“LaVar Burton, 33, testified that he ran upstairs in his Lansing home July 22, 2010 after seeing a man with a gun break through the living room screen late at night,” lansingstatejournal.com reports. “Burton testified that the intruder fired several shots at him as Burton ran upstairs. Burton then retrieved his .45 caliber, semi-automatic pistol, and tried to return fire from the upstairs landing, but the gun jammed, according to testimony . . .

Burton testified he then ran into a bedroom, and was able to dislodge the bullets. He said he stepped out of the room, heard footsteps coming towards him in the darkened house and fired one shot. ‘I closed my eyes and then I shot,’ Burton testified. The next thing he knew, his 7-year-old stepdaughter Amaia Edmond, “was lying on the floor.” She was later pronounced dead.

Like so many tragedies, perhaps all tragedies, a chain of avoidable events led to Amaea Edmond’s death at the hands of her step-father. For one thing, the video above reveals that Burton was a convicted felon. The article about the shooting says the two men who invaded his home were “casing the house” the day before the attack.

Connecting those dots, one could assume that, once again, Burton’s felonious past caught up with him. Amaia’s mother has the rest of her life to contemplate the rabbi’s dictum “avoid stupid people doing stupid things in stupid places.” We have a few minutes to contemplate the self-defense implications of this incident, in terms of protecting our loved ones.

1. Keep your gun close, your gun closer

Not only are you bound to lose a footrace to your firearm, any such dash for a gun adds to the fog of war. As you focus on GETTING THE GUN, it’s all too easy to lose track of who’s where doing what—especially when they may be reacting to the deafening roar of gunfire by moving in entirely unpredictable directions. A desperately fluid situation becomes a raging waterfall.

As TLC will tell you, don’t go chasing waterfalls. The only solution, the best possible solution: home carry.

In self-defense terms, the less variables in play the better. Hence the large number of gun gurus who will not carry a gun with an external safety. It’s just one more damn thing to think about, at a time when your mental resources are required elsewhere.

If your gun is on your hip, you free up a LOT of mental space. You don’t have to worry about getting your gun (perhaps whilst dodging bullets), opening a safe, thinking of a survival plan and keeping track of friendlies and bad guys.

2. Don’t buy a broken ass gun and practice drawing your weapon

This story doesn’t tell us why Burton’s gun jammed. The media use the word “jam” indiscriminately. If we take the website’s description (Burton “was able to dislodge the bullets”) at face value, it indicates a double feed (two bullets in the chamber at once). I doubt it.

Clearing a double feed is a relatively complicated process. Ideally, you start by tapping the underside of the gun and racking the slide. If that doesn’t work, you eject the magazine, rack the slide, shake the gun, reinsert the mag and rack the slide. Even the most practiced shooter would have difficulty performing that maneuver in the heat of battle.

We don’t know if Burton’s gun had an external safety. If so, he may have experienced the aforementioned WIFTS (Whoops I Forgot the Safety) problem. He may have carried his .45 unloaded, and only remembered to rack the slide later. One way or another, it was either a crap gun or operator error or both.

These issues are easy enough to avoid. First, don’t buy a crap gun. Buy the best (usually the most expensive) gun you can afford. And then stretch financially. When it comes to your life, price is no object. Period.

Second, make sure your gun works—with your chosen ammo. Begin by running 500 rounds through your new gun. Then run 100 rounds of your carry ammo. Then clean and lubricate it.

Third, run the gun. Practice shooting your gun in appropriate conditions: carrying it (or not) as you would when the SHTF, wearing clothes you’d be wearing in combat, etc. Regularly. In terms of not doing anything stupid when you need to be the smartest guy on planet earth, there is no substitute for regular practice with your gun. None. That said . . .

3. Practice not shooting

The vast majority of shooters never practice aiming a loaded gun at the target and NOT shooting. Wrong answer. If you ALWAYS ready your gun, aim and empty it at the target, what do you think you’ll do in the heat of the moment? Well EXACTLY. For the safety of your children (if nothing else), you need to wire your subconscious mind to offer the option of not shooting the target at which you may be aiming.

