Being involved in the firearms and training industries, I spend a lot of time with people who carry firearms daily. These folks spend a great deal of their work time in condition “yellow,” yet when they get home, they often let their guard down. Your home, as hard as it may be to believe, may be one of the most dangerous places to face a violent assailant. I say that for two reasons.
First, most of us, feeling safe and secure in our own home, spend much of our home time in condition “white,” oblivious to what goes on around us. We have conditioned ourselves to treat a vast array of daily sights and sounds as the normal comings and goings of our neighbors. As a result, we often miss the clues that should set off our mental alarm. Second, when trouble comes, our defensive weapons are often not within easy reach and are, in fact, most likely secured from unauthorized hands, increasing the time necessary to get them into action. This lack of awareness, combined with the delay in retrieving and unsecuring a weapon, can spell disaster.
While it is natural to feel safe in your own home, it may not be the idyllic sanctuary it appears to be. Home invasions are one of the fastest growing segments of violent crime. It is a good assumption that anyone willing to break into a home knowing that the occupants are inside is also willing and prepared to visit violence upon them.
A home assault that finds you without a defensive weapon will be a one-sided affair, as intruders will mostly likely be armed. This may make retrieving your weapon and getting it into action a matter of life or death. Most gun owners that I have discussed this with admit that they rarely, if ever, carry at home. Furthermore, their guns are usually under lock and key to deny access to prying hands. While securing firearms from children and other unauthorized people is certainly prudent, the drawback is that it slows down, or eliminates, the ability to access a weapon in a crisis.
Guns kept for self-defense, if they need to be secured, should be secured in a quick-action safe in order to offer the fastest possible retrieval. The problem with a traditional gun lock is the process of unlocking it. Trying to dial in a combination or using a key in a high stress situation will almost always prove futile. If you must retrieve a key before you can unlock a gunlock, chances are you’ll find yourself out of time.
If you are at home right now, think about your current location and ask yourself these questions:
- Where is my gun stored?
- Where are criminals most likely to obtain entry to my home?
- What room(s) in the house does my family spend most of their time?
- Am I able to get to my gun before the attacker can reach my family or me?
While every house and every situation are different, for most people the answer is that in order to survive a home invasion, they must carry a gun on their person while at home. Some people will think that carrying at home is paranoid, but if you think logically about the reality of the situation you may decide otherwise.
An alternative to carrying on your person would be to have multiple guns strategically positioned throughout your home. If you don’t have children in your home, they could be stashed without a safe (local laws permitting), but a constant vigilance must be maintained to ensure that these locations do not become known to nosy visitors or accessed by a burglar. Access to stashed guns is not quite as quick as having one on your person and it is certainly more expensive due to the need for multiple guns.
Use of Lethal Force
I cringe when I hear people say that they will shoot anyone who breaks into their home or shoot them as they leave. Defending yourself in your home is no different than on the street. Andrew F. Branca, in his book The Law of Self-defense: A Guide for the Armed Citizen, explained it best when he stated:
“Citizens may use deadly force in self-defense only when they actually and reasonably believe that doing so is necessary to prevent an imminent, unlawful, and otherwise unavoidable threat of death or grave bodily harm to an innocent person.”
Keep in mind that factual proof is not required, just a reasonable belief that you are about to be greatly harmed or killed. You can’t just claim that you thought the assailant might hurt you, you must be able to clearly articulate the reasons you used to come to your conclusion.
The law allows defensive use of equal force. Lethal force may only be used to defend against lethal force. While each state’s laws differ, the following are the generally accepted tenants for the legal use of lethal force; to justify the use of lethal force, your attacker must have the ability to kill or cripple, and the opportunity to kill or cripple, and you must be in immediate or imminent jeopardy. In other words, lethal force can only be used if there is an immediate and otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm to the innocent.
This is vital. To justify use of lethal force, three elements must be present:
- Ability – Attacker possesses the power to kill or cripple (strength, weapon, etc.)
- Opportunity – Attacker has the opportunity to kill or cripple (close enough)
- Jeopardy – Attacker must be in the process of attempting to kill or cripple
The simplest explanation is to shoot, when that is your only reasonable way to survive. You may defend other people—family as well as strangers—but the same rules apply.
Weapons may be used against unarmed attackers only under special circumstances. The concept of Disparity of Force means that if your unarmed attacker possesses greater force than you, use of a weapon is justified. These disparities may—depending on the exact situation—include male vs. female, size and strength, able-bodied vs. handicapped, multiple attackers, and an attacker of known fighting skill.
