould be better for sheer intimidation factor alone.
posted by Think_Long at 8:17 AM on June 17, 2010

Wiki has a relevant page on Taser safety. Between June 2001 and June 2007, there were at least 245 cases of deaths of subjects soon after having been shocked using Tasers.
From CDC's fatal injury website it looks like in 2007 there were 121 unintentional firearms deaths in homes for ages 0-18 in the US. Two years and you've exceeded all Taser deaths from a six year period.

Without knowing how many people in total own tasers and guns in their home, those statistics are meaningless.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:18 AM on June 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

A taser gets you one shot. What do you do if there are 2 people?
posted by blue_beetle at 8:20 AM on June 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

If you're going to defend, defend.

If you rely on the Taser, you run the risk of bringing a glorified cattle prod to a gunfight.

And though there is a relentless stream of anecdata about kids "finding" guns in the home, those stories are invariably from the kinds of homes where putting an unlocked loaded gun under the bed is considered "proper" storage.

Ditto on the hoary factoid that a gun in the home is "much more likely" to be used against you or someone you know than against a stranger. This misleading stat is concocted by adding in suicides and drug dealer feuds (who, after all, know each other).

If your gun is stored properly in a non-drug-dealing home, your remaining safety problems include avoiding overpenetration (e.g. bullet goes through the prowler, through the drywall, and into an unintended target), and preventing a nightmarish "friendly fire" incident (i.e. mistaking your kid for a prowler). Overpenetration can be largely avoided by using frangible rounds like Glasers in a pistol, or reduced using a shotgun with #4 duck shot. The friendly fire problem is the one that would scare the heck out of me: you'll have to train yourself not to shoot unless you've positively ID'd the target, even under stressful/low light conditions -- just telling yourself you'll positively ID the target won't translate to actual performance under stress.
posted by Wufpak at 8:27 AM on June 17, 2010 [14 favorites]

I understand that there is a need for "stopping power" sometimes. But just a suggestion from when I was thinking about getting a home firearm. Someone asked me if I had a security system for my house. I did not at the time. They point out that if I was serious about deterring a criminal, I should take this step first. It was a good point. For some reason, in our minds we go straight to "When I am fighting with a criminal in my house" rather than "Preventing the criminal from entering my house." If you want to be a badass and that's most of the point, then get the gun. But if you really want to prevent someone from coming into your house, get a solid security system, something that scare a criminal to death. Best of luck in your decisions. p.s. a dog can be a great back up security system as well.
posted by boots77 at 8:27 AM on June 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Given that you are more likely to shoot a family member than a robber, I vote for the taser, since it is less lethal.

I disagree. If you practice often enough, you're more likely to hit exactly what you're aiming for. If you've not got serious psychological problems, I'd be more concerned about curious little hands finding something shiny.

Get a pistol, and get a trigger lock or a pistol safe.

The safety of your children is worth the extra investment. Also, if your house is broken into while you're away, you'll want your firearms in a secure and discreet location. It's just a good idea to keep them locked up, but still accessible.

Speaking of home safety, don't rely on frangible ammunition as a replacement for intelligently choosing your firing position. Even JHP isn't stopped by sheet rock/wood:

"However, one conclusion we can't escape is this: all these rounds are going to go through walls with more than enough power to kill any human being they encounter on the other side." (American Handgunner article)

In other words, know what's behind your target, and don't shoot if you're not sure!
posted by edguardo at 8:36 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Obviously, I'm leaning towards a gun. What I meant by demystification is that a kid is a lot less likely to insert the magazine and rack the gun knowing how dangerous that would be. Also, though, the training kids get isn't with handguns - it's with .22 rifles generally, so "gun safety awareness and training" doesn't necessarily mean that the kid would know what to do with a handgun. He/she would just know that guns are incredibly dangerous. It's the same thing as making kids aware of the myriad dangers in life, like staying away from hot stoves, not leaning out of car windows, looking both ways, etc.

Are there any stats regarding taser lethality in kids between the ages of 5 and 10?
posted by luke1249 at 8:39 AM on June 17, 2010

I don't think a depressed teen could kill hiself with his father's taser. A worst case scenario, yes, but worth considering.
posted by salvia at 8:45 AM on June 17, 2010

Yea, this one's gonna go meta.

Ignoring everything else...

I'd go pump shotgun with non-buckshot. Reasons include: limited penetration of walls, jacking the slide will make most people piss their pants and run away, inexpensive ammunition, and a lack of requirement to aim. I would, most likely, pair it with a rail mounted tactical flashlight intended to blind the attacker. The blinking lights are INSANE.

With a shotgun, seriously, just chambering a round is enough to make most invaders leave.

I grew up in a house with an NRA home defense instructor for a father, who also happened to be a PTSD vietnam vet.

In-home combat shooting is tough. You gotta be quick acquisition, you gotta seriously watch out for penetration through drywall, you must must must practice. You're probably not keeping ammo near the piece, so you've gotta figure that out.

With a 12g, you've got a fun recreational gun (a good unit to use to teach your kids gun safety) that you can take skeet shooting or even hunting, they can be had for very little money, and ammo is relatively cheap.

