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How to protect yourself and your family against home invasions

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As alluded to in the title of this piece, often times as gun owners we get a bit cocky about our skills and tools. Specifically many of us feel almost invincible with our 1911 or our Glock 23 in a holster by our bedside. It’s all well and good to be confident, but if you really had to evaluate your preparation, are you legitimately in a position to prevail in the middle of the night if a home invasion occurs?

Remember this isn’t an internet forum or a group of the guys down at the local bar trash talking. No offense meant: but maybe it’s time to take a hard look at your reaction plan for protecting those that you love when the time comes.

Violent crimes are up, in most suburban and rural areas across the United States; urban areas typically have a high crime density regardless of the state or economic status of the people living in it. This means, there is more likelihood you’ll be faced with a home invasion than ever before.

So what does it mean to be prepared for a home invasion? Besides understanding how to react quickly after waking up from a deep sleep, or while otherwise occupied, there are ancillary concerns you might not have thought about.

Let’s start with the basics and work our way into the tactical and practical applications a bit later.

The Castle Doctrine

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On the surface it’s the base level concept that you are “allowed to defend your castle”. Within the convoluted legal system the United States employs, this is a base level protection (in some states and jurisdictions) that helps you to stay out of jail and without criminal charges should you ever become the victim of a home invasion and need to use lethal force.

It’s complex and requires a bit of forethought if you’re not in the loop for legislative changes.

Here’s the issue. Some states don’t have an explicit Castle Law, or a realistic substitute for it. If you live in one of those states, dispatching a criminal in your home is a bit more difficult to deal with, after the fact. This isn’t the place probably, for a lengthy discussion on Castle Doctrine throughout the United States, so we will touch only on some simple concepts and give you enough to help determine which laws apply to you and your area.

You can start by going to local law enforcement or asking a few buddies to point you in the right direction.

If you are a bit more low-key, a simple google search for the words: “castle doctrine [insert your state here]” will put you in the right arena.

Most quality gun forums will be able to answer the question with less than ten minutes of searching. Calguns.net is great for California, where castle doctrine doesn’t implicitly exist as it might in other states. It’s just an example of the type of forum you might use to find such information.

Take a class. Any concealed carry or basic defensive shooting instructor will be well versed in such information for your location. Make sure they have good reviews and a solid track record.

In other words, that guy on craigslist that will train you for free, probably isn’t very competent (he may even be dangerous).

Preparing to avoid friendly fire concerns

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You don’t want to kill your neighbor’s kid; you certainly don’t want to harm any members of your family. But most spec-homes and standard structures aren’t built to withstand high caliber or high velocity projectiles with any realistic expectations. Not to mention, in the heat of the moment, an errant projectile is probably the least of your concerns. That’s why prior planning is important.

*Note: You cannot plan for every scenario, and you cannot pre-plan for the criminal mind and how it will act or react in a given situation. What you can do, is avoid needless concerns and dangerous situations for your loved ones-within reason.

Guess what: that 3-inch magnum, 00 Buckshot and the alternating 615 grain slugs in your shotgun are most likely, going through multiple walls. Same with the .308 AR style rifle you built specifically for home defense. Utilize the proper close quarter’s ammunition and understand your positioning to avoid concerns. Remember that the more walls separating your family from your projectile the better it is for you. If a child hears a gunshot, your prior communication should be enough to get them into a safe position, like, say, behind a large heavy desk three rooms away.

Your communication of the plan, and what your children need to do is as important as your other training. Keep your family safe, especially from your own shots.

Most home invaders don’t have a bucket list item of killing children when they come in the door, take advantage of the intruder’s lack of experience or lack of willpower to neutralize the threat early on.

Know where your family will be, and be sure that their position is where you are not shooting.

Don’t shoot until you know that you can hit what you are aiming at AND that what you are aiming at, is WHO or WHAT you desire to kill. A sleepwalking child might be cause for concern while you are still waking up, but as soon as you know that THEY are your “threat”, there is no need for action. Be sure you are aware of your surroundings and have legitimate eyes on your target. Confirm that you want that target then go forward in your process, BUT NOT before these checklist items are met.

