Editors Note – This article was written by Ross, a career law enforcement officer. It was originally published on Watch Jefferson in June 2006. While it specifically mentions a community in Jefferson County, WV the advice can easily be applied in any rural community.
A surprising number of people are worried about the possibility of home invasion—the entry into an occupied home by one or more intruders who are usually armed.
While home invasion is still relatively uncommon, statistics show that this sort of attack is on the rise in both urban and rural areas, and while robbery is often the motive, assault, rape and murder often follow as well. Some attackers like to intimidate potential witnesses. Others prefer to leave none.
While many people in the county possess one or more firearms, (hey—this is West Virginia… gun ownership is practically required in parts of the state) few have any idea how to effectively employ them in defense of home and family. It’s not as simple as just rushing out to meet the bad guys. You may find yourself outnumbered and over-matched in terms of firepower. And if you get shot down right off the bat, there’s no one left to protect the family.
Who is at the door?
A common scenario is that you and the family are home one night and someone knocks on the door. You’re not expecting anybody but this is Shannondale, not D.C. so it’s probably OK to open the door, right? Wrong. Do not open your door unless you KNOW who is on the other side. Use a window or a peephole to see who is out there and if it’s a stranger, don’t open it. If they claim that they need help—a common ruse to get nice people to open their doors—tell them that you will call 911 for them. But don’t open the door. If you open that door, then that puts you within arms reach of any attacker or attackers on the other side. And that’s too close for you to do anything but become a victim.
A solid door and frame with a quality deadbolt is needed – one that will resist attempts to kick it in for at least long enough for you and the wife to retreat and arm yourselves. Any door can be breached but a good one will resist kicks and even a hit or two from a portable battering ram before it gives.
As for windows, multi-pane glass or thermal windows with multiple layers are harder to break and get through quickly than cheap single-pane glass. And anything that slows bad guys down works to your benefit because it allows you more time to summon help and prepare your defenses.
This section could be an article all by itself. To properly defend yourself and your loved ones, you need to move to a place where an attacker is limited in his ability to get to you. A determined defender in a good position can hold off a lot of people for a long time—in most cases long enough for help to arrive. A good defensive position can consist of a location from which you can see and shoot into an area of the house that an attacker must pass through. Ideally it will have some barricade which will offer you concealment if not actual protection from return fire.
The best defensive position consists of a “safe room” that has a solid door and a phone which you will use to summon help. In a home with children or others, it may be the end of the hall where the bedrooms are. When the glass breaks at 3AM, it will be hard to wake multiple kids and get them into one room so it may be easier and more practical to take up a defensive position that bars intruders from that area of the house. This can be fairly easy if all of the bedrooms are on the second floor of a house. Simply establish a place where you can cover the stairs with your weapon of choice and prevent an intruder from getting up them. If protecting the family is your goal–as it should be–you should be prepared to cede the rest of the house and your possessions to the intruders. Going to confront them is highly dangerous as they may also be armed and have you outnumbered and you give up all of the advantages that a defender has. Property can be replaced. Lives cannot. And if you die, who will protect the loved ones behind you?
So if defense and survival is your goal, forget the Rambo plans of going after the intruder in your home. You could easily walk into an ambush and die. Instead of that, you need to set the ambush and wait for them to either walk into it or just leave. If they don’t come into your safe area, then that is great. That means that you live to replace whatever they take.
For basic home defense for the average person who does not train with firearms on a regular basis, a good pistol and/or shotgun will do just fine. Personally I’m a fan of the venerable 1911A1 .45 Automatic but that’s my bias showing through. It’s a good gun though, and so are other semi-auto pistols like the Glocks. (Yes, some of us smirk and call them “combat tupperware” but few will deny that they work quite well.) I also own one and it has a place in my defensive plans due to its simplicity, reliability and glow-in-the-dark night sights.
For most people though, a good double-action revolver in caliber .38 Special will do just fine. These pistols hold six shots and have no safety to fumble with when you’re half asleep—just grip it aim, and squeeze the trigger. And a good .38 Special round will stop most threats fairly reliably. If you want a bit more punch, get a .357 Magnum revolver. Not only is it significantly more powerful, but it can also shoot .38 Special bullets if you want to step it down due to home construction issues or other shooters who don’t care for the heavier recoil. I would trust my life to a good .38 Special any day (I have done so in the past) and they can be obtained used for around $250 for a good name-brand gun. And please buy a good product like Smith and Wesson, Ruger, Colt or Taurus. You may save a few bucks on some knock-off, but when you really need it you don’t want mediocre equipment. It comes down to a question of “how much is your life (and those of your loved ones) worth to you?”