Regardless, whatever you do---if you're concerned enough to take this route, you need to have drills w/ your family about what THEY do if something happens. Get in their closet, under their bed, whatever. Make sure they know to announce themselves coming into a room.
posted by TomMelee at 8:49 AM on June 17, 2010 [21 favorites]

"himself." Also I'm sorry to bring up that sad possibility, but it's real to me. I know a family where this happened, and there was a lot of guilt and questioning what the outcome would have been otherwise (would the kid have found another means, or not)?
posted by salvia at 8:50 AM on June 17, 2010

Before you write this off as the words of a worrisome ninny, I am not afraid of guns, but I do have a healthy respect for them. I took a class specifically to learn how to handle guns because I know they aren't going to go away and I would rather know about them than not.

Just because you have drilled your eight year old in gun safety doesn't mean that his or her friends he or she has over have the same respect for weapons.

If it is for home safety, you will be tempted to make a given weapon be available (fast) in a way that a weapon kept in a safe by a collector is not available (slow — weapons safe, trigger lock). Kids get into everything and do not have the greatest judgment. Consider your childhood — did you find out, either by being shown or just basic "hey what's back here" where other kids' parents kept, say, their porn or other things that kids aren't supposed to know about? I know I did. Basically, assume that, whatever you get, it will end up in some kid's hand while some other kid doesn't think this is a good idea, and then someone will say "BANG!" Nothing like going to pee, then coming out and having your over-curious friend peeking into The Shoebox You Know You Are Not Supposed to Go Near. The faded orange shoebox still figures prominently in my dreams as something I must hide.

Work backwards from there. Unless you're prepared to make that phone call, "Hi ... has your son introduced you to Timmy? I'm Timmy's dad. Before sleepover, I'd like to give him a quick course in weapon's safety ..." I'd vote for maybe more than one taser. Maybe some pepper spray.
posted by adipocere at 9:03 AM on June 17, 2010

Screw the gun, screw the taser.

Build a safe room.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:04 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Speaking from a strictly practical stopping-someone-inside-your-house standpoint, a tazer is a one or two shot device with a very limited range which can be defeated by heavy enough clothes. If you are in a situation where things have devolved enough that you are reaching for something like this to protect yourself, you've probably reached a point where a gun is more appropriate than anything else.

As to which is safer? Both are extremely dangerous, obviously a gun is more so, but the security you'd have to employ to really safely store either mitigate this somewhat.

All that said, in another recent thread Baby_Balrog suggested an interesting idea: an unloaded pump-action shotgun. They are relatively inexpensive, they offer the benefit of the racking-the-slide psychological scare, they make an excellent blunt striking object, and the risk to a child is pretty much none. ("unloaded" here meaning no-ammo in the house.)
posted by quin at 9:09 AM on June 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

How effective is pepper spray? I was reading through a magazine my SO gets because it has EMT equipt. - but there were also what looked like fire extinguisher sized bottles of pepper spray for crowd control. It seems like that might be worth considering.
posted by handle_unknown at 9:11 AM on June 17, 2010

there were also what looked like fire extinguisher sized bottles of pepper spray for crowd control. It seems like that might be worth considering.

Where those using it wearing gas masks? Worth considering.
posted by edguardo at 9:14 AM on June 17, 2010

What TomMelee said.

I myself have a handgun and a flashlight I keep in a Gunvault gun safe that I can and have opened up in under 3 seconds at 3am. Having a touchy alarm system is good for drills :)

Only I have the combo, but both my kids (10 & 5) have handled the gun, unloaded, so they know EXACTLY what it looks and feels like if they should ever happen upon it (which they wont), and that it is NOT a toy. They also have had the four rules of gun safety drilled into them.

I live in a nice neighborhood, but it's right next to a burgeoning hell hole apartment complex. I'd rather have a gun and not need it than need a gun and not have it.
posted by Scoo at 9:17 AM on June 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Lots of good points. It's hard to overcome the anti-gun prejudice a lot of people have, which is of course something I'd have to take into account w/r/t other parents. (To test anti-gun bias, replace "death by accidentally finding a gun and firing it" with "drowning in a pool" and see if there's any support for banning pools.) The point about kids getting into things they aren't supposed to is well-taken, but there's plenty of things I know my kids can't get into, no matter how much they wanted. I have a safe, for crying out loud - if I can't keep my kids out of my safe, why would I expect burglars not to be able to get into it.

My house has a monitored alarm system and I keep my cell phone by my bed. My family knows exactly what to do if someone comes into the house, and we've drilled it. (Doing the drill brings home to you exactly how scary such a situation would be, and also brings home the fact that it can and does regularly happen. Even if you're not going to have a gun or some kind of home defense weapon, you should have a plan to follow in case your home is invaded.) I've got two floors, so my plan is basically let the burglar take what he wants (I have theft insurance) and let the police deal with that, but if he tries to come upstairs, I'll know he wants to harm me, so I'll shoot/taze him coming up the stairs.

