I'd like to thank everyone out there for the many suggestions that were submitted. I didn't give you enough information to make a thorough evaluation and I'm sorry about that. I should have let you know that my budget was $500.00 and that I had extensive experience with military small arms. My handgun experience was with the Colt .45, the Browning Hi-Power 9mm, and the military .38 caliber. But I must admit that you guys still gave me the information I needed to formulate a plan. I'm going to try and purchase a used Tarus or Smith and Wesson 8 shot 4 inch .357 magnum. That way I can practice with the cheaper .38 caliber ammo if I decide to go to the range.
Good choice, an 8-shot .357mag, for a home defense handgun. I would counsel you to drop the "if" in "if I decide to go to the range", you should go to the range at least once every couple months to stay familiar with your home defense weapon.
I'd also strongly suggest considering a long gun. Long guns are better for home defense. They generally have better stopping power, they have a longer sight radius so they are easier to shoot accurately (important when you are tired or freshly awakened from your slumber), and you have no concealment requirements that would limit them in a home defense situation. Shotguns, .223/5.56 and handgun caliber carbines are best for home defense as they don't have the over penetration issues other rifles would have. Carbines and 18.5"-20" shotguns are best to be more manageable in the confines of a home. Shotguns do have a lot of recoil, so for the recoil adverse, I tend to suggest .357mag lever guns or .223 carbines (I like the Mini-14 for home defense, and I plan to own a Mini and a .357mag lever gun for that purpose in the future).
Handguns for home defense have the advantage that you can buy a holster and have it on you whenever you are awake. In case of someone breaking down your door while you are up, you won't have to get to wherever you keep your long gun stored. If you won't carry it around the house, the handgun loses its main advantage over the long gun for home defense and the advantage clearly goes to the carbine or shotgun.
Just a thought.