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The “Shelf Gun” for Home Defense

by James Tarr   |  April 16th, 2012 61

I don’t know if I’m coining a new term or not when I talk about what I have decided to call a “Shelf Gun”.  This is the pistol you put on a shelf somewhere in your house, hidden, for a week or a month or a decade, just in case.


Shelf Guns are not expensive, custom guns, nor are they encumbered with a myriad of safeties, because they are supposed to be grab-and-go guns suitable for use by anyone (who knows where it is) in an emergency—just point it and pull the trigger.


I carry a gun everyday, but I’m not home all the time.  I have a wife and kids old enough to know not just how to shoot but when, and if someone kicks in the door they may not have the time or opportunity to get to the gun safe.  Having a loaded gun in the living area of my house, accessible but hidden, solves that problem.  Everyone knows where it is, and how to get to it.


For those of you who think the idea of someone just randomly deciding to do you harm in your own home is paranoia taken to an idiotic extreme, before you use the anonymity of the internet to voice that erroneous opinion, do me a favor and Google “Glenn and Wanda Tarr”.    Heck, if you Google “random murder” you’ll get over a hundred thousand results.  LOT better chance of that happening to you or someone you love than winning the lottery…..


My “shelf gun” is a simple Smith & Wesson Model 13 I bought off a Sheriff’s Department co-worker about 11 years ago.  This is a simple bull barrel 4” revolver chambered in .357 Magnum, with fixed sights.  If I remember correctly, my co-worker bought it used as well, and one of these days I’m going to have to contact S&W and have them research the serial number to see where this pistol has been and when it was made.  I think I paid $200 or $250 for it.


I don’t know if it had a trigger job or just a good trigger after having been fired/dry-fired so many times, but it has a very nice trigger.  It has a matte finish, but whether it’s bluing or Parkerizing I don’t know.  I’ve filed down the Hogue rubber grips on it a little (the result isn’t pretty, but works), and some previous owner put some orange paint on the serrated ramp front sight, but other than that it is a completely stock piece.


Recoil and muzzle blast from .357 Magnums is prohibitive, so I have the pistol loaded with the original FBI load, a .38 Special +P 158-grain non-jacketed lead hollow point.  This is a good round for snubnose pocket guns too, as the lead hollowpoint expands even at low velocities.


My Model 13 has low fixed sights, and points naturally just looking over the top of the gun.  For years it was on the closet shelf in my bedroom, but I realized that a better place for it would be near the ground floor living area where my family spends the majority of their time. I don’t keep the kitchen fire extinguisher in the basement….


A revolver is simple to operate—point it and pull the trigger.  If it doesn’t go off, just pull the trigger again.  I look it over every few months or so, and rotate the ammo every year or so, but the beauty of a “shelf gun” is that if it gets a little scratched, or I see some surface rust, it’s not a big deal.  You might notice some dust on it in the picture–it’s not a piece of jewelry, it’s a tool.  It doesn’t have to look pretty, it just has to work.
Do you have a “shelf gun” for home defense?

  • Alan Brown

    I never really thought about having a "shelf gun," but you have got me thinking. I have an old 38 snubbie that would be perfect as everyone could shoot it, if the need arose. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • Gun Writer dude

    Every gun shop in America has an inventory of shelf guns, ready and waiting for the employees to use. The last place I worked had half-a-dozen that I can remember.

  • RxDoc

    My "shelf gun" doubles as my "hunting pistol" also. It's a Taurus Judge Tracker .45Colt/.410Ga. 6.5in.barrel. Any intruders will be rudely awakened (for a milli-second anyway) when the Ruger goes "bang!" with either caliber. I also get all kinds of looks when OCing while hunting and taking a break or coming and going to my hunting spots. Fun gun!

    • BJC

      I'm confused you said you have a Taurus but than said when the Ruger goes bang.

      • Kevin Maas

        Ruger doesn't make " novelty " guns. Get a nice SP101 chambered in .357. And you will be just fine

  • Fred

    Mr. Tarr, the brutal murder of your parents was tragic, and remains a cold reminder for all of us
    of the evil loose in this world.

    I have a couple 'shelf guns' of my own……..its important to place them where they are readily accessible….
    thanks for the reminder.

  • Dan McNally

    An old S&W like that only needs tender loving care, not a trigger job. Unless abused, they all have triggers as smooth as glass!

  • Thomas

    I really am going to take your advice. I have several handguns, but they are at a location which is not readily available and are not "grab and go" thanks

  • James Tarr

    My cohorts at InterMedia have enjoyed pointing out to me that the grips on the gun are Pachmayrs, not Hogues. Oops. That should tell you that I leave it out of sight more than I shoot it.