Safe room is too expensive.
posted by luke1249 at 9:17 AM on June 17, 2010

Would you bring a Taser to a gun fight? The civilian model of the Taser (I'm talking about the Taser that fires the barbs from a gas pressurized cartridge) has a pretty short range, not that in close quarters it would matter very much. You're talking 15 feet max range. Plus a Taser isn't going to stop a Crystal Meth tweeker with one shot. Of course a small pistol probably isn't going to offer you much more of an accurate range, but it will hit a target farther out than 15 feet. Tasers are not a "non-lethal" weapon, they're "less-lethal", I think the majority, if not all of the deaths caused by them usually were related to underlying medical conditons (heart problems, drug use, etc). You do have to take into account the risk of keeping a gun in your home with children. I was taught from a very early age, probably 5 or 6, about how dangerous guns were. After learning the dangers of firearms, I never once thought of touching my dad's service pistol, nor did it ever enter my mind to play with the guns that were in the house. I think that having a gun in your home would be a better bet if you're worried about having to defend your family against an intruder. Another thing to keep in mind is that Tasers are not legal in all states, but you are allowed to keep a handgun in your home in all 50.
posted by ganzhimself at 9:17 AM on June 17, 2010

If a kid finds the gun and somehow manages to get it out of the safe, he/she will have to do the same with the magazines and knowingly load the gun and rack it (it would be a semi) in order to turn it into a lethal weapon. In other words, it would require serious intent on the kid's part to do something lethal with the gun

This sounds like exactly the kind of thing certain kids I knew growing up would do (age 12-15). Blame it on basic curiosity, crossed with a kind of thoughtless narcissism and lack of imagination. I remember one group of kids (two brothers and friend) a few years younger than me that were into building bombs, not for anything just nefarious, just for the rush of BLOWING STUFF UP. They got caught once and it was a big, big deal (police involved, all the parents talking) ... and then maybe six months later, one of them got his arm blown off.

My point here isn't that you shouldn't keep a gun in the house. Just don't ignore the elephant in the room, which is your kids (and/or their friends) are, by definition, NOT going to be particularly rational for a sizable chunk of their adolescent lives. And, you know, all it takes is one bad day, one sloppy mistake ...
posted by philip-random at 9:22 AM on June 17, 2010

Safe room is too expensive.

More expensive than a bullet wound?

More expensive. Horseshit. You're not thinking hard enough. A safe room doesn't have to be anything more than a bathroom, a solid core door, a few door bolts and a cell phone. This is a $200 trip to Home Depot.

This isn't Hollywood. You won't be under siege by an army of trained safecrackers with jamming equipment. You just need someplace to chill for 15 minutes.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:24 AM on June 17, 2010 [17 favorites]

Way more kids are killed by drowning in pools or getting hit by cars than are killed by guns, but no one is agitating to get pools or cars banned.
So what? Clearly a minivan is safer then a sports car, and your kids will be safer if you don't get a pool. A house without a gun is safer for kids then a house with one, if that's what you're asking.

Besides if you lock the gun up and keep it unloaded, how are you going to be able access it in time if someone breaks into your house?
(To test anti-gun bias, replace "death by accidentally finding a gun and firing it" with "drowning in a pool" and see if there's any support for banning pools.)
Who said anything about banning guns in this thread? No one, as far as I can tell. If the question was "Would I be putting my kids at risk by getting a pool" the answer would still be yes.
posted by delmoi at 9:48 AM on June 17, 2010

Mod note: A few more comments removed. Again, you know where metatalk is. Use it if you need to, but please stop throwing non-answers in here. It's okay to just not answer the question; this is not the place for a general debate about gun usage.

luke1249, it's fine to ask this but we do not want an askme thread to turn into a conversation or a debate. If you want to followup to clarify some specific aspect of your question, that's fine, but please resist the urge to get into a general gun debate stuff yourself.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:56 AM on June 17, 2010

Shotgun loaded with rock salt - Won't kill anything, but they'll wish you had.
posted by LakesideOrion at 9:56 AM on June 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

I do not have a gun prejudice. I have owned a gun for home protection, and I like guns.

It seems to me the real question when weighing the safety of your home vs the safety of your children is "Statistically, is your home more or less likely to be invaded than your children are to cause bodily harm with a firearm?"

I have no idea. But you should research the real numbers.

Personally, I think you should also do some research on how home invasions play out on the ground. It's very, very rare that a home owner with a gun is able to successfully defend against them using a fire arm. Yes there are isolated, high profile incidences when this works but they are rare. You have a maximum of sixty seconds to respond. When a gun is your response plan, that means you have sixty seconds from wherever you are in the house to get your hands on a loaded firearm and disable the entire team before one of them grabs one of your kids - at which point, it's game over.

While "DIY safe room" sounds like a namby-pamby liberal cop out, it is actually the best defence against home invasion because only one family member needs to make it to the safe room and lock the door in order to call the police and derail the intrusion plan.

Realistically, I'd put my time and resources towards installing lighting, alarm systems, panic buttons and alternative power and communication sources that made my home an unappealing target for predators.

If you want to have a locked firearm and separately locked ammunition, secure them in your DIY saferoom, but do not depend on them to execute your response plan. They probably will not come into play.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:57 AM on June 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

PS: For the record, I am in fact a namby-pamby liberal; I do not mean that pejoratively.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:02 AM on June 17, 2010

Your question is: "Taser or gun better for home defense in a house with kids?"