For ammunition, a good jacketed hollow-point works well. For higher-velocity guns like Magnums or pistols rated for +P rounds, Remington Golden Sabre, Federal Hydra-shock, PMC Starfire or Cor-Bon defense loads are all good choices. Just stay away from gimmicky loads like pistol shot shells and don’t use full metal jacket or round-nose ammunition. It doesn’t stop nearly as well as a good expanding bullet (above). Also don’t use reloaded ammunition for self-defense. The stuff’s great for training but not a good choice for defense use for several reasons I won’t go into here.
For the average person, there is nothing more effective than a good shotgun for deterring bad guys or stopping a threat that won’t be deterred. Obviously you want a shotgun that holds more than one or two shots (there may be more than one or two bad guys) so a good pump or semi-auto is preferred. Again, buy quality. Remington, Winchester, Mossberg, Ithaca, Browning, Benelli—all are good choices. You can get used Remington Model 870 pump shotguns that hold five shots for under $200.00 and Mossberg Model 500’s are as cheap or cheaper.
For close-range defense, I recommend #4 Buckshot. (not #4 bird shot—there’s a big difference) The standard #4 round contains 27 roughly .30 caliber pellets and at the sort of distances that you’ll find inside your average home, that’s a devastating punch to the target but one that won’t go through multiple walls and harm innocents on the other side.
I know that most arm-chair experts recommend #00 Buckshot, and most police shotguns are loaded with #00 as well, but that round is more suited to outdoor shooting over longer ranges. Same goes for slugs. 1oz slugs may drop a deer at 100 yards but they’re not a good pick for the sort of distance and backstop that you’ll encounter in your hallway or kitchen.
Inside the house, I recommend keeping common rooms and hallways lit, and bedrooms—particularly the one you retreat to—darkened. That way you can see anyone coming towards you but they will have a hard time seeing you.
I’m also a fan of keeping the whole house dark as a defensive strategy. I know my way around my house in the dark and most of you probably do too. Intruders won’t, and as they turn on lights or bump into things, they’ll give their positions away.
I’m also fond of tactical lights mounted to my defensive weapons. An intense high-powered beam of light from a Surefire or similar light will momentarily blind an attacker while giving the user 100% target identification. Some of these lights are so powerful that when they hit a person in their eyes the recipient is forced to close them. They can’t attack you if they can’t see you. And if the light is mounted to your weapon, generally what you see is what you hit when you depress the trigger.
It’s far better to deter the bad guy than it is to fight them off at close quarters inside your domicile. You can often deter them from even coming to your house with proper lighting and defensive systems.
Outside lights are great deterrents, both constant lights which turn night into day in your yard and make every trespasser visible to you and your neighbors, or motion detector lights that come on and spotlight anyone who comes into their beam coverage area. Those can be quite startling to bad guys because they don’t know that you didn’t turn them on manually because you saw them. They also draw the attention of neighbors and others who may be around.
There are two types of alarms: ones that call a central monitoring station and ones that have an audible siren or other noisemaker. Many systems have both. These help because they provide a nice deterrent to less-determined invaders and they also summon help. If your have asked your neighbors to call the police when your alarm sounds, that may bring help even if the bad guys cut your phone lines. And good alarm systems should also have a panic button by which you can activate it manually in an emergency just by hitting a button.
Dogs are high on the list of things that keep bad guys away. Even the most docile-appearing dog will often bite to protect its master, but even a dog that sounds ferocious will often send a bad guy elsewhere. In the event of a home invasion, a good dog will defend and buy you precious time while you retreat and summon help. I have an ex-police German Shepherd who chews tennis balls in half and pops basketballs with his jaws and he lives to bite people who come onto “his” property. I know that my home is safe when I’m gone and if someone comes around while I’m here the dog will defend.
With freedom and power comes responsibility. If you have weapons in the home, you need to secure them when you’re not there if only to keep from creating some better-armed burglars. For this reason I recommend a fireproof gun safe that will keep the wrong people (and this includes your kids) from getting hold of them, other valuables and important documents that you keep. Additionally, your insurance company may give you a break if you purchase and use a safe to protect your valuables, including your guns.
A good defensive plan is holistic in that it involves both passive elements of your property, active involvement by you, and a number of plans that cover various contingencies. Ideally you want to deter people from coming onto your property, keep them out if they are not deterred or slow them down if they really want to get in. And should they get in, you need to have a plan that puts you in a safe position where you hold all the cards and they take all the risks. And if you’re serious about your safety, you’ll spend the money that you need to spend on quality gear and you’ll practice with it. Take your guns to the range and keep them clean. Rehearse your defensive plans and role-play them often. And ensure that everyone in the house knows what they’re supposed to do, not just you. Intruder drills should be practiced just like fire and tornado drills.