    • BJC

      I noticed that also and was going to say something but got beaten to the punch. By the way what was the reason for filing on the grip.

  • Wayne

    I live in Canada. What more can I say?

    • Victor

      Sorry, not sure we are much better off… they still let us have guns if they approve, I live in New York.

    • John

      Haven’t put much thought into it, but I have to agree with the writer of choice of hand gun, like an S&W cambered in .357 magnum. Only like one in with a 6 inch barrel (don’t know what model number it is) but that’s what I’d go with.

    • shootbrownelk

      Wayne, is it even legal to READ about handguns in Canada? You guys need a Canadian version of our beloved NRA! I have a S&W mountain gun in .41 magnum for a shelf gun. Although the Smith is gaining in value..I may have to replace it with a "NEW" Taurus/Ruger.

  • Robert

    Before you put a gun out to grab and go you need to understand the laws of your state . if a child should get a hold of your gun a kills someone or them self you could be charged with that killing, I do know what your saying and I carry a gun myself but PLEASE think about the child that always finds them…..

    • Rudogg4Guns

      Wow! This guy has the guts and smarts to point out the flaw in all this cool "shelf gun" talk and someone decides to give him a thumbs down. I totally agree Robert some thought has to be put into the "shelf gun" concept. Perhaps a biometric safe would be good, they aren't that expensive (worth the needless death of a child maybe) and multiple fingerprints can be programed on to the safe. Just a thought

  • Unistat76

    I have the exact same shelf gun as Mr. Tarr. I call her Black Betty. I bought it for $300 a couple of years ago, so they can still be found at a good price. I can't speak for Mr. Tarr's gun, but mine is blued.

    It is, in fact, one of my and the wife's favorite guns to shoot. We keep it loaded with full-on 125 gr. JHP but at the range some soft shooting .38s make it tons of fun.

    As Mr. Tarr mentioned in his article, I've painted the front sight (silver, not orange) but other than that and the Hougue grips, I've left it stock.

    I'd probably reach for Black Betty over the shotgun if something went bump in the night.

  • Gerald Hopkins

    I saw a neat idea for holding a gun in a closet, under a table, or anywhere you want. It was called a magnetic holster. You can make one using magnets bought at a hardware store, athin strip of wood or plastic, and shrink tubing. I haven't made one yet, but it looks like it should work fine.

  • Celeste Tornwall Felice

    My 'Shelf Guns" are a Mossberg 12 gauge, my beloved Ruger LCR and my husband keeps his Keltec 9mm handy/wit reach when we are in the home;
    the Mossberg is my favorite- we load it and keep it within range for our daughter (18 yrs) when we aren't home. we have taken her to the range many times and had her fire all our guns and become familiar and comfortable with handling them loading/unloading. We have taught her that when in fear for her life, to Shoot first and ask questions later- the police and Us can sort it out afterwards.

    • OnTheSafeSide

      The revolver idea is classic, I too have a Mossberg (i.e cheap) for home defense and have played over the idea of using my "beloved" guns for home defense. I used to keep my beloved SIG 226 as my top home defense choice, but after realizing that if an incident did occur in my home and I fired a weapon, any weapon, whether I hit something or not, that weapon would most likely be confiscated as evidence by the police and held for as long as the case was in the courts. It could be weeks, months or even years. Are you prepared to lose your beloved weapons this way? A revolver like this is cheap and I wouldn't give a second thought to handing it over upon demand by the police.

    • Tommy

      I prefer the lower recoil of the 20 ga. over the 12 for my wife, it's much easier for her to handle, weighs a pound less. It still has a bore of almost 5/8" and holds plenty of #4 buckshot to be effective. IMHO

  • RL:S

    I pulled out my "shelf gun" after about six months of sitting on the shelf. It's a .38 S&W snubbie. Found that it was so gummed up with dried oil that the trigger wouldn't pull. I could fire it single action but not double. If you have a "shelf gun", take it out once a month to make sure it works and clean it if necessary.

    • Tommy

      What kind of oil are you using? Not criticizing, just want to make sure I'm not using the same kind….

  • Mister Gene

    My choice is my Mossberg .410 pump loaded with triple "0". Next come my Tarus 9mm followed by my 32 Barretta. Every room in my house has a "loaded" gun within easy reach. A friend from church ask me if I kept all of my guns loaded, I said yes, like I keep gas in my car, just in case I need to go someplace, it's ready to go.