I grew up in a house with guns, have learned how to shoot and I've used stunguns and tasers and also have been licensed for teargas in the state of California.

My experience with weapons in the home leads me to think that the children are kind of a red herring in this question. Who else lives in the home? After all, it's way more likely that you or your spouse will shoot each other than that one of the kids will shoot themselves or someone else.

So, rather than worry about the kids, you also need to consider which of these items you'd rather be shot by.

For use on strangers instead of family members, I do find medium-to-close range weapons tricky. For instance, using teargas and stunguns when being assaulted, with teargas there's a little blowback sometimes (which is annoying, because it's hard to see!) and with stunguns you REALLY have to get in there. Tasers, less so, but it still FEELS close.

But with a nice gun, you can really pick someone off at 30 or 3 feet equally well. (Your wife/husband/partner may find that to be the case as well, but let's hope it's not you on the other end of that barrel!)

Best of luck.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 10:15 AM on June 17, 2010

Sadface that a legit question has to spiral into derail, both by answerers and the OP. Regardless---

1. Numbers of who dies doing what are useless and not significant. You can only be responsible for you and your own actions. (Ok, and your kids actions, but you get my point.) You do your best to pick your best bet for you, and you stick with it. As much as people who grew up w/o guns or grew up in a house w/ poorly supervised guns want to talk about the scary dangerous activities of kids w/ guns, every single person I knew who grew up with attentive gun-owning parents would never have dreamed of "blowing stuff up" with a gun just for fun, because we comprehended what was at hand, and no, I don't mean "THIS IS DANGEROUS LEAVE IT ALONE", I mean "these are the rules..." and "this is how you use it." Ignorance is not safety.

2. Around here, the "very rare instances of homeowners successfully defending themselves" isn't so rare at all. We get stories here often enough of old men with 12 gauges who meet would-be burglars with shotguns and make them call the police on themselves. Perhaps not hardcore home invasioners--although a few of them have been shot the same way. Of course, this is Appalachia. 2 summers ago in this very town an old man scared away two burglars and shot one in the back as he was leaving the property, and he didn't even get prosecuted...and the guy died.

3. There's nothing wrong with planning for a worst case scenario. Sounds like you've got the alarm system (get a remote panic button if you don't already have one, they are AWESOME), don't let the GRAR's here tell you it's not ok to have the gun. Ignoring is generally best.
posted by TomMelee at 10:19 AM on June 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'll also say go with the gun. You don't want to bring anything to a gun fight other than a gun. And nthing the shotgun, that is one of the best home defense weapons.

Pepper spray is a bad idea. There is a good chance of contaminating other people in the room, and it is ineffective on some people, mostly drunks and people high on whatever. This is why law enforcement agencies use the taser more than pepper spray.

A taser is great for a one-on-one physical confrontation in plain daylight, but not in a dark house.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 10:46 AM on June 17, 2010

One point I haven't seen addressed so far:

A taser is "temporary", meaning that its an effective disabler only as long as the taser battery is able to supply enough juice. Yeah, you get a little extra time as the tasee recovers from the shock, but you're going to have to zap them again if they start to get up.

If you initally disable an intruder with a taser, are you going to be able to keep shocking them for the time it takes the police to arrive and restrain him? How long is that? Are you going to restain them yourself? Got a pair of handcuffs and ankle cuffs handy?


Taser is effective against one person only. If you have more than one intruder, you'd better have more than one taser.
posted by de void at 11:06 AM on June 17, 2010

Ditto on the hoary factoid that a gun in the home is "much more likely" to be used against you or someone you know than against a stranger. This misleading stat is concocted by adding in suicides and drug dealer feuds (who, after all, know each other).

On a serious note, and especially if anyone in your home has a history of depression, you should not take the suicide aspect lightly. Firearms are one of the most common methods of suicide, because they are readily available in the home (unlike, say, a bridge to jump off of), and they are lethal in a very high percentage of cases (unlike overdosing on pills). Nobody expects suicides to happen, but they do, and a lot of times they are preventable. You might think that a suicidal person would just choose another method if a firearm is not available, but studies have shown that suicide is usually a spur of the moment decision that can pass if easy methods are not available (for example, studies have shown that people will avoid jumping off of a bridge if they have to cross lanes of traffic to do so). Regardless of the effectiveness of firearms for home defense, I think that is the biggest factor
posted by burnmp3s at 11:08 AM on June 17, 2010 [8 favorites]

Sorry, that should end with "I think that is the biggest factor that people tend to dismiss because they don't think a suicide can happen in their home."
posted by burnmp3s at 11:10 AM on June 17, 2010

You could make a score card, for example for me I'd score things this way:

For home defense, I think the shotgun scores high on intimidation and effectiveness, but scores low on safety due to the potential for a catastrophic 'oops'. Baseball bat, crowbar, etc score somewhat low for intimidation, but surprisingly high (but not to shotgun level) for effectiveness and very high for safety. Tasers score kind a 'meh' in all categories.
posted by forforf at 11:25 AM on June 17, 2010

Sure are a lot of opinions in this thread without much research, non-make believe statistics, or even personal experience backing them up.

