I am of the absolute opinion that the handgun is the top priority for the armed citizen. The vast majority of defensive gun uses, even in the home, are done with a handgun. They are small enough to be carried concealed, and also small enough to be much faster in deployment from quick-access safes in the home. The handgun is the weapon the armed citizen will most likely use for personal defense and I truly believe it should get the bulk of our training time and concern. With that said, to really prepare for the world that surrounds us, an armed citizen should invest in and maintain a defensive long gun. In this article I want to address this weapon class and offer advice on the entailed setup and deployment of this particular insurance policy.
The greatest benefit of a long gun is that it is simply more effective than any handgun in terms of power, range, and accuracy. A rifle or shotgun hits much harder and allows most shooters to hit with much more authority and do it much faster than with a handgun. If you know you need to defend yourself with a gun and you have the opportunity to grab a long gun you are much better off. With that said, there are some circumstances even for home defense that warrant the handgun since it is more maneuverable, so generally the long gun is a supplemental form of defense for the civilian. But it is a supplement of great value in a circumstance where it can feasibly be deployed.
Long Gun Selection
If you are considering equipping yourself with a defensive long gun the first choice is selecting the right gun for your needs. The main categories to choose from are typically shotguns or rifles. Pistol caliber carbines are another possibility but I think they fall into a different class as they have the benefit of being quite small and handy but do not have the ballistic capability of a shotgun or rifle, therefore we will discuss only the two. Obviously, if you are willing to invest the time and resources into both platforms you certainly can. For most people, however, the investment of time and resources into a single defensive long gun is already a significant commitment, so deciding which best suits your needs is warranted. The modern AR15 is hard to beat for this application and is more user friendly for a variety of people of all statures than is the shotgun. Historically the shotgun has ruled the role of home defense and it still does that as well as ever, but the shotgun is a more difficult weapon to manipulate and shoot compared to modern carbines. However, the shotgun brings power and decisiveness that nothing else really does for home defense ranges. The choice is yours, but give it some consideration.
Keep it Loaded
As a defensive weapon the long gun that you settle on needs to be treated a bit different than the sporting guns you may have, and it needs to be kept ready for use and accessible. Typically, this gun is going to remain loaded, as unloaded guns do little good if you need them in an emergency. I generally recommend having the gun loaded with a full magazine or tube, but un-chambered. Since a long gun is stored and not often carried, keeping the chamber empty is, in my opinion, best practice, unlike a carried handgun that should always be chambered. With shotguns this is especially important as most are not drop-safe.
It should go without saying, but I will say it: just as with a handgun, your defensive long gun needs to be kept locked up and secure so as not to fall into the unauthorized hands of children or irresponsible adults. If it is part of the home defense plan there are a number of quick access safes or locks that can facilitate safe storage, yet fast deployment. Therefore, a rifle like an AR15 or Mini 14 can be kept in its location and stored with a loaded magazine in the gun and an empty chamber. A shotgun, most of which use magazine tubes, can be kept with a loaded tube, but empty chamber. To deploy the gun you will retrieve it from the lock or safe where it is kept and to prep it for use simply run the action, whether that be the bolt on a rifle or auto loading shotgun, or the slide on a pump-action shotgun.
Like your defensive handgun, a defensive long gun warrants a supporting network of accessories. I think a rifle should be maintained with several spare loaded magazines and a shotgun should be kept with some kind of loading device like a good pouch that provides quick re-loading capabilities. If you need to grab the gun in a hurry, whether to defend your abode or to quickly leave it, having everything you need to support the gun should be kept ready to go. A good option for a shotgun is a sling-able pack of some kind that provides quick access to more ammunition. For a rifle you may choose to keep one or two spare magazines in a mag holder that can be quickly put on your belt or a double or triple magazine pouch set up as a bandolier so that you can simply sling it on when grabbing the rifle. This makes sense in a civilian setting as you will not be dressed up in some kind of tactical kit when you need the gun and a sling-able option is fast. Regardless of the particular reloading setup you choose, it should be portable and quickly attainable, kept right next to the gun itself.
Worth While Accessories
A sling is most often appropriate for a defensive long gun. A sling is like a holster for a handgun, if you need to use your hands to do other things while using a long gun, you need to be able to sling it. The only possible exception is for a long gun that is specifically kept for home defense, where you may use the gun to move through the house. In this case a sling could pose the issue of snagging on objects. Generally, though, I believe a defensive long gun needs a sling. A single or two-point tactical sling is typically better than a traditional hunting sling for defensive purposes. There are a variety of configurations to choose from. Likewise, a fighting long gun needs to wear a light. If you are in low light using a long gun you cannot as easily deploy a hand-held light as you can with a handgun. Having a light that you can actuate with your support hand on the fore-end is a standard accessory for a fighting long gun and is very important. You need to be able to illuminate and discern targets.
I think red dot and reflex non-magnified optics, backed up by iron sights, are versatile sighting systems for a general purpose defensive rifle. They even work well on shotguns. Magnified optics are an advantage once distance increases, but tend to be slower in close. Therefore, selection of an optic is very personal and has to be calculated based on your foreseen need. Certainly, iron sights are adequate as well, though optics offer definite advantages. If you have a good set of iron sights on your gun and don’t want to immediately spend more money on an optic (anything good is expensive) then it can wait. Iron sights can get it done if you do your part, but optics are simply faster and more accurate.
So there are some things to consider in the setup of a defensive long gun. In civilian life hopefully you will never see the need to defend yourself with a firearm, and if you do it most likely will be with your handgun. But keeping a far more capable long gun readily available for unforeseen circumstances is an integral part of being prepared. Spending the money and time commitment necessary into the setup and training with this weapon may turn out to be a great investment if things unexpectedly go sideways.