Saturday, April 7, 2012
Home Defense, Part One
by Ben Small
It's three o'clock in the morning and a strange sound awakens you. The tinkle of falling glass, the scrape of a chair across a terrazzo floor, maybe the clink of silver pieces dropped into a bag.
What do you do?
Home invasions are on the rise, no doubt due to the economy and the rising drug trade, the number of addicts in need of fix money. And the number of home owners buying a weapon to defend themselves are on the rise.
But when faced with a home invasion, what do you do? You need to think about this, because it could happen to you. Indeed, it happened to me some years ago.
I'm not going to write about what home defense weapons are the best, for now. I'll save that for Part II, to be run at a later date. Instead, I'll talk about defensive considerations. And you should think about them. Indeed, you should have a plan.
One home defense expert has said that in a true home invasion, you may have as little as eight seconds to react. If that's the case, you may or may not have time to reach for the phone to call 911. And you should try to do so, unless it's obvious that reaching for the phone will get you dead.
But let's say you're awakened and you're not sure what you heard. Lie still and listen. Your cat may just have knocked something over. But if it's a burglary, you will likely hear further movement which will confirm your worst fear. Then you reach for the phone.
Same thing for your home alarm going off. It may just be the wind. Stay still for a moment and listen. If a break-in is confirmed, dial 911 before your alarm company calls you back.
Massad Ayoob, noted author, cop, founder of Lethal Force Institute, Inc., the Massad Ayoob Group, a training academy for police and civilians both and an expert witness for both prosecution and defense, suggests the next thing you should do after dialing 911, is put some clothes on. You will feel much more self-assured with clothes, even a bathrobe, than stark naked.
If you have a weapon, don't put it under the bed. Bugs, dust bunnies, anything that can move into your gun barrel, can cause a catastrophic failure. Don't put a gun under a pillow. You may have a dream and shoot your spouse or yourself. Same thing with a night table. Instead, keep the gun in a handgun safe that can be opened with no light, either by touch or feel. You don't want to be looking around for a key in the dark.
Which brings up another recommendation by Ayoob: Keep the lights off. If you're silent and in the dark, an intruder may not realize someone's there. Your eyes will adjust, if they're not already. Yes, making noise may scare an intruder away, but if he's high on drugs or has a harm agenda, noise will tell him where you are. You know your residence better than an intruder does; make use of this information.
Whisper to your spouse to be silent and either get on the floor on far side of the bed or walk quietly into the closet, especially if the closet door has a lock. The mattress will provide some protection, and if the intruder doesn't kill you both right away, he'll probably put you in the closet anyway. The intruder will be in a hurry. If he can't find you, he can't shoot you. And the last thing you need is a spouse yelling, hampering your thoughts or giving away your location. Your focus needs to be on protection, not diluted by worrying about where your spouse is or what he or she is doing. You do not want him or her peering over your shoulder.
Assuming you have a weapon and want to ward off the intruder, consider whether you can shoot the intruder. Many states have a Castle Rule. Under the Castle Rule, for a successful prosecution against you, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you had no imminent fear of deadly force. But some states, like Wisconsin, have reversed this rule. You, the shooter, must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you feared imminent deadly peril and that you had no other less deadly means of defending yourself -- a very difficult standard to overcome, especially when it's dark and you don't know if your intruder is armed or not. Shooting someone for stealing your stuff will send you to jail in these Castle-reverse states.
Do you fire a warning shot? If you do, you tell the intruder exactly where you are. Indeed, he may even see your muzzle flash and aim directly for that. Again, most intruders interested only in burglary will flee. But how do you know this intruder's agenda or the condition of his mind?
Depending upon what you've learned from listening to the intruder and considering where you are and what your state law provides, make your decision as to warning shot or not.
Time is on your side. The longer your intruder is in your home, the greater risk he runs. Do what you can to buy time. If you called 911, help is on the way.
But let's say your phone lines have been cut or for some reason you didn't call 911. Should your weapon be equipped with a light or laser?
I like lasers and don't like lights. I'll tell you why. A laser is harder for a bad guy to spot than a light. And a red dot on someone's chest usually gets their attention; it tells them you have a bead on them. But it also tells him where that bead is coming from. Still, the laser dot is harder to spot than a bright flashlight, so you may have several seconds advantage with the laser, plus you'll have your target down pat. Plus, a laser doesn't destroy your night vision. A flashlight or strobe does.
I don't like flashlights attached to guns. While you're searching with the light for where the bad guy is, he knows exactly where you are, and he will probably find you before you find him. Bang, you're dead. If you're going to use a flashlight, hold it over your head and to the side and put it on strobe, so the bad guy's aim may be thrown off. You'll see this tactic on some Sportsmen's Channel personal defense shows.
You don't need an expensive weapon. If you do shoot, count on being fully investigated with a good probability of being prosecuted. You'll never see that gun again, or if you do, it won't be in good shape. Cops don't take care of custodial guns; indeed, they often ruin them.
Don't brag to your buddies about how well prepared you are to defend yourself. Don't show off your guns. Don't tamper with the factory trigger or use handloads. These tidbits can and will be used by a prosecutor to show intent to kill or maim. Yes, you were invaded, but you are the defendant, in both a criminal case and the sure-to-follow civil suit. And since you intended to fire, your insurance policy probably won't cover you for damages -- maybe not the costs of your civil case either.
If you and your spouse have followed these suggestions and have done what you can to protect yourselves, not having fired a shot, the standard for self-defense may be higher than if you have others in the house, like children, who also need protection. You're entitled to protect them too, so a prosecutor weighing all the facts will accept more aggressive actions on your part in these circumstances.
Bottom line: You have to make these decisions, and they aren't easy ones. They'll have to be made quickly. You'll have to take what you see and hear and make snap decisions. The more time passes, the harder your decision, especially because assuming you called 911, help is on the way. The prosecution and civil risk rises with the passage of time.
And that's why you need a plan.