People are killed by tasers often enough that I don't think they can be considered non-lethal when it comes to your children. If you choose to have a weapon of any sort in your home you must be able to limit the access to the weapon. That should be your chief concern: "What is the best way to store a weapon in my home should I choose to have one?"

My family had guns in our home during my entire childhood without incident. When I was old enough to understand the concepts I was told what they are and that I was not to involve myself with them. I was taken to the range a few times, shown their lethal power, and gained a respect for the warnings. My father kept them unloaded in a gun cabinet that was locked. He kept the ammunition stored in a separate lock box. Obviously I did not have access to the keys for either.

My suggestion? Get a baseball bat for on-hand home protection. More importantly have a family plan should your home be invaded. Getting your family out of the house and away from danger should take precedent over initiating a confrontation with an invader. If the invader has a gun or taser the last thing you'd want to do is start trading shots/stuns with your family around anyway.
posted by Gainesvillain at 12:03 PM on June 17, 2010

I would get a dog first, then perhaps if you still feel the need to arm yourself et a shotgun. A shotgun is better defense in the house and is less of an attractive nuisance than a pistol to a child. As soon as is practical train the children how to safely shoot. Most gun accidents occur to untrained people who lack proper respect for guns. The last time I was pistol shooting the other guy, who never took a gun safety course, kept telling me how safe he was while at the same time unwittingly pointing the unloaded guns at our feet. A trained shooter would never make such a mistake, well, probably never.
posted by caddis at 12:33 PM on June 17, 2010

I know how to lock guns up. In terms of pros and cons, you can keep a gun unloaded, with magazines locked up nearby.

These completely reasonable and responsible security measures would limit the effectiveness of a gun in a home defense scenario. Go with the Louisville Slugger.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:42 PM on June 17, 2010

I heard a security consultant and former police trainer maker a pretty convincing case against both. He said that pepper spray, posted in various places around the home, would be much safer and more effective at disabling home invaders and other intruders. And it wouldn't kill your kids, which is a bonus.
posted by cross_impact at 12:56 PM on June 17, 2010

Pepper spray is a horrible idea in an enclosed area - it hangs around for a long time and would affect the rest of the people in the room.

Pepper spray is a more horrible idea outside on a windy day. But if all you want is to keep someone from killing you and your family while you get to safety, pepper spray will do the job. Yes, spraying it at someone in a closet is a bad idea, but in room -- even a small room -- whoever you're pointing it at is going to be incapacitated, while others in the room will only experience mild irritation (yes, did it in college).

I know what you're thinking: That mild irritation is not-so-mild in a 4-year-old. But it's a helluva lot milder than shotgun pellets, which also have a tendency to disperse and bounce around.

I say go for the bear-sized pepper spray.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:57 PM on June 17, 2010

I have kids and I have two 9mm guns. They are locked away. (The guns, not the kids.) My goal is protection of my safety and my children. The way I view it, if I feel the need to use a taser in my house, I should use the gun. Tasers are not 100% effective. It can take several jolts to stop some. With proper training, under pressure, I am confident I can at least hit my target. My goal would be to stop any threat. Get the gun.

I agree with you that the key to having weapons in the house with children is in being open about them with the children. My kids have all fired my guns. We go to a range and practice gun safety and proper technique. My daughter who is 17 does not participate these days. SHe sort of stopped two years ago. "No thanks, dad. Been there. Done that. Don't like it." My sons continue to train on occasion. Certainly, they understand the consequences of gun use. Even if they found a way to get past the lock on the safe and the lock on the ammo, I would be confident in knowing that they would not shoot it out of curiosity or malice.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:59 PM on June 17, 2010

If you're going to keep the gun unloaded and the ammunition locked up separately, it's not going to do you much good in a self-defense situation either.

I remember once seeing a small gun safe that opens through pushing a combination of buttons in a handprint impression, so that it could be kept next to the bed and quickly accessed but was still inaccessible by anyone who didn't know the combination.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:45 PM on June 17, 2010

Sure are a lot of opinions in this thread without much research, non-make believe statistics, or even personal experience backing them up.

So true. I hate gun threads the way other people hate medical/mental-issue threads for the sheer volume of people speaking with an air of authority on a serious matter on which they do not realize how very little they know. For example, the ability to scare of a burglar with the sound of a pump-action-shotgun is pretty heavily dependent on the burglar actually being able to hear it and recognizing it for what it is. The fact that it is sometimes or even often effective should not be the big determining factor on which gun to choose. And the oft-mentioned assertion that a gun in a home is 43 times more likely to yourself/friend/family member than to be used against a criminal is based upon some of the sloppiest social research ever to pass peer-review.

OP, this was a pretty good book when I read it over a decade ago. Guns are only a small part of it, and IIRC there is one chapter to help you answer the question of "Should I get a gun" (and often the answer is "no") and a second to help you decide what type you should get based on your individual situation. For example, a shotgun is really not ideal if you have a small home with narrow hallways and doorways because it's too cumbersome to move around with it and still be able to aim and fire in a second. But is perhaps a good choice if you live alone or with a spouse (ie you would never have to run into your child's room across the hall) and your plan is to hide behind the bed with a phone and a gun while watching the bedroom door.