Knowing your home and its weaknesses

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You know when you always stub your toe on the carpet riser on the way to the second bathroom in the middle of the night? It’s those types of things that can actually work to your advantage in a home invasion, but you need to understand how they will come into play in such a situation.

Do you have a bedroom that doesn’t allow you to fallback to a position of safety? Then you’ll need to implement better early warning systems and engage forward of that point to make sure you have legitimate tactical advantage.

Is the only weak door on the exterior of your home, the garage side entry? First off fortify it; it may keep you from ever having to engage a home invader. Secondly, plan for the eventuality of that weak point; assume that it will come into play during a home invasion if it is an obvious entry point.

Know what your home sounds like on any given night, so that you are keenly aware of the situational occurrences so anything that stands out, actually catches your attention.

Know what your home feels like to navigate in the dark. Avoid leaving big items in your own natural (or planned path) like vacuum cleaners, rolling chairs and baby toys. Sure, it’s great to think that a stubbed toe might help you if your home intruder experiences it. But bear in mind that if you are the one with the stubbed toe, it can turn the tables on you quickly.If you would like to learn more about situation awareness take a look here: Situational Awareness and Why It's Important.

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What do you use for home defense? What are the reasons? Have you considered the implications of such a choice?

A shotgun will allow close range high-power engagement, and in many cases can help in the confines of a normal home. It also has a great intimidation factor.

For larger homes, battle rifles might be appropriate, but use ammunition made specifically for indoor engagement, like fragmenting or otherwise short penetrating rounds for such rifles. Have proper training with the rifle and know your positioning.

For handguns, understand that you need to maintain distance to keep tactical advantage, and know how to hit what you aim at.

Remember to use high density ammunition and factor in the speed and design of the projectile to maximize stopping power and minimize excessive penetration that could lead to friendly fire concerns.

Understand how to shoot from cover and know how to keep track of your shots. Get practice drawing your weapon under duress (and not just from a holster, but also from your cover position; the origination point for your firearm, and during movement.

These are simple concepts that most people know, but because this article isn’t particularly about what you are using, but how you are implementing their usage, this should suffice for now.

The Judge and jury will forgive you for wearing earplugs to avoid hearing damage. I’m not advocating it per se, but some decent plugs allow ambient sounds and still protect against high decibel sounds (gunshots). You don’t need to go deaf, and lose focus during the gunfight. The judge and jury will not forgive a battle harness and a Squad automatic weapon in normal circumstances.

Gaining tactical advantage

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Tactical advantage is an important thing to have when you want a positive (for you) outcome in a gunfight.

That corner double pony wall in the short hallway entrance to your master bedroom provides your best standing cover. It has about 10 2x4’s in less than a 2 square foot footprint. Very few rounds of ammunition are going to get through that before you have a legitimate opportunity to neutralize the threat.

Consider also, that you want to push the threat into a position where they have little cover. The front entry way is the best place to corner an intruder, so early detection is crucial. Alarms and physical barriers can give you enough time to adequately react. Consider things like door jamb reinforcements and double locks. The faster you can legitimately and safely engage, the easier it is to control the outcome.

Very few intruders who have planned or executed multiple home invasions go through windows.

Windows are dangerous when they are broken; they are loud and notify neighbors and they are not as easy to break if they are double paned. Criminals will more often than not, try to go through an obvious open door, or kick through one with poor reinforcements. Hint: most homes have poorly reinforced doors, so start there in your prior planning.

The extra few seconds you get from this early detection can be the difference between neutralizing the threat or the threat neutralizing you.

Authoritative action is important. You don’t want to be fumbling, fretting and fidgeting during your flight or fight instinct. Know what you intend to do before you do it, and plan for that outcome. Be sure to stop the threat, no more, and certainly no less.

Have realistic access to your firearm so you don’t have to go into the walk in closet, move twelve of your wife’s dresses, enter the code onto the keypad or dial, then load the magazine, then engage the threat. At that point, your home invader has the tactical advantage.

Be prepared. For some this means a “Condition 1” 1911, for others it means mag separated, gun locked, but both within reach. Determine what this means for you, and make it a standard. Run your significant other through the process. Make sure they can execute the procedure in case you are incapacitated or otherwise not available.