    • Jerome

      The wife and I too keep a loaded weapon "hidden within easy reach" in every room of the house. We also carry whenever we leave the home. Most of the hidden weapons are dao (point and shoot) as well as the every day carry ones. The "others" (that are not used frequently) are kept locked in the safe. One can never be prepared enough. Previous "situations" that have "happened" to us in the past have taught us to always be prepared.

  • Dale

    The S&W K frames are an excellent choice for "shelf guns" and a three or four inch pistol will point more naturally then a snub nose. I have always wanted a model 13 for the .357 magnum chambering, twice the choice of ammo and better durability.

  • jeff

    America, can be that dangerous so, perhaps you should leave

  • Steven L. Bunt

    Several,and my kids have them,and my ex ,wanted one and we found her a Rossi 357 that fits her hand to her liking, i had given each of my children (grown) Colt Agents in 38 caliber.
    All of these people are familiar with the GOOD OL REVOLVER,double action. People NEED to know how to handle the weapon,and discuss its use. WHEN NEEDED—-they cannot HESITATE from unfamiliarity.

    • Big Tex

      Utter madness and no doubt the gutless administrator will feel obliged to remove this comment as well – it being a comment not in conformity with the sad, misguided, and criminally negligent notion of no lots on handguns whatsoever. If I had to live in an area where having a loaded handgun at hand was reasonable I would find another place tO live and leave that community to the savages that apparently inhabit the place.

      • Alan_T

        According to the Merriam – Webster Dictionary 15th Edition :
        Big Tex ; noun , An idiot or group of idiots , with a made up name trying to sound " macho " . Juvenile and female . Possibly of foreign origin , not native to the United States .
        Also see : High School Social Outcast

      • DonM

        Here in America we have a lot of cars. the bad guys have access to cars too, so where ever you live may be a target of very bad people at a time of their choosing, not a time of your choosing.

        I don't carry a single action revolver because when time is critical, I don't and can't afford to handicap myself. When you put a lock on a firearm, you can guarantee that the bad buy busting in your door doesn't have a lock on his.

  • Mike

    I have several shelf guns. A 3 inch Model 27 is one and then a Ruger SP 101 357 two incher. I also stash a couple of 1911's. A locked up gun takes far too long to get to if you need it.

  • Fred

    I always have a shelf gun handy whenever I am home, as well as concealed carrying almost 100% of the time. My shelf gun might be a snub nose 38, or a 12 gauge pump, or a .45 auto — but it is ALWAYS at least one of them, as whenever I am home at least one of them is always loaded and parked within a foot or two of whereever I am in my home.

    I read somewhere that an assailant can cover approximately 21 feet in 1-1/2 seconds. Since my home is 28 x 32 feet, I feel secure having a loaded gun with arm's reach at all times, so if any intruder kicks in either my front or back doors (both always locked when I'm home), that I can fire before they can get to me.

    I'm not paranoid — I'm armed.

    • Mike

      Fred I am with you. The statistic you cite is now actually a pretty famous thing called the Tueller Drill (to bang it in the head that having a gun, against a determined knife wielder, is not as guaranteed as it seems). Ed McGivern and current speed shooters would empty the gun in that time-but most can't. His drill says that time only allws a draw and at most 2 shots (again-no trick shooters or competitors). I know the 12 guage pretty much eliminates the whole argument-one of my top choices-you have excellent choices for sure-and very smart to keep them that handy-we had a rash of kick the door in robberies in this area a few years ago.

      Think Tueller actually later taught at Gunsite if I remember right.

  • shawn1172

    Never really thought about the shelf gun concept as described but I have them nonetheless. My usual carry is a Keltec PF9 but sometimes I switch and grab my Ruger LCR. When it's not being carried, the LCR lives on a bookshelf, close and handy. 1911 is on the nightstand. I have a Glock 19 and a Ruger GP100 .357- both would easily fill the role of shelf gun but I haven't had either for very long and want more trigger time with them before taking them out of their cases and putting them out in quick and handy spots. Then there's the Remington 870 12 ga. loaded and ready where it can be grabbed quickly. I won't go quietly that's for sure.

  • Roy

    One important point to consider for a home defense gun is ammunition. I'm a fan of anything that will reliably expand and stop within the body of the assailant. I only load Hornady Critical Defense for that reason (no, I don't work for them). Any FMJ can pass right through a body or body parts and hit someone on the other side of a wall or walls…not to mention what it does to wires and pipes within the wall. And there's the possibility that you could miss the bad guy too! In which case it could go through several walls. Think of how little plasterboard will affect a bullet's path. They call it sheet-rock, but that's only because it is heavy.

    I get a kick out of movies where some guy flips a wooden table on its side and hides behind it in a gunfight. Like that's gonna stop a bullet. Shows how little Hollywood understands about the real world. Of course I suppose their razor-sharp political commentary is already evidence of that.