If I were you, I'd probably do as previously recommended and contact your nearest reputable CCW-instructor and ask their advice or ask for a referral to someone who can help you make this sort of decision based upon your individual situation (what's the crime like in your area? how old are the kids and how well behaved? how does your spouse feel and think about things? what kind of building do you live in?) and give you a more individually tailored answer to whether or not you should have a gun and what type. And be wary of anyone who thinks the answer to the first question is always yes.

My completely non-expert opinion echos many above: if you seriously believe you need a weapon, then (taking the children out of the equation) you would want a gun. If you just need a physical something to help you sleep at night, you want a 4 D-cell Maglite (easier to wield than even a short baseball bat but heavier and also dual-purpose). A tazer for the home just sounds like an ineffective compromise between serious crisis-tool and everyday-curious-child-risk-management.
posted by K.P. at 4:34 PM on June 17, 2010

Mod note: seriously folks - please stop. You have metatalk as an option, stop with the lulzy half-answers, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:04 PM on June 17, 2010

I have an unloaded twelve gauge in my closet always. The shells are right next to it right now, but if I had kids it's a simple equation. If there is no fuel, there can't be a fire. People are freaked out about guns but cars are just as deadly. More folks own cars. I hate to say it but guns don't kill people, it's the folks who are (mis)using them. I think people need to be more familiar with firearms. Guns are not bad things, they are simply tools. If someone is in my house that shouldn't be, I want my shotgun not some electronic device that may or may not be the appropriate tool for the job.
posted by woodjockey at 6:19 PM on June 17, 2010

Way more kids are killed by drowning in pools or getting hit by cars than are killed by guns. Yep, but pools and tubs have an additional, primary, use, and guns not used for hunting game don't.

A gun is a more useful defense weapon. Your property may be invaded by a rabid skunk, and you should not get close enough for a tazer. I've had raccoons invade the house, through the cat door, for the cat food, and rabies does exist in many areas.

I wish my Dad had taught me to shoot guns, the way he taught my older brothers. When I had a multi-family house, I wouldn't have a gun on my property; it was in the rental agreement, because I don't trust the vast majority of gun owners, and because my son wouldn't have rested until he got to it. Guns can be very useful, especially for hunting, but also in case of a major disaster (Katrina) or insurrection (ya never know) when there may be significant violence. No matter how gun-safe you think you are, be even more cautious.
posted by theora55 at 7:29 AM on June 18, 2010

Gun. It will make you feel safer knowing that you can kill someone you want to kill and not just stun them.
posted by Damn That Television at 7:52 AM on June 18, 2010

a shotgun ... is perhaps a good choice if you live alone or with a spouse ... and your plan is to hide behind the bed with a phone and a gun while watching the bedroom door.

Hey, that's my super secret plan. Why are you publishing it on the internet?

Seriously, this is precisely my plan. Hunker down, let the intruder take the TV and stereo, and heaven help the person dumb enough to come down the hallway. A 12 gauge with bird shot won't over-penetrate walls and kill someone five houses down, but will stop a person just fine.

With kids, I would do the same. The gun still gets locked up in a fast-access gun safe; the difference would be in what room does the hunkering down happen. Put a solid-core door on the designated "safe" room, keep a phone there, and everyone huddles behind the bed while you wait for the sirens to get close.

Someone I know slightly was tasered by the police recently. Even with the fancy police-issue tasers it took several shots to take him down -- I think the first got stuck in his clothes, the second just didn't work, and the third brought him down hard. Based on that -- professional gear being used by trained officers still took multiple attempts and could have gone very wrong -- I would never, ever, in a million years want to rely on a taser as a main self-defense weapon. I'd choose a baseball bat any day of the week over that.
posted by Forktine at 8:03 AM on June 18, 2010

A dog would work better than either, statistically. Not a vicious dog trained to kill, just a big sloppy lab or fluffy golden retriever trained not to widdle on the carpet. It's a factor most robers and home invaders just don't want to deal with according to a number of crime studies, and works just as well as a crime deterrent when going for a walk.

That said, a taser isn't a self defense weapon - you'll never see a cop pulling a taser when someone has a knife or gun. They pull their side-arm. A taser is to torture the unwilling into compliance, and that's all it's good for. If you do decide on a gun, a shotgun is better than a pistol, because it's less expensive, easier to aim, easier to work the controls, easier to maintain, and harder to kill yourself with.

This is a consideration because according to the numbers, guns are used primarily to kill family members through murder, misadventure and suicide, not strangers in self defense.

So the answer to "Taser or gun" is "dog."
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:32 AM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

That said, a taser isn't a self defense weapon - you'll never see a cop pulling a taser when someone has a knife or gun - point of order: not in the US maybe, but elsewhere it is used in controlled situations* where the person holding the knife does not pose an immediate threat.

