Recent events in the US and around the world have shown that large scale disasters can bring out the worst in humanity. A man who hasn't eaten in two days will become desperate and do things he normally wouldn't do to get food for himself or his family. If you are better prepared and have set aside food and supplies you could be an attractive target during an extended period of time where normal service are unavailable. Your otherwise civil neighbors may be desperate enough to consider using force to take what you have. Having an advantage of force can help protect your family and your assets without involving violence. A firearm is an effective tool that can provide that advantage of force and help to dissuade desperate people without having to result to violence.
In this post I'm going to focus on firearms that are suited for home protection or civil unrest, the sort of gun you keep as insurance and hope you never have to use. To help sort the options, I have developed a hierarchy of features. Pick your budget and find something that has a number of attributes listed below and you'll be better prepared. Leave room in your budget for training and practice ammunition. It's important if you have a gun you know how to use it properly. Also consider safe storage options, especially if you have children in the home.
1. Any gun is better than no gun. This seems overly simple, but a family with the most basic single shot rifle or rimfire pistol is better off than the family that only has a wiffle-ball bat and tennis racket to defend their household.
2. A rifle or shotgun is better than a handgun. Handguns offer great portability but they are a compromise in several ways over a long arm. In general a rifle or shotgun is going to be more accurate, more powerful and easier to use well than a handgun. If you are trying to conceal a firearm or carry it with you while you perform other tasks a handgun is a better choice. For for protecting your home a rifle or shotgun gets the nod as the superior option. You can read my thoughts on using a rifle for home defense here.
3. A centerfire caliber is better than a rimfire caliber. The .22 Long Rifle cartridge is the most common handgun and rifle cartridge in the United States and can be an effective choice for certain situations. A firearm chambered in a more powerful centerfire cartridge is going to offer superior terminal ballistics and is a better choice for a wider variety of applications. You hope you never need to use a gun in self-defense but if you do you'll want that gun to be as effective as possible.
4. A self-loading firearm is better than a manually loading firearm. Self-loading firearms are commonly referred to as semi-automatic. Manually operated firearms come in a variety of control types- bolt actions, lever actions and revolvers are all manually operated firearms. Technology and modern manufacturing methods offer today's buyer a wide selection of affordable and reliable semi-automatic firearms. Many semi-auto rifles are comparably priced to manually loading firearms and similarly reliable. Not having to worry about performing a loading operation in a high-stress situation is a benefit for sure. Bolt action and lever action rifles certainly have their place but a semi-automatic rifle is preferred for serious self-defense use.
6. A rifle that uses a detachable magazine is a better choice than one that has a captive magazine, like an internal box magazine or a tubular magazine. It is faster and easier to reload a firearm by swapping an empty magazine for a full one than by any other method. Feeding shotgun shells into the tube magazine of a shotgun has to be done one at a time. Rifles that are reloaded by stripper clips or en-bloc clips can be done quickly, but not as quickly as a magazine change. Changing a magazine on a semi-automatic pistol is faster than reloading a revolver. If you are in a situation where you need to reload your firearm you are going to want to be able to do it quickly.
7. Proven platforms are superior to guns designed for light duty use. If a gun is widely used by police departments or a major military you can be assured it's reliable and durable. Often these guns are similarly priced to guns that don't have as high of a reputation for accuracy and reliability.
Any gun > No gun
Rifle or Shotgun > Handgun
Bigger > 22 rimfire
Self-loading rifle > Manually loading rifle
Magazine fed rifle > Other options
Optic usable at night > one that ain't
Proven Platform > Other options
If you'd like to hear my thoughts on some good choices for defensive firearms, you can read that in this post about Defensive Firearm Choices.