Entry can be gained into your home in two ways—force or permission. There has been a dramatic increase of home invasion entries made by simply knocking on the door. The criminal feigns a need to enter the home, most often saying they need to use the phone for an emergency such as a car accident. He or she may even have what appears to be blood on them. Unfortunately, most people, being good-hearted in nature and eager to help his or her fellow man, will open the door in order to assist.
Obviously, opening the door to strangers is a very bad idea. When answering the door, first obtain verbal or visual identification. If the person is not recognized, do not open the door for any reason. There is not a reason in the world that a stranger needs to enter your home. If they say they need to enter to use your telephone, keep the door closed and offer to make the telephone call for them. If they have honest intentions, this will suffice.
If they continue to request entry, or suddenly change the reason that they need to enter—like needing to use your bathroom—their intentions are most likely sinister. At that point, you should retreat from the door to give yourself additional reactionary distance and time. Rather than yell at them to leave or tell them that you are calling the police, which may illicit an immediate violent entry, you might want to use a simple trick to give yourself time to increase your defensive positioning. Simply say, in calm voice, “OK, just give me a minute. I need to put the dog away because he doesn’t like strangers.”
This will accomplish three things. It will put the assailants at ease thinking that you are cooperating, it will keep them from forcing entry because they won’t want to deal with a vicious dog and it will give you time to get your gun, call the police, and then round up your family and get to a safe room. That’s a far better option than having them kick the door open right in your face.
Dealing With 911
A note on calling 911, not all 911 systems automatically locate the caller, so it is important to give your address first. Talk calmly and say it twice to be sure it is understood. This way, if you hang up or get disconnected for any reason, they know where to send a patrol car. It is standard protocol to respond to all 911 calls, even if the only information they have is an address.
Remain calm but have urgency in your message. Let them know that you need help now. Use a cell phone if you have one available, so you can move to safety and keep communication open. Tell the police the situation and a description of the assailants, if possible. If you have a gun, let them know and describe your family and yourself, including what you are wearing, so they know who the rightful occupants are.
Dealing with a predator that is already in your home, or in the process of entering your home opens a Pandora’s box of problems. When hearing an unfamiliar noise or that of forced entry, such as glass breaking or a door being kicked, the natural reaction of most people is to investigate. While that may seem prudent, it’s quite dangerous. The problem is that the assailant will probably be planning for your appearance. If an intruder makes, by mistake or intentionally, enough noise for you to hear, he will most likely set you up for an ambush. Plan B, he may abandon all pretense at stealth and come directly for you as fast as he can.
Ambush scenarios are usually not survivable and should therefore be avoided! The best method to defend your family in a home invasion is to get your firearm, call the police, and gather your family into a predetermined “safe room”—that is, assuming that getting to your family does not endanger you further. Remember, if you go down, your family may be defenseless. While it may seem sensible to exit your home through another door, that may not be prudent, as additional assailants may be waiting for you outside. It is best to retreat to a location you know is safe.
A safe room would be, by definition, one that is nearby, easy for all family members to reach, and one that is positioned farthest from where you anticipate a criminal is most likely to enter your home. The safest place may change depending on the location of the criminal entry. The safe room does not have to be a fortified room—although that would be best—just one that you all know to gather to.
It is also a good idea that the safe room house a shotgun or rifle and a cell phone. While a handgun is the more practical weapon to navigate through your home, and deal with light switches and doors, once in your safe room the increased stopping power of a long gun will be advantageous.
If you don’t have a room that can act as a safe room, gather in a room that has a phone and one where you hopefully can find some cover and/or concealment. Once your family is secure, tell the police where you are and the current situation. Give them permission to enter the house, as needed, even if that means breaking in the door. It is best to have a family member stay on the phone throughout to keep communication open. From this point on, do not leave the safe room until the police clear the threat and advise you that it is safe.
Defend that room as if your life depends on it, because it does!
The best scenario is that the intruder conducts his thievery and leaves. However, if he is bent on perpetrating harm upon you, forcing him to come to you in your safe room allows you to ambush him. He won’t know exactly where you are, but you will be forcing him into a fatal funnel controlled by you. Set a point, such as a doorway or hallway. Any intrusion beyond that point triggers your defensive action.
Design a Safety Plan
Your safety plan should not be based on a book or article you read, because in the end, you must make your own decisions as to how to best take care of your family and yourself. My intention here is to offer an insight on how to develop a plan by understanding some of the issues and a defense philosophy. How you prepare for home defense is a personal choice, but it should be based on a logical and honest assessment of your specific tactical situation. Among other things, it needs to consider the size of your family, age of children, house layout, locations of rooms and egresses, etc. Design a plan and as well as various contingencies. Make sure everyone knows what needs to be done. Practicing emergency safety drills with your family is just as important as training on the range.