  • TexasJam

    I have a shelf gun in every room in the house. Most are 1911's loaded with Hornaday Critical Defense ammo which is also my choice for my carry guns. My son keeps his Taurus Judge by his bed and my elderly mother has a S&W Chiefs Special with Crimson Trace laser grips so she doesn't have to worry about aiming. We've had many home invasions in this city, including our neighborhood, so we're at least prepared for it now. There will be the same amount of pity shown to anyone breaking into my home that I had for the bad guys in Southeast Asia in '69-'70… absolutely zero.

  • B. Careful

    My albeit limited training taught me that an attack can come very quickly. At home we're likely to be in "condition white" i.e. more likely to be surprised which consumes time. I'm not agile enough to expect to always win a foot race to fetch my 'shelved' gun(s). Also for those guns, security by obscurity is weak. Maybe a guest stumbles onto them. Maybe you hire strangers for some kind of service, house cleaning, carpet cleaning, painters, etc. Going for that shelf in an emergency and finding the gun missing would be a problem.

    Safer it seems is just to carry while inside your house.

  • Rich

    My wife and I have loaded 1911's in our nightstands.

  • Micko77

    I've always had guns at various places in the house; at least one shotgun and handgun per bedroom, and a Model 15 built in 1957 (it's worth it to check-that's my birt year!) that has subbed for my PPC competition gun on more than one occasion, and handles standard-pressure loads just fine; I don't want to push too many +P's through it, but that's what's in it on the shelf, along with a pair of speedloaders. That's my "within 5 feet of the door" gun. Was once a small-town cop's duty gun; when the new cop, a buddy of mine, got the job he got the gun. He traded it to me for a $40 shotgun– that bad. All the damage was external, soaked it in kerosene for a week to peel the holster off, then light oil to use a leathe mallet to pop the extractor rod. Ugly as sin, half in-the-white, but smooth as glass. Everyone in the house knows how to run all of the guns, and sleepovers are very few.

  • David

    My personal shelf gun is a taurus model 24/7 45 acp. Loaded with 230 grain jhp. I have most of my weapons in a safe. Also have a kimber 1911 stainless. I hope i never have to use them, but i will if the need arises.

  • Wes Terner

    Enlightening! I wonder why no one ever thinks about the ammo they use and what they really want it to do. I have several 'shelf'' guns. They are .357, .38 and .22 Mag. The two big boys are loaded with flat nosed wad cutters, guaranteed to stop a charging bull because of their FLAT nose. In house accuracy is immaterial because it is always going to be 'close'. If you have never seen what a 'wad cutter' will do to a ham hock, check one out. There is no such thing as a 'nick' with those bad boys. Also no ricochets. The .22 has hollowpoints with the 'hollow' exagerated with a small drill, and refilled with potassium cyanide, and covered with wax. I shot in the foot is going to kill and if someone comes in my house with demons in his blood, then I am not going to play nicey nicey with them. Let the law decide whether or not I had used a 'deadly weapon' and why. Even my wife will be able to make a 'kill' shot with that load. In my house, it is, "Forfeit, Forfeit. Who wants to play Forfeit their life'. Not going to be me.

  • seanx40

    I have a few stashed around the house. Oddly enough, at least 2 are hidden on actual shelves. Two of them are old police trade in Model 10 Heavy Barrels. I have no small kids around the house, so that is not an issue.

  • Alan_T

    My multiple " shelf guns " since circa 1990 have been Taurus 85's , I chose them at the time for the same reason snub noses are carried …. they are small and easy ( easier ) to conceal near doors , under tables , wherever . At the time , the 85's were good quality , stainless steel and much less expensive than Smith & Wesson 's , making it possible to obtain all that I felt that I needed . And I don't care if anybody calls it paranoid , I call it being prepared , it only takes once .

  • wesp22

    I have loaded guns in nearly every room of my house…I don't have any kids or many visitors either, so I think it works fine for me, since I don't normally carry at home.

  • westernman87

    I used to keep a Ruger SR9C, but recently switched to a S&W 4506 loaded with Hornady Critical Defense.

  • Lopaka Kanaka

    We all have the same needs when it comes to home shelved guns and loaded and ready to shoot. Like everyone I have a Rossi 4 inch 357 with a 4lb trigger job with Hornaday Zommbie ammunition. I also have a
    couple of 1911 A-1 45 ACP with Hornaday Zommbie ammunition. As a back up my H&H 12 Gage shotgun with 00 buck shots. I aslo have MechTech CCU 45 ACP carbine ready to fire. My family are all ready when it is comes to home defense from Zommbies.