4. Establish your own rules of engagement

Gun gurus waste valuable time asking new shooters if they could kill someone who posed an imminent threat to their life or the life of their loved ones. Most could. Easily. The ones that couldn’t . . . well, you can’t save everyone from themselves. Nor should you try.

BUT there are times when you should shoot and times when you shouldn’t. My personal ROE (Rules of Engagement):

1. During the day, I will not shoot until and unless I identify the target and know where the friendlies are. If there’s any chance the good guys are behind the bad guy, not shooting is the default option. Repositioning for a point blank or “clear” shot is the order of the day.

2. At night, I will not shoot until and unless I identify the target and know for sure the friendlies are behind me. While this seems the easier situation, as the bad guys have to come up the stairs, you never know.

IDing a target can include a verbal warning. But it should include an alarm system to which your teenage progeny DO NOT have the nighttime access code. Late night boyfriends are best not shot.

5. Consider using a gun-mounted flashlight, but train with it if you do

Here’s the problem: most people “aim” a gun-mounted flashlight by pointing the muzzle of the gun at the possible target. In that case, if you failed to accept the wisdom of point number three (practice not shooting at a target) and somehow forget to keep your finger off the trigger, you can point the light at the wrong someone and kill them without much thought.

The trick: practice activating and aiming the light away from the potential target. With your finger off the trigger, turn on the light and bounce the beam off of a reflective surface (floor, wall, etc.). Once you’ve IDed the perp, THEN bring the gun to bear on them. Remembering to keep your finger off the trigger until the moment you decide to shoot.

That’s what’s called counterintuitive. The natural instinct: aim at the bad guy and shoot. So you either have to practice not aiming at the BG with the light/muzzle or . . . forget it. Me, I don’t go there. I don’t trust myself. I use external lighting and fill-in night lights around the house to maintain enough illumination to see. If the BGs cut the power, well, I’ve got a flashlight and I’ve trained to use it with my gun.

Does that seem paranoid? If you’ve got a gun and you’ve got kids and you don’t want to shoot your kids with the gun during the worst case scenario, you need to think this through before Armageddon comes knocking on your door. Or, even worse, forgets to knock.

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20 Responses to Self-Defense Tip: How Not to Shoot Your Own Children

    • I’m skeptical. I imagine Burton’s blocked the image of the girl as he shot her from his mind—after the shooting. He can’t mentally process the idea that he DID see her and shot her. For him, that couldn’t possibly be an accident.

  1. Mr. Farago gives some good advice for a self admitted range cowboy who has never been in harms way but I do have a couple of disagreements about tactics and firearm configuration.

    If you practice flipping a safety it becomes an automatic reflex and is not an impediment to rapid action. I carry a 1911 and my wife carries a Beretta 92. Both have safeties. We don’t have any problem with unsafing the gun. We practice it at the range all the time. Guns need to be as idiot proof as possible because we are all capable of being an idiot from time to time. We can get off the first round as fast as any Glock owner and I will not shoot myself in the foot drawing in a combat situation.

    I know you are an advocate of home carry and perhaps given the background of gentleman in question he should have been home carrying. However, those of us who are not ex-cons living in a dicey neighborhood, don’t need to run around the house like we live in an Afghan FOB. This biggest threat we have is a mistaken B&E when the perp is not expecting you to be at home. If he sees a car in the driveway, lights on in the house or large barking dogs he’s not coming in your house whether you are armed or not. So the B&E scenario that you have to defend yourself is a late night/early morning event when you are in bed. Gun on the nightstand is good enough. In a true home invasion the perps are coming in with team and if you stand there mano-y-mano you are going down. To paraphrase General Patton, No bastard every defended his family by dying in a hail of bullets, he defended it by making the other poor dumb bustards die for their money.