*Which a home break in is, realistically, unlikely to be.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:41 AM on June 18, 2010

edguardo writes "'However, one conclusion we can't escape is this: all these rounds are going to go through walls with more than enough power to kill any human being they encounter on the other side.' (American Handgunner article)"

See also: The Box O' Truth.

Personally I'd go with a pump action shotgun over a Taser and not only because Tasers are prohibited weapons in Canada. The shotgun is intimidating on it's own, useful for other purposes, I find it fun to shoot so one gets practice with it, regular rounds have limited penetration (though still enough to kill someone two rooms over) which is good for city use and a wide variety of rounds are available to allow one to customize it's use.
posted by Mitheral at 9:17 AM on June 18, 2010

Best answer: Couple things – one, with a taser or firearm you’re going to want and need some training. You’d be well served to get some hand to hand training if only to develop a mindset capable of dealing with a threat in a methodical manner.

Two - if you can afford a dog, a dog is a good idea.

Three – in close quarters, wide swinging weapons are less than ideal (a ball bat in a hallway is not going to be as efficient as it would be in the street. In your living room, a bit more maybe, but you can still hit lamps and such and you still need to shift your footing to deliver force. In the dark. On a potentially uncertain surface).

All things being equal, I would not use a taser or a handgun for home defense.
Their only real respective advantages are their concealability and portability. You don’t have to worry about either at home.
So, given your other options are limited, a shot gun is the best bet.
(If, for no other reason, you have the options for both)

Wufpak and TomMelee are right about overpenetration and the uses of tactical flashlights.
You don’t necessarily need a 12 gauge. For some reason in the U.S. if you have less than a 12 gauge it’s a pea shooter. It’s not.

LakesideOrion’s idea about rocksalt is ok if not taken absolutely literally and you have the option to hand load (there are riot shells made of rock salt, but more on that later). A 20 gauge is a respectable option, as is a .410.

Due to the ballistic coefficient and sectional density the muzzle energy drops considerably, but unless you’ve got a 100 yard long living room and you’re facing a bear, that’s probably not going to be a problem.

This detail is important only for the difference between animals and humans. Animals are not psychologically conditioned to fall down after they’ve been shot. Many people (who watch t.v. and movies) are.
The .410 might be underpowered (there are some high performance .410 shells, I like the 20 gauge, might be a better option, but maybe your kid is home alone when they're 16 or 18), and I wouldn't bring one into a firefight, but Joe Burglar isn't looking to engage you in a firefight. He doesn't hate you. He probably doesn't want to kill you. He just wants your stuff. Even at that, no matter how goal oriented he is, you're going to shoot him first and that tends to take the jelly out of most peoples donut.

Naturally, I wouldn’t rely on that. Or the scare factor in pumping the slide. The stainless Marine shotgun is a wonderful firearm for close quarter combat and its bright shiny finish would scare the hell out of someone if you gave them long enough to look at it.

If you point a gun, you shoot. Or you don’t point the gun.

So with that firmly in mind, not only do you have a shotgun for your home intruder, but you shoot him as soon as you are sure of your target.
This should be easy with your mounted tactical flashlight. If you don’t have one – get one. There’s no real excuse to buy a shotgun and not spend a few extra bucks for one.

But this shouldn’t be a problem either, since you haven't gone looking for him like Capt. Bad Ass and you’re loaded with less than lethal ammunition.

In terms of pump vs. auto – there’s a lot to be said either way. Training can negate a bias either way in performance. And you’re not going to have a silly amount of recoil (because we’re not trying to kill a grizzly in your pantry, we can focus on accuracy). And you’re going to be defending against a burglar, not Mossad operators, so there’s a large forgiveness factor there such that pump v. auto, not so much.
Pumps generally cheaper tho. And good with specialized ammo.

Plenty of choices there as well – and even with a 12 gauge you can get low recoil ammo. Doesn’t much matter if you can blow a barn door through someone if you can’t hit them.


A flash bang is a nice “Let’s introduce this new paradigm to our mystery guest” sort of round.

It’s not supposed to kill anyone. It will disorient them and blind them. They will know something very bad is going on. Someone seriously doesn't want them there and they have noisy tools.
And they will likely opt for the “flight” element from their flight or fight response.

Since we don’t know that for sure either – round two can be marking liquid or zytel hornets (“rubber” buckshot) or a rubber sabot. Or #3 buck (if you’re smart and have a .20 gauge) or 00 buck if you like.
But operating under the assumption you’re taking pains not to kill someone – I’d go with the rubber buckshot or a hydrokinetic bean bag filled with red dye (looks nothing like blood, but it’s usually enough to freak someone out).

The third round I’d go with buckshot or, at worst, rubber buckshot. If they’re still there after three rounds they’re either in shock and won’t move or they’re f’ing crazy or it's Mossad.

Either way (again, at worst) your fourth and consecutive rounds should be something lethal.

If you don’t want to, or you have the option not to, fire at them at that point, you can always buttstrike them with the shotgun (after the flash bang, the dye, and the rubber buckshot, Joe Burglar shouldn’t be in much shape to put up a fight).

Which is something you don’t really have the option for with a taser. I don’t much like tasers anyway.Pepper spray either. Not so great in close quarters. They can mess you up as well as the assailant (as mentioned). And many of them have safety locking mechanisms which can be just such a delightful hamburger joy in low light and high stress situations.