  • TimC

    When thinking about your "shelf gun" its also wise to think about your "shelf". A good hiding spot is important – as you recommended. Don't want anyone else finding your weapon. But the point I want to add is think about the bad guys entry point. If the front door is kicked open and the intruder is between you and your shelf gun – bummer. It only takes seconds for an intruder to enter – best to have a loaded "shelf" in each room where you spend significant time.

    And I'll add one more – how safe are you when you answer the front door to say "Can I help you?" A "shelf gun" in a shadow box on the back of the front door means your hand is full when you ask "who is it" and it also means you won't scare the crap out of the FedEx guy by stuffing a gun in your belt while you sign for that package.

    • Alan_T

      That's one of the ways I use Tim .

  • Kevin B.

    My shelf gun is a 3" Smith J-frame (model 36). I really like a revolver for a shelf gun because it can sit for a decade and still be ready to go in an instant. I read all the debates about spring fatigue in autos,and it's probably not an issue with good magazines, but I'd just as soon stash a revolver and not have to worry about it.

  • Mitch

    Watch the begining of "law biding citizen and it will make you think hard about should the gun be on you at all times.

  • GTM

    Since I favor revolvers its curious that my shelf gun is a Grendel .380 P-12. This kept under cover next to my easy chair. I've tried to induce jams with limp wristing and firing at odd angles. Nary a malfunction. Accuracy is more than acceptable; really quite good at house distances. If 20 rounds of good ammo fail to suffice I will have to fall back on my kitchen, bathroom, or bedroom revolvers: 2 Ruger SP 101 loaded with .357 and a S&W K frame .38.

    Why the Grendel? Should there ever be a shooting the gun will be confiscated pending adjudication. Might not get it back for 1 or 2 years if ever.

  • Jeepers Creepers

    My self defense guns (Ihave 4) Are bought brand new and fired no more than 100 rounds each to get use to the hand gun. I would not trust a worn out handgun that had been fired over 6,000 rounds like most police guns have been used.

    • James Tarr

      Jeepers–it depends on the gun as to how many rounds it takes to wear one out. For a cheap pocket .380 you might be hard pressed to get it to last more than 1000 rounds, period. However, I shoot competitively, and 6000 rounds is an average year for me and most of the people I shoot with. My carry gun is a Glock 34 with 25,000 rounds through it and probably 5X that dryfiring, and it is still going strong.

      • Micko77

        I have a Smith 686 that I shot competition with that has a minimum of 500,000 (yes, half a mil) rounds through it. I replace springs and bolt stops periodically, and that's my bedside gun, as I KNOW it will run!

        • Jeepers Creepers

          Thank You for the letting me know that a if you shoot alot that the gun is still good. But for my own personal reasons I still like the feeling that the handgun is new or low fired. I have target handguns that I shot over 16,000 rounds a year. But I would use them only has a last resort for defense. If I had to defend myself from an attack (again) I would like five shots all in the same hole.

  • Guest

    I live in Australia and have been shooting hand guns in this highly regulated country since 1995 ( guns MUST always be unloaded and secured a police approved / inspected safe by law ). It seems that having an unsecured gun in easy reach would be very unsafe, who knows what happens when you aren't home. I would be worried that children, visitors or even burglars searching for valuables could access these weapons. Wouldn't it be safer to keep one on your person and under your supervision when in your home.

    • micko77

      Hello down under! I realize your government has severely curtailed the possession and use of guns; however, don't let them have your mind as well. Yes, it would be "safer" in the circumstances you mention; however, in this country such practices have been used since there was a blunderbuss behind the door with a very rare mishap— and being alive guarantees a mishap of some sort sooner or later. Not to get too political, but the nanny state concept is strongly nipped at many homes here. Come join us if you can! As to the cyanide-tipped .22's, consult an attorney; I'm afraid that won't go well in any court!

  • 4 real

    carry my s&w m&p 9 in the house just like out of the house…..its just a habit to allways have it at my side..

  • Arturo H

    As for kids in the house. I told them when they were little, if you want to touch them, ask and I will let you handle them, unloaded of course. No mistery. They never asked. When I knew they were ready to learn I took them to the range and let them handle whatever rifle of pistol they could handle. One rule nver to be broken was that if they had a problem, they were to place the pistol or the rifle on the ground, cross their arms across their chests and announce: malfunction. Now both are in their thirties and avid shooters. Hooray for the Second Amm.

  • jorge

    I have an old SPESCO-Taurus .38 spl. it is almost 50 years old!!! it still works fine. Perfect for short range defense inside the house. (I keep it in a high place…my daughters are still small)

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