Justifiable self defense shooting is short range business. It is astonishing, to people who have not inquired about it, just how short the distances are. But police studies consistently show it, and have for a great many years. One may look at recent FBI statistics or look up the NYPD's SOP 9 reports or any other responsible survey or departmental statistic. The information is consistent in showing gunfighting happens up close. Really close. Here is a good overview of the data. Fairbairn and Sykes concluded the same thing back before the Second World War; see Shooting To Live: Expanded Edition.
Most of the available statistics are about police shootings but the picture for the armed private citizen does not seem to be very different. The evidence is anecdotal on the civilian front. The NRA's Armed Citizen column, gleaned from press reports, suggests a tiresome sameness to civilian encounters: across the room, across the store counter, and seldom so far as across the street.
In the aggregate, the sources suggest we can think of anything beyond 15 yards as extreme long range, and unlikely. I have long wondered why this would be so, and the best I can come up with is that criminals must close with their victims to get what they want--rob them or rape them. In the case of murder, which could be conducted from a distance by a good shot, perhaps the criminal's motivation is such that he doesn't just want to kill you, but to be there so he can see your reaction. You know bullies always try to make their victims squirm. Perhaps it is the same mentality.
In the case of shootings involving police, another and simpler explanation emerges. Police must close with their customers to take them into custody. This is sometimes very dangerous.
In nearly any case, the object of a justifiable defensive shooting is going to be right there in your face. You want some very specific things in a weapon. You want the highest hit probability you can get, because it is possible to miss at short range, especially if you are frightened--and it would be abnormal not to be. You want to strike a powerful blow, to end the fight quickly. Under the circumstances, the limited range of the shotgun need not concern us at all. It's unimportant.
These factors taken together persuade me that the shotgun is the best defense. The spread of its shot charge will not be very big at short range but it at least gives you more margin for error than a rifle. The fight-stopping ability of shotguns at short range is well known. The issue here seems pretty clear cut to me. Arm yourself for the likely threat. Don't spend a lot of time planning for what-if scenarios that very seldom appear.
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