And a younger child (your ranges 5 and 10) can’t handle a shotgun in the same way they could (mis)handle a handgun or a taser.

You’re right about calling the police, not going hunting, but burglars always come upstairs. It’s where people keep the most valuable stuff. Even if they don’t.
Thieves always go into the master bedroom. And that’s thieves plural. Given you have a safe and an alarm system your potential class of intruders diminishes the odds on spur of the moment goons or junkies. Likely they will have had at least a cursory look at your place.

But if your house has an alarm system, you can afford a dog.
At the very least the dog will give you more time to get to your firearm (which again, should not be a handgun, but a shotgun). Also, a firearm can’t protect you if you’re not home. Someone comes in with intent to do something other than steal and waits for you – the firearm is now on their side. Or at best, neutralized.

I myself have two dogs. Mean looking mothers. But very well trained and sweeter than anything. Wouldn’t bite a steak if it were stapled on Hitler’s ass. But God help someone who comes near the kids.

Lots of upsides to dog ownership. Some of the same health benefits as studying a martial art. They do require some research and training though. But that's the same with anything. Gallon of sweat saves a pint of blood, all that.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:18 PM on June 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

Shotgun. Don't saw it off, that's illegal, just get one with the legal minimum length. Keep it unloaded, with the shells in the same (secured) location. Some recommend a .410, that might be a little too wimpy, try a 20 gauge if the 12 is too much.


1) Shot won't kill your neighbor or your family member in another room.
2) You don't have to shoot someone with the gun for it to be an effective weapon, a whack with the butt or barrel can be quite effective.

If you do have a weapon in the house with kids, make sure you demonstrate to them how dangerous it is, and make sure they know that it isn't a toy. Also, before you even get it, make sure they aren't Bad Seeds who will kill the neighbor kids in a fit of rage. Carcasses of small animals could be a valuable clue.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 8:45 PM on June 18, 2010

Where I'm from, and granted, it's a fun place here---
Your options in .410 are limited to basically break-open. My most favorite gun I ever owned was an old Mossberg .410 single shot break open. Would take down anything from a deer to a woodpecker. Hell, I earned shotgun merit badge with a .410. Shooting skeet for accuracy with a .410, and hell, I only missed like 8 birds in the whole badge. I had a 20 for a long time, and it was fun...but it was a funny compromise. But again, 'round here, nobody uses that load. 12's are readily abundant used, and so cheap, with such a wide variety of loads available.

And...where I am, less-than-lethal's are available to the general population. I am, however, of the opinion (and I gotta tread carefully here, cuz last time I said something like this it got buhleted and meta'd) that if you're going to engage in firearm combat with someone in your own home, it should be last resort but with the full intention of killing them---because if you're engaging them, you best believe they intend to kill you or someone you love.

I still say pump-action 12g with a full choke and a magazine full of, say, 5 shot.
posted by TomMelee at 8:48 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Gun. If I was breaking into someone's house and they tazed me, once I got up it would be ON. Same thing with pepper spray. With that being said, it is important to know that your kids may act in an unpredictable way in the event of a break in. They may hide under their bed or run towards your room. Either way, you have to know exactly where they are because, depending on the gun you choose, the bullet can penetrate the walls of your home like butter and strick a family member. Also, your kids may understand how dangerous guns are and know better than to mess with them. However, their friends may not be so mature. Keep that thing locked up like Fort Knox when their friends are over.
posted by GlowWyrm at 11:43 PM on June 24, 2010

Just a couple of points and clarifications to all the information above:

Even in the best of circumstances, tasers suffer from a critical problem. Ideally, you fire the darts into the perp, and leave the unit connected and pumping electricity into them. This will keep them immobilized... for about 30 seconds. At the end of that time, they will get up as though nothing had happened. Now, maybe out on the street, you can ditch them and be out of harm's way. But in your home, particularly if you have family, you probably haven't bought yourself enough time.

With shotguns, please don't be suckered into the notion that you don't have to aim them. In a room, your longest range shot is maybe 20 feet. At that range, the shot will spread out to about the diameter of a paper plate. You will have to aim the weapon. The good news is that a long-gun is significantly easier to aim than a handgun. Just put the bead sight on the bad guy's center mass and press the trigger.

Also with shotguns, don't get one of those "Cruiser" weapons without a buttstock. They look cool and they're all over the movies, but your wrist won't enjoy taking the full force of recoil on a 12-gauge shell.

And keep in mind... while a shotgun is a very powerful close-range weapon, it has drawbacks in the home. It's tough to wield one-handed, it's less maneuverable than a pistol, and reloading takes a LOT of practice. I keep a pair of aluminum dummy shells around, and I occasionally practice speed reloads. This is a very unintuitive act that requires the development of muscle memory. Practice!

Ultimately, however, I always have to chuckle when people ask questions about which one firearm is the best for them. Guns are not romantic partners. You can get more than one, sell off the ones you don't like, modify them, whatever you want. You may find that you need more than one to fill your various defense scenarios. That's AOK.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 11:27 PM on July 4, 2010

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