    If you are paranoid enough to home carry you need to convert one of your rooms into a citadel where you keep most of you defensive weapons. (I would recommend that you make your sleeping quarters secure anyway, not that I have but when I retire an move I will.) If in the extremely unlikely event that you get caught in a home invasion scenario you have to hold the line and get everybody into that room bar the door and arm up. I recommend a twelve gauge and a high powered rifle in addition to your handguns Your objective is to fill that door space with as much lead as possible when the bad guys try to break down the door. Usually a shotgun blast will send all but the lead guy packing. With a 308 you might get two with first shot.

    • Interesting opinions. Just one thing I wanted to throw down: Having a home “citidel” is nice if you’re “paranoid enough to home carry”; but having such a room does not negate the need to carry. When a window/door is smashed open and someone starts coming in, a homeowner may not have time to run to his/her “citidel” and arm up. He almost certainly will not have time to wrangle a spouse and a couple kids before doing so.

      If you run into this situation–or, more accurately, if it runs into you–you will need to make ready and move towards the distrubance immediately. This is the safest action for your family. Engage the threat immediately, and hope that your family has enough mental strength to quickly get to safety–to your “citidel” or out the other side of the house to a neighbor’s house. And if you’re going to throw yourself immediately between an intruder and your family, you’re going to wish you had been carrying that pistol of yours in the house.

      And, just because you’re home during the day doesn’t mean that someone won’t break in … They may decide to break in anyway, or they might not know that anybody is home. Example: My wife is home right now with our newborn daughter. There is no car in the drive (it is in the garage) and there probably aren’t any lights on in the house (sunlight is sufficient most of the day). I wish she’d arm herself. She knows where our “citidel” is, but I don’t think she’d have the opportunity to get to it.

      • There a lot of ways to proof you house that makes it hard for someone to gain rapid entry. For example, our doors with direct access to the interior of the house are set in a steel frame with a two inch dead bolt and have no windows. Dogs do help because if someone is in the yard or coming up the front step they sound off and if anybody tries to come in through a broken window they get a set of teeth in their face. The purpose of passive defense is not keep people out but to slow them down and buy time so you can arm yourself and call 911. When seconds count the cops may be minutes away but you still call. Just because we don’t walk around like Wild Bill Hickock and Annie Oakley it doesn’t mean that our guns are unloaded and out of reach.

    • … If he sees a car in the driveway, lights on in the house or large barking dogs he’s not coming in your house whether you are armed or not. …

      Come and spend a few years living in Reading, PA and then we can review that statement.

      I’d like to add that I’m in agreement with your second paragraph. I have owned and fired 1911’s for well over a decade now and am intimately familiar with their operation. Yet I choose to carry a S&W 6906 because I value the trigger disconnect designed into the safety. I have practiced firing this gun many times over the last few years and it’s become automatic to disengage the safety when the gun is drawn from its holster.

      • I live in North Arlington. We haven’t had a break-in my immediate neighborhood in all the years that I have lived here. It could happen but if said perp wants to enter my house he will have to wade through the dogs and by the time he has done with that one us would have dealt with him. My dogs aren’t killers but they are loud, territorial and down right scary if you don’t know that they are friendly. Remember the perp operates on the same short timeline that you do and you are more familiar with the terrain then he is. He will focus on the dogs before he focuses on one of us.

        By the way I have the safety off by the time I am in a firing position. The safety on the Beretta drops the hammer and if you chose you can unsafe the gun and have a double action shot. My experience is that I get a faster, more accurate shot fromt the holster with the 45 and single action then a double action first trigger pull.

  2. Personal opinion: Gun-mounted flashlights are for firearms that require two hands to fire. For a pistol, weak hand should carry the flashlight; and you should train to use a separate flashlight and pistol in concert. (A laser on the pistol is nice; but that’s another issue.) There are a few good reasons why most police departments don’t allow gun-mounted lights. If you’ve got a shotgun or carbine, then a gun-mounted flashlight is a necessity.

    I cannot fault the logic of those who would prefer to use a gun-mounted light for a pistol. It’s just not my preference.

  3. “Waterfalls” is a TLC song. Every other version is a cover — and not as good as the original.