Make sure you have a backup plan.

Maybe this means having a gun holster with a second firearm nearby) Maybe this means placing edged weapons in kid-safe places throughout the home in case it gets to a last-ditch type of scenario. Maybe this means having an extra firearm (like a long-gun) ready to be put into service. Maybe this means that other family members are also using lethal force, or are at least capable of it.

Remember too, as much as some people would like you to believe that the police are not your friends: with the right planning, they can be very helpful in situations like this. A 911 call right before engagement can get the right reinforcements in place to assist you if things go poorly.

Make sure you tell the dispatcher your description and that you have a firearm you intend to use to protect yourself and your family.

If possible let the call run while you engage the intruder. Your family member can also be doing this while you are engaging the intruder.

Some would say this phone call recording can be a detriment in post engagement courtroom proceedings, but it’s all about prior planning. If you know what you are doing, and you engage an invader in a lawful way, this will only help, not hurt. The key is to know what the difference is between lawful and unlawful. Hint: don’t take any planning cues from any movie in the “Hostel” Franchise. Torturing home invaders, not matter how much fun it seems, is not going to go in your favor in court in the aftermath.

What do you need to know, for after the encounter has occurred?

Guess what, the easy part of this whole scenario was the gunfight.
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The hard part comes after, as you try to sort it out.

Give clear communication to the authorities. If there is even a shadow of a doubt about the circumstances as they unfolded, get your lawyer on the phone before you make a statement.

Make sure, once the scene has been secured by you, that you clear your weapon and separate it from you to make sure the danger of that weapon is recognized and understood by law enforcement and your family. Only do this after the scene is safe; you’ve communicated to law enforcement, and you feel comfortable in doing so.

Again, prior planning is much more important than after the fact modifications. Don’t touch the body of an intruder if you can help it. Keep your family out of the way if possible.

Keep your mouth shut about any extra information. Don’t make blanket statements. Stay focused only on what actually happened and what you determined to be a safety risk to you and your family.

Your lawyer can help you prepare, if anything is questionable beyond that. Anything you say in a statement on the scene can potentially be used against you. Racist remarks, bragging about putting more holes in your assailant than necessary, etc. ANYTHING that isn’t absolutely crucial to your statement should be sorted out later, after you’ve had time to think.

Understand your 4th amendment rights, and know your state gun laws.

Write down a detailed account about what you remember about half an hour after the police leave, while it’s still fresh in your mind, but after your adrenaline has left you. This can be helpful if the self-defense case isn’t bulletproof (pun intended).

Finally: don’t be using illegal weapons in defense of your home and self/family. Use legal firearms unmodified in extreme ways. This ensures you are seen as a run-of-the-mill self-defense case.

Practice makes perfect

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This isn’t about scaring your kids by putting on camo face paint and waking them up in the middle of the night to do a dry run. You’d be fooling yourself anyway if that’s the eventuality you are planning for. Statistically, home invasions are structured to find valuable items, and are much less thought out than planned robberies (like when you are away on vacation), or pre-meditated child abductions.

Chances are, drugs + a need for money is the reasoning for a violent home invasion.

Predators count on you not being prepared for this combination, and they aren’t thinking clearly. Your best chance at resolving such an occurrence with a positive outcome, is to be prepared for several eventualities and for different conditions. Practice your positioning; be in communication with your family as to how you want them to behave; coordinate their positioning and role-play different scenarios. None of this needs to be scary or awkward, but repetition and conditioning can play a crucial role in helping you to arrive at that positive outcome after an event like this takes place. With enough planning, you can likely avoid being part of such an event at all. If the intruder cannot get through your reinforced door jamb, or you are there to meet them when they do, the rest doesn’t matter. Proper planning leads to better potential outcomes.

About The Author

Benjamin Worthen is a former Gunsmith of more than 20 years. He now works as a writer in the firearms industry and as a marketing consultant for several industries including the Political and Firearms arenas. He has worked in consulting capacities and as a contract vendor for the military and law enforcement agencies and as a firearms designer and engineer for proof of concept pieces and custom firearms. He is a vocal supporter of Second Amendment rights.