For years, my recommendation for a basic, simple home and family defense firearm, for those who are not able or willing to undergo the training necessary to make best use of a different weapon, has been a 20ga. youth-model shotgun. I discussed it in some depth in this article.
However, a new arrival on the firearms scene has led me to update that recommendation. Ruger introduced its PC9 carbine some months ago, and it's been selling like hot cakes - so much so that it's very difficult to get hold of one. Most gunshops can't keep them on the shelves. They're sold within days, even hours, of their arrival. I've been waiting impatiently to get my hands on one, as have several of my friends. Now that we have, and been able to compare notes, it's my new recommendation as the best gun for home and family defense for those with little or no experience of firearms. Let me outline the reasons.
First, it's extremely simple to operate. Almost anyone old and/or large enough to handle a firearm can handle loading and unloading it, including operating the bolt against the tension of its spring. Furthermore, the length of the stock can be adjusted, by adding or removing spacers, until the weapon fits anyone who might be likely to use it. As I did with the shotgun, I recommend that the carbine be adjusted to fit the smallest person who might need it; then the rest of the family should learn to use it in that configuration. It's not much of a problem to use a shorter weapon than one prefers, but it's very tricky to use a longer one.
The carbine is light enough that almost anyone can handle it, and its short length makes it very handy in close quarters like moving around a house. It can be equipped with a light using the short rail provided at the tip of the fore-end, circled in red in the image below (taken from the gun's instruction manual - click it for a larger view).
This makes it easy to handle the carbine as you move around the house, if that should become necessary, and you can light your way as well. That may or may not be tactically desirable, of course, but that's a subject for another day. You can also mount a telescopic or red dot sight on the included Picatinny rail above the receiver. (My earlier recommendation, for the budget-conscious, of the relatively low-cost Bushnell TRS25 red dot sight would be an ideal pairing with this carbine. You might find the taller model with a riser block to be better suited to your cheek weld; try both options, if possible, and see which you prefer. Alternatively, a simple, low-powered telescopic sight will work just fine. I'd consider a 1x shotgun scope to be another very good match for this gun.)
The PC9 is a so-called "takedown" carbine, meaning that it can be separated into two parts for ease of transport and/or concealment. This is a very big advantage in a day and age when uninformed people might be frightened by seeing a firearm, or a long weapon case that might hold a firearm. Instead, the PC9 can be separated into two halves, which will fit into any normal suitcase or duffel bag or backpack. It's out of sight and out of mind until it's needed, when it can be very quickly (with practice, well under 30 seconds) reassembled and loaded.
That may be a big advantage if you want to take a weapon with you when you're traveling, for security on the road and in hotels. A handgun is, of course, much easier to conceal, but there are some places where it's hard, even impossible, to legally carry one, and it does require a greater level of firearms knowledge and skill to use a handgun effectively. The PC9 obviates those issues, and will also be effective over a longer range if necessary. I'd call it a "homestead defense weapon" as much as anything else, since it's more than capable of accurate work out to the fenceline of the average suburban plot, and beyond if necessary. Add that to its ease of use, and you've got a winning combination.
The caliber, 9mm, is not stellar in its performance, but then, no handgun caliber can make that claim compared to any purpose-built rifle or shotgun round. It's adequate for its purpose, provided you can put the bullets where they'll do the most good (or harm, depending on whose point of view is involved). What's more, its recoil is greatly reduced compared to full-bore rifle or shotgun rounds, and in the PC9, it's made even less by an innovative bolt design that minimizes its effect. Even a younger child can shoot this carbine with almost no problem from recoil.
Ruger very intelligently provides magazine wells for both its own SR-series magazine, and the ubiquitous Glock magazine. Glock mags with up to 33-round capacity are freely available (although they aren't legal in all jurisdictions - check your local laws and regulations). This makes the PC9 a compact handful of firepower, more than adequate to deal with almost any domestic or short-range problem. In jurisdictions where smaller magazine capacities are required, you can get 10-round magazines from both Ruger and Glock that will do the trick, and they can be exchanged very quickly for loaded units if required.
The PC9 boosts muzzle velocities by anywhere from 10% to 20% compared to a handgun, depending on the ammunition one's using. That makes expanding bullets more likely to expand, given the greater hydrodynamic forces engendered by their speed. My favorite load for the PC9 is, hands down, Federal's HST hollowpoint in 147 grain weight.
This is slower out of a handgun (about 1,000 feet per second) compared to the company's lighter, faster bullets in the same cartridge; but that's no handicap to its real-world performance. It's a proven round that's gained a wide following. It gains about 150 fps in velocity out of the PC9's longer barrel, giving it a lot more energy and "punch". I think they make a great combination.
The PC9 is available in three models, two of which have threaded muzzles. That's great if you can afford (and legally buy, of course) a suppressor for it. Firing any weapon inside a building is very loud indeed, and can cause permanent damage to your ears. Frankly, if you're able to afford the cost of a suppressor and can get the necessary legal permits to own one, you'd be silly not to pair one with this carbine. You'll be able to use it to protect your home without fear for your or your family's hearing. If you live in a jurisdiction that frowns upon threaded muzzles, there's a version of the PC9 (model # 19101) without it, so you don't have to do without one.
Here's Gunblast's video review of the PC9 carbine. If you want to skip the details and get to the shooting, it starts just after the six-minute mark.
Having at last managed to get my own PC9, and handled it for myself, it's now my top-ranked recommendation for a top-notch, easy-to-use, relatively affordable ($500-$550 "street" price) weapon for home and family defense, superseding my earlier recommendation for a youth model 20ga. shotgun. (The latter remains very viable, and should not be dismissed, of course - I'll still use one with great confidence if I need to.)
Mandatory disclaimer: I haven't been compensated in any way for this review, either in cash or in kind. I bought my own carbine with my own money, and the ammunition too. I just like to let my readers know when an exceptional product or service has caught my attention.