    As for Mister “I Closed My Eyes and Shot,” I’m sorry for his loss. I can’t help but note that when anyone violates Rule 4, bad things almost always happen.

    • (psst – Ralph – “CrazySexyCool” is the name of the TLC album, but don’t tell anyone I know that)

      • Oh, jeez, I forgot. Thanks, Patrick. I should be forced to wear a condom over one eye forever. Which I would except that lubrication stuff makes me tear up.

        • I have the same problem with mace. And you know way too much about TLC! (I had to look that Left Eye thing up on Wiki….)

  4. My oldest brother is an ex LE and Parole Officer, he’s 72 years old and shoots better than most currant LE’s when he re qualifies each year to carry concealed. He has a gun in every room of his house, and carries even out to the mailbox. When I first learned of this, I thought, boy that’s kind of paranoid, but now that I’ve had my CCW for over two years now, and being in my sixties and disabled, I can understand his reasoning. I carry a Taurus 609 in a IWB holster all the time, whether I’m going out, just sitting around the house, and yes going out to get the mail. I’ve found that at my age and condition, if something were to go down, I couldn’t get from one part of the house to my gun if needed, or if a car pulled up while outside, trying to get back in to the house while being chased would be over in seconds, with me at the losing end. Am I paranoid, Hell No! Am I looking for something to happen, Hell No! But am I prepared, you bet. I can’t afford to have a gun in every room, and I’ve gotten so used to having the gun on my hip, it’s now second nature (and no it’s not a macho thing). In fact most of my friends and acquaintances don’t even know I carry, and that’s the way I like it.

  5. “paranoid” is a word tossed about a lot when logic falls short. I carry a spare tire every where I drive. I must be very paranoid.
    Being prepared isn’t at all paranoid, and nobody really gets to choose the time/place of an attack. Treat the gun as a tool, with the respect necessary to keep such a tool, and it won’t really be a big deal. Turn it into some sort of mystical power totem, and educate people like that, you’ll have a bunch of people who don’t understand it, and a bunch of accidents are sure to follow.

  6. He said he stepped out of the room, heard footsteps coming towards him in the darkened house and fired one shot.

    All but the very fattest of America’s seven year olds don’t weigh as much as a home intruder, and even if this girl was one of the supersized ones, he should have recognized the footstep pattern.

  7. I DO home carry. I live out in the country and have had a few “face to face” perp encounters here. One of my favorites was the guy that had jumped my 6 foot fence and was trying door handles of my rigs. When I confronted him he told me he was “just looking for some gas” and that he had broken down on the nearby interstate. This took place while he fingered a straight razor in his shirt pocket and looked THROUGH me. He had a charlie manson look to him and that straight razor had never touched his very long beard. He left when my .357 came out as he walked towards me fingering that razor.

    The second fun time was when a buddy of mine and I were at home on a weekday working outside my shop welding up an exhaust. We both put our Glocks on the seats of the vehicle. After about an hour we heard squealing tires and a gang-banger type car slid into my driverway. Two punks got out and were about to jump my 4 foot front gate when they met my two 140 pound Rotties and saw two rednecks in welding helmets still down (instant darkening rules) wearing black coveralls and both holding those aorementioned Glocks. They got back in their car and left. The police caught them down the street a ways. They had just committed an armed home invasion, beat up the people (unarmed people, I bet) who owned the house and stole their sons gang-banger car. They were running from the cops when they decided to ditch the car in my driveway and hop my fence to make a run for it. Rottweilers and rednecks changed their minds.

    I’ll continue to carry in my house, and all my friends do too. It’s on me because I also have a curious 2 year old who has been told “don’t touch” but we know how THAT goes. It’s safer on me in a top strapped holster as I know my little boy won’t be getting his hands on it, and it’s ready for me to protect us. Stashing around the house may be fine, but I needed it WITH me both times, and who would have thought on a summer Tuesday I came close to a gun battle in my welding clothes…better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. It almost felt paranoid to have my Glock on the seat of a car I was working on, but not anymore. It could have ended up very differently, with my two dogs shot, maybe my buddy and